United roster overhaul continues in Florida

Missing out on the playoffs on the last day of the season in consecutive years has brought about a host of changes that has more than a few fans and pundits uneasy about the teams prospects heading into the 2010 MLS campaign. Gone from United’s roster is 3/4 of their foreign attacking contingent in Luciano Emilio, Fred and Christian Gomez. Between the three of them they accounted for 18 goals and 10 assists. That breaks down to roughly 42% of the goal scoring and 28% of the assists. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page at you, it is a significant amount of their offense nonetheless and it will be missed at times during the upcoming season.

The question now is “Did United do enough to make up for those losses?” It’s obviously too early to say because the players they brought into the team whom they can count on scoring goals doesn’t exactly look like a murderers row of goal scoring. Australian striker Danny Allsop comes to United to add some size and scoring punch as does Salvadoran winger Christian Castillo who scored two fantastic goals against the United States in World Cup qualifying last fall. Again, is that enough? If you held a gun to my head I would say that no, it’s not enough at the moment. To be fair to the front office, it’s still only the middle of February and the transfer window for MLS doesn’t close until the end of March. United has also brought in 18-year old Honduran striker Arnolyn Guity. Your guess is as good as mine as to who this kid is and what kind of a player he is. If he has any kind of speed at all, it will be a welcomed sight for the Black and Red because their current crop of forwards (Allsop, Jaime Moreno, Chris Pontius and newly acquired Adam Cristman) don’t exactly come across as players that can get behind defenses. Not that pure speed is the magical elixir that will vault United to the MLS Cup anytime soon, but wouldn’t it be a refreshing change of pace (pun intended) to see a United player actually run past the last line of defense and bear down on goal?

Enough of that pipe dream. Arguably the most affected area of the team is in midfield where United has lost four players who contributed major minutes to the club last season and beyond. The aforementioned Fred (traded) and Gomez (not offered a contract) are gone as well as Andrew Jacobsen (selected by Philadelphia Union in the Expansion Draft) and the heart and soul of United, Ben Olsen. Olsen does remain with the team as an assistant coach, but his leadership skills on the field will be sorely missed. United brought in the electric Castillo on loan and also picked up Congolese midfielder Flo N’Galula to help make up the numbers. N’Galula was a former Manchester United youth player and actually sat the bench with the first team on the rare occasion though never actually played. Also back for United is  midfield Brandon Barklage who played very well during the U.S. Open Cup (scoring in back-to-back matches) but was lost for the season shortly thereafter with a knee injury. Danny Szetela is back and is hopeful of bigger role than his spot duty after being obtained late last season. Unfortunately for Szetela, he is currently sidelined after tearing the meniscus in his knee. He should be back right as the season starts, but with missing most or all of preseason, his impact will be minimal until mid-season at least. Stalwarts Clyde Simms, Santino Quaranta and second-year man Rodney Wallace will be back, though with the addition of Castillo on the left it just might put Wallace into the left-back position ahead of incumbent Marc Burch. Quaranta is also coming off of injury but is very close to resuming full training in the next few weeks.

Defense is a position that seems the most thin part of the roster at the moment. Dejan Jacovic, Julius James and Marc Burch are all returning as well as Lawson Vaughn. However the big story of the off-season is the rather dire situation with Bryan Namoff and concussion issues. At the moment there is no realistic time table of his return and that will hurt this team at the beginning of the season. If they can hold on initially, they just might be able to stomach the loss of arguably their best defender. United has brought in Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor and Honduran defender Quiarol Arzu for tryouts this week in Bradenton, Florida. If these two players manage to make the squad that could improve United’s admittedly weak depth in the back.  Taylor is a central defender who just this past week put in a decent effort against Argentina in a 2-1 friendly loss. Arzu can play centrally and on the right side of defense. He seems to be cover for Namoff at the moment. Utility man Devon McTavish and rookie fourth-round selection Jordan Graye round out the defense.

