10 February 2011

Looking Ahead: DC United

Anyone who takes a look most of the articles I write know that I'm mainly a MLS fan. That isn't to say that I don't enjoy watching the Prem over in England, but in all honesty, my heart belongs to the MLS. Now, maybe thats because watching DC this past season was my first real foray into the world of soccer and maybe its because with only 17 years gone in the MLS, its a little easier to look into its history then looking into the hundred-plus years of history some of the european teams have.

This preseason is my first real preseason keeping up with a team, and while I watched the SuperDraft for all the teams, my eyes were especially following the three players going to DC United for the 2011 season. I visit United's website several times a day to keep up with the team during their training (Ft. Lauderdale for the week, 5-1 win in a friendly match against Canada's U-20 team), watching/reading interviews, keeping up with the latest formations and Starting XI and thats just the start of it. I can finally understand all those "crazy" sports fans (here in America, usually baseball fans. You know its true) and why their significant others get so pissed at them.

All that to say that right now I am so jacked for the MLS season to start to see what this new DC can do, because honestly this is a new era for DC United. The 2009-2010 season was absolutely abismal, easily the worst season in United's history (and subsequently possibly the hardest for a first-time fan to hang on), but we got through it. The coaching staff and players alike have shed last year's weight and are instead looking to prove to fans and the rest of the nation that 2010 was a fluke. Here's my reasons for having so much for the upcoming season:

Ben Olsen hired as Head Coach

After Curt Onalfo's absolute awful record during his time at DC (3-3-12 if I did my math right), Olsen was placed as Interim Head Coach, just one season after his retirement from being, quite possibly, the most popular player to don the black-and-red (200+ appearances for DC, 2 MLS Cups, 2 MLS Supporter's Shields, 1 US Open Cup, 37 international caps for the USMNT including the 2006 World Cup). Since that time, United seemed to perform better on the field, but in reality Olsen only had a month or so to make any changes and in reality a new coach might not want to make sweeping changes to a team that might not even be his for longer than two months. But, in November, Olsen was named the full-time head coach and "Benny" was finally able to make the changes we wanted. Shipping off forwards who struggled during 2010 season and getting a hold of established players like Dax McCarty, Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff (not to mention almost-legend Charlie Davies is currently on trial...fingers crossed!), Olsen has brought in small squad of known leaders to try and get this team in shape.

But, the biggest thing that Olsen has brought to United this preseason is youthfulness, energy, and a player's familiarity to the game. To me, the fact that the players call Olsen "Benny" every time they mention him in an interview speaks volumes. If you watch a video of their preseason training, you'll see Olsen dressed just like the players and even see him getting into the fray a couple times. Only one season removed from his time as a player for DC United, this gives Olsen a great ability to identify with his players and I have a gut feeling his players want to and will perform for him.

Veteran players to lead the pack

As I mentioned before, players that Olsen and the rest of the DC coaching staff are going to be leaning on certain players to be leaders on the pitch: Dax McCarty, Joesph Ngwenya, Josh Wolff and Santino Quaranta (in his 10th year at DC United). Quaranta has seniority as far as playing time at DC and will probably see a couple matches with the captain's armband on. As far as a consistent captain, I think only Olsen and the rest of the coaching staff have an idea as to who will be captain for the black-and-red this season, but if I had to put money on someone I'd have to go with McCarty. McCarty just recently captained a USMNT friendly, and if the Coach Bradley thinks you're good enough to captain for the US of A, then McCarty's good enough to captain for DC United. Its up to Olsen however, to decide if he's the best fit for United.

Youth. And plenty of it.

Let me throw out some names for you. Perry Kitchen, 3rd-overall SuperDraft pick. Andy Najar,  2010 MLS Rookie of the Year. Bill Hamid, youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to win a game. All three under the age of 20. United currently has seven players under the age of 21, all promising additions to the United roster. In my opinion, Olsen and the older players I've mentioned are the right people to bring out the best in these young players.

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