D.C. United begins player evaluations

November 20, 2012

Two days after playoff elimination, D.C. United players and coaches regrouped for team meetings and off-season packing. In interviews with the team’s regular reporters, Ben Olsen touched on several subjects and players shared thoughts about winter plans and next year.

What’s next?

“You don’t relax the week after,” Olsen said. “It’s just how the league is set up. They don’t give you much time to relax because you have to make some real tough decisions on players. You jump right into it and then the week after you can exhale. We’re still buzzing around figuring out next year.”

Reflecting on the campaign, which resulted in the third-most points in MLS and a place in the Eastern Conference finals…..

“We are very proud of the guys and the way they went about the season. My message to them before the offseason is: We didn’t win anything. As great as the year was and great as the feedback from fans and the community is good. It was hard work overcoming certain obstacles, but we didn’t win anything and that is the goal here. We have to get better and thinking in the offseason that we still have something to prove. And that thing to prove is that we can be champions. I hope that sticks with them and we’re not thinking that we have arrived.”

Do you consider this season a success?

“It’s tough to call it a success because it is still about winning championship. But I do think it is a success in the fact that we believe in the foundation now and it’s a success in that we got a community and fan base behind us again and a good feeling about the club. That’s part of this process, but hopefully it’s only the beginning.”

This club has made great strides the past two years. Do you feel you are in a position where you could, or should, challenge for MLS Cup next year?

“We would like to every year continue to move forward. We caught a lot of breaks this year too. As much as we had obstacles, we had a little luck along the way. It could have ended up a different way very easily. We have to understand that too.”

What is your biggest need?

“We are going to have to make a couple of changes. You’ll find out about that soon enough. We’re going to have to replace some guys. We’re going to have to continue looking for a striker, a guy who is a top-class guy who can really get us to the next level.”

You brought one in this year, though (Hamdi Salihi)…..

“All the forwards gave us good moments this year. None of them had a real complete year from a playing and scoring and production standpoint. So they all helped. But do we need a big-time forward? Yeah. I would like to have that. It’s not easy to get that. We will continue to search. Our depth in the midfield can get better.”

You said after Sunday’s match that you weren’t sure about Branko Boskovic‘s situation next year, when he is under contract until mid-season.

“We are evaluating him and his situation right now. We’ll probably have a decision on what is going to go down on him in the next day or two. We have meetings and we have to discuss a lot of stuff internally and with the players.”

As for the players…..

*Boskovic dashed off to see a doctor in Baltimore for a knee examination and wasn’t available for interviews.

*Salihi, a designated player with a guaranteed year remaining on his contract, said he hopes to return and has “nothing else in my head now. In the future, you never know because in this business, things can change every day, especially when it is transfer time. I am concentrating on the contract I have and starting next season better than the last. Everyone wants to play, but you have to accept the decision of the coach. You just have to work hard and make things change in your favor.”

He said he would remain in Washington and spend time in New York before heading home to Albania to visit family.

*Center back Dejan Jakovic is out of contract and in serious talks with the club about a new deal. He has explored returning to Europe — he was with Red Star Belgrade before joining United — “but hopefully we can get something done here. Things can only get better with this club.”

Jakovic anticipates a resolution soon. “Things are looking good so far,” he said of the negotiations with United.

*Will Argentine center back Emiliano Dudar, a part-timer starter after arriving with high expectations, return to Washington?

“I like the city, I like the team,” said Dudar, who, like most players, is entering a team-held option in his contract. “They have treated me very well. I hope I can come back, but it’s not my decision.”

Asked if he was disappointed or frustrated about playing time, he added: “When I came here, I knew it was going to be very competitive to win a spot, but overall I am happy about the way I played when I was on the field. My hope is the coaching staff sees that and wants me back.”

*Goalkeeper Bill Hamid declined to go into detail, but it seems he is heading overseas for a training stint. “We’ll see, no comment,” he said, smiling and laughing.

*Third-string goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra has received a German passport through family ties, opening the possibility to a move overseas. (His mother’s parents were from Hamburg.)

“That is something I have to talk to the coaches. I don’t know what their plans are yet, but it does open some doors for me. It just depends how they want to use me. It’s an advantage, for sure.”

Dykstra spent much of the MLS season on loan with the third-tier Charleston Battery and, looking ahead, doesn’t have much hope of moving ahead of Hamid or Joe Willis on the depth chart.

Much more soon…..

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff · November 19, 2012