As D.C. United ready themselves for next season, part of their preparations will include fortifying their roster. While Black-and-Red fans will have to wait to see who will join the squad prior to 2018, change is expected, according to head coach Ben Olsen. Olsen noted he is looking for current players and future additions to raise the level of play and fill important leadership roles on the field and in the locker room.
“There is a big void for others to step into,” Olsen said. “I’m looking forward to seeing who fills it because the group in the second half of the year was a good group.”
United parted ways with a number of veteran players late in 2017, including defender Bobby Boswell, who was traded to Atlanta United FC in August, and Homegrown goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who signed with Danish top-tier side FC Midtjylland on a free transfer at the conclusion of the season. Forward Chris Rolfe also announced his retirement following the conclusion of United's 2017 campaign, leaving the Black-and-Red with important holes to fill.
“It’s tough to lose them but at the same time it’s my job to come in and lead the back line and the guys in front of me,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “It starts with leading by example and a lot of communication.”
Birnbaum, who was named the team's captain this season, will be one of the returning players expected to spearhead a United revival next year. The defender assumed the role of vocal commander in 2017, directing the Black-and-Red from his center back spot for 26 matches
While the club's offseason focus will remain fixated on building a team ready to compete at the highest level possible next year, United's roster changes kicked off in August with the additions of Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Zoltán Stieber and Bruno Miranda during the secondary transfer window. United later signed goalkeeper Steve Clark and showed promising signs of improvement following the acquisitions, posting three consecutive shutout victories to close out August and earning an emphatic 4-0 win over San Jose at home on Sept. 23.
“Once we got a couple of the new guys in, it took a couple games for us to gel," Birnbaum said. "But once we did I felt like we were playing really good soccer, and I think it’s only going to get better with other guys coming in next year. Now we have a good base.”
While Olsen expects returning players to continue to improve into 2018, he also anticipates the club bringing in outside help to complement the Black-and-Red’s core of promising talent. Olsen indicated that United already have many of their key players for next season in-house, but want to add players that have experience winning in the league and “can help guide a very good young team.”
“For the most part we have a blank canvas for next year, and that's exciting,” Olsen said. “Of course we’re going to keep players that we believe in, but there will be a significant amount of change in what our team looks like next year.”
With fresh faces inbound, United will likely see players thrust into new roles and entrusted with new responsibilities. When it comes to stepping up as leaders, Birnbaum believes that’s a duty every player is dealt, no matter who makes up the roster.
“It’s collective,” Birnbaum said. “You want guys to be loud, you want a bunch of leaders on the field. You can’t have just one dictator, you want everyone out there leading. The more the better.”