D.C. United sticking to familiar formula in 2016

Washington D.C., February 2, 2015 – MLS has seen a sea change over the past two years in regards to the acquisition of high-profile players and D.C. United are far behind the curve. They really don’t seem to have an issue or any interest in the “rich getting richer” crowd.

D.C. United has implemented a formula that has specifically worked for them over the past two seasons. Heavy reliance on MLS experienced players with very little coming from international signings.

Never mind the fact that the rest of MLS is cashing in on some pretty impressive signings. United is set in their ways and to their credit they’ve had modest success (1st in the East in 2014; leading the East for over 4 months in 2015 before inevitably fading into 3rd place) after the disastrous 2013 season which saw league records being set for futility in a single season.

A reboot was in order to get United back to relevance in MLS and they couldn’t have done any better by snagging Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Fabian Espindola before 2014 kicked off. Chris Rolfe followed just three games into the season and United were off and running.

It worked too as United shocked everyone by taking the Eastern Conference crown before bowing out to rivals New York Red Bull in the playoffs.

The dye had been cast.

So, heading into 2015 head coach Ben Olsen and Technical Director Dave Kasper dipped into the same pond and came up with savvy Finnish international Markus Halsti (limited by early-season injury) and shrewed pick-ups of Jairo Arrieta, Michael Farfan and Alvaro Saborio during the 2015 campaign.

Results weren’t quite as good as 2014 and quite frankly watching the 2015 version of D.C. United wasn’t all that entertaining, at least on the field.

That doesn’t mean that 2015 was a complete waste of time. We did see United win eight matches after giving up the opening goal. You can go back over the past five seasons for United and not come close to that total combined. However, all that told me was that this team could not put together a solid 90-minute performance with any consistency.

Yes, their best player Espindola had to serve a 6-game suspension to start the season and that did throw the team’s rhythm off slightly.

Arrieta did well enough to hold the ship together and Espindola slowly worked his way into the team. By May United had scratched their way (surprisingly, again) back to the top of the East only to see their lead slip away in the final months of the season.

Looking ahead to 2016, it’s yet another preseason filled with average names, nothing that will blow any wind up your skirt. Don’t get me wrong, Lamar Neagle and Patrick Nyarko will help increase United’s usually snail-like pace on the field. That in itself will help United look a little bit better don’t ya think?

Also coming into the fold is 34-year old midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, late of the Colorado Rapids. Can Sarvas replace Perry Kitchen in midfield? From a technical standpoint it’s an improvement over Kitchen. But from a physical standpoint, there is no expectation that Sarvas or Halsti can cover the ground that Kitchen patrolled in his four seasons with United. In spite of Kitchen’s limitations in the final third of the field, he did generate a respectable 8 goals and 5 assists during the resurgent 2014/2015 seasons. Expecting those types of numbers from a Sarvas/Halsti combination could be extremely difficult to get.

While the team is firmly entrenched in managing their cap until the Buzzard Point stadium gets completed, they haven’t ignored the international market as much as not really invested in it.

As pointed out earlier, many clubs in MLS are bringing in top-notch international talent and improving their squads while United seems to want to stick to their unique formula. Obviously the brainstaff at United have clearly decided to prioritize their needs.

  1. Get the stadium built
  2. Survive in MLS on a conservative budget
  3. Reap what you sow

This doesn’t suggest that United has turned a blind eye to the foreign market. They have honestly pursued two different attacking central midfield targets in Leonardo Gil (Estudiantes in Argentina) and Antonio Nocerino (Milan). Both would have been huge additions to United’s workmanlike midfield and could have bolstered United’s admittedly pedestrian and predictable attack.

However, it looks like both moves will fall through unfortunately as Gil seems to be a bit too expensive whereas Nocerino seems destined to land in Orlando City to play next to Kaka. The only good news with that is United did have a discovery claim on Nocerino and Orlando City SC would have to pay to get his rights. Most likely it will be either TAM (targeted allocation money) or good old fashioned allocation money in exchange for his rights. A lot of United’s faithful would like to see one of Orlando City’s prized youngsters like Darwin Ceren or Carlos Rivas go in the exchange but it’s most likely going to be an allocation amount.

So, where does that leave the Black-and-Red heading into 2016? Well, they are down their best player in Bill Hamid until the middle or late summer. So they’ve got that going for them.

