DC United currently sits one game away from the halfway mark of the season, in 6th place in the Eastern Conference, but only 5 points out of a playoff spot. This seems like as good a time as any to do a midseason review.
Rebuilding: Ben Olsen has done a good job, so far, of balancing rebuilding with a desire to win. The homegrown/drafted products who have played an important role so far this year include Chris Pontius, Andy Najar, Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Ethan White, and Blake Brettschneider. For all the crap that United fans give the front office, let’s give them some credit for drafting well and having a good haul from the Academy. If they Academy continues producing prospects like these, United will be back atop the league soon. And as I have said before, I am fine with the decision to trade Dax McCarty for Dwayne DeRosario. I like McCarty, and I hope he succeeds with the NYRB and the USMNT, but he did not fit into United’s system and his position has other young talent coming up. United still might not make the playoffs this year, but they are placing themselves in a good position to succeed long term.
The offense: As things stood before the Philadelphia game on Saturday, United had already tied their pitiful goal scoring output from last year; now, they have surpassed it with over half of the season remaining. The revival of Chris Pontius, the recent return to form of Andy Najar, the additions of three new forwards who have all scored, and the trade for Dwayne DeRosario have all ignited United’s attack. Now, if only the defense could follow suit and regain its form…
Finishing games: While the two teams are different in almost every other respect, one specter of 2010 remains over DC United: the inability to finish off opponents. The Philadelphia Union and Houston Dynamo games could have been 6 points instead of 2, which would put United tied for third instead of 6th. The only cure for this, though, is time. United’s extremely young backline will grow together and they will get better. We have already seen flashes of that ability from Hamid, Kitchen, and White. But for United to be able to make a serious run at the playoffs, these three especially will have to step up.
Injuries in general: Marc Burch, Charlie Davies, Josh Wolff, Steve Cronin, Bill Hamid, Dejan Jakovic, Kurt Morsink, Joseph Ngwenya, and Jed Zayner. In addition to the long term injuries mentioned above, all of these players have missed time due to injuries. I don’t know what it is, but something needs to change in the medical department. The often used example is the Phoenix Suns, who have a medical department that is able to prevent injuries and rejuvenate otherwise broken players. This is the second year in a row that a rash of injuries have infected this team. It cannot be a coincidence, and something needs to change.
Long term injuries: Santino Quaranta, Devon McTavish, and Branko Boskovic. Boskovic I am not so much worried about (and have a post coming about him). But the injuries to both Santino Quaranta and Devon McTavish have entered the scary territory. The Josh Gros-Bryan Namoff territory. Quaranta has been out for over a month, with no signs of improvement that we can see, and McTavish has been out for almost the whole year. I hope that they are well enough to return to soccer, and soon, but more than that I hope that they are able to at least get past their post-concussion symptoms. With the number of concussions that have ended careers in MLS, it makes me wonder how many players in the NFL are playing through much worse symptoms, to their own detriment. I do credit MLS teams for being much more cautious with their players when it comes to head injuries; even if it leads to the end of their playing careers, hopefully the players will still have their minds.
DC United, despite an up and down season so far, is in a decent position to make the playoffs, and this is obviously their goal. And while many fans will be disappointed if they do not make it, and I will as well, this team is still rebuilding. But what they now have is a direction, something they haven’t had in years. Even if they don’t make the playoffs this year, I am confident in their direction and confident that they will be force with which to reckon come 2012.