Mark Your Calendars

Major League Soccer announced today the starting dates for the 2012, 17th overall, Season.

D.C. United will play its first match at home on March 10, 2012 with a yet to be determined opponent.

Also opening at home on the same day will be the defending MLS Cup and Supporters Shield Champion, LA Galaxy, along with the Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

MLS also announced that the Houston Dynamo will open their new facility on Saturday May 12th, 2012.

DC United, who finished 7th in the Eastern Conference Standings is eager to get back on the pitch. League MVP Dwayne De Rosario on receiving his MVP award stated that his primary goal would be to get D.C. United back to where it belongs, on top.

To that end United also added veteran defender Robbie Russel in an exchange with Real Salt Lake. For the veteran defender United gave up a third round pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.

United wheeling and dealing continues as they trade for DeRosario

Just a few hours after announcing the acquisition of Brandon McDonald from San Jose, D.C. United showed they were not done with remaking the squad by acquiring 4-time MLS Cup Champion midfielder Dwayne DeRosario from the New York Red Bulls for midfielder and former captain Dax McCarty.

“Today we signed one of the best players MLS has ever seen in Dwayne De Rosario,” said Head Coach Ben Olsen. “In order to gain a quality piece we gave up a quality player in Dax McCarty, but we feel that De Rosario is a game-changer that will help us in our push for playoffs.”

United has struggled all season long to create offense from it’s central midfield and the acquisition of DeRosario should go a long way towards helping improve that area of attack. McCarty, who started the season as captain of United, only lasted a dozen games before being shipped off to New York. United had started a combination of McCarty, Clyde Simms, Stephen King, Kurt Morsink and Fred in central midfield this season with precious few results as none of the above have actually scored this season. DeRosario hopes to change that in a big way.

Although the team got much older with DeRo in tow, it gains in experience and big game ability. DeRosario has scored some of the most important goals in MLS history as he has nabbed two game-winning goals in his 4 MLS Cup final appearances. He’s also a healthy 4-0 in those matches winning titles with San Jose and Houston.

Dax McCarty was acquired in the preseason in a trade with Portland that shipped Rodney Wallace to the NorthWest.

United acquires Brandon McDonald from San Jose

D.C. United acquired rugged defender/midfielder Brandon McDonald from the San Jose Earthquakes today in exchange for allocation money. The 25-year old was originally drafted in 2008 by the Los Angeles Galaxy and played 16 games for them before getting picked up by the Quakes in 2009. McDonald spent his career with the Quakes alternating between defensive midfield and central defense before finally settling into the center half role.

McDonald had only started 8 of the Quakes 15 matches this season before falling out of favor behind center halves Bobby Burling and Jason Hernandez. With big things still expected of former Wake Forest central defender Ike Opara, McDonald’s future seemed limited in the Bay Area. McDonald can be classified as a tough physical defender very much in the mold of former United central defender Julius James who was given his release in the preseason.

With the hamstring injury to starter Dejan Jakovic, United has been reliant on the rookie tandem of Ethan White and Perry Kitchen to help hold the fort until Jakovic’ return in a few weeks. While White and Kitchen have performed well for the most part, sporadic lapses of concentration from both players have cost United goals, wins and points in the standings. Having a more physical presence is also something United is looking for as they have been victimized twice this season by big physical strikers in Will Bruin of Houston and Steven Lenhart of San Jose, both of whom registered hat tricks against United this season. McDonald easily fits the bill in combating some of MLS’ more physical players.

With the addition of McDonald and the return of Jakovic in the near future, United will once again have to reshuffle their lineup to avail themselves of the talents of White and Kitchen. While White seems to be a central defender for the future, Kitchen has shown his versatility in playing right back as well as his preferred and most effective role as a defensive midfielder. With the continual poor play of Clyde Simms, is it time to see the young Akron phenom in the middle of the park?

I believe the time is now for that move.

