Bounce-back Kings: Failure is the first rung on the ladder of success. For D.C. United in 2013, it was also the second rung, and the third, and the fourth and fifth and sixth. United were legendarily bad last year: the first team in league history to win three or fewer games, and their 24 losses is a record for the post-shootout era.
Nice to meet you: In the wake of that tire fire, you'd better believe a rebuild was in order. The United brass brought in veterans across all sectors of the field, to the point where it looks like there are only three starters – four, if Chris Pontius avoids the injury bug – likely to retain their spots.
Can EJ lead the way? Above and beyond everything else, last year's D.C. team was defined by its inability to score, with just 22 goals on the season. The man tasked with remedying that is USMNT and MLS veteran Eddie Johnson, who banged home 23 goals over the past two years in Seattle. Of course, with EJ, it's less about talent than it is about chemistry – especially now that he's, unquestionably, the man in the spotlight.
Star Attraction: Nick DeLeon
You've got my two cents on Johnson above, and I'm on the record elsewhere saying that Pontius would have been a national team player by now were he not cursed by injuries. But it's DeLeon who might have the biggest international future. He was simply breathtaking down the stretch in 2012, a playmaker from wide who wasn't afraid to cut inside and mix it up inside the numbers.
The best thing about him is his ability to release his fellow attackers into space early, which is – dare I say it – Donovan-esque.
And, as you see above, he can also strike the hell out of the ball from distance.
Probable formation: 4-4-2
Major Acquisitions: Johnson, and an entire backline
D.C. had every conceivable player acquisition tool at their disposal, and they wrang 'em all dry. Matching Johnson in importance is the central defensive duo of Bobby Boswell (Re-Entry Draft Stage 1) and Jeff Parke (trade with Philadelphia). They're two veterans with complementary skillsets – Parke's one of the least adventurous defenders around, while Boswell has Beckenbauer-ian delusions every now and again – and will be an instant upgrade.
Same should go for another veteran, right back Sean Franklin, whose overlapping runs into space should mirror the successful partnership DeLeon had with Andy Najar back in 2012. The final piece of the quartet is the great unknown: left back Christian Fernandez. The 28-year-old Spaniard's got a nice resume, with more than 100 appearances for various clubs in La Liga.
On paper, this is maybe the most improved unit in the league.
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What He Said
"We have the right mix of individuals between youth, experience, guys that have been around and guys that have held trophies. I’m excited about the talent of this team. But the trick is to make them a team.”
– D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen
Fantasy Pick: Eddie Johnson ($10.0m) – Could miss some time due to national team duty, but D.C. expect goals from him and he's more than capable of delivering. Plus, United open the season with five home games in the first eight rounds. (Teams selected by - 6.0%)
D.C. are going to win more than three games this year. And they're going to lose fewer than 24. But anybody who tells you they know exactly how this is going to play out is selling something.
In MLS – and really, in most leagues around the world – chemistry isn't something that just happens, and it's definitely something that doesn't just happen overnight. But that's pretty much what Olsen is going to have to build, starting with Boswell and Parke, continuing through the midfield with fellow newcomer Davy Arnaud, and finally settling up top with EJ and, most likely, Fabián Espíndola.
If it all clicks, and if Pontius stays healthy, then this is a team that could challenge for the top of the East as they did in 2012. It seems much more likely, however, that they'll be in a dogfight for one of the lower playoff seeds, with the big hope being they catch fire in October and ride it deep into November.