The biggest move of the off-season undoubtedly was United’s acquisition of Troy Perkins. United certainly gave up quite a bit (Fred, allocation money and the #7 overall pick in the 2010 MLS Superdraft) to get him from the Philadelphia Union but in the end I think it will be worth it as Perkins is about as solid an MLS keeper as any team could ask for. Who backs up Perkins is the million dollar question at the moment. Will it be Josh Wicks (coming off injury and not available until after the season starts) or Milos Kocic? How about 19-year old manchild Bill Hamid? It’s perhaps a bit much to ask to have a 19-year old as a backup, but with roster spots limited and United only playing a bare bones schedule this season (just 30 league matches and however many Open Cup matches they play in), it would probably make sense to only keep two goalies on the roster. The big stumbling block in all of this is whether or not Perkins will be the #3 goalkeeper for the US this summer during the World Cup. At this point, Perkins has about a 50-50 chance to be that 3rd keeper.

Overall I am beginning to like the changes that new coach Curt Onalfo has brought about with United. With only two players over the age of 30 (Moreno and Allsop) who will play every game from the outset, it’s a bit of a departure from years past in the way that United is shaping their team. United has always prided itself on their flowing football and attacking style of play. To me their predictable play has gone a little stale over the past few years and I think the changes made during the off-season reflect that. Younger players and better ball movement might be the key to this team turning around their fortunes and finally getting into the playoffs after a two-year haitus. Who knows, they might even eschew their normal method of walking the ball into the goal in favor of actually using the width of the field and letting talented playmakers like Castillo and Quaranta get down the wing and hit some crosses into a team that now boast three strikers over 6 feet tall in Allsop, Pontius and Cristman.

It’s going to be an interesting preseason and even more intriguing regular season. I can’t wait for it to get started. In the meantime, can anyone volunteer to come over and help shovel my car out?

United picks up Local Defender Jordan Graye in 2010 MLS Draft

With their only pick in the 2010 MLS Superdraft, 4th round/55th overall, DC United selected Jordan Graye, a defender from the University of North Carolina and former DC United Academy graduate.

Graye comes to United after 4 seasons with the Tar Heels. In 2008 Graye started 23 of 24 games and recorded one assist while in 2009 he started all 22 games and tallyed two goals and three assists.

During the 2008 season he suffered a minor knee injury that sidelined him for one game but was able to quickly return to the line-up.

For additional information on Graye, visit his player profile at UNC and the DC United official announcement.

Name: Jordan Graye
Date of Birth: 6/15/87
Height: 6-2
Weight: 170
Hometown: Washington, DC
Place of Birth: Washington, DC
College: University of North Carolina
Acquired: Selected in the fourth round (55th overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft on January 14, 2010.

United Welcomes Perkins back, bids Fred Farewell

DC United announced today that it has re-acquired the rights to former black-and-Red goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

In exchange for Perkins DC United will send Brazilian midfielder Fred to the Philadelphia Union, give up their 1st round pick (7th overall) in tomorrow’s MLS Superdraft, and send allocation money to Philadelphia. The deal allowed United to exchange places with Philadelphia in the allocation order in order to acquire the 28 year-old 2006 MLS Goalkeeper of the year..

Perkins has spent the last two years of his career in the Norwegian first division where he helped Valerenga earn the Football Cup title in his very first season.

Before heading to Norway Perkins had four successful seasons with DC United, 2 of which he spent as the undeniable starter. In 2006 Perkins was named MLS’s goalkeeper of the year.

The move adds another keeper to United roster. UNited now has four including Perkins, Bill Hamid, Milos Kocic, Josh Wicks.

Josh Wicks, who suffered a season ending injury late in 09 and is still recovering from shoulder surgery, will likely be sidelined until mid-March and will miss the season opener, leaving the starting spot open to the more experienced Troy Perkins. Wicks, who showed inconsistencies and erratic behavior during the 2009 season could be headed for a fierce competition for the back-up spot with Milos Kocic, provided Perkins proves to be the undisputed starter.

United will name Curt Onalfo next coach

Curt Onalfo will become D.C. United’s sixth head coach according to www.behindthebadge.com. Onalfo will be announced the head coach at a press conference on January 5th. Onalfo jumped up to the head of the que when Akron coach Caleb Porter turned down the United offer before Christmas. Onalfo was the Kansas City Wizards head coach for the past two seasons and was let go midseason this past year. Onalfo has ties to United being both a former player (1997-1998) and an assistant under Thomas Rongen (2000-2002). Onalfo also had a brief stint as an assistant coach with the U.S. National Team.