United selects Kitchen with #3 overall pick in Draft; Kolb selected #31 overall; Willis #50

D.C. United selected Akron and US U-20 midfielder/defender Perry Kitchen with the #3 overall pick today in the Major League Soccer Super Draft. Kitchen is widely regarded as the most talented overall player available in the draft and he fell to United when the Vancouver Whitecaps surprisingly chose US U-20 forward Omar Salgado with the top pick in the Draft and then Portland followed up with selecting Akron forward Darlington Nagbe ahead of Kitchen. The 18-year-old midfielder/defender will add some bite and talent to a United team in need of shoring up their defensive corp. Kitchen will most likely see his initial playing time as a defensive midfielder and might end up with a transition to central defense, not unlike Ryan Nelsen, current captain of Blackburn Rovers in the English Premiership. Unfortunately for United, they will miss the services of Kitchen during the qualifying stages of the U-20 World Cup and during the World Cup finals itself, should the US qualify as expected.

United’s other picks were Kitchen’s college teammate defender Chris Korb with the #31 pick overall and goalkeeper Joe Willis from Denver University at #50 overall. Korb, a left-sided defender, adds some depth to United’s squad as Marc Burch is recovering from injury along with the trading of Rodney Wallace in the off season. United then wrapped up their Super Draft selections by trading their top two 2011 Supplemental Draft picks to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the #50 pick overall and the Black-and-Red picked goalkeeper Joe Willis from Denver. Willis had a fantastic combine and with no official 3rd goalkeeper on the roster behind Steve Cronin and Bill Hamid, this pick makes sense with the expansion of rosters to 30 players and the Reserve League picking back up this upcoming season.

With United drafting two defensive minded players and a goalkeeper, naturally the questions put to head coach Ben Olsen and Technical Director Dave Kasper were about potential attackers coming to the squad. “We’ve got something in the works,” said Olsen with a wry smile of satisfaction. “We’ve got our eye on somebody.”  “We feel with Chris Pontius coming back from injury that we’ve got a top pick already,” said Kasper minutes after the selection of Kitchen. “Having said that, we do have our eyes open and are looking internationally for some additional offense.”

United has two picks still remaining, both of which will be used in the Supplemental Draft which follows the 3-rounds of the today’s Draft.

So long Troy, Hello Steve…

DC United announced today that is sending veteran keeper Troy Perkins to the Portland Timbers in exchange for Steve Cronin and allocation Money.

Perkins’ second stint with D.C. United proved to be a bad experience for both the veteran keeper and the Black-and-Red.

After returning to D.C. United following a two-year stay with Norwegian First Division side Valerenga IF Perkins’ homecoming was a disappointment. His return was marred by poor results and the rapid rise of young rival Bill Hamid.

Steve Cronin

Steve Cronin. Photo: Matt Mathai.

The move brings Steve Cronin (left) back to D.C. United. He was a member of the Black-adn-Red for a short period of time in 2009 when he was on loan from Portland’s Division 2 team. Cronin appeared with the Black-and-Red for the first time on October 17, 2009 in a shutout victory over Columbus. Cronin started two regular season matches for United, posting a 1-0-1 record. He also appeared in the club’s CONCACAF Champions League match against Mexican side Toluca on October 20.

Prior to 2009, Cronin spent four seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy, earning his first career victory on April 29, 2006 in a 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake.

The trade with Portland makes it the second offseason move that new coach Ben Olsen and Technical Director Dave Kasper make with the expansion team. IN late November the club sent defender Rodney Wallace and a 2011 SuperDraft selection to the expansion side in exchange for midfielder Dax McCarty.

Olsen Named Head Coach

Ben Olsen

DC United named Ben Olsen as its 7th Head Coach. Photo: Tony Quinn.

Despite a past public stance that Ben Olsen would not be named D.C. United’s next head coach, D.C. United General Manager Kevin Payne announced today that Olsen would become D.C.’s next Head Coach.

“We spent a great deal of time on this decision. The more we talked about what we were looking for in the next coach of D.C. United, the more we talked about Ben Olsen as a candidate for the Job.” Said Payne.

