MLS 2011 Preview: DC United Will Benefit From Competition

Who do you expect to be starting at First Kick?

D.C. United’s team this year will legitimately have competition at every position. This is a significant contrast to last year’s team, whose starting lineup generally consisted of whichever players weren’t concussed, had the healthiest hernias, and the most uncracked ribs. At the goalkeeper position, Pat Onstad is likely to be the starter at First Kick, but will step aside once sophomore homegrown player Bill Hamid is ready to go full-time. D.C.’s defense is certain to return at least two starters from last season in Dejan Jakovic and Jed Zayner. At the left back position, veteran Marc Burch, who missed all but four matches last season, is in competition with former Carolina Railhawk defender Daniel Woolard. They will be joined in the back by impressive rookie Perry Kitchen in the center. United’s midfield has the most questions, due mostly to its improved depth. The only absolutes are newcomer Dax McCarty and 2010 rookie of the year Andy Najar. The rest of the midfield could see any combination of Clyde Simms, Branko Boskovic, Chris Pontius, and Santino Quaranta. At the top, Charlie Davies will be the eventual starter once he proves that he is fit and capable. In the mean time though, Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya could start the season together, or they could be joined by Pontius.

Which new player(s) will have biggest impact?

The acquisition of McCarty could be huge. He’ll provide aggression, work ethic, quick-thinking, and the direction that’s been lacking since the departure of Ben Olsen himself. And Davies could be the 10-goal scorer to help D.C. improve upon its record-setting goal-scoring futility last year.

Which player(s) loss will be felt the most?

If we’re talking strictly on the field, the answer is none. Troy Perkins, Pablo Hernandez, Danny Allsopp, and Christian Castillo all had very disappointing seasons. Off the field though, D.C. could miss the leadership traits of Jaime Moreno. They’ll be looking for Wolff, Quaranta, and McCarty to step up to fill the void as veteran leaders.

At what point is this season considered success?

Using the word "playoffs" is very tempting, but might still be a bit too optimistic for a team that finished in last place in 2010. Still, United has improved enough, and the rest of the Eastern Conference has debilitated enough, that D.C. should be expected to compete for one of the three guaranteed spots in the East.

Whose performance do you think will be most indicative of the season as a whole?

United may live and die at the feet of Boskovic this season. He arrived in D.C. late last season, and failed to make his mark, while showing lots potential. With a full preseason under his belt, if Boskovic can show the form that helped him captain the Montenegran national team to hand England its first ever shutout in New Wembley Stadium during Euro Qualifying last year, United could do very well.

Will United’s youth hold it back?

Its true that United is young. No one will deny it. But the team didn’t get younger just to get younger. Olsen has specifically added hard-working and intelligent young players who can grow together and who fit the possession-oriented system the team has always strived to display. McCarty and Kitchen are a big part of that. Being younger also means being faster. United’s team speed has improved drastically, and with Davies, Ngwenya, Najar, and Pontius towards the top of the formation, opposing defenses are going to have to be very careful.

- Report by Martin Shatzer of Black And Red United (DC United blog)

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