Sunday, March 22, 2009

D.C. United

So as you may have guessed based on this blog's title, I'm going to be writing about D.C. United. I'm a pretty big soccer fan and I've had D.C. United season tickets for a few years now, so I figured they would be a good topic for me to cover. The black-and-red kick off their season today in Carson, Calif., when they take on the David Beckham-less Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. The beginning of the year will be big for Head Coach Tom Soehn, who came under fire during the offseason after the team, which had won the Supporters Shield (best regular season record) two years in a row, missed the play-offs entirely for the first time since 2003. With the first match of the campaign only a few hours away, I'm going to ask five burning questions about the team's player personnel.

1. Will D.C. United's youthful center backs be able to anchor the defense?

When D.C. won the Supporter's Shield two years ago, the center back pairing of Bobby Boswell and Greg Vanney was considered that strong team's weakness. Come the offseason, management traded away Boswell and Vanney and replaced them with Argentine Gonzalo Peralta and Columbian Gonzalo Martinez. Both players were more or less miserable failures, so D.C. once again revamped their defense by releasing those two players.

Enter Dejan Jakovich, a 23-year-old Canadian international who previously played for storied club Red Star Belgrade, and Greg Janicki, a 24-year-old who signed with the team at the end of last season after playing with Pittsburgh of the United Soccer League. If neither of these young players pan out, D.C. also has fourth-year veteran Devon McTavish (who started 25 games last year) and towering 6-5 rookie Anthony Peters. No matter what pairing Soehn lands on, though, he needs to make sure they are more effective than last year's defensive unit.

2. Who will be the left back?

D.C. had to trade probable starting left back Ivan Guerrero in the offseason to acquire playmaker Christian Gomez, leaving a pair of Maryland alums to fight it out for that spot. Marc Burch is in his fourth season out of the university and has been a great freekick threat off the bench for the D.C., but whether he has the defensive chops to be a regular left back remains to be seen.

Competing with him is the speedy Rodney Wallace, who D.C. selected sixth overall in the MLS SuperDraft. Look for Burch to begin the year in the starting 11, but for Wallace to take over the spot later in the summer.

3. How will Christian Gomez fit back in with the team?

The 2006 MLS MVP scored 39 goals in four season with D.C. and won an MLS Cup with the team in 2004, always giving the team energy from his attacking midfield spot. But the front office felt the need to revamp the team last offseason after the club continued to fizzle int he play-offs and traded him to Colorado.

The move made room for D.C. to sign Argentine star Marcelo Gallardo as its designated player, but Gallardo departed at the end of one injury plagued season. Gomez, meanwhile, fell out of favor in Colorado and spent much of last year on the bench. When D.C. traded back for Gomez this offseason, it was a move that was welcomed by both sides. Whether he is same player who was once MLS MVP, though, is still a mystery.

4. Will Ben Olsen be back healthy?

Olsen is, without a doubt, the heart and soul of this United team. The 31-year-old is entering his 12th season with the club, but was limited to just one game last season after having continued ankle problems throughout the season. A member of the 2006 U.S. World Cup squad, Olsen was playing the best soccer of his career before the injury.

The outside midfielder tallied seven goals and seven assists in 2007 en route to being named to the MLS First XI team, and registered his first career hat trick in a 4-2 win over the New York Red Bulls on June 10. If he is back and playing anywhere near that level, it would be a massive boost to the team.

5. Can United get continued production up front?

United boasts a frontline consisting of 2007 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Luciano Emilio and MLS all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno. Those two, are 30 and 35-years-old, respectively, and coming off of somewhat disapointing seasons (they only scored 21 goals after combing for 28 the previous year).

If their scoring production continues to decline, it could another long season for United. That is, unless one of D.C.'s young, African strikers (Ange N'Silu or Francis Doe) steps up to help carry the burden.

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