Ben Olsen Announces Retirement

DC United’s Ben Olsen announced his retirement from professional Soccer today.

United’s midfielder was part of DC United for 12 years, will be missed by fans.

United’s midfielder expressed feeling some anxiety about the future and expressed tremendous gratitude towards his teammates and DC United, “I was a product of good Coaching” Olsen said, “I played with great players and was a product of a great organization. I’m very grateful to all those who have contributed in making my career.”

When asked about his future he said that he “would NOT like to be considered for the head coaching Job. But as far a s a role with the club, that is one of the options that may be available later on.”

From the beginning Olsen became a fan favorite. His tremendous energy on and off the field was contagious and quickly became a source of energy for the fans. Today is certainly a sad day for DC United and its fans.

Mayor Adrian Fenty, although not present at Ben Olsen’s retirement issued a proclamation naming November 24, 2009 as Ben Olsen Day in the District of Columbia.

From all of us at UnitedMania.com and from all DC United fans out there we wish Ben and his family the best of luck in the future.

Ben Olsen Gallery

[slidepress gallery=’ben-olsen’]

Photos: Martin Frnandez

Soehn out as United coach

D.C. United and head coach Tom Soehn have parted ways after three seasons. Soehn decided not to renew his contract after talking it over with his family. United had a 36-30-24 record in MLS play during Soehn’s three year stay but failed to make the playoffs in the last two seasons, losing out on the last day of the season on each occasion. Also a factor to consider was that United has now twice failed to advance out of the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League. After looking embarrassingly poor in the 2008 tournament (going 0-5-1), United turned their fortunes around and went 3-2-1 this time but narrowly lost out to Marathon in a difficult group to advance from.

United’s front office now has the task of finding a replacement for Tom Soehn. While current interim Red Bull coach Richie Williams seems to be the sentimental and perhaps logical favorite to succeed Soehn, the front office may choose to go in another direction outside of the club and their hallowed history. Only time will tell.

Only the name remains the same

The press conference has come and gone.  The politicos and official team folks have waxed poetic about how a new Prince George’s County Stadium for DC United will bring scores of jobs and millions to the county. 

But it is really a good deal? And is it a good deal now? 

Whatever happened in DC, the city’s lost one team in the Redskins, and a second should everything go through as PG and DCU officials hope. Again, the District of Columbia dropped the ball on keeping a good community partner in the city – unless a desperation slide-tackle in the Maryland penalty area is successful, and even attempted. That being said, stadium financing and job creation by sports franchises can be a slippery slope also.

Questions, and these are only a few, that need answering:

Jobs – what kind of jobs are we talking about among these 1,000+ full-time equivalents, and how much would people be getting paid? Are these construction jobs, jobs for people after the stadium opens, both? Other? 

Projected revenues? – $5 million in projected tax revenue for the county and $65 million to $80 million of new economic activity in the county and state on a yearly basis? Don’t believe any of that until a stadium is open and you can see first hand whether or not the money is coming in. Studies, at least the ones I’ve seen about similar subjects, usually have loftier projections when they’re touting the good, and less-so when projecting the bad (re: Virginia’s budget deficit). 

Projected revenues II (who gets what) – Part of the reason for moving out of RFK Stadium is to make money, for the team to have its own revenues. The bill says that DC United and PG County are to come to an agreement “that the allocation of revenue from events at the Prince George’s County Stadium is set forth.”

Projected events – 60? OK, 20 of those would be United matches, about 10, maybe for a pro women’s league team should it still be around in three years and a handful for the University of Maryland men’s powerhouse. The rest of the events, it seems, the stadium authority would have to compete for – MLS Cup, MLS All-Star game, World Cup qualifiers and international exhibitions, College Cup, high school and festival-type events, concerts, etc. 

The bill itselfHouse Bill 1282 – that seems to be lost in all the hype. It was introduced Fri., Feb. 13 – yes, Friday the 13th – in the Maryland General Assembly’s House of Delegates by Del. Melony Griffith. No action has yet to be taken on the bill, which sits in the House Appropriations Committee and has had its first reading. State Sen. Anthony Muse is supposed to introduce the Senate version, but has yet to do so. The House version, as yet, has no co-sponsors. Bills must go through three readings in each chamber – once upon introduction, another time after it has a committee hearing (where it can be amended) and then a third time when a floor vote is taken. The General Assembly has 47 senators and 141 delegates.  The text of the bill says the county has already identified a suitable site for a stadium, even as the team said yesterday it will look over several.

