PHILADELPHIA – D.C. United’s quiet offseason has finally picked up a little steam.
After a December that saw plenty of departures but few acquisitions, United have brought in a pair of players who provide immediate depth and could also potentially crack their starting XI: Finnish international Markus Halsti and former Columbus Crew forward Jairo Arrieta.
Halsti arrives in D.C. via Swedish side Malmö FF, having helped them to a pair of league championships in the past two years. More recently, he started all six of that club's UEFA Champions League group stage games against the likes of Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Olympiacos; he’ll potentially make his first official appearance for United in a wholly different continental championship when United enter CONCACAF Champions League play in late February.
Capped 20 times for his native Finland, Halsti provides United with cover at multiple positions along the backline but seems more likely to pair with Perry Kitchen in midfield. If so, Davy Arnaud – last year’s first-choice in central midfield – would provide depth across midfield and even up top, where he’s been deployed in the past.
Halsti’s versatility will come in handy, something not lost on United head coach Ben Olsen as he prepares for his side’s grueling 2014 campaign, one that will begin and end with CCL play.
“Halsti as you guys know can play centrally and also play in the back,” Olsen said after Thursday’s SuperDraft. "There’s gonna be competition at a lot of spots this year and to me that’s always a very healthy thing; we need depth. We need real depth, not just guys that can just fill the position for the day, we need guys that can come in and [excel] at certain positions while other guys are out.”
Unlike Halsti, Arrieta is no newcomer to MLS. The forward spent the past two-and-a-half years in Columbus, notching 17 goals in 67 appearances. Like Halsti, the forward brings Champions League experience to the table, having appeared in multiple editions of CCL with Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa.
“I’d be lying if I said that Fabian’s suspension didn’t have something to do with [Arrieta’s signing,]” said Olsen. “He’s a guy that’s been in this league for a while and knows how to score goals. He knows what this league is about – he’s a hungry forward, a guy that when we played against him it was always a dogfight. He’s just a handful.”
"He’s a real pain to play against,” added United general manager Dave Kasper. “A pesky little player who shows up in great spots. He’s a guy that’s going to be important for us this year.”
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The additions of both players provide a bit of reassurance to some fans who’d suspected United might be headed down a similar path to the one they took after a largely successful 2012 campaign — they made few significant additions and lost a pair of key difference makers, leading to an abysmal 2013.
On Thursday, Olsen suggested that United’s front office had approached this year’s offseason more aggressively, perhaps drawing on lessons learned from previous years.
"I’m very comfortable with the core group. But we went into this offseason under no illusions that we have a great team. We have a good team. We need to get more players in here to take us to the next level. We’re doing that, and hopefully the added familiarity with each other now helps us get over the top as well.
"You’ve got to keep in mind that this group’s been together a year, for the most part. So as we grow I think some of these relationships will click better and with some of the additions we bring in hopefully we’ll have a chance to make playoffs again this year."