D.C. United position preview
Entering the season, it appeared as though there would be competition between second-year homegrown product Bill Hamid and Steve Cronin, whom the team acquired in the same trade with Portland in which they shipped off former starter Troy Perkins.
Cronin broke his wrist in the preseason, however, and Hamid was recovering from shoulder surgery, forcing United to call upon assistant coach Pat Onstad, a 43-year old veteran who had recently retired following a 24-year professional career.
Onstad, who signed a short-term playing contract, will be the starter for the opener on Saturday but will have to hold off a healthy Hamid, one of the top young goalkeepers in the country, as well as Cronin and rookie Joe Willis for the starting job.
United rotated through several combinations along its backline last season and lacked depth overall. This year, they will depend on a new mix of experience and youth to bolster the defense.
Rookie Perry Kitchen, 19, has impressed the coaching staff this preseason and will step immediately into the starting lineup at center back, paired with Canadian national team veteran Dejan Jakovic. At left back, it appears Daniel Woolard won a preseason competition with Marc Burch for the starting job. Burch, back from a foot injury, provides solid depth across the back line. On the right side Jed Zayner, who started three games last season after being acquired in a trade with the Columbus Crew, will likely be the starter.
The deepest part of the roster, Olsen will likely have weekly decisions about what combination to play across the middle of the field.
The team is anchored by newly named captain Dax McCarty, whom United acquired in a trade with Portland after McCarty was left unprotected in the expansion draft by FC Dallas, which he led to the MLS Cup game last season. Indications are McCarty will be paired with reliable veteran Clyde Simms in the central midfield, with Simms’s defensive tendencies providing cover for McCarty to roam more freely.
2010 MLS Rookie of the Year, Andy Najar, 18, has a stranglehold on the right flank and will look to build upon the standout season he turned in last year. Opposite him, third-year veteran Chris Pontius will look to regain the form of his rookie season after a hamstring injury sidelined him much of last year. Pontius won a battle with designated player Branko Boskovic for the starting job, and longtime veteran Santino Quaranta will likely also be coming off the bench at the start of the year.
Boskovic and Quaranta give United clear attacking options in reserve, while gritty central midfielder Kurt Morsink can provide bite. Fred, re-acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, and his 19-year-old brother Junior Carreiro are options on the outsides, while homegrown product Conor Shanosky is another defensive central midfield reserve.
Olsen completely overhauled the attacking corps this offseason after United managed a meager 21 goals last year, setting an MLS record for lowest output in a season.
The group is led by Charlie Davies, once considered among the United States’ brightest young stars. Davies nearly saw his career derailed after being involved in a fatal car crash and hopes to reclaim his place in the international scene after being loaned to D.C. by French side Sochaux. United hopes Davies can be the team’s answer in the search for a true goal scorer.
Two-time World Cup veteran Josh Wolff, acquired in the re-entry draft, provides experience up top. Wolff, a 12-year MLS veteran, has scored 75 goals with 41 assists in 228 league games. Joseph Ngwenya, also acquired via the re-entry draft, will likely start up top on Saturday. A Zimbabwe native with experience playing in Europe, Ngwenya scored a career-high seven league goals in 2007. Rookie Blake Brettschneider impressed coaches with a strong preseason and provides more depth. Quaranta can also play up top.
— Paul Tenorio