With Hoosiers on my mind (Thanks a lot Mike Wise, you catch that Wake game BTW?), I can’t help but think of that gym scene from the movie when the school is chanting “We want Jimmy!”, until Coach Dale silences them with that emphatic remark I used in my title. I can envision DC United’s Brainstaff pointing at the competent, but possibly underwhelming group they have assembled this off-season and saying the same thing to some skeptical fans after last season’s debacle.
Anyway, with the signing of Dejan Jakovic over the weekend along with yesterday as the first roster compliance day, it appears DC United is filled out to the gills, bar that one last lonely bottom slot that isn’t likely to play much if at all. So, let the games begin in deciding if DC United has what it takes to win another Cup or two with their off-season moves this time around.
Now, every pre-season is full of the usual glass half full or half empty, but what I will try to do avoid my usual homerism and actually analyze United’s roster in comparison with notable rosters of last year’s elite teams just to see how it stacks up and let the cards fall where they may.
Now, given the complexity of task and the ideas rampaging through my mind right now as well as my typical long-windedness in conjunction with being pressed for time this week, I think this will break down into a few articles over the next few days starting today with just the forwards.
So, to begin with let’s see what United has signed to date at forward: Luciano Emilio, Jaime Moreno, Francis Doe, Ange N’Silu, Boyzzz Khumalo, Chris Pontius.
This is as classy as it gets in MLS, bar none, especially if you throw in Quaranta as he’s really a better forward than the midfield he may be forced to play. Moreno and Emilio are both former league MVPs (and are re-united with another MVP in Gomez, but more on that later) and flat out proved they can make a difference in this league on a regular basis.
Sure, point out Jaime is old and Emilio is Mr. Summer, but the fact remains these guys have put up equal or better numbers than any other forward pairing in MLS the past two years. Emilio has scored 31 goals since he came here for 2007 (only Angel has had more with 33 over that span) and Jaime has had 17 goals (10 last year) the past two years. That’s 48 goals over two seasons for those of you keeping score at home.
Those numbers easily trounce the likes of the highest scoring forwards on the best teams the past few years. The Crew with Alejandro Moreno and Schelotto have only notched 28 goals the past two years, Houston with Ching and Jaqua/Ngwenya only 31, NE with Twellman and Cristman/Noonan 37 goals. In fact, only Donovan and Buddle have tied United’s pair with 48 goals the past two years (35 of them last year), while Angel and Altidore/Magee have managed 47 (most of them in 2007). Chivas with Razov and Galindo/Alecko, Dallas with Cooper and Cunningham/Ruiz, and RSL with Movsisyan and Brown/Findley, etc. don’t even come close these type numbers.
Bottom line is that Emilio is in the prime of his career and should still hang good numbers, certainly at least in the teens in goals. Moreno is a bit riskier, but does anyone seriously think he can’t steal 6 or 7 goals even if he doesn’t manage his usual 9 or 10? The fact he had 10 last year on a struggling team shows he should still be a force throughout this year barring injuries. And injuries are a crap shoot anyway. Twellman and Angel have both missed more games than Moreno the past two years, but no one is questioning their production as much as Moreno is seemingly always perceived as one step away from his rocking chair.
Even if either Emilio or Moreno is forced out for a long spell, DC still has some very decent options with Doe, Khumalo, Pontius, or even Quaranta. Few teams have a third or fourth forward that really makes a huge contribution. Doe and Khumalo had 3 in essentially half a season last year. The Crew got 7 from Lenhart and Garey, Houston 5 from DeRo and Kamara, NE 7 from Dube and Mansally. So, DC is still well in the mix especially if the reports out of pre-season camp that Doe and Pontius are both playing very impressive continues to play out into the season.
In fact, DC does have some extremely promising backups at forward overall. Doe has steadily progressed from a bull in a china shop to a pretty heady fast and powerful forward with a good sense for the goal. Khumalo is a nice addition of speed and skill dead set on running at and around defenders. The Congolese Frenchman N’Silu is a wild card right now, but certainly looks intriguing, while Pontius is considered the best non generation Adidas forward from the draft as well as a guy who has been lighting up camp.
Now as for the downsides. It is true Emilio has not started or finished seasons very well. He’s nuclear hot in the summer, but not so much in the early days or more importantly in the money games. However, his first year, he had the adjustment to MLS which is always hard and in his second, he had a bit of a contract controversy that may well have preyed on his mind and his off-season conditioning. None of those are a factor now starting this season. In fact, well paid and used to MLS, he’s reported to have come into camp raring to go and looking sharp. All reasons to think he will start a bit stronger than usual.
As for finishing seasons badly, Emilio has been hideously overused the past two years given the staggering amount of big games DC has played the past two years and has been seriously banged up come playoff time. One good thing about United’s collapse last year is that this season will be starkly streamlined and focused on MLS success as CONCACAF might only be a two game distraction, so Emilio should be well rested and healthy come crunch time this year.
Now for all you Jaime doubters out there, I will just say that while it is possible he gets hurt or drops like an anchor into old age, it is far more likely he continues in his usual role as most feared opponent in the league. Donovan is fast, Angel is deadly, etc. but Jaime can embarrass a defender out of his shorts with almost criminal ease. He hasn’t relied on physical skills since he blew past Agoos in a friendly in RFK in 1996. He has the skill and knowledge to glide past younger players like they were anchored to the ground and there is no question in my mind he still has at least one more year before the defenders in this league manage to combine enough athleticism and brainpower to negate his advantage.
Besides there’s questions about every forward in the league. Angel’s back, Twellman’s recklessness, Ching’s disappearing acts, Donovan’s consistency, etc. If any of those players hit a bad patch, their teams are toast. That’s the nature of MLS. So, if you’re expecting the worst from DC’s forwards and not from everyone else’s than obviously the glass is half empty. But, it seems far more likely DC has one of the better forward pairings in the league.
Even if the bottom falls out, there’s still reason to hope. Doe could be another Dube or Mansally, Khumalo another Ngwenya or Kandji, Pontius could be another Movsisyan in effectiveness and has already been compared to a young Pat Noonan by none other than DC general manager Kevin Payne. N’Silu could be the kind of lightning in a bottle player that befuddles MLS defenses into apoplexy, you never know. But, clearly these guys are no worse than anyone else in the league is trotting out on opening day at any rate.
So, there you have it. DC made few changes to their forward ranks, but also didn’t really need to except to add talent for the future which they did. Tomorrow we’ll look at the changes to DC’s midfield and see how well they might mesh with the forwards as well as the offense overall, then the fat will really hit the fire as we take a gander at what was done to shore up the second worst defense in the league last year, especially in comparison to the other elite teams, and see where that leaves DC United overall by the end of the weekend.