Again, all prognosticators and pundits will pick United to finish in the middle to lower part of the Eastern Conference and fight it out for a playoff spot. I think both Olsen and Kasper are just fine with that.

This team can’t defy the odds three years in a row can they?

Or can they?


United Notes

  • United has already dropped their first preseason match as they lost to Swedish side Elfsborg 1-0 last Friday afternoon. United is set to take on another Swedish side in Jonkopings this afternoon in Florida
  • United acquired Sarvas for an undisclosed amount of TAM and a conditional draft pick in 2018
  • United defender Steve Birnbaum scored the game-winning goal in the 90th minute as the U.S. defeated Iceland 3-2 on Sunday afternoon in Carson, California. Birnbaum added an assist as well in only his second US cap
Ben Olsen watches Chris Pontius

DC United Eyes MLS Free Agents and Re-Entry Players

No team in MLS goes into the hot stove season with more desire than DC United as they pick over the cold leftovers around the league looking for veterans with a chip on their shoulder.

MLS released the first ever list of Free Agents as well as the Re-Entry players that will be made available. Created with the CBA agreed upon just before this season, MLS players 28 years or older with 8 years in MLS are available for free agency and can negotiate starting tomorrow and sign with any team without any qualifications. Other players released around the league are made available through the re-entry draft held in two phases Dec 11th and December 17th.

United has made a name for itself in mining the league’s castoffs for reliable starters itching to show the league they still got game as Captains Bobby Boswell and Davy Arnaud can attest. The MLS list has some very intriguing names on it that would seem to suit Olsen’s gritty style to perfection. With Perry Kitchen all but out the door and Arnaud staring the end of his career in the face, a hard man like Jeff Larentowicz or some under-rated central players like Ned Grabavoy, Paulo Nagamura, Nick Labrocca, or Nathan Sturgis all fit the bill of players who would be itching to shore up United’s midfield and show up their former teams.

DC also needs to be in the market for upgrades in outside midfield as well with Pontius seemingly gone to Philly and only Lamar Neagle rumored to be on the way to join the underwhelming Nick DeLeon and the aging Chris Rolfe. The best wing players out there are guys like Justin Mapp or Oscar Boniek Garcia but wide guys who stay wide and get deep don’t really fit the way Benny wants the position to be played. However, guys like Mauro Rosales, Marco Pappa, and Eric Avila fit into Bennyball’s more narrow midfield roles quite nicely.

While those midfield holes absolutely have to be addressed, some other intriguing players available could bring some much needed speed and athleticism as well as fitting into Olsen’s somewhat lackluster opportunistic attacking style.

At forward, Danny Mwanga or Edson Buddle could help stretch the field and complement Fabian Espindola as well as provide a different look than Alvaro Saborio. Or Alan Gordon could bring in some serious bang off the bench, and Maxi Urruti is another very intriguing option but might be too expensive for DC’s taste. In midfield, some speedy guys worth a look are Jackson and Robbie Finley.

And while the defense is a strength for DC, the injury to Chris Korb and the dramatic drop-off in Sean Franklin’s play as well as the age of iron man Bobby Boswell would indicate that shoring up the back is a good idea. Jermaine Taylor, Chris Schuler Seth Sinovic, and especially Steven Beitashour are all good players that the league tends to underestimate all the time. With Andrew Dykstra apparently on the outs, picking up a solid backup like GK Jon Busch or Tally Hall for Hamid is a no brainer if those guys aren’t too pricey.

DC has some money to spend and they’ve shown they will absolutely over pay to replenish the team with solid MLS veterans as opposed to overseas signings or bringing in precocious young players so I’d expect the next two weeks to go a long way toward defining United’s roster for the upcoming season.


10-man United give up late goal in 1-0 loss in Seattle

Seattle, Washington, July 3, 2015 – Tyrone Mears’ goal through traffic late in the game was the difference maker as Seattle Sounders FC down shorthanded D.C. United by a 1-0 score at Century Link Field.

United not only had to deal with this being the fourth game in ten days on the road, but they also had to deal with the expulsion of their top player in Fabian Espindola when he was shown a straight red card in the 27th minute. Easily the games biggest talking point, Espindola appeared to throw a forearm into the throat of defender Zack Scott, who just minutes before received a yellow card of his own for a nasty head-to-head challenge on Espindola. It seems that the lesson of a six-game suspension at the beginning of the season for losing his cool and shoving a referee’s assistant in the playoff loss to Red Bull hasn’t exactly sunk in properly. United is a limited team offensively to begin with and going down to ten men for a foolish retaliation play only served to do United no justice whatsoever.

