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United begins offseason housecleaning – Inside and Out

The bloodletting has begun. Not even a week after D.C. United closed what arguably will be the worst single-season by an MLS team in it’s 17-year history, the Black-and-Red have made moves on and off the field that have sent shockwaves through the United community.

The on-field moves made by United yesterday included the declining of team options on Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy, Carlos Ruiz and Marcelo Saragosa. None of these moves comes as a surprise with the exception of De Rosario, team captain for most of his time on the field this season. While DeRo came up way short in terms of production on the field, it was a bit of a surprise that the team didn’t at least talk through the option of re-signing DeRo at a much lower rate than his reported $600,000 salary from this past season. Not coincidentally, all four of the players let go yesterday were all over 30 years of age. John Thorrington and Lewis Neal are the only players now on United’s books that are over 30 years old and both will most likely be retained in the offseason.

As for the others, it was a no-brainer as Pajoy, Ruiz and Saragosa were shells of their former selves. Some would argue differently for Pajoy’s case as he was clearly the fans and media’s #1 whipping boy for the failures of the 2013 edition of United. Pajoy was unconvincing pretty much during his entire run with United, but for some reason head coach Ben Olsen loved his workrate. It’s funny, I remember a conversation during an early season match for United that was televised on ESPN when play-by-play man Adrian Healey was mentioning a conversation he had with Olsen in regards to Pajoy when he said “Olsen really likes his high workrate”. Immediately color commentator Taylor Twellman shot back “well I prefer my forwards to score goals.”  That pretty much sums up everyones opinion on Pajoy and it really seemed a mystery why Olsen decided to hitch his wagon to him.

Ruiz was a shot in the dark that simply didn’t pan out. There were expectations that Ruiz’ experience would help United’s admittedly young striking corp (aside from Pajoy) but it never materialized and he became an afterthought for Olsen during the summer. Ruiz’ only contribution was a goal against Chivas de Guadalajara in an exhibition match midseason. After that Ruiz was a persona non grata once the on-loan addition of Conor Doyle came to be.

Imagine how Ruiz’ and United’s fortunes may have changed had Ruiz finished that sitter late against Real Salt Lake in the 2nd match of the season. Who knows? Maybe if Ruiz buries that chance, both he and United don’t begin a season-long funk in front of goal. Now of course it’s ridiculous to heap the blame of an entire season’s worth of ineptitude on the feet of Ruiz and a shot he buries 9 out of 10 times, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that a burst of confidence from that finish might have spurred United to a better outlook on the season rather than what became the customary “here we go again” scenario that unfolded too many times to count during the season when chances came begging that weren’t put away.

As for Saragosa, he was a solid peice of the late-season puzzle for United last year in the wake of the DeRo injury that put him out of the last 9 league matches (of which United went 7-0-2 to end the season). Saragosa however has always been a limited player aside from locking down the middle of the park and his injuries this season and subsequent unavailability made this an easy decision for the front office staff.

Now, speaking of the front office..

On Tuesday the team also announced that Doug Hicks (Cheif Marketing Officer), Aprile Pritchet (Community Relations – also in charge of United for DC charity) and Sarah Lerner (Communications Manager) were all let go. This news sent shockwaves through the media and Twitter was ablaze for about 5 hours after the late-afternoon announcement.

Hicks had been with the club for 13 seasons and was everpresent for any and all major announcements and was a true pro in his role as Communications Director for most of his time with United. On a personal level, I’ve dealt with Doug for over 10 years and he has been more than meets the eye on almost every occasion. Without knowing the inner workings of United, it seems on the face of things a terrible move by the ownership group. On the heels of major front office moves last season, which included the letting go of Communications Manager Kyle Sheldon, it makes you wonder what the Hell is going on over at United.

On the one hand, I understand if new onwnership comes in and wants to input their own personnel, that’s their prerogative as owners and truth be told, the front office has not been up to snuff from previous seasons. Season ticket sales are down and United just came off their worst attendance average in club history in just over 13,000 per game. Heads are gonna roll in situations like this but it doesn’t mean that I can’t disagree with them from the outside looking in. That’s my prerogative.

As for Aprile Pritchet and Sarah Lerner, not unlike my experiences with Doug, they have been very open and receptive to any of my minimal needs. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense why good people are losing their jobs. Sarah was only with the team for two years but Apriel had been there a very long time as well. I wish all three of them good fortune in the future and hope to cross paths with them again one day.

