Poor Dave Kasper and Ben Olsen. The D.C. United general manager and head coach have the hardest jobs in the league. They're forced to operate on a shoestring budget because the Black and Red have a very unfavorable lease at RFK Stadium, but their fans aren't very understanding. United were the first MLS Cup champions, have won the league four times, and were the first American team to be North American champions. To their supporters, this is a big team.
But due to their financial realities, D.C. United have a makeshift squad, and they did very well to make the playoffs last season. They'll expect to do the same this season, even though their roster is thoroughly unimpressive. If they don't make it, there will be calls for Kasper and Olsen's heads. Good luck, guys.
2015 record 15-6-13, 4th place in Eastern Conference
2015 playoffs Eastern Conference semifinals
Key additions Luciano Acosta, Marcelo Sarvas, Patrick Nyarko, Lamar Neagle, Julian Buescher
Key losses Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius, Jairo Arrieta, Conor Doyle, and probably Davy Arnaud (who is believed to be retiring soon due to issues relating to a concussion)
Projected Starting XI (4-4-1-1) Andrew Dykstra; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; Patrick Nyarko, Marcelo Sarvas, Nick DeLeon, Chris Rolfe; Luciano Acosta; Fabian Espindola
Why choose between being a glory hunter and an underdog when you can be both? United has won more trophies than anyone in MLS, yet is currently a plucky, low-cost team trying to compete with clubs that have been outspending the Black and Red for years.
MLS' decision to increase each team's allotment of targeted allocation money (known in MLS parlance as "TAM") resulted in United going out and landing Boca Juniors playmaker Luciano Acosta, who could serve as the kind of attacking spark D.C. has lacked for several seasons. United also got faster in the offseason, adding Patrick Nyarko and Lamar Neagle to what was previously one of the slowest teams in MLS.
Steve Birnbaum helped his cause out quite a bit during the USMNT's winter camp by scoring his first international goal as well as spending some time at a second position (right back). Birnbaum's aerial dominance and speed are very important for United, and if his luck in front of goal improves just a bit he could become one of the league's most dangerous targets on set pieces. It's a big year for Birnbaum after more or less plateauing in 2015, but he has the talent to become a bigger factor for a US team that seems completely in flux when it comes to central defenders.
Being without starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid for an unknown period -- he has talked about an April return from his knee injury, but it could be as late as June or July -- is a huge problem. Andrew Dykstra is a capable and reasonably experienced backup, but he's not Hamid. United was able to get off to a strong start last year and ride that all the way to the playoffs. That will be much harder to do without one of the league's best shot stoppers.