Despite the man disadvantage and being completely out possessed for the entire game, United and their typical staunch defense made things very difficult for the Sounders as they also were shorthanded of sorts with missing their top two goal scorers in Clint Dempsey (Gold Cup duty) and Obefemi Martins (injury) as well as Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa (Gold Cup). The Sounders were left with essentially long-range attempts on Andrew Dykstra’s goal (Bill Hamid was a late scratch) that were saved rather comfortably. The closest the home side got to scoring was a free kick attempt by Lamar Neagle that beat the wall but just flashed outside the near post of the goal midway through the second half.

Even with the tempo going the Sounders way, United did manage to carve out more than their share of chances to take the lead. Taylor Kemp’s angled free kick late in the game skipped off the top of the crossbar and then substitute Jairo Arrieta spun defender Chad Marshall around at the top of the penalty area only to see his right-footed effort fly over the crossbar.

Just when it seemed that United would get out of the NorthWest with a valiant hard-earned 0-0 draw, Mears ended that notion with a well-struck blast in the 88th minute. United were fully in all-hands-on-deck defense mode when a cross from the left flank came into the penalty area. The ball flew over all challengers and bounced into the path of Mears heading into the penalty area from his right-back position. The Englishman didn’t hesitate and unleashed a classy angled shot that easily flew into the far side netting and breaking the spirit of a well-fought effort from United.

United however had one more chance to even things up in stoppage time when Nick DeLeon took down former United goalkeeper Troy Perkins’ punch attempt from a Kemp free kick. DeLeon pulled the ball down and slid inside of two Sounders defenders and unleashed a left-footed blast that beat everyone except the crossbar as it bounded out for a Sounders goal kick.

Although United came out of this game with a brutal loss and a suspension for their next match from Espindola, the team will finally get an extended rest as they don’t play another match until two weeks from now on July 18th in Dallas. United has played the most games (21) in the league this season to date and now have only 13 league matches to play over the next four months. Rest should not be an issue moving forward through the end of the season. Even with the loss, United maintains their 11-point lead in the East but now teams with multiple games in hand (some have 5 or 6 games in hand on United) will have an opportunity to cut into United’s wide gap over the next two weekends.


United draws Jamaican and Panamanian opposition again in Group H action in CCL

D.C. United received a favorable group draw for a second consecutive year as they learned their Group H opponents tonight during the Concacaf Champions League Draw in Miami, Florida.

United will face Montego Bay of Jamiaca and Arabe Unido of Panama and will begin play in August. United will face both teams home and away and will wrap up group play in October.  United cruised to an unblemished 4-0 mark last October when they downed FC Tauro of Panama and Waterhouse of Jamaica.

Just like last year, United avoided tough teams from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the group play. U.S. and Mexican as the highest seeds can not face each other in group play. Other MLS teams in the draw weren’t so lucky. Seattle Sounders drew their Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps and the always difficult Olimpia of Honduras in Group F.

Real Salt Lake drew Municipal (Guatemala) and CCL newbies Santa Tecla (El Salvador) into a very tight Group G

The Los Angeles Galaxy seem to have drawn just as favorable a group as United where they will face Comunicaciones (Guatemala) and debutants Central (Trinidad & Tobago) in Group D action.

Each group winner will advance to the quarterfinal stage set to take place in February of 2016. Teams will be seeded based on their records in group play in the quarterfinals. D.C. United were the top seed heading into this past February’s quarterfinal stage by virtue of being the only team to take maximum points only to see them get drawn with the Costa Rican giants Alajuelense. United got waxed 5-2 in Alajuela in the first leg before returning home and winning 2-1 but falling 6-4 on aggregate goals.

D.C. United (1998) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2000) are the only MLS teams to win a regional title, but that was before the creation of group play in the renamed Concacaf Champions League (CCL). The only MLS teams to make it to the finals of the rebranded CCL are Real Salt Lake and the Montreal Impact in this years competition that ended in April.

Jairo Arrieta

United salvages a point against undiscplined Revolution; remain top of the East

Foxborough, Massachusetts, May 23, 2015 – Jairo Arrieta’s 80th minute goal salvaged a precious point for D.C. United in their topsy-turvy 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution tonight.