In the end, United in two years have basically jettisoned every person I deal with from a media standpoint and it just doesn’t seem right to me. However, it’s not my decision and I will just have to buck up like every other media member who is as saddened as I am to see these good people let go.

One can only hope that their replacements are equally as accessible and professional as Doug, Aprile and Sarah were.

Getting back to the on the field product, it seems pretty clear that Olsen and his staff are cutting what they see as dead weight. This doesn’t mean that the contributions from the four aforementioned players won’t be forgotten anytime soon. DeRo after all did win an MLS MVP trophy and almost single-handidly carried United to a playoff berth in 2011. I think in many ways, everyone with a vested interest in United was hoping to see something similar from him this season after the team made a number of offseason moves that saw quite a few goals leave the team. DeRo obviously wasn’t up to the task and paying him a Designated Player salary just wasn’t sound business. Additionally, I think DeRo’s time had come. From the two-game suspension at the beginning of the season to the pouting about not starting matches when clearly his form was way off, he just wasn’t giving this team what it needed most, veteran leadership.

DeRo can still play in this league, just not for a team like United who is in major flux. DeRo would be a good addition to a veteran team next season, provided he’s okay with a reduced workload that also comes with a slight reduction in salary. Unfortunately, that is the climate for veteran players in MLS these days not named Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill or Robbie Keane.

The much maligned Lionard Pajoy actually did manage to carve out a few memorable moments in his brief time with United. He scored the lone goal in a 1-0 away win over Philadelphia during that streak late last season that kept United in the hunt for a top playoff seed. He also scored the game-tying goal in Chicago on the last day of the season that clinched 2nd place for United in the East. Had that goal not been scored, United would have been in the play-in game against Houston. I think we all know what would have happened had that panned out. And last but not least, he helped set up the series-winning goal against Red Bull last November that got United to the Eastern Conference final.

Obviously Saragosa and Ruiz’ contributions had much less impact than what DeRo and Pajoy had done during their time with United but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the effort they put forth for United. These are tough decisions for teams but at the end of the day, they were the right moves to make going forward.

United still has a trip to Indonesia on the books in December and Technical Director Dave Kasper had said recently that the club was planning on taking a 22-man squad on the trip. Well, the releasing of these four players makes that decision that much easier.

All in all, I still think this team has a lot more moves up their sleeve. Let’s hope they make the right ones this time as clearly last season they did not on many fronts..

International Exhibition – United vs Chivas: Youth on display as United draw 1-1 with Mexican legends

In a season that has gone dreadfully wrong, perhaps a break from MLS is just what D.C. United needed. It seems however that even the Soccer Gods won’t cut United any slack as a late goal from Angel Zaldivar in stoppage time earned Chivas de Guadalajara a 1-1 draw tonight at soggy RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Carlos Ruiz scored his first goal for United in the 73rd minute to give the home side the lead thanks to the hustle and first-touch of 17-year old striker Michael Seaton. Seaton, a Homegrown Player that signed at the beginning of the season, couldn’t have had a better start to his United career. The lanky Jamaican striker initially misjudged a quick throw-in from James Riley but outhustled his Chivas counterpart and slid a lovely cross from the endline to the top of the penalty area where Ruiz one-timed his shot to the far corner.

Just as United seemed to have locked down the win in stoppage time, slack defending allowed the Mexican giants to level the score in the 92nd minute. Given way too much time on the flanks, a ball was whipped into the area where Zaldivar got a head on the ball and gave United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra no chance.

Both squads were missing key players due to injury and International duty and the starting lineups reflected as much. United this past week made it clear to the rest of MLS of their intentions heading into the second half of their dismal campaign with a number of moves that reflected their new philosophy of youth leading the way. United handed a starting debut to withdrawn forward Luis Silva and midfielder Jared Jeffrey as well as second-half debuts to Seaton, fellow Homegrown signing Collin Martin and Indonesian international Alam Syamsir.

The jumbled lineups for both squads was evident on the field in the first 45 minutes but United’s season-long issue of not creating credible scoring chances was ever present as they only had a handful of chances from Chris Pontius, Jeffries and their best chance when John Thorrington’s cross into the goalmouth was scrambled away as Casey Townsend was looking to pounce. The horrific field conditions, thanks to heavy rains during the day and an Ethiopian soccer tournament as United was on the road the past two weeks, didn’t help matters either.

After the break massive changes to United’s lineup created more instability but it was the visitors who nearly took the lead in the 54th minute. Conor Shanosky slipped deep in the penalty area allowing a rare Chivas chance on goal and they rattled the crossbar from ten yards away.

