MLSsoccer.com is previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing D.C. United's 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
After months of negotiations, Dwayne De Rosario is finally locked in long term and content with his lot in the nation's capital. And, unlike much of 2011, he should have a healthy supporting cast around him ready to share some of the heavy lifting as D.C. United attempt to return to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
To give the MLS MVP some additional help after a season in which he scored 13 goals in just 17 starts, D.C. United took a dip into the international transfer market this offseason, capturing Argentine defender Emiliano Dudar and Albanian Designated Player Hamdi Salihi, who will be expected to replace, and preferably exceed, Charlie Davies' production from a year ago.
The real key to United's season, however, will be the play of Andy Najar, Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid and Chris Pontius, who form a young core that rivals any in MLS. If Najar, Kitchen and Hamid continue their rapid rises and Pontius is able to bounce back after breaking his leg late last year, this United team should be the one to return the original MLS powerhouse to the playoffs.
In and Out
IN: D Robbie Russell (11/29: trade from RSL); M Nick DeLeon (1/12: SuperDraft); M Lance Rozeboom (1/17: supplemental draft); D Charles Rodriguez (1/17: supplemental draft); M Matt Kuhn (1/17: supplemental draft); F Maicon Santos (1/18: free); M Danny Cruz (1/20: trade from Houston); D Emiliano Dudar (1/25: free/BSC Young Boys); F Hamdi Salihi (2/2: Rapid Vienna); M Marcelo Saragosa (2/6: Ravan Baku)
OUT: M Santino Quaranta (12/7: retired); D Marc Burch (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/Seattle); M Clyde Simms (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/New England); M Brandon Barklage (12/12: option declined); G Steve Cronin (12/12: option declined); F Joseph Ngwenya (12/12: option declined); D Jed Zayner (12/12: option declined); D Devon McTavish (12/22: retired); F Blake Brettschneider (2/3: waived)
Star Attraction: Dwayne De Rosario
There is nobody better in MLS at making something out of nothing, and DeRo did plenty by himself last season in D.C. following a trade from New York on June 27. He scored in bunches (13 goals in 18 appearances) and made sure his teammates were involved as well (seven assists). It is unlikely that the Canadian legend will match his career totals from 2011 (16 goals and 13 assists between three teams), but the 33-year-old shouldn't need to do that for United to have a successful season.
Unsung Hero: Daniel Woolard
Woolard (pictured right) is steady, if unspectacular, and that's exactly what manager Ben Olsen needs from him at left back. He's been an underdog for most of his career, spending his college years at Midwestern State University and playing with the Carolina RailHawks before arriving in MLS, but Woolard proved he belonged last season. He made what was by far a career-high in starts in 2011 with 26 and figures to hold the starting left back job in 2012 unless United makes a move to bolster the options at left back, which are fairly thin at the moment.
Ready for Primetime: Andy Najar
Entering his third season, Najar's is on the cusp of being one of MLS superstardom. The teenager's physical and technical talents are undeniable, and if he takes the expected steps forward tactically and mentally, Najar will be an absolute nightmare for the outside backs and midfielders tasked with slowing him down.
Storylines to Watch
1. Can Branko Boskovic finally live up to his Designated Player tag? After losing almost all of 2011 to injury, Boskovic finds himself in somewhat of a precarious position. His contract is up in the summer, meaning he only has a few months to prove he is healthy, on form and worth a renewed committment. The talent is certainly there, but D.C. haven't seen much, if any, return on their investment in two seasons. Boskovic is still looking for his first MLS goal and assist.
2. Will United's international signings make the cut? Dudar and Salihi have solid track records in Europe, but both did their damage in what most would consider second-tier leagues in Austria and Switzerland. If their skills translate to MLS, United's ceiling will be high. If not, the roster suddenly looks much less fleshed out.
What He Said
"“It’s nice to be with an organization that has the same goals and ambitions as I. D.C. United has a very rich history and one that we want to relive in the near future – hopefully we can start this year. It’s a great feeling to be associated with the United family. Ever since I came here, the organization and the fans have accepted me as part of the family, and I want to keep this family growing all across the DC area and relive those special moments.”
– Dwayne De Rosario after signing a new contract with D.C. United earlier this week
If Everything Goes Right
D.C. are thinking playoffs or bust this season, and they may even have designs on a dark-horse conference championship. They may not be among the more fancied squads during the preseason, but this is going to be a formidable team to deal with once all the new additions are on the same page and key players recover fully from injury. The young core Olsen has at his disposal is reason enough to get excited.
WATCH: Russell's arrival big for Kitchen