DC United: 2007 Season Preview

CORRECTION at bottom of the page.

And do enjoy the shot of the original, fascism-inspired badge.

MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on DC United's '06 (Know my biases)

2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England's Ins & Outs for (most) roster changes

DC United roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Christian Gomez (of course) - It’s tempting to say that, without Gomez, DC would be an average team, but that’s not really the case; they're subtly solid all over. He is, however, the brains and legs of their offense, a force that grew just that little bit more menacing with the arrival of...

Luciano Emilio - If Emilio can carry his CONCACAF Champions’ Cup form through to Major League Soccer’s regular season, he’ll not only score a bunch of goals in the league, he will also free up Gomez to do more damage. As things look right now, Emilio raised the bar for David Beckham’s arrival; anyone proving a hotter commodity than the Brit will raise eyebrows and Emilio looks the likeliest candidate to do this.

Bobby Boswell - With Troy Perkins pulling a “church mouse” routine in goal - e.g. he’s the quietest ‘keeper I’ve ever seen - someone needs to lead the D.C. defense, to get in other players’ grills when they screw up or go soft. Steve Goff, the Lord of DC News, mentioned in a post on his blog that Boswell showed a bit of bite in practice this year. If he assumes the drill sergeant’s role, it can only help DC’s defense; for whatever reason, jocks respond to yelling, so the more the better.

Ben Olsen - What Boswell may or may not do in defense, Olsen does for the team. When they need someone to freak-out, fight, and scrap, it’s Olsen who does it often as not (at least when I’m watching). This works wonders when he can get the team to follow.

Additional Assets
That (damned) Tradition - DC’s past successes simultaneously raises the bar for performance and gives players the sense of security that comes with playing for a champion. That’s self-perpetuating, to some extent at least, till it peters out. And, like it or not (and I don’t), it’s not going to peter out in 2007.

Killer Fans - Everyone knows about the environment at RFK. And everyone wants to replicate the environment at RFK. Not many come close. The only “12th man” I’ve really seen in MLS, though Houston fans made it interesting last season.

Defensive Meltdown - No conversation about DC’s 2006 can duck the mystery of what happened with the defense. The team that went from keeping clean sheets and gritting out 1-0 wins in May and June spent the last half of the season looking antsy, clumsy, and lost. Often as I saw it, the phenomenon struck me as an ailment of the head. With the same personnel in place, one gets the sense that it could happen again at any time. A few people out there would say this happened in the second leg of the Champions Cup quarterfinal against CD Olimpia; then again, it went tolerable away against Chivas in the semis. In any case, this is definitely something to watch.

Moreno? - This isn’t a new idea, but I’m drifting toward a camp that says Jaime Moreno is in the twilight of his career and will stand by that till he makes me eat his words. If I were coach Tom Soehn, I don’t think I’d start him at this point, but use him off the bench - and that goes double given the long season. Even as I count him as - well...no, I do - the best player in MLS history, I think his powers are fading, which knocks a side off the oft-mentioned “offensive triangle.”

Foreign Investments - Even if it’s a bit early to call Emilio a proven quantity, there’s at least some first-hand visuals. Observations from camps by various bloggers aside, we’ll have to see how the rest of the DC imports - Fred, Kasali Yinka Casal, Kiki Willis* (am I missing anybody?) - pan out. From what I’ve read they’ve all looked impressive enough, but “doing the business” during the regular season is what counts. Though maybe one, or all of them, will know what to do about...

That Weird Paralysis - Now, every soccer team I’ve ever seen goes through parts of the game where they look just totally fucking clueless, as if they’ve never moved the ball upfield. But DC more-than-common fluidity makes the occasions when this strikes more glaring. It certainly appeared last year down the stretch and in the playoffs and I’ve already seen it this year - from about the 70th minute to the moment when they scored the equalizer against Chivas de Guadalajara. Anyway, this - I don't know what else to call besides an ambling lack of urgency - I just can't explain; the defensive issues looked obvious, but, this? Could whatever "it" is strike again - or, more to the point, again and again?

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
Picture a poker game, just a generic one. DC United is the guy who doesn’t seem to pick up anything lower than a straight all night long. His pile keeps growing till he hits a rash of riskier hands - two pairs here, three of a kind there. Even if I count DC more good than lucky, 30 games is a lot and off-nights will happen. DC has the personnel and savvy to win it all, but it all depends on how they ride out those weaker hands. Last year they blew it, though the reasons remain mysterious - to me anyway. Figuring out how to react to hiccups - do you bluff, fold, mix it up, etc. - will be the difference between DC winning the title or going home early the second season in a row.

But, of all the teams in the league, I’d be shocked - SHOCKED, I tell you - if DC didn’t win the East, never mind make the playoffs.

CORRECTION: *I mistakenly listed Kiki Willis as a "foreign import." He's not, as the first commenter pointed out; he's from Ohio fer Crissakes. I also failed to mention Guy-Roland Kpene; and even he spent enough time at U.S. universities that, strictly speaking, he doesn't fit the foreign player billing either.


Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but I don't think Kiki Willis is a foreign import.

Maybe you meant Guy-Roland Kpene?

Thanks for the report, good stuff. Keep it up!

The Manly Ferry said...

Nice catch. I lumped in Willis with the others without thinking. And the other guy - Kpene - I forgot outright.

Looks like I need to follow through with my correction policy.