Olsen, who took the reigns from failing head coach Curt Onalfo on August 7th, 2010 becomes D.C. United’s 7th Head Coach. United, who broke several league records in futility during the 2010 Season has been going through a period of decline, while other teams in the league have seen fortune, the once might Black-and-Red has fallen hard. In 2010 United finished dead last with only 6 wins on the year.

With the move, Payne and United hope to bring the once mighty Black-and-Red back to glory. This remains to be seen.

This club means a great deal to me”, said Olsen. “From my playing days and to be asked to lead the team is an honor. “I’m extremely excited and plan to prove that I was the right choice for this position.”

Onalfo Fired, Olsen Named Interim Coach

In a surprising move since it is the first time in DC United’s 14 year history United has fired a coach in mid-season, the team sacked Curt Onalfo barely 8 months after hiring him. Ironically, the firing comes nearly a year to the day when he was fired by Kansas City in his only other coaching stint.

Still, however surprising that the team that prides itself on being right all the time actually pulled the trigger on a move which could easily be interpreted as an admission of it being a mistake to hire Onalfo in the first place, there is certainly plenty of justification for his dimissal.

With Onalfo in charge and hired specifically to return the team back to the playoffs while continuing the tradition of playing attacking soccer, the team failed at both miserably. Sitting last in the entire league at 3-12-3, the playoffs are all but an impossible goal barely into August, even worse, the team’s pathetic offense is long past setting team records for futility and is boring on steadily toward league marks for ineptitude.

Both sides have gone to great pains to downplay the move as being simply the result of a bad situation. Onalfo has certainly taken the high road in this quote from the Insider where he says “I am extremely disappointed. It takes a long time to build something, and having had eight short months, it was a limited amount of time, but I understand the profession. This is what I signed up for. I wish nothing but the best for the organization.”

Payne was just as gracious in a release from the team “This was a difficult and painful decision,” said United President and CEO Kevin Payne. “Curt is an outstanding person and a fine coach. This has certainly been a trying season, made more so by a number of factors outside of anyone’s control. This decision is not about placing blame, but about looking forward. Recent performances have convinced us that we need to make a change at the top for the team to improve the remainder of this season, for 2011 and beyond. We wish Curt nothing but the best.”

It’s a good thing Payne backed away from scape-goating Onalfo or placing blame because there certainly is plenty of blame to go around from top to bottom in this organization. From the product on the field to poor roster building and management to building a stadium to finding investors, DC United is clearly a team in crisis that might finally be realizing big changes need to be made in order to get the team back to its former greatness.

Clearly, the path back is going to start small, though with getting back to square one and simply producing a good team on the field that has a hope of scoring goals, winning games, and maybe winning back fans who have shown their displeasure with DC United’s hideous season by simply staying home. Attendance at RFK has been anemic and trending down as the third year out of the playoffs has become inevitable.

Payne has made clear what he expects from interim coach Ben Olsen. “The first priority in appointing an interim coach was ensuring that he would understand the passion, pride and commitment expected from every player who wears a D.C. United uniform,” Payne said. “There is no one better suited for that task than Ben Olsen. We’ve asked Ben to focus on three objectives for the balance of this season: prepare to win the next game, demand of our players the same commitment to the shirt that he displayed and determine which players demonstrate that they want to play for United next season.”

Of course winning “the next game” has been a bit of a problem this year with only three wins in 18 games, but new signings Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez, as well as the return to health of some key players like Chris Pontius and Dejan Jakovic, plus the outstanding debut of Andy Najar does seem to hold promise that United might be on the edge of becoming a competent team even if there’s little on the horizon this year outside the hope of winning the US Open Cup. But, that would be a huge accomplishment in this down year especially as it would help propel the team back into international competition next year.

For certain Olsen will bring the requisite passion back to the club. No disrespect to Onalfo, but his wishy-washy ever positive disposition clearly wasn’t exactly lighting a fire under United so far this season. The fiery Olsen has never been known to hide his emotions nor his opinions. It remains to be seen how the team responds to what is likely going to be some brutal honesty, or even if United has the talent and skill to get to a higher level, but no question Olsen will be pushing them.

