2011 D.C. United preview: Olsen & Co. look ahead

The Tweet and Lowdown:

Club legend Ben Olsen takes the reins as D.C. United aim to erase memories of recent regular-season struggles.

Setting the Scene:

Last year was a season to forget for DC. Unable to score up front and frail at the back, 2010 produced one of the worst seasons in team history, with just six wins on the year and the lowest point total in the league.

That prompted an offseason makeover. Olsen was named coach, making the leap from interim to regular status. The technical staff pulled the trigger on several moves, with the aim to improve the team at both ends of the park.

There are a number of new faces, but bringing in players like Charlie Davies and Dax McCarty has generated a fair bit optimism in DC, with Olsen set to bring it all together and light a fire under his charges.

Key Changes:

Players In: Dax McCarty (Portland), Joseph Ngwenya (Houston, Re-Entry Process Stage One), Josh Wolff (Sporting Kansas City, Re-Entry Process Stage Two), Steve Cronin (Portland), Rodrigo Brasesco (Racing Club, Uruguay), Perry Kitchen (Univ. of Akron), Charlie Davies (Sochaux, France)

Players Out: Rodney Wallace (Portland), Troy Perkins (Portland), Julius James (waived), Adam Cristman (LA Galaxy), Jaime Moreno (retired), Danny Allsopp (released), Pablo Hernández (released)

Staff: Ben Olsen was named head coach in November after taking over for as interim coach in August 2010, and he’ll be assisted by club fixture Chad Ashton and player/coach Pat Onstad.

Star Attraction: Charlie Davies

With one simple player acquisition, D.C. United injected an unexpected name into this offseason’s makeover. The beloved US men’s national team forward, once thought of as a bright hope for the Red, White and Blue, joined the team in what he hopes will be the final step in his recovery from a car crash in 2009. While there’s still rust to scrape off, Davies can be a huge difference-maker by not only scoring goals but also setting up his teammates and opening up room on the field.

Unsung Hero: Chris Pontius

Another youngster on the comeback trail, Pontius saw almost half of his 2010 campaign wiped out by a hamstring injury. He’s been working hard to be ready for this coming year, and he's ready to help out in whatever position on the field Olsen sees a need. His versatility adds to United’s depth as the competition for starting spots ramps up.

Ready for Primetime: Perry Kitchen

There was a mini-celebration amongst DC’s technical staff back in January when Kitchen slipped to them at the No. 3 pick in the SuperDraft. In preseason camp, the former Akron Zip and current US youth international has lived up to his pre-draft billing, exhibiting a demeanor beyond his years while training in central defense. Look for him to get the bulk of the starts this year as United reconstruct their back line.

Storylines to Watch:

After a breakout season in his debut campaign, reigning Rookie of the Year Andy Najar no longer has anonymity on which to fall back. He’s a known commodity in this league, and how the 18-year-old must live up to the hype generated not only by his exceptional play last season but also the lingering question of which national team will win his services.

A candidate to line up on the opposite side of the field from Najar is Branko Boskovic. The 30-year-old Montenegrin might be one of the least-known Designated Players in the league, but his skill and guile on the ball offer an attacking edge from the flank. With a full preseason with the team under his belt, he has a chance to prove his worth as part of the rebuilding project.

What He Said:

“I think we have the right mix of players, and now it’s just down to us to make sure we go out and perform on the field. It’s not going to be easy – there are going to be certain times in games or during the year where we’re not playing as well as we want – but it’s all about resiliency.”

– Midfielder Dax McCarty

If Everything Goes Right:

After such a poor year in 2010, a quick turnaround is a tall task. The team must be better up front and at the back if it hopes to compete in the Eastern Conference. And with so many new faces, it may take a while before everyone gets on the same page.

However, this is a team with a lot of young talent. And with the additions of McCarty, Kitchen and Davies, among others, D.C. United should be a much better side. How much better is the question – if Davies can come close to his pre-accident form to bag goals with regularity, and things are tidy at the back, contending for an MLS Cup Playoffs spot isn’t completely out of the question.

Join Olsen's Army! Get your tickets to the home opener on March 19 versus the Columbus Crew.