Santino Quaranta training with D.C. United.
Getty Images

United forging new identity for 2011 season

WASHINGTON – Banishing the nightmares of a poor 2010 season is paramount for D.C. United as they start a fresh year this week in the nation’s capital.

The team’s focus heading into a long preseason is creating and fostering a winning mentality that will carry into the season opener on March 19 against Columbus and beyond.

Many of the new acquisitions brought in by head coach Ben Olsen and his staff embody that. Players like Dax McCarty, Josh Wolff and even draft pick Perry Kitchen are used to success on the field, and they will bring some of those intangibles to the team this season.

For the players who remain from last year, that process starts by looking forward to a new chance in 2011. D.C. United finished with the worst record in the league last season.

[inline_node:315667]“Everyone’s coming into this season just forgetting about last season,” midfielder Chris Pontius told MLSsoccer.com “It happened, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Let’s look forward and kind of look at what we can do for this season. That’s been the attitude and everyone’s bought into that.”

There is an opportunity with the new players and an incentive to create a different mind set. That is something the more experienced players can help facilitate, a lesson that Santino Quaranta has learned during his 10 previous MLS seasons.

“I feel that some days guys feed off my attitude and how I react on the field, and it’s our job as older guys to stay positive and try to keep a winning mentality throughout the week,” he said. “I think that’s what we lacked last year. If we lost, it felt like some guys were OK with it, and it affected me throughout the week and it affected everything I did in my life.”

Quick turnarounds are not unusual in MLS. DC need look no further than the rival New York Red Bulls, who went from posting the worst record in 2009 to finishing first in the East in 2010. Of course, the acquisition of big names like Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez didn’t hurt, but they are a luxury United probably can’t count on.

But last season’s MLS Cup champions – the Colorado Rapids - missed out on the playoffs three consecutive seasons before they surged to their first title.

And when it comes to MLS, parity is a big part of the year-in and year-out proceedings, and the difference between a playoff push and another struggling season can be as small as keeping players healthy, or a player getting hot at season’s end.

Pontius is hopeful of making that fast improvement a reality, not only just for the team but also for him to make the postseason for the first time in his career.

“For the team and for me personally, I haven’t made the playoffs,” he said. “I think that’s a very, very realistic goal. Everyone says, ‘After last year, there are a lot of players gone, you’re going to rebuild.’ I don’t think that – with the moves we’ve made in the offseason, I think we’re going to be a very tough team to beat.”

Still, D.C. United have plenty of work ahead of them, and it’s not going to be a simple undertaking, as Olsen knows.

“It’s always exciting the first couple of days getting the team together,” he said. “It’s an optimistic time, but we’ve got a long way to go to start winning games.”