New England (5-3-5, 20 points) had two men sent off within minutes of each other early in the second half but the Black-and-Red could only muster that lone goal despite parking their team in the Rev’s half of the field for the remaining 30 minutes after Chris Tierney and Lee Nguyen were sent off in the 52nd and 58th minutes respectively. Tierney was shown a straight red for a studs up swipe on the shin bone of Chris Pontius. Six minutes later Lee Nguyen saw a second yellow card for a nasty elbow to Davy Arnaud. Don’t be surprised if Nguyen is suspended additional games for the intentional elbow.

United (6-2-4, 22 points) had it all to do with the two-man advantage but first had to overturn their 1-0 deficit courtesy of Charlie Davies first half stoppage-time goal to stake the home side to a deserved 1-0 lead. The Revolution dominated United in the first forty-five minutes before the Davies tap-in after a spectacular save from Bill Hamid on a Juan Agudelo header from a corner kick. United’s defense were slow in reacting to Davies, the former United man who scored 11 goals for the team in 2011.

United offered very little going forward in the first half as head coach Ben Olsen once again made numerous changes to his lineup as the team was playing their 5th match in 21 days. As was the case this past Sunday night in Philadelphia, United were lethargic and disconnected in the final third of the field. Add in the numerous injuries that have cropped up over the past few weeks and it was surprising to see them chasing a quality side like New England on their terrible Field Turf surface.

However, all that changed in the second half with the quite frankly boneheaded decision making by the Revolution with the sending offs of two of their top players in Tierney and Nguyen. Forced to scramble to cover for the ejections, Jay Heap’s team had no choice but to batten down the hatches and hope United’s futility in front of goal continued. Up to the point of the second sending off, United had gone 150 minutes without even registering a shot on goal going back to Sunday night.

United did persevere and gained the equalizer thanks once again to some astute substitutions from Olsen. Chris Korb had started at left back mostly to combat the dangerous Teal Bunbury on the the Revs right flank. However, once the home side were down to ten men, the efficiency and dangerous quality of Taylor Kemp’s cultured left foot was the way to go and Olsen made the move. Just a few minutes later he gave a United debut to another left-footer Facundo Coria, acquired just a few days earlier from Argentinos Juniors.

In the 80th minute both of those moves paid off in a big way. Davy Arnaud began the play by scooping a loose ball up out of midfield and quickly shifted it to his left to Coria. Coria then sent Kemp down the left flank and as the former University of Maryland defender approached the bi-line, he squared a pass across the goal mouth where Arrieta easily ghosted in behind Revolution defender Andrew Farrell and tapped the ball in near side for his third goal of the season.

United still had to time to grab the game-winner but their overall quality was lacking in getting that final ball in a game-winning position. This was not surprising consider the number of games they are currently forced to play and also the number of different players and combinations that have taken the field for United over the past three weeks. Up next for United it doesn’t get any easier as they now have to travel 3,000 plus miles to the North West to take on the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night. That match will be shown live on CSN at 10:30pm EST


United's Markus Halsti finally in uniform

United unbeaten run ends in ugly fashion after giving up stoppage-time winner in Philly

Chester, Pennsylvania, May 17, 2015  – Even before Philadelphia Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer’s 93rd minute game-winning goal, D.C. United were playing a dangerous game all night long and they were made to pay dearly in their 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union tonight at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

United were in a defensive posture from the very first minute and their calculated gamble blew up in their faces as they allowed the Union to capture only their second win of the season. Despite the loss that snapped an 8-game unbeaten run, United remains atop the Eastern Conference over the New England Revolution whom they face this upcoming Saturday night in Foxborough, Massachussetts.

Head coach Ben Olsen gave season debuts to midfielders Markus Halsti and rookie Miguel Aguilar among the five changes he made after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Orlando SC. Playing three games in eight days necessitated the changes but Olsen will be the first to tell you that the teams effort this evening was well below acceptable. The match very much took on the tone of a few of United’s games from earlier this season when they managed to drag out a result. This one however fell the other way and United were complicit in their own undoing.

United offered very little offensively not even registering a shot on goal through the entire match. The closest they came to scoring is when Aguilar took on three Union defenders and his left-footed blast rang off the far post and out of danger. That was basically it for the night for United but the home side certainly put in a much more determined effort and were rewarded in the 93rd minute when Zach Pfeffer’s left-footed blast beat Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare and Bill Hamid. United were forced down to ten men for all of stoppage time as it seemed that Luis Silva re-aggravated his hamstring injury that kept him out for the first 5 matches of the season.

