Each year around this time, I sit down with D.C. United President Kevin Payne to review the season and look ahead to the next campaign. It’s a tradition. I’m going to break the transcript from Tuesday’s 30-minute conversation into two segments: on the field and off the field.
Today, the on-field angle. In a nutshell: the possibility of a “longer-term relationship” with Dwayne De Rosario, the likely return of Branko Boskovic, uncertainty about Charlie Davies, the need for a versatile midfielder and another true center back, questions about Jed Zayner’s condition, the unlikelihood of signing a mega-star, Ben Olsen’s “great job,” Perry Kitchen’s future in midfield, and the lack of leadership. Here goes.....
When will you start evaluating personnel?
“We’re meeting as a group Thursday to literally go down the entire roster.”
What’s going to happen to Boskovic, the club’s highest-paid player who missed most of the season with a knee injury?
“No decisions have been made yet, but I think the assumption is he’ll be back to start the season. He has worked awfully hard and been really dedicated [with his rehabilitation]. Everyone is hopeful he can help us next year. He has a contract through next summer, sothe likeliest scenario is that we’ll see how he does and then make a [mid-season] decision” whether to extend his contract or let him go.
You will re-work De Rosario’s contract?
“We have an option year, but we’re going to sit down with him and talk about a longer-term relationship. Talks could start soon, but I suspect we won’t be able to have full conversations until November. It goes without saying, we want DeRo back and we think he can help us for more than one year.”
He’s 33. Do you worry how much longer he could have a major impact?
“He was pretty good this year, and you look at the number of games he played down the stretch, he’s physically strong and takes good care of himself.”
Toronto paid half of his salary when he joined you, but next year it will be your responsibility. In addition, Boskovic is a big-ticket item. Can you afford both of them?
“We’re comfortable we can have both of those guys on our team.”
Could you also splurge on another major acquisition?
“I don’t think we know the answer to that yet. We’re certainly not going to spend the kind of money L.A. spends. Whether we can bring in another DP, I don’t know.”
What’s going to happen with Davies?
“I don’t think we know yet. We’re going to talk to Charlie and his representatives and make a determination. He had mixed results. Charlie had good games and games that maybe weren’t quite so good. He’s a good person. We enjoyed him being part of the team. We’ll see if it makes sense for that to continue.”
He said the other day he had the feeling the club didn’t want him back. Is that fair and accurate?
“I’m not going to comment on that.”
With Charlie, because of his past and his extraordinary comeback, there’s more to him than just being a player: media interest, popularity, marketing. Did that become a distraction and would it factor into the discussion this offseason?
“I don’t think Charlie was ever a problem for us. I think the decision will purely be made on a soccer basis.”
How about the civil lawsuit related to his accident that his attorneys filed recently?
“It’s none of our business.”
The club holds a wealth of options in terms of his future. You could try to extend his loan, buy him outright, trade his MLS rights, cut ties altogether.
“We’re going to look at the big picture and figure out what makes the most sense for us. We’re certainly going to take his wishes into consideration.”
How would you assess Olsen’s first full season as a head coach?
“On balance, he did a great job. We accomplished our goal. We said at the beginning of the year that our goal for 2011 was to compete to make the playoffs. We did that. Ultimately, what we found out, we were a little thinner than we thought and we had some critical injuries that we just weren’t able to recover from. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, certainly it’s my gut, if Dejan [Jakovic] and Chris [Pontius] were playing, we would’ve made the playoffs, for sure. When we lost those two [late in the season], we started leaking goals and we weren’t scoring as many.”
What else did you learn?
“We know we need some help, some cover, at certain positions — some to maybe start or compete to start. We feel like we need another piece in the midfield, ideally someone who can play in the middle and the flanks. We’d like to have more depth in the midfield.
“We need another center back. We have Ethan [White], Dejan, Brandon [McDonald] but I feel strongly we need to have another natural center back. It’s fine to know that Daniel Woolard, in a real pinch, can play there, but I don’t think you want to start guys like [Woolard and Marc Burch] as center backs. They’re good left backs.
“Everybody is pretty committed to seeing Perry Kitchen in the midfield – everybody believes that’s his best position -- so we don’t want Perry to be shuffling into the backline when we’re down numbers.
“We don’t know Jed Zayner’s physical condition is. We don’t know if he is going to be able to play again. His knee is a real issue. If he can’t play, we certainly need to find a right back to compete with Chris Korb.”
How about goalkeeper?
“We’re pretty happy. Bill [Hamid] has a huge upside and Joe [Willis] is a real gamer. The guys had a lot of confidence playing in front of him.”
Do you think you had enough leadership this season?
“We all agree that one of the things we need most on the team is more leadership. We have a few people – some veterans, some young players – who have good leadership qualities. But we need more of that in our locker room. We need people who understand what it takes to be successful in this league, people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team.
“This year was better. Kitchen, in particular, brings those kinds of qualities, but he’s still only 19 years old. We need some of the guys we have now to understand that is a big part of the equation. I do think we need to add some of that from the outside, as well.”
But this was a topic last offseason too. You addressed it with acquisitions last winter. You think you need to do even more?
“Look at some of the mental errors we made. The Houston game at home [allowing an 98th-minute equalizer], the Philly game at home [allowing an 84th-minute equalizer], the Chicago game at home [conceding two goals in added time], the Chivas game at home [surrendering a two-goal lead in the second half], the Philly game away [coming back from two goals down only to allow the go-ahead strike], the Columbus game away [surrendering a halftime lead], the Vancouver game away [surrendering goals in the first minute of each half]. These are games in which we didn’t get outplayed. If anything, we were the better team on the day. But we made mistakes and we suffered unforgivable lapses in concentration, and our whole season went down the tubes as a result. That’s just not good enough. We need every guy in that locker room to start to understand that. Some people in there have the ability to understand that, even some of the ones who don’t today, but we all believe we need to find more of it.”
Part 2 Wednesday: RFK Stadium, a new stadium, stadium alternatives, owner Will Chang’s commitment, new investors, the future of the organization.