A Season of Injuries, Underperformance

Franco Niell, welcomed in January by United GM Dave Kasper, left, and Coach Tom Soehn, was one of several acquisitions that did not worked out.
Franco Niell, welcomed in January by United GM Dave Kasper, left, and Coach Tom Soehn, was one of several acquisitions that did not worked out. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008

In a six-week span last winter, D.C. United's decision-makers made a series of moves that they firmly believed would enhance the club's prospects in both MLS and international competition.

They signed a famous Argentine playmaker to replace a departing league MVP, added two South American defenders and acquired an undersize forward with overachieving traits. They traded for a promising goalkeeper and picked up a young backup to compete for the starting job.

The renovations would need time to take hold, club officials cautioned, but by the summer, new-look United would be back to its old winning ways.

Six months later, after two tournament failures, a turbulent first half of the regular season, several injuries and inadequate performances by some of the recruits, United is in the process of renewing its roster again.

Honduran midfielder-defender Ivan Guerrero was the first major acquisition, obtained from San Jose on Thursday. A goalie is expected soon and other signings and trades are likely.

"I've said we are going to make changes and we continue to have other things going on," Coach Tom Soehn said this week as United (7-8-1) prepared for tonight's match against the Kansas City Wizards (5-5-7) at RFK Stadium. "We want to make ourselves better."

United is hunting for a goalie because starter Zach Wells, acquired from Houston for defender Bobby Boswell in December, has not met expectations and reserve José Carvallo, on loan from a Peruvian team since January, was waived after one regular season appearance.

Franco Niell, a 5-foot-4 forward, was also a bust and sent home to Argentina. First-year defenders Gonzalo Peralta and Gonzalo Martínez have been very good at times, deficient at others. And the priciest import, two-time World Cup player Marcelo Gallardo, had finally begun to make a consistent impact when he was sidelined for all of July with a sports hernia.

"Would we have done anything differently? No," General Manager Dave Kasper said, reflecting on the winter moves. "It's always a hard adjustment coming to a new team, a new league, a new culture. There will be players who just don't adjust, for whatever reason."

In the opinion of some officials from other teams, who did not want to be identified, United took a risk by introducing so many new players. "Look at Houston and New England," an official said of the MLS Cup finalists the past two years. "They have had the same group together for a long time, guys who know each other and understand each other. When you run out and sign a bunch of international players all at once, you just don't know what you are going to get."

What United got the first few months was an incoherent attack and a flawed defense, resulting in two victories in the first nine MLS matches. The club found a rhythm in June, building a six-game unbeaten streak, but injuries to several regulars forced Soehn to turn to secondary players who, in turn, did not perform well.

"There are not many teams that can get through a period like that. I know we can't," said Soehn, whose club's current four-game home losing streak is the longest in club history.

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