Lessons from Charleston

05 March 11:01 am

Lessons from Charleston

By Sebastian Salazar

After claiming the Carolina Challenge Cup, D.C. United returns to RFK ahead of opener

D.C. United is back in Washington following an extended trip to Charleston for the final leg of preseason. Here's some of what we learned about the Black-and-Red during the eleven day journey.

DEPTH IS FOR REAL

All through the offseason, we heard Ben Olsen and the club's brass talk about adding depth. If the Charleston trip proved anything, it's that that depth is very real.

Take the outside midfield position, where Danny Cruz - who started all four games in Houston's run to MLS Cup last year - is entrenched firmly behind starters Andy Najar and Chris Pontius. Cruz has already embraced the role, proving his end-to-end worth in a very positive display Wednesday night against the host Battery.

Another spot where United confirmed its depth was in net. With Bill Hamid away with the U-23's, Joe Willis again validated Olsen's faith in the young goalkeeper. Against the Fire, his denial of Pavel Pardo's early penalty kick proved that Willis has a knack for the same momentum-swinging saves that D.C. fans have grown accustomed to seeing from Hamid. With their top-choice goalie likely to miss time at some point this season, expect D.C.'s staff to be more than comfortable relying on Willis.

STIFF COMPETITION AT THE BACK

In 2011, D.C. United allowed 52 goals. Only four MLS teams conceded more, making defensive overhauls not only a likelihood but also a necessity.

While Daniel Woolard held down the left back spot for most of last season, it was clear United's coaches wanted to push the 27-year-old defender heading in to 2012. Trialists Jose Burciaga and Guilherme were both given ample opportunity to compete, but Woolard's consistent play makes him the odds-on favorite to start against Kansas City.

At the center of D.C.'s defense there are three options for two starting spots. Following the CCC opener, Olsen credited Emiliano Dudar for bringing calm and organization after a first half in which Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald struggled to contain Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. McDonald's physical style of play is a tremendous asset in defense, so Jakovic and Dudar are likely still competing for the last available spot in the back four.

CHEMISTRY QUESTIONS REMAIN

As promising as the pair of victories against Chicago and Charleston were, not getting in the final match against Columbus could be an issue for United.

The contest - which was cancelled after heavy rain flooded the field at Blackbaud Stadium - would have given Olsen a first chance to see his entire first team on the field at the same time. In addition, a pair of partnerships that D.C. will rely upon in the coming months were denied a final chance to build chemistry.

In the center of midfield, United looks to have a duo that brings a little bit of everything to the table. Finally healthy, Branko Boskovic's 13th minute assist against Charleston was just the type of classy through-ball United has needed from the Montenegrin since he arrived in D.C. two seasons ago. Pairing with Boskovic, Perry Kitchen will be the ball-winner of the group, but one who is especially good at changing fields and communicating with those around him. How well they mesh will be essential to United's 2012 fortunes.

Up top the partnership of Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi is poised to deliver results, but the duo would have benefitted greatly from some extra time together on Saturday. Salihi is an extremely intelligent player off the ball, and De Rosario still has to get used to the dangerous - but sometimes non-standard - runs the Albanian forward has shown a penchant for making. Because of Salihi's late arrival, a mid-summer timeline for the pairing to truly click may be rather likely.

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