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DC Hosts Crew in 2011 Season Opener

For the first time since 2006, DC United gets to open the season in RFK stadium, where they will be facing long time Eastern Conference rival, the Columbus Crew.

Looking to erase the worst season in team history, DC United begins the Ben Olsen era, in a rare season opener in the friendly confines of RFK stadium against the Columbus Crew, with a rebuilt roster full of new faces.

With at best only four starters from last year’s disastrous season opener in KC likely to start this weekend against the Crew, United’s almost complete transformation will be readily apparent starting with central midfielder Dax McCarty replacing the legendary Jaime Moreno as captain of the team, pretty much completely severing any ties to United’s glory years.

It seems pretty likely that from last year’s opening day roster, only young phenom, Andy Najar and midfield iron man Clyde Simms are guaranteed a starting spots for the new look DC United against the Crew. Maybe forward/midfielder Chris Pontius and center back Dejan Jakovic find the starting lineup as well, but each has stiff competition to beat out if they expect to make any starting job their own.

Based on the pre-season and news to date, it seems pretty likely United will start new forwards Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya, both of whom had very effective pre-seasons, as it seems likely Olsen will choose to bring on the dynamic Charlie Davies off the bench in his first match in United colors as he works his way back to full fitness from his horrific crash late in 2009. Perhaps Pontius gets the nod over Wolff, but considering he’s played mostly midfield in the pre-season, that seems unlikely.

In the midfield, possibly Pontius starts on the left, but considering the financial commitment United has made to designated player Branko Boskovic, it seems more likely the Montenegran midfielder will claim that left side position. In the center will be Captain McCarty and Clyde Simms almost certainly, and it seems equally likely Najar claims the right side as well, all of which leaves long time United player Santino Quaranta on the outside looking in.

In defense, Olsen does have some interesting choices, Marc Burch is apparently healthy and clearly has some hold over the powers that be in United land as they see something that I don’t and he seems likely to start left back. Perhaps former Fire back, Daniel Woolard pips Burch at the post, and in my opinion, he’s the better overall player, but there you go.

In the center, third pick in the draft, Perry Kitchen is all but a lock to start having impressed everyone this pre-season. Next to him seems likely to be Jakovic, but possibly DC’s off season pickup, Uruguyan defender Rodrigo Bresesco edges out Jakovic although that seems unlikely. Or perhaps Bresesco snags the right back slot away from Jed Zayner, but that too seems unlikely since he’s played pretty much in the center all pre-season.

Finally in goal, United will have emergency signing, player coach Pat Onstad, in the nets. What will be interesting is to see who will be his backup. If it’s rookie Joe Willis, then Hamid is nowhere near fit enough yet coming back from his shoulder surgery. However, if Hamid is indeed the emergency keeper, then United’s impressive young keeper might be closer to re-acquiring his starting job sooner rather than later.

As for the Crew, it seems likely they will play their standard 4-4-2 with Emilio Renteria and Peruvian designated player, Andres Mendoza at forward. Perhaps the second leading scorer in MLS history, Jeff Cunningham takes over for Renteria, if the Venezuelan is not fully recovered from a knock, but Cunningham coming off the bench seems far more likely.

In midfield, gone is former MVP, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but Robbie Rogers, Nigerian Olympian, Emmanuel Ekpo, and Eddie Gaven return going left to right across the formation. With Danny O’Rourke out and having just signed 31 year old Serb, Dejan Rusmir out of the Romanian first division, it seems likely he starts at defensive midfield.

United will welcome a familiar face starting in the defense, as Julius James is slated to start in central defense place of Andy Iro, who is coming off a groin injury. Rookie Rich Balchan is expected to start at left back, Chad Marshall in the center next to James, and 30 year old Sebastion Miranda from Chili will be starting on the right. In goal, Hesmer appears healthy coming back from shoulder problems, but if not quite ready former Dallas keeper, Ray Burse will be filling in as he has to date.

