LEESBURG, Va. – As they prepare to welcome MLS newcomers Charlotte FC for Saturday’s 2022 season opener at Audi Field (6 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), D.C. United are optimistic about making progress in head coach Hernan Losada’s second year in charge.

The Black-and-Red now have more extensive experience of the Argentine’s high-press philosophy and way of working, as well as a full winter of the strenuous individual offseason fitness regimens he prescribed his players to be more ready for the physical demands of the system.

That doesn’t mean Losada’s team is quite where he’d like it to be.

“Still not,” he said on Thursday when asked if he has the roster he wants, speaking to media after United’s first open training session at their new facility in exurban Loudoun County.

“Offensive-wise, I think we need a third DP [Designated Player] if we want to be competitive. that's something we are working on,” he explained. “Many teams are still not with the roster fully prepared, so it's kind of normal. I'm not impatient, and I'm glad with the pieces I have until now. But a third DP, one or two offensive pieces, goalkeeper and a No. 6, defensive midfielder, those are the pieces that we're still missing.”

Long one of MLS’ more frugal clubs during their final years at outdated RFK Stadium, D.C. have opened the purse strings with more regularity since moving into Audi Field in 2018. They splashed out a club-record fee of $5 million on Peruvian creator Edison Flores two years ago, signed Ecuadorian striker Michael Estrada on loan from Toluca earlier this month and at some point in the coming months will welcome Greek attacker Taxiarchis Fountas from Rapid Vienna as their second DP.

In Losada’s eyes, though, the rising tide of big-spending around MLS threatens to swamp the MLS original club if they don’t keep pace.

“I try to put the energy on my team, try to put the energy on our roster, in how we can get stronger,” he said. “Obviously reading the news, you see that many of the clubs who were out of the playoffs last year, this year they got stronger.

“I’m talking about Toronto, I'm talking about Chicago, even Columbus, so clubs who were not there – I saw yesterday Montréal, they were great against Santos. So it will be a lot of competition to be in that top seven that you need to play playoffs, and it's up to us to be better than last year.”

Plagued by injuries all year, United finished eighth in the Eastern Conference standings in 2021, one agonizing point shy of the final postseason berth won by their old Atlantic Cup rivals, the New York Red Bulls. That’s amplified their attention to the small margins that often count big in MLS.

Their key departures are numerous, too, with homegrown wingback Kevin Paredes transferred to German Bundesliga said VfL Wolfsburg for a club-record $7.35 million. In came Brad Smith from Seattle Sounders FC as a replacement, while winger Paul Arriola was traded to FC Dallas for a league-record $2 million in General Allocation Money plus incentives.

“I think we know what we're doing here and we're confident in what we're doing,” said veteran defender Steve Birnbaum, describing his team’s “blue-collar” identity as “collective above individual” with an emphasis on physical output and tenacity. “You see all these reports about other teams spending a ton of money and stuff like that, but I think that's just part of MLS now and I think that's what's happening. So we know we got a good group of guys and we're going to fight and we're going to hopefully put up a ton of results this year.

“The first step is making the playoffs and were one point off last year, which was a gut punch. But we know that there's a lot more points out there that we could have had, just if we were buttoned up a little bit more and had a little more attention to detail at certain times.”

With the Primary Transfer Window open through early May and a bigger global marketplace in the summer, Losada said he’s not in a rush. But Fountas’ arrival date is still unknown, as D.C. work to try and extricate him from his Austrian club a bit earlier than the summer expiration date on his current contract. The Greek international was originally signed to a pre-contract with July arrival.

“We will start the season, we will see how quick we need them,” Losada said of his desired reinforcements. “But it has to also be the right pieces, not just bring someone just to fulfill a spot.

“Look,” he added, “we are in a better spot than last year, and the offseason programs help a lot. They came back in a better shape than last year and even if you see our list of injured players, it’s a lot smaller than last year. So that helps, because we're going to need them. We're going to need them all. The availability will be important; our roster got until now a lot smaller than the options we had last year. So we need everyone and it's important to keep them fresh and fit for the long season.”