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 1 here.
2012 record: 17-10-7 (58 points); 53 GF / 43 GA (+10 GD)
Depth chart: 1. Bill Hamid, 2. Joe Willis, 3. Andrew Dykstra
Strengths: Hamid is tip-toeing the line between good and great. He finished 2012 with 24 starts, a 1.03 GAA and 88 saves while helping lead D.C. to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. His training stint with the US national team in January should only help his confidence. Willis was solid in his own right, starting 10 matches and boasting a 1.76 save percentage, while Dykstra impressed while on loan to Charleston. The trio of talented goalkeepers is arguably as deep as any in the league.
Weaknesses: Not much to nitpick regarding United’s strong goalkeeper corps, but it’s worth noting how, if at all, the departure of goalkeepers coach Pat Onstad to Toronto will affect the group. Onstad frequently stayed late after training to put in work with all three ’keepers last season and brought a wealth of experience to the job.
Wild card: Hamid’s discipline. After his outburst against New York in the playoffs last season that consequently led to the rallying cry, “They can’t hold us back,” it will be interesting to see what type of mental edge the talented 22-year-old carries with him entering this year’s much-hyped campaign in D.C.
Depth chart: CB: 1. Brandon McDonald, 2. Dejan Jakovic, 3. Robbie Russell 4. Daniel Woolard, 5. Ethan White; RB: 1. Chris Korb, 2. James Riley, 3. Robbie Russell; LB: 1. Daniel Woolard, 2. Chris Korb, 3. James Riley, 4. Taylor Kemp
Strengths: The central defense will again feature two of the more familiar and durable faces in D.C.’s lineup. Both McDonald and Jakovic know their roles well as the pair of imposing 27-year-olds should continue improving their already-solid decision-making playing alongside one another. In addition, the development of Chris Korb on the right side is likely a large part of why United felt comfortable transferring Homegrown Player Andy Najar to RSC Anderlecht.
Weaknesses: Losing Najar certainly hurts the overall skill level of D.C.’s backline, but Korb has shown the ability to make a difference in the final third as well and likely will be relied upon to do so. Whether or not veteran 33-year-old Russell and Woolard, who spent the offseason recovering from a concussion, can stay healthy for the entire season also could go a long way toward determining the effectiveness of the unit.
Wild card: Riley. One of the two players United plucked from Chivas USA for virtually nothing this offseason, he could provide a huge boost to D.C.’s defense, brining the experience, awareness and durability that comes with an eight-year MLS veteran. He started all 32 matches for the Goats last season and if he’s able to mesh with United early on, he could prove to be a valuable under-the-radar acquisition.
Depth Chart: CM: 1. Perry Kitchen, 2. Marcelo Saragosa, 3. John Thorrington, 4. Lewis Neal, 5. Raphael Augusto, 6. Conor Shanosky, 7. Syamsir Alam; RM: 1. Nick DeLeon, 2. Kyle Porter, 3. Marcos Sánchez, 4. Syamsir Alam; LM: 1. Chris Pontius, 2. Kyle Porter, 3. Lewis Neal
Strengths: Outside midfielders. The pairing of Pontius and DeLeon on the flanks might end up being the most dangerous duo in MLS by season’s end. Pontius scored a team-high 12 goals last season while DeLeon set a club record for rookies with six. The thought of either improving on those totals is bad news for D.C.’s opponents.
Weaknesses: Depth. Even with the recent signings of Porter and Sánchez, D.C.’s potency in the midfield drops off significantly after the starters. Thorrington and Neal both could bring veteran leadership and an international cleverness to the pitch, while it remains to be seen if youngsters Augusto and Shanosky can take another step forward in their development.
Wild card: Saragosa. Last season, the Brazilian veteran delivered strong minutes down the stretch, starting 12 matches and appearing in 16. With Branko Boskovic and the club mutually parting ways, will Saragosa be able to provide some of the cleverness and clarity in the midfield D.C. need while remaining healthy for a full season?
Depth Chart: 1. Dwayne De Rosario, 2. Lionard Pajoy, 3. Rafael, 4. Carlos Ruiz, 5. Casey Townsend, 6. Michael Seaton
Strengths: Having a former MLS Most Valuable Player and 100-goal scorer at the top of your depth chart is about as big a strength as they come. De Rosario’s ability to create, facilitate and score when asked make the 34-year-old the team’s unquestioned leader as he enters his 13th MLS season.
Weaknesses: Everyone after De Rosario. United made it a priority to acquire top-tier talent at forward during the offseason and the big singing way Young DP Rafael. Whether the 20-year-old Brazilian will develop into that talent is a big question mark. As is the finishing ability of Pajoy – though his preseason performance could indicate good things on the horizon.
Wild card: Ruiz. The surprise, and fairly controversial, signing of United’s offseason could go either way. It’s completely conceivable that Ruiz could regain his fitness, work his way into the lineup and score double-digit goals … or, fail to make an impact and further rile the already-on-the-fence fan base.