So, looking at the matchups, Andy Najar has the best chance going up against a rookie from Indiana on that side of the field. Ngwenya and Wolff, and certainly Davies, all have the speed and savvy to trouble Julius “red card” James, and even Chad Marshall can be troubled by speed as well if United is able to send their forwards repeatedly behind the defense as this team seems created to do. Even solid, effective pros, McCarty and Simms should have an advantage over the mercurial Ekpo and the new to MLS, Rusmir.

On the other side of the ball, the bull, Renteria and the brutally effective Mendoza could seriously trouble the casual Jakovic and certainly steamroll the rookie Kitchen, so that is a concern. As is the wily Gaven going against Burch or Woolard, and Robbie Rogers is a handful too, but then again, Zayner has played against him as often as anyone having spent two years in Columbus before coming to DC. Still, Columbus has had trouble finding the back of the net this pre-season, and perhaps that continues.

Looking at the trends, DC has certainly not done well against the Crew in RFK lately, having been swept by them to the tune of 3 losses last year including being knocked from the Open Cup semis. In fact, DC has lost 4 of the last 5 league matches against the Crew here in RFK since 2006, having only beaten them by an Emilio miracle late in 2009. However, the main architect of those recent losses, Schelotto, is gone, and historically DC has owned the Crew in RFK going 15-6-3 since 1996, and outscored them 49-33 even including their recent poor run.

Even better, for merely the 4th time in 15 years, DC United is hosting their season opening game and United hasn’t lost a home season opener since the debacle in 2000 against LA going 2-0-1 since then most recently tying NY in 2006 after beating SJ and KC in ‘04 and ‘01 respectively. In addition, United has lost only 4 home openers total since the loss to the Galaxy in the first ever United match in RFK. Prior to last year’s home opening loss to NE, DC was 6-2-5 in home openers since 1996.

So there you have it. Home openers are huge in MLS, and RFK is a tough place to find a victory under normal circumstances (excluding last year from the mind completely), and this team seems poised to reverse their fortune from last year too, and there’s no question the RFK faithful will explode with delight if United shows they have put last year behind them. Both teams seem likely to score, but United has to be a one goal favorite. Fingers crossed.

DC United and Seattle Wrangle for Respectability

For two proud and arrogant franchises this season has been a nightmare with both teams wallowing in seventh place in their respective conferences at the moment. But, changes are in the wind and both teams will be looking to jump start the second half of their seasons with some new faces to get themselves back to respectability at least.

DC United returns to RFK for the first time in almost two months and after collecting a promising 5 points in their four game road swing starting with that win in Seattle just before the World Cup break, so they can claim at least a modest amount of momentum. Even more promising is the game being played on the first day of the transfer should allow the Black and Red to unveil their shiny new attackers, Argentine forward Pablo Hernandez and midfielder Branko Boskovic, as long as their paperwork comes through on time.

Seattle has a shiny new attacker too, Blaise Nkufo, fresh off playing for Switzerland in the World Cup. But having just joined the team here in DC, it’s unlikely he plays more than some sub minutes if at all. For United, Hernandez has been practicing for weeks and surely could start if he’s earned it, but Boskovic has only recently been introduced to the legendary suffocating Washington heat waves, and almost certainly will come on as a sub at best.

For once, DC will be facing a team with worse injury concerns than their own too. Seattle will be missing winger Freddy Ljungberg ostensibly for an ankle injury, both central midfielders as Brad Evans is out with a knee and Alonso has been slow to come back from hamstring injury although he did play some minutes in their last match. Rookie Mike Seamon replacing Evans rolled an ankle too in that last match too, but is expected to play. The loss of Hurtado to a season ending knee injury has severely weakened their central defense as well.

