2013 DC United Preview: Can Ben Olsen & Co. force their way into MLS Cup?
2012 record: 17-10-7 (58 points); 53 GF / 43 GA (+10 GD)
With just days left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is halfway through previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing D.C. United's 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
Upon leaving the locker room for the final time last year after losing to Houston in the Eastern Conference Championship, nearly every player echoed the same sentiments: Sure, D.C. United’s season was good – the club made the playoffs for the first time in five years – but it wasn’t necessarily a success.
It was an early glimpse at what is now the prevailing mentality throughout D.C.’s talented lineup of young superstars and experienced veterans, as United are hoping for nothing short of an MLS Cup championship this season under third-year coach Ben Olsen.
The transfer of dynamic right back Andy Najar to RSC Anderlecht will no doubt be difficult to overcome, but if Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon remain healthy as part of United’s group of 10 returning starters, it’s likely D.C. will surpass their 53-goal output from a season ago and potentially add a fifth MLS Cup to the trophy case.
In and Out
IN: M John Thorrington (12/14/12 - Re-Entry Draft Stage 2), F Rafael (1/9/13 - loan from Bahia), F Michael Seaton (1/14/13 - Homegrown), M/F Syamsir Alam (1/25/13 - loan from CS Visé), F Casey Townsend (1/25/14 - trade from Chivas USA), D James Riley (2/14/13 - trade from Chivas USA), F Carlos Ruiz (2/20/13 - allocation), M Kyle Porter (2/26/13), M Marcos Sanchez (2/26/13)
OUT: M Branko Boskovic (11/21/12 - contract terminated), D Mike Chabala (12/3/12 - option declined), D Emiliano Dudar (12/3/12 - option declined), F Maicon Santos (12/3/12 - option declined), M Stephen King (12/3/12 - option declined), F Long Tan (1/25/13 - waived), M/D Andy Najar (1/30/13 - transfer to Anderlecht), M Lance Rozeboom (2/25/13 - waived)
Star Attraction: Dwayne De Rosario
Sure, he’s coming off a grade-III MCL sprain. But even with missing the final 10 matches of the 2012 season and all-but 28 minutes of United’s final playoff game, this is still Dwayne De Rosario we’re talking about. While Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen and Chris Pontius all continue to mold themselves into the budding faces of the franchise, 2011 MLS MVP De Rosario will perennially stand out for his undeniable star power and his ability to create magical moments on the pitch. If his knee is fully recovered and he can regain any bit of the 2011 spark he brought with him to the nation’s capital, a historic year could be in store for the Ontario native.
Unsung Hero: Perry Kitchen
Among United’s young studs, Kitchen just might be the one performing at a level that most belies his age. Which is scary when you consider he’s only 20 years old. Everything about Kitchen’s 2012 campaign (32 starts, 2,804 minutes, one assist) suggests he’ll be an unstoppable force in his third MLS season. It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the shuffle as a defensive midfielder playing for one of the five teams that last year scored more than 50 goals, but Kitchen’s distribution, decision-making under pressure and awareness are unbelievably advanced. For fun, spend one match this season watching only Kitchen. You’ll be glad you did.
Ready for Primetime: Nick DeLeon
As if his United-rookie record six regular-season goals weren’t enough, DeLeon gave us a preview of what to expect in 2013 by scoring twice more in the postseason. The enigmatic playmaker with a penchant for the spectacular will enter this campaign as one of D.C.’s most valuable assets. With a new look – short, curly bleached blonde hair met by a beard that would make any man proud – and an offseason to recover from being put through his first MLS season, the Louisville product easily could improve on his impressive totals from a year ago.
Storylines to Watch
1. Will United’s forwards produce? The addition of Young Designated Player Rafael created significant buzz around the District, but it remains to be seen whether or not the 20-year-old Brazilian can contribute right away. If not, United will rely heavily upon Lionard Pajoy and Carlos Ruiz to convert consistently. Whether the current unit can settle into a grove, find their finishing touch and make the mix-and-match memories of 2012 feel distant, however, is anyone’s guess.
2. Are United healthy? Untimely injuries played a large part in D.C.’s ultimate demise in the postseason and many integral players spent the offseason recovering. De Rosario (knee), Pontius (groin) and Brandon McDonald (calf) are three of the more important pieces of United’s lineup who are attempting to return from fairly significant injuries. Their health could go a long way toward determining how far D.C. advance.
What He Said
“You definitely have to set goals for the season, and our first goal is [to win] the MLS Cup. Obviously there are a lot of other goals along the way that have to happen, but anything less than that is kind of seen as a failure.”
– Midfielder Chris Pontius
If Everything Goes Right
If D.C.’s key players stay healthy, Olsen can comfortably settle on a No. 9 who will produce opposite De Rosario and the backline can withstand the loss of Najar, an MLS Cup title seems well within the reach of the league’s most decorated club. Even if things start to crumble a bit, United certainly could still manage to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season and continue the clear turnaround the club has been on since Olsen took over.