In a game that is not going to the MLS league vault anytime soon for dexterity, it was the home side that got things started. Philadelphia had a goal called back in the 17th minute when Conor Casey was judged to have brought down a Sebastian Le Toux cross with his hand before burying the shot underneath Hamid. Hamid was easily the busier of the two goalkeepers as MLS pool goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre had very little to do on the evening. Philadelphia came into the match on a four-game losing streak and only winning 1 of their first 11 matches.

Needless to say, this was a very bad result for a team that was just starting to make believers out of everyone that they were Supporters Shield contenders. While this loss doesn’t change anything as United still are atop MLS at the moment, it’s a bit discouraging to put forth such a tame effort against a side that was clearly struggling and desperate. This match should have been handled comfortably by United but their lack of urgency moving forward cost them in the end.

Up next for the Black-and-Red is a visit to New England. The Revs trail United by two points in the standings and can overtake United with a win on the plastic turf at Gillete Stadium. This match will be televised on CSNWashington at 7pm

D.C. United holds off shorthanded Whitecaps for first-ever win in Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia, April 26, 2015 – Chris Rolfe’s second-half goal was the difference as D.C. United won their first-ever game at B.C. Place over the Vancouver Whitecaps in their 2-1 win last night.

United (4-1-2, 14 points) extended their unbeaten run to five matches and also matched their best-ever start to a season through seven matches (2006) and maintain their top of the East standing with New England. Vancouver (5-3-1, 16 points) still remains atop the Western Conference in spite of the defeat.

The match couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the Black-and-Red when the home side scored in just the second minute of play. Midfielder Pedro Morales coolly finished off a cross from Steven Beitashour to stake the Whitecaps to the early lead. However, United responded just seven minutes later when Bobby Boswell finished off a nice cross from Michael Farfan to level the match at 1-1.

United nearly took the lead in the 39th minute when Fabian Espindola, making his season-debut from his six-match ban to start the season, slipped a pass to Farfan and his cheeky chip attempt floated over helpless Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted and just over the crossbar. Three minutes after that narrow miss, the match would change in United’s favor. Midfieler Matias Laba, already on a yellow card, hauled down Espindola just as he was crossing midfield and was given a second yellow card and subsequent red card that sent Vancouver down to ten men.

With the advantage United almost doubled the lead just minutes into the second half. Ousted made a pair of saves on Espindola and Rolfe in quick succession that should have given United the lead. Seconds after the save on Rolfe, the Whitecaps nearly took the lead themselves when Mario Rosales managed to carve out some space and sent his curling shot off the far post. In the scramble for the rebound, United defender Sean Franklin appeared to collide into goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra as the rebound was cleared away. Dykstra, starting for the second straight game in place of starter Bill Hamid, came up limping and had to be replaced by third-string goalkeeper Travis Worra.

After that amazing flurry of play it was United who would regain control of the match in the 64th minute when Chris Rolfe fired home a rebound shot in the 64th minute. Rolfe began the play with a long run through the heart of the Vancouver midfield and laid a ball off the Chris Pontius making a diagonal run just inside the penalty area. Whitecaps defender Steven Beitashour did well to tackle the ball off of Pontius but it fell right into the path of Rolfe who used the outside of his right foot to fire the ball past Ousted for his second goal of the season.

Even though the Whitecaps were down a man, you wouldn’t know it with the way they carried themselves and they nearly grabbed the equalizer on numerous occasions only to see poor finishing and poor execution of plays down the stretch, which included a lengthy six minutes of stoppage time. United dug in and came out with their second road win of the season and now will head home for a season-long three game home stand which begins on Saturday night when they welcome Columbus Crew SC into town.


United Notes

  • Taylor Kemp and Davy Arnaud were both left out of the squad for illness and a slight groin injury respectively. Chris Korb and Michael Farfan started in their place.
  • With Espindola back in the lineup, it was Jairo Arrieta that went to the bench and Rolfe started up top with Pontius moving to the left flank.
  • United midfielder Miguel Aguilar was left back in Washington, D.C. because of travel visa issues with Canada. Aguilar played 90 minutes midweek with the Richmond Kickers and helped them to a victory over Red Bulls II in USL action.

About Us

2015 is a big year for us at UnitedMania.com as we enter our 17th year of coverage for MLS’ most successful franchise – D.C. United.

