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
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