- D.C. United
- Eastern Conference
- Home: RFK Stadium
- MLS CUP: 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004
- Supporters' Shield: 1997, 1999, 2006, 2007
- U.S. Open Cup: 1996, 2008, 2013
Not long after the final whistle in D.C. United's season-ending playoff loss to the New York Red Bulls last year, United head coach Ben Olsen reflected on his club's fortunes over the previous two years, a pair of seasons that saw his side eliminated in the conference semifinals.
"Is this who we are?" Olsen asked rhetorically. "Are we peaked out? I don't know – It's a fair question. It's something we will evaluate."
Judging by some of United's off-season moves, Olsen certainly thinks his budget-minded United side can do better.
Olsen and United general manager Dave Kasper's off-season shopping list was fairly well defined. Talks broke down with USMNT defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, and the club looks to be losing the services of veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud, as well. Chris Pontius – United's longest-serving player – also made an exit, traded to the Philadelphia Union, leaving D.C. a bit threadbare in midfield.
D.C. got creative in finding their replacements. Patrick Nyarko arrives from Chicago, while Lamar Neagle looks to make a fresh start after a stay with the Sounders. Veteran two-way center mid Marcelo Sarvas will look to fill Arnaud's role. But it's speedy midfielder Luciano Acosta that looks to be United's prize catch, acquired on loan from Boca Juniors of the Argentine Primera.
Acosta has looked dangerous in preseason, displaying the crafty footwork ane passing vision that Olsen and Kasper noticed during their pursuit of him. United fans have taken note as well, and while by and large most fans of the Black-and-Red are plenty satisfied with consecutive playoff appearances, some would like to see the club play a slightly more attractive brand of soccer.
There's hope for that: if Acosta, fellow Argentine Fabian Espindola and winger Chris Rolfe can foster some genuine chemistry, D.C. may experience a bit of an attacking renaissance, employing a style of play that hasn't been seen at RFK for several years.
Armchair Analyst's Take
Much of United’s success over the last two years was built around the play of Bill Hamid in goal and the partnership of Kitchen and Arnaud in central midfield. The fact that they’ll be without the first for half the season and the other for all of it (and beyond) does not bode well. There is real, honest, reason for concern among the United faithful.
That could perhaps best be seen in the opening goal by Queretaro in the CCL first leg. It came after Sarvas – playing the Kitchen role, for all intents and purposes – pushed into the attacking third and unleashed a cross that was taken by the ‘keeper. Usually that’s fine, but the D.C. midfield didn’t rotate to cover for Sarvas’s foray, and six touches later Queretaro were leading 1-0. I’m not sure that’s a goal they concede last season.
Finding that balance and creating back-to-front chemistry is going to be priority No. 1, because this team really is at an overall talent disadvantage compared to most of the conference. In the past they’ve overcome that by adding up to more than the sum of their parts. If they can’t do the same again, 2016 will be a long year at RFK Stadium.
Key Offseason Transactions
|KEY PLAYERS IN:||KEY PLAYERS OUT:|
Player to Watch: Fabian Espindola
Quietly, Fabi is closing in on a decade in MLS. His left foot is still a deadly weapon and he's almost certainly D.C.'s most capable scorer, but does he have another 2014 (11g, 9a) in him? Oh, and can he keep his cool?
Dykstra; Franklin - Boswell - Birnbaum - Kemp; Nyarko - DeLeon - Halsti - Rolfe; Espindola - Acosta
Fabian Espindola ($10.0m) stands to benefit from the added bonus point for every four shots taken. Watch Luciano Acosta to see how he stacks up with similarly priced forwards at $9.0m. In the back, Steve Birnbaum looks primed for a big season and is $7.5m, solid value for a versatile defender with attacking upside.