The bill, if passed, would take effect June 1, 2009. 

Location – It seems to be mixed on whether its Northern Virginia fan base would travel further to PG County for matches. Some have said it would likely be a few minutes longer on Metro to get there and don’t mind the trip in exchange for a first class stadium, while others say it’s already far enough for them, and a longer trip would be too much. Has the team already identified the fans it might get to replace the ones that – while likely still remaining fans – will not be coming to the matches? Have team officials made any projections on how many fans it might lose? Surely if there are rosy economic figures out there, they’ve got some rosy figures for fan attendance too. 

2012 opening? – Sure, if ground is broken now a stadium could be completed by then, if not quicker, but that assumes all goes well, the economy recovers at some point and no one in Maryland gets cold feet.

It’s a good hope to see a flicker of light at the end of the stadium tunnel. But now’s not the time to stop being skeptical. Read the bill and keep asking questions. We will.

PG United?

Following a scuttled stadium deal at Poplar Point in the District of Columbia, DC United executives signaled their intentions Friday to move the team to Prince George’s County in Maryland and build a 24,000-seat stadium at a cost of $180 million to $195 million. Team co-owner Victor MacFarlane and team president Kevin Payne, will take part in an 11:30 a.m. press conference Monday at Prince George’s Community College where Sen. Anthony Muse and Del. Melony Griffith, members of the Maryland General Assembly, will unveil plans to introduce legislation to allow DC United to move to Maryland and work with the Maryland Stadium Authority to build a stadium. Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson will be among those in attendance. A report commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority said a new stadium would generate $65 million to $80 million annually. The stadium is to be paid for by DC United and new revenue generated by the team and stadium, according to a press release about the stadium announcement. The new stadium would not, according to the announcement, “draw on the existing tax base or require lottery funds.”

USA v. Costa Rica slated for RFK in October

The USA’s World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica will be played at RFK Stadium Wed., Oct. 14.

It will be the last match of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

DC United has home matches Sat., Oct. 3  against Chivas USA and Sat., Oct. 17 against the Columbus Crew. 

The USA won its first match Thursday, 2-0, over Mexico, getting two Michael Bradley goals. Former DC United assistant Bob Bradley (1996-97) coaches the US national team and is the father of Michael Bradley. 

RFK last hosted a semifinal World Cup qualifier on Oct. 11, 2008, with the USA defeating Cuba, 6-1 before 20,293. Here’s a link to the US national team’s 2009 schedule.

Guille MVP

Schelotto collected seven goals and 19 assists in 27 games during a prolific 2008 regular season, leading the league in assists by a wide margin. He also set a new Crew record for most assists in a season, eclipsing John Wilmar Perez’s 15 in 2001, and finished the season tied for second in MLS history for assists in a season. Five of his assists led to game-winners and his extraordinary performances were recognized with four regular-season MLS Player of the Week selections, MLS Player of the Month honors for August and inclusion on the MLS inactive All-Star roster. His 19 assists this season are the most for an individual in MLS since the 2002 season when Steve Ralston also totaled 19.

Thanks in large part to Schelotto’s leadership and playmaking ability, the 2008 regular season was one of the best in Crew history, as the Black & Gold won the Supporters’ Shield with a 17-7-6 record and 57 points, shattering the club record for points in a season. Columbus also set new club marks for wins and goals (50) in the post-shootout era (since 2000).

Schelotto has continued to be a difference-maker in the 2008 MLS Cup Playoffs, totaling three assists in three games and garnering MLS Cup Playoffs Player of the Week honors on Nov. 17. Schelotto and the Crew will look to produce a storybook ending to their magical 2008 season on Sunday, when the Black & Gold take on the New York Red Bulls in the 2008 MLS Cup Final on “ESPN on ABC” at 3:30 p.m. (ET) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Since joining the Crew in 2007 from storied Argentinean club Boca Juniors, Schelotto has proven to be one of the best attacking players in the league. He was a member of the 2007 MLS Best XI squad and in 49 career MLS regular season games, he has recorded a whopping 30 assists and scored 12 goals.