As a player, Olsen was clearly talented, but he also never shied away from scrapping and grubbing for every advantage. Even to the point of completely reinventing himself as a player when his ankles betrayed him and undermined his natural athletic gifts. In some ways, DC United seems to feel themselves above scrapping and grubbing when push comes to shove and that lack of conviction is reflected in their record, while teams like NE for example, are still keeping themselves above water despite arguably less talent. If Olsen can change that mentality alone, it will be an enormous achievement in this dismal season.

Olsen is under no pretenses about what is expected either as his statement confirms. “It is with mixed emotions that I accept this position,” Olsen said. “Curt is a great friend and coach from whom I’ve learned a great deal. My job now is to get results for D.C. United.”

Teams often get a bump when a coach is fired since players now know they are next in line for the axe as Payne’s ominous last comment reinforces. How United responds this weekend in New England might go a long way to showing exactly how much ability and desire this team actually has and what Olsen has to work with the rest of this season.

O for O – Curt out Ben in

D.C. United announced today the club has named Ben Olsen as interim Head Coach, following the dismissal of  Curt Onalfo. D.C. United’s Technical Director, Chad Ashton, will serve as interim Assistant Coach, while Assistant Coaches Kris Kelderman and Mark Simpson will retain their roles with the club.

“This was a difficult and painful decision,” said United President and CEO Kevin Payne. “Curt is an outstanding person and a fine coach. This has certainly been a trying season, made more so by a number of factors outside of anyone’s control. This decision is not about placing blame, but about looking forward. Recent performances have convinced us that we need to make a change at the top for the team to improve the remainder of this season, for 2011 and beyond. We wish Curt nothing but the best.”

Read More on Mike’s recent editorial

D.C. United waives forward Boyzzz Khumalo

South African native released after two seasons with the Black-and-Red

WASHINGTON, DC (July 27, 2010) – D.C. United announced today the club has waived forward Thabiso “Boyzzz” Khumalo. Originally acquired in September 2008, the 29-year old made 27 appearances in all competitions for the Black-and-Red.

“Boyzzz provided United fans some shining moments during his time with our club,” said United General Manager Dave Kasper. “We thank him for his contributions and wish him well in his continued career.”

Khumalo originally joined United on loan late in the 2008 season. Seeing time in the midfield and at forward, Khumalo was a big part of the team’s 2009 U.S. Open Cup run. Despite suffering an injury that sidelined him for nine weeks, the South Aftrican native scored three tournament goals en route to the 2009 U.S. Open Cup final.  Khumalo scored one goal and provided three assists in League play during his career.

United signs Montenegro midfielder Branko Boskovic to Designated Player contract

D.C. United announced today the signing of 29-year old midfielder Branko Boskovic from Montenegro. Boskovic has been playing the past three seasons with Rapid Vienna of the Austrian League where he made 123 appearances and scored 30 goals . Previous stops for the talented left-footed player were with Red Star Belgrade (where United signed Dejan Jakovic) and French first division sides Troyes and PSG. United, in need of attacking flair in central midfield, got wind of Boskovic last spring and dispatched Technical Director Chad Ashton to Austria to scout the player.

“He is an honest two-way player with special attacking qualities,” United General Manager Dave Kaspar said to the Washington Post this evening. “A very good passer, very good running with ball, excellent long-range shot and a very good finisher inside the box. He is also very dangerous on set pieces – taking them as well as he is very good in the air, he scores a lot with his head – and he is tactically very smart. So all those things we feel will help us move forward.”

United has signed two Designated Players since the inception of the rule four seasons ago, Marcelo Gallardo and Luciano Emilio, with arguable success. According to team officials Boskovic’ contract will be significantly lower than the salaries of David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel and Landon Donovan, all of whom make in excess of $1.5 million dollars a year. Boskovic will not be eligible to suit up for the Black-and-Red until the summer transfer window opens up on July 15th.