Andrew Dykstra, subbed in for starter Joe Willis in the second half, made a pair of sensational saves to keep Chivas off the board and allowed United to score against the run of play. Dykstra continued his solid goalkeeping late into the match but Chivas snatched an important moral victory from United with their late goal in the 92nd minute.

It will be very interesting to see what decisions Ben Olsen will make with his lineups with the infusion of some hungry young blood into his side. With the transfer window still open for another six weeks, United is still not done changing their lineup and will look to improve their side in that span.

Meanwhile United will now look forward to another road game when they face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park a week from Saturday at 8:30 pm EST. The match will be televised by Comcast SportsNet.

United Notes

  • Dwayne De Rosario, Nick DeLeon and Kyle Porter were left off the match roster due to lingering injuries. Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald made their first appearances for United in quite some time
  • Marcelo Saragosa has to undergo another knee surgery and will be out a further 4-6 weeks
  • Despite the odds on Soccer Betting sites DC United managed a draw in this international friendly.

 

 

Episode 117 – Hyperbolic Mike

Join the guys as they look back at United’s pre-season and as they look forward to United’s 2013 Campaign. They go over all of the roster moves that United has made during the pre-season, including the signing of El Pescadito…

Deja Vu`all over again as United lets in late equalizer in 2-2 draw with Philadelphia

For the second consecutive weekend, D.C. United allows a late equalizing goal to deny themselves another opportunity to climb the table in the weak Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer. This week’s generous recipient were the Philadelphia Union who leveled the match at 2-2 in the 84th minute thanks in part to some lazy defending and the opportunistic killer instinct of Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz easily beat United rookie defender Ethan White to a centered ball from defender Sheanon Williams who also easily shed his defensive marker Chris Pontius down the right sideline.

Josh Wolff and Andy Najar scored the goals for United while Philadelphia’s first goal was an own-goal courtesy of more shoddy defending from rookie right-back Perry Kitchen. United got on the board first in this back-and-forth affair in the 44th minute thanks to newcomer Dwayne DeRosario and Najar. Najar received a ball from Ethan White along the left side line and the Honduran spotted DeRosario making a run into the left side of the penalty area. The crafty veteran froze defender Sheanon Williams and sent a low ball through traffic where Josh Wolff easily redirected the ball into the empty net for the 1-0 lead.

After the break, it was the visitors who struck first through some careless defending from United in the 49th minute. After a minute of sustained Union pressure deep in United territory, Chris Pontius chested a ball down right into the path of Union midfielder Veljko Paunovic. The Macedonian moved to the edge of the area and sent a ball to the far post that Kitchen seemed to have an easy bead on. However, token pressure from Sebastian Le Toux forced Kitchen into an awkward jumping clearance that hit off the inside of his knee and past a stunned Bill Hamid to level the match at 1-1.

It didn’t take long though for the 13,365 fans in attendance to erupt when in the 58th minute Andy Najar pulled off a bit of magic. Najar was fortunate that his cut-back move at midfield deflected through the legs Union midfielder Keon Daniel and bounded into open space. Najar took off towards the Union goal with no defender in sight and unleashed a wicked 35-yard blast that beat Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon to his right and ripped into the side-netting to give the Black-and-Red the lead once again at 2-1.

After that point however it seemed United pulled back and stopped being aggressive and fell into a defensive shell. Carlos Ruiz nearly equalized just two minutes after Najar’s wonder goal when he beat Ethan White to the penalty spot to meet a cross from Justin Mapp and his header was stopped point blank by Hamid. Philadelphia continued their pressure for the remainder of the match and just like last week’s disappointing 2-2 draw with the Houston Dynamo, lightning struck twice as the Union leveled the match in the 84th minute.

Sebastian Le Toux started the sequence by threading a ball in between Daniel Woolard and Chris Pontius to Williams and his one-time cross was clipped in by Ruiz as White was slow to get ball side to defend the play. Bill Hamid was left with no chance to save the play and United were left licking their wounds for a second consecutive weekend.

United now must embark on a two-game road trip to New York and Dallas before heading home to play the New England Revolution on July 20th.

 

United Notes

– Fred made his final appearance at RFK for United this evening. Fred is going to be transferred to the Melbourne Heart of the A-League in Australia when the International Transfer Window opens on July 15th. Fred will be with United for their two-game road trip starting next Saturday night at Red Bull Arena

– Jed Zayner will have surgery on his knee and most likely be out for the remainder of the season. United are frightfully thin on the back line these days and are bringing in players on trial to help stem the tide