So, with Sigi shuffling his lineups fairly regularly due to injuries and trying to break out of four match winless streak dating to United’s shocking win in Seattle, it’s tough to say exactly how Seattle will line up. For sure, it will be a 4-4-2 because with Jaqua finally back, they now have a partner for sophomore slumping Freddy Montero. It’s a lock last year’s number one draft pick and current Seattle leading scorer, Steve Zakuani, will start on the left.

For the rest of the midfield it seems likely Sigi goes with the same team that tied Dallas last week to break their three game losing streak. Which means Seattle will go with a complete second string midfield with Seamon and Nathan Sturgis in central midfield, Sanna Nyassi starting on the right for the suspended Miguel Montano, their newly signed young Colombian who was introduced to the league and sent to the showers in the same match for a wild tackle on Brek Shea.

In defense, Sigi still has some concerns though. Gonzalez has been solid, but Ianni and Parke have been sketchy at best, with Tyrone Marshall strangely absent of late. Then Riley is attacking well but defending abysmally as usual. That group held on gamely for 88 minutes, but also gave up the late goal snatching a draw from almost a certain win. It’ll be interesting to see if Sigi controls his natural instinct to strangle them for that lapse and gives them the benefit of the doubt, or brings back Marshall and maybe some other faces like Tyson Wahl or Taylor Graham. Keller in goal will be a lock though, and he won’t be likely to give up any soft goals like he did last time the two teams met either.

Going against that DC is far more settled and has had plenty of time to adjust to their myriad of injuries, so they are virtually full strength. The only question will be the starting forward, whether it is Hernandez or Cristman or Allsopp, and how many minutes Boskovic gets if any. The rest of the team is almost set in stone at this point.

So, looking at the matchups, Cristman (or Allsopp) and Quaranta have been anemic to say the least, but maybe Hernandez breathing down their necks as well as the complete lack of fear in facing Ianni and Parke will spark some efficiency from them in front of the net. Pontius and Najar have been pretty lively in the attack as well, and Pontius should have an edge in confidence based on his two goals against them last time out as well as facing their weakest defender in Riley. But Najar doesn’t seem likely to find much joy going against Gonzalez. Nor does it seem likely King will get upfield too much against his recent former teammate, Sturgis.

Defensively, Jaqua and Montero will be a handful, but James and Jakovic have been very solid of late. As long as James keeps his cool and doesn’t give up too many free kicks or catch a probably well deserved red card, they should be fine handling the rugged but rusty Jaqua and the lone surviving frustrated Freddy. Zakuni is a serious concern for McTavish, but Graye will have no problem with the speedy, but woefully inadequate Nyassi. Simms too shouldn’t have too much trouble with the hobbled Seamon, maybe enough that he can help out McTavish.

Seems likely whoever scores first will be the winner though as both teams have serious offensive problems of late. DC has only a pitiful one goal in their past three matches since hanging 3 on Seattle, while the Sounders come into this match with a mere goal a game over the past three matches. However defensively, DC has been much better only giving up 3 goals, with one shutout last time out in NY, in the three matches since the world cup break, while Seattle has given up 7 in the same span. So, the trends favor DC somewhat and become a huge advantage if they score first. But, having been shut out 10 times already this year, that first goal has obviously been elusive.

Which leads us into the intangibles. DC has been horrible at home until recently, but they have won 2 and tied 1 of their last 4 at RFK outscoring opponents 5-4, so that’s trending up. Seattle is trending the other way as they started the season 1-0-2 on the road, but have lost 4 straight on the road since May 15 being outscored 9-2 in the process.

Interestingly in their short history, DC has met Seattle only four times and neither team has won at home yet, with bunches of goals scored at Qwest in the 3-3 tie last year and the 3-2 win this year, while two very tight losses here in RFK as DC dropped a couple 2-1 losses to Seattle within a four days last August including the snarling Open Cup final. So, a United win would break tradition but might well be in the cards if they can find that pesky first goal. Perhaps Hernandez gets introduced to MLS with a bang and ignites a moribund DC offense. Now that would be respectable.

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.”