Mike and Martin started this labor of love back when there was virtually no coverage for our beloved Black-and-Red. Other than the Post and the Times you would be hard pressed to find any additional news about the league or team, especially from a group of guys that bled United’s colors. The site was born when “blogs” were still a figment of someone’s imagination, and when podcasts hardly existed.

Times have obviously changed with the inception of social media and UnitedMania.com has taken full advantage of that as we are now available across all platforms which include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and iTunes.

Along the way we’ve been blessed to have worked with so many people who have contributed to our efforts. Many thanks to John Dyson, with whom we were hosts of The Soccer Show and which set the stage for our hugely popular and inovative podcast. Over the years, key contributors to the site have been Chris Webb, Randy Ruff, Rafael Crisostomo, Tony Quinn, Matt Mathai, Chris Leon, Chris Bannon, Jimmy LaRoue, Ian Plenderleith, Chris Riordan, Ed Morgans, Edgar Enciso, Chris Snear, John Haydon and Aaron Stollar, all of whom have made UnitedMania.com such a great site to be a part of.

Chris Webb does all of our current Post Game summaries as well as OpEd’s while Mike Martin handles the Pre Game duties. Randy Ruff has come back to the site and is now the fourth member of our podcast (including Martin, Mike and Chris) and will contribute the occasional OpEd piece. And as always, the stunning photography and slide shows presented on this site come from Martin Fernandez with some help from Matt Mathai, Tony Quinn and Rafael Crisostomo

UnitedMania.com will continue to offer its twice a month hour-long podcast: The UnitedMania podcast and will continue to make it available for download directly from the website and via the iTunes music store.

ABOUT UNITEDMANIA.COM: UnitedMania.com is an online publication dedicated to DC United and US Soccer fans with up to date news, information and opinion about professional soccer in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. Founded in 1998, UnitedMania.com is an independent news source for Major League Soccer’s most decorated franchise, DC United.

Fabian Espindola. Photo: Tony Quinn

2014 Postseason Player Evaluations

Fabian Espindola, above, is one of six DC United players to get high marks from UnitedMania’s team. Photo: Tony Quinn.

A season that had been shaping up as an exciting return to playoff glory for D.C. United ended prematurely, leaving fans with unrealized expectations. That disappointment should not take away from what was an exciting season, and a cause for optimism moving forward. After the abysmal 2013 campaign, many supporters were calling for heads to roll in the front office, specifically head coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper.

Kasper and Olsen had failed to reach a meeting of the minds on the way to develop the team for years and it was difficult for even the most loyal supporters to endorse their continued presence. It’s not easy to be loyal to a coach in charge of a team that achieves team and league records for futility, nor is it easy to back a GM of a team that loses millions of dollars every year in the process. While there are valid reasons and excuses for this, sport remains a results oriented business and the type of patience and trust show by the team was astonishing and refreshing.

Olsen and Kasper responded by rebuilding the team with players that for the first time in their combined tenure both men could embrace. That as much as anything is something to be thankful for in the new ownership group, and what is suddenly a very solid coach/GM partnership (or “brain staff” as our friend Martin Fernandez would say on the podcast). After giving management and ownership good marks here is a look at how the UnitedMania.com staff graded the players for the 2014 season:


Bill Hamid (A) – Hamid demonstrated the necessary maturation to match his outstanding physical talents. His decision taking and positioning skills improved dramatically, allowing him to become one of those rare goalkeepers that can play as both a shot stopper and as a tactical leader.
If Bill can continue on this path, the sky is the limit for him. With the US National Team beckoning, can an overseas pursuit be far behind? Rumors abound on this, but don’t they always? As big a loss as that might be for the team looking ahead, its great press for the DC United Academy from which Hamid was developed within. If Hamid has a weakness it’s his distribution of the ball, and he’s made strides in improving that also this year. Bill should earn the league’s goalkeeper of the year award, although speculation has it that he may be edged out by a sentimental decision for Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando.


Steve Birnbaum (B+) After beginning the season on the bench behind the steady center back tandem of Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke, Birnbaum quietly rose to become an MLS rookie of the year candidate with steady play marked by very few mistakes. Steve made the team look brilliant for selecting him with the second overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. His size, mobility and organizational skills are good, and he’s being tutored by two of the best in the business in Boswell and Parke.

