2006 DCenters Expectation Guide
Before posting my predictions for MLS-East, I wanted to write up my own personal expectations for DC United this year. The fact is that the team that starts the season may or may not have much to do with the team that ends the season. Sure, this isn't 180+ games like baseball, but the 32 games we have are a long time. On the superficial level, it's easy to say that this is the same team as last year, for the most part. And that team was statistically, on the surface, a pretty good team in terms of both goals scored and allowed.
Yet despite that, I think many DC United fans are troubled, in a way that goes beyond lingering feelings from the 4-0 playoff destruction from the Chicago Fire. The team hadn't played well in the games preceding that point. Some blame fatigue. Others focus. I personally feel that United had probably outperformed its talent level for several games in midseason, and once things fell slightly out of sync it was going to take a month to correct the problems. A month they didn't have. The 2004 and 2005 United teams were at their best as a finely tuned sportscar. When they were on, they were almost impossible to beat. But a slight timing issue in the engine could be an expensive problem. In short, United could bring their best game to the pitch more often than other teams, but had difficulty getting a result with their second best game against non-expansion teams.
Why there's reason to hope...
The optimist can point to a few developments that might give you a reason to think United could be better this year.
- Flexibility: With most of the team returning, the timing and team sympatico shouldn't take as long to develop. Nowak's system may not be so defined as it has been in the past, allowing it to adapt to games when either DCU isn't quite ticking the way we'd like, or when the other team has found a weakness to exploit. The idea that United can shift with similar personnel between a 4-4-2, 3-5-2, and 4-3-3 (as Karl implied earlier) is one that pleases me.
- Offensive Depth: The potential for a lethal set of goal scorers exist. If Filomeno, Moreno, Eskandarian, Quaranta, and Walker all contribute, then United will have an embarrassment of riches.
- The Thick Black Line: DCU's core set of defensive players and defensive minded midfielders are pretty strong. Erpen, Boswell, Carroll, Olsen, Wilson, Namoff... that's a set of players that can deny possession in the defensive third. I like that. They've shown some vulnerability to long balls played into space to speedy attackers, but I think that'll be a problem that is compensated for. I don't see many teams that will be able to build a strong possession game against the DCU backs (unofficial motto: "You shall not pass.")
Why there's reason to worry...It ain't all gravy though:
- The mystery of the midfield: United was vulnerable on the wings of the midfield last year, and the projected line-ups show that most combinations will have an set of players who are, shall we say, unestablished at the position. Even Gros is only one season with regular starting time, and has been known to make odd decisions on the ball. Adu on the left poses some questions as well. It might work brilliantly. Or we might be looking for acquisitions by midseason.
- Can't Start Me Up I: United is a typical "slow to start" team. However, this season United has a fairly soft early schedule and then a chance to establish dominance during World Cup call-ups. They can't afford to not take advantage of early games. April and May are strangely important this year.
- Can't Start Me Up II: Just because I have confidence in the back-line in snuffing out an opposing attack doesn't mean it can start its own. DCU will need improved distribution from the backs to the midfield in order to create chances.
- Offensive Consistency: There are a ton of players that could be great for DCU this year, and odds are someone will step up to complement Moreno, who seems in good form. But you don't know who it will be, or how long it make take to happen. Will Filomeno be on target from Match #1? Will Eskandarian regain his 2004 form? Will Walker still be able to have an impact as a sub? Will Quaranta focus enough to realize his potential? The faster one of these questions has a definite "Yes" next to it, the better, but it could take some time.
What I'm Not Worried As Much About as Some...Yesterday I noted Ives Galarcep's concerns with United handling rough physical play from other players. I agree that it could be an issue, but the indications are that it may not be as big a factor as it could be. So far, I've seen Christian Gomez, Jamie Moreno, and even Freddy Frickin' Adu fighting through tackles and not surrendering the ball while trying to draw a foul.
Who could step up?
- Lucio Filomeno: I think he will find a groove early in the season, which will take some of the demands off of other players.
- Troy Perkins: I think Rimando is a better keeper, but with a strong start to the season, Troy Perkins could change my mind, and deserves the opportunity to use this time to win the starting job outright. If he does, it will be an enormous boost.
- Freddy Adu: I have never said this before, but I will say it now. This is the Freddy Adu year people have waited for.
Who might slip back?
- Bobby Boswell: Regular readers of this blog know that I am 100% in the tank for Boz. Yet, part of me wonders if his performance may have been a bit above his own head last year. I don't want it to be true, but if there's a candidate for the sophomore slump, it's Boz.
- Jamil Walker: He had some great moments as a sub, but never gelled as a starter. I think this year more teams will be paying attention to his speed, and while his touch was better last year than I expected, I think that more teams will have plans for him, and it could be frustrating.
Don't Expect Too Much, Too SoonJustin Moose may become a good role-player in the midfield for United, but it might take a season in the reserves to get it there. And if this team needs Rod Dyachenko to contribute offensively, then we're in real trouble.
You can't look at United and say they're favorites for the Supporter's Shield, so the only other question that matters is "Are they a playoff team?" The answer in my mind is yes, and probably a top 3 team in the east when all is done with. That's good enough. For now.
So that's what's in my mind when I made my Eastern Conference predictions, which I will happily post today or tomorrow.