The Tweet and Lowdown:
D.CUnited has missed the playoffs two years running. Will Curt Onalfo right theship or will the club strike out again in 2010?
Setting the Scene:
ForD.C., 2009 was as middle-of-the road as a dashed white line: With a record of9-8-13, they were the very definition of mediocrity. While their performancewas neither awful nor awe-inspiring, it was an improvement on the previousseason, where they lost an uncharacteristic 15 games. That finish was enough tomake the campaign not appear disastrous, but it wasn’t enough to get them intothe post-season, either. And for an organization that prides itself on itschampionship history, that is adisaster.
Ifthere’s a theme for the club in 2010, it’s change. Ex-Kansas City boss Curt Onalfo has takenover for Tommy Soehn and hopes to inject new energy into the team. There’s achanging of the guard as old heroes depart RFK while new contenders arrive fromabroad. There’s also a change in the Eastern Conference with the arrival of anew foe in the Philadelphia Union. And with a bit of luck, D.C. have a changein fortune on the horizon as well. Could this be the year United return totheir winning ways?
PlayersIn: Danny Allsopp (F, Al-Rayyan, Qatar) ChristianCastillo (M, León, Mexico) Troy Perkins (GK, Vålerenga IF) AdamCristman (F, Kansas City Wizards)
Players Out: Luciano Emilio (F, Rio Branco, Brazil) Fred (M, Philadelphia Union), Christian Gómez (F, Out of Contract), Ben Olsen (D, Retired)
Coaching/Staffing: Curt Onalfo (Head Coach, Kansas City)
Star Attraction: Jaime Moreno
Onceagain, the spotlight will fall squarely on the shoulders of eternally efficientstriker Jaime Moreno. The Bolivian international has spent 13 of his 14 yearsin MLS with United and has been the face of the franchise since Day 1. He’salso the league’s all-time scoring leader and the first member of the 100-100Club (100+ goals, 100+ assists).
Morenowill look to improve upon his nine goals and three assists from 2009, but he’llneed help to do it. With long-time accomplice Christian Gómez not in the team’splans and the departure of the Brazilian playmaking duo of Fred and LucianoEmilio, he’ll look to young guns Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace, as well asAustralian newcomer Danny Allsopp, to supply him with opportunities in front ofgoal.
Unsung Hero: Clyde Simms
Noplayer will be as important to D.C. United’s 2010 campaign as Clyde Simms. WithGómez, Fred and Ben Olsen all out of the picture, the tenacious defensivemidfielder now finds himself in the position of elder statesman of the Unitedmidfield at the age of 27. For D.C. to have any success, he’ll have to play therole of mentor, midfield general and traffic cop for a talented but young groupof midfielders.
Ready for Primetime: Chris Pontius
If 2009was anything to go by, second-year midfielder Chris Pontius may well be thefuture of the franchise. A quick, skillful player with the versatility of aSwiss Army knife, he saw playing time at nearly every offensive positionduring the 2009 campaign. He was also something of an “iron man” for the teamand saw the field in 40 of 44 total competitions bagging eight goals and sixassists in along the way.
Storylines to Watch:
Thedraft-day acquisition of former keeper Troy Perkins may prove to be themasterstroke of the early days of Onalfo’s career in the nation’s capital. InPerkins, the team wins back a commanding and experienced presence in goal,something the team lacked with Josh Wicks between the sticks. Combined Perkins’already established working relationship with the back line of Marc Burch,Bryan Namoff and Devon McTavish and, on paper, United’s defensive unit looks bemuch improved. The question will be how long it will take the old gang to getback on the same page, if at all.
Alsokeep an eye on recently acquired Australian forward Allsopp. A veteran ofEnglish, Australian and, most recently, Qatari soccer, he’s something of ajourneyman. If the goals are going to come, he’ll have to settle in quickly atRFK to find the scoring form that won him the 2006-07 A-League Golden Boot andto take some of the offensive weight off Moreno.
If everything goes right:
Unitedshould be able to take advantage of an improved goalkeeping situation and newenergy from new coach Onalfo to help push them on in 2010. But that will onlytake them so far. To regain a place in the post-season, they’ll have to rely anumber of young players to fill the big shoes abandoned by Olsen, Gómez &Co., a feat that won’t be made any easier with expansion making an alreadycompetitive Eastern Conference that much tighter. Prediction: 5th inthe East.