Bobby Boswell (A) The reacquisition of Bobby Boswell from the Houston Dynamo was initially perceived as a play on fan sympathies as many scoffed at his usefulness, citing Houton’s willingness to discard him so cheaply. Boswell exceeded all expectations delivering an MLS best X1 worthy season, but more importantly he captained the team expertly restoring leadership by example to the club’s core values. It’s one thing to wear the captain’s armband on match day, but what is truly inspiring about Boswell’s leadership is the way he allows for other to join him in that role without a clash of egos. Boswell is simply pure class.

Sean Franklin (A) Acquired in the offseason to shore up one of the most inept defense’s in league history many assumed that Franklin was more flash than value based off his past experiences in LA, which boasted of his attacking prowess and the cannon in his right leg. Yet what Sean brought to D.C. United was consistency at the right back position with a defense first mentality. In spite of the stay at home approach Franklin still added attacking threat on the right flanks without compromising his marking responsibilities. Sadly, injuries robbed the team of Franklin’s services for several games and that’s something that will need to improve. But he made excellent use of his time away from the field, and his charity work earned him the team’s humanitarian award.

Taylor Kemp (B) This year was a coming out party for the second-year defender. Kemp had failed to impress anyone in his first season after being drafted out of the University of Maryland with lofty expectations. Taylor began the season third on the depth chart at left back behind Cristian Fernandez and Chris Korb but rose to nail down a starting role after alleged homesickness and injuries paved the way for him. This year when Kemp got his chance he took it providing reasonable defending and very impressive attacking acumen. It’s amazing how effective a team can be with reliable crosses coming in from the left back.

Jeff Parke (B+) Many fans, including some of us here at UnitedMania.com, were left scratching their heads at the offseason pick up of Jeff Parke, a well-travelled journeyman defender cast off by more teams than one might be comfortable with in establishing new back line. Additionally it was well know that the team was high on Birnbaum, specifically because Steve was judged by consensus as ready to start immediately. Parke responded with the best play of his career, outperforming Boswell as the two of them forged a rock solid center back pairing. Undone by a freakish inner-ear injury, Parke was lost for the season but remained as an excellent mentor for Birnnbaum.

Chris Korb (C+) While no longer a starter or a leader in minutes played for the team Korbinho turned in his best season as a professional (I hope you understand how difficult this was to type for me!). He responded well to the new wave of experienced defenders brought in to overhaul the back line and contributed depth to the right and left back positions and stepped up his versatility with some capable play as a wing midfielder.


Davy Arnaud (B+) Davy Arnaud delivered a heroic performance in providing consistency in leadership in a central midfield partnership with Perry Kitchen. Some have criticized his offensive numbers with only two goals and two assists on the season, but he was asked to fill a vital role in the absence of a playmaking center midfielder on the team. Arnaud delivered solid two-way play and was a big part of the reason that D.C. United was difficult to break down.

Nick DeLeon (C-) One of the few players on the team who truly underperformed this year, DeLeon was capable of much better than he put out on the field each week. He was frequently culpable on defensive lapses in the midfield leading to scoring opportunities for opponents and frequently invisible on offense. He struggled to find any chemistry and linkage with the forwards, specifically with Fabian Espindola who expected much more from Nick as do we all. A few rare moments of brilliance reminded us of his potential and spare him from a failing grade while simultaneously they infuriate as you just know the guy has gallons of unapplied skill and passion.

David Estrada (B) After being label a “deckchair’ by the “talent” (M. Martin), Estrada provided the kind of depth you want in a reserve player after being acquired from Seattle in a midseason trade. Estrada stepped into an injury riddled line up and provided starting caliber performances. While fans would be right to expect more from a full-time starter than Estrada might be capable of, having a player of his caliber on the depth chart pushing for minutes is exactly what this team has needed for years.

Perry Kitchen (B+) Perry was asked to contribute a lot more than his typical defensive midfield responsibilities this season and responded with increased physical presence and previously unseen offensive production. As one of the truly essential an irreplaceable players on the team, Kitchen needs to manage his yellow cards better and could use some improvement about where on the field to avoid fouling. His postseason performances against Red Bull were glaringly subpar but he turned in a very good season again for United.

Lewis Neal (C+) The Englishman delivered another solid season as a utility midfielder. He performed adequately and gave what you’d expect off the bench from a reserve player/spot starter. There were no moments of heroism from Neal this year, but he’s still capable of delivering them now and then.

Chris Pontius (C) Perhaps the most cursed player in team history, although Brian Kamler might give him a him a close race. The injury demons plagued Pontius again this year as his hamstring injury from last year did not improve in the offseason and required surgery to correct. Pontius was lost for most of the season and was only a shell of his former self when he return to action late in the year. This team was only going to go as far as Chris Pontius could take them and average playoff performances gets you sent packing.

Chris Rolfe (A) An outstanding season from the experienced and dangerous (former United-killer) Rolfe who was miraculously obtained on the cheap from the Chicago Fire early in the year. His arrival produced immediate results in scoring and team dynamics. Rolfe found chemistry with Espindola where DeLeon could not and the two were absolutely brilliant to watch together. Undone by a broken arm late in the year, Rolfe was just a few weeks too late to be effective for the team’s playoff push.


Fabian Espindola (A) Fabian gave D.C. United a team and league worthy MVP season this year. Cast off as an expensive afterthought in New York, Espindola provided arguably the most complete play of any United player ever. Not only was he talismanic in attack, scoring and assisting with equal preference and frequency, but his work rate and passion was unmatched throughout the league. While his temper remains his Achilles heel, and he’s a red card magnet, it’s a tradeoff you take 100 times out of 100.

Luis Silva (A) The largely unheralded Silva was projected to be slotted into an attacking midfield role at the start of the season where he looked lost and inept. That earned him a trip to the bench and then injuries sidelined him further. Almost a forgotten man at one point Silva stepped up in the absence of the injured and suspended Eddie Johnson, formed a fantastic partnership with Espindola and delivered a team-high 12 goals and gave the team a legitimate free kick threat from inside 30 yards.

Eddie Johnson (C+) While his play was not as bad as the statistics suggest as a Designated Player, you’ve simply got to deliver more than seven goals. That’s only three more scored than 2013 striker “Own Goal” buried. It’s important to recognize that Johnson isn’t a pure goal scoring forward, but more of a tweener (winger/slasher+set up forward). And he also hauls in 10x less than other league designated players like Keane and Henry, but if Luis Silva can find the net a dozen times, you’ve got to be comparable to that. EJ does a lot of unheralded off the ball work and gives the team a solid aerial presence, but he’s got to get past bickering with fans and sulking when he doesn’t get proper service. This team has proven over the years that it will accept a hothead and EJ needs to channel his frustrations better. If he does that the goals will come.

2015 MLS Expansion Draft

The arrival of two new teams entering the league next season (New York City FC, and Orlando City SC) will result in another expansion draft. MLS teams may prepare a list of 11 players that they may protect from the expansion draft process, and leaving the remainder of their roster as fair game. As usual the league has an ever evolving and secret systems of rules and procedures that assure surprises and special exceptions, particularly for New York based teams.

The wrinkle this year appears to be that each team must protect at least one of their foreign players. D.C. United has two players on the roster that qualifier as foreign by league definition: Samuel Inkoon and Kyle Porter. Given that Inkoon played well in the 70 minutes that he saw in the 2014 season, and that Porter did not appear in few MLS matches, UnitedMania.com forecasts that the team will protect Inkoon rather than Porter. That leaves ten players from the roster that the team will be able to shield from New York and Orlando. Those ten players should almost certainly be: Bill Hamid, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Taylor Kemp, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius, Chris Rolfe, Luis Silva, and Fabian Espindola.

Players gaining consideration and sympathy, but not a consensus, from the UnitedMania.com panel are Davy Arnaud (M. Fernandez, M. Martin), DeLeon (C. Webb), and goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (R.Ruff).

In accordance with the league rules teams can lose a total of only two players in the expansion draft. Once a player is selected from a team they may protect a previously unprotected player. Losing Arnaud or DeLeon would be painful, but it’s highly unlikely that they would lose either. Arnaud, while a complete professional and solid player, comes with a $200,000+ salary slot and a pair of aging knees. DeLeon, while talented, is coming off consecutive disappointing seasons (a sophomore slump followed by a junior jape).

The two expansion teams are unlikely to be looking for high priced (by MLS standards) players past their prime or underachieving slackers. What that means for D.C. United is that the team is likely to stay intact and will suffer minimal loss from the expansion draft.

Probable losses: Chris Korb/David Estrada – two versatile players that could start for an expansion team at relatively low cost and provide solid depth if they do not.

Possible losses: Jeff Parke/Eddie Johnson – while not cheap offer solid talent for their price tag.

Absolute Reach: Andrew Dykstra – a goalkeeper with a great upside that we hope no one has heard of.