13 February 2007

Two Fundamental Questions, Part I

As we are in pre-season mode, it seems like an ideal time to bring forth the basic questions. We start with DC United, and the fundamental question is this: "Is this team better now than it was at the start of the 2006 campaign?" There are other considerations, but I think no question gets at the entire situation better than that. After looking at the situation, I would have to say, at this time, the answer is "No."

To be fair, if I were to ask "Is this team better situated to compete over the next three years?" the answer would probably be different. But let's take a look at where we are right now, using what I think a reasonable assumptions and even giving the benefit of the doubt to new signings. Here's how I score it on my off-season scorecard:

The Attack: With Filomeno and Eskandarian gone, the impact of Luciano Emilio will be the all-important factor. Early returns and impressions among Those Who Know in preseason activity seem positive. It's probably safe to say that DC is treading water in this area, but I'm inclined to be optimistic, so I'll go ahead and say that this attack has upgraded and improved. There are still concerns about depth. Jamil Walker is clearly viewed as firmly a substitute and reserve. Rod Dyachenko's acquisition may say great things about potential, but I don't see him as even a poor replacement for Christian Gomez or a reliable forward option. Brad North and Ricky Schramm are both long shots to make impacts this season. Still, a trio of Moreno-Gomez-Luciano may well be more dangerous, and consistent, than Moreno-Gomez-Eskandarian was last year. I do love Esky, but we all know that he battled consistency. If Luciano Emilio can contribute more than 8 goals and 3 assists, he will surpass the combined totals of Eskandarian and Filomeno. That seems possible to me. Verdict: Upgrade.

The Flank: Gone is Freddy Adu. Domenic Mediate is still in recover mode. Young signing Kasali Yinka Casal is unlikely to be available immediately, and Steve Goff is talking about a flank pairing of Josh Gros and Ben Olsen. The good news is that this isn't a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, but the bad news is that in a 3-5-2 we're going to be running 90% of the offense through Christian Gomez. That's a lot to keep asking of the guy, even if it is successful. Olsen and Gros may be the grittiest duo in the league who'll play with tenacity and heart, but neither plays with speed while on the ball. Yes, Josh has lots of speed, but usually in recovery to defensive responsibilities. Olsen's speed outside particularly worries me, since a nimble opposing flank player may be able to play around him and force Ben to take an early caution. That doesn't bode well for being able to shut down crosses defensively. I know a lot of people were down on Freddy, but he was able to threaten offensively from the flank and should have had four more goals than he did last year. Mediate and McTavish are acceptable off the bench and I like Mediate enough that I wouldn't mind seeing him get the start on occasion. Verdict: Downgrade. Mitigating factor: Can Cassal make an impact? Can McTavish or Mediate step it up?

Defensive Midfield: Unlike a fellow blogger, I feel that Brian Carroll seems like a good option in MLS play, and Clyde Simms is no slouch himself. Add in the addition of Bryan Arguez as a developing prospect and Jeff Carroll as a potential over-achiever, and you have one of the better defensive mid-fields in the league with plenty of options for depth. Verdict: Push.

Defense - Backs and Keeper:The back three of Erpen-Boswell-Namoff return, but the big question is one of depth. Boswell and Erpen get their share of cards, and Namoff has had difficulty with injuries in past years. On the bench you're looking at Stokes, Wilson, DeRoux and Needham. Of course, while we'd love to see Needham step into making contributions immediately, I feel a bit reluctant to put that kind of pressure on him. Wilson is capable and provides some options going forward, but not inspiring. Stokes is a favorite topic of BigSoccer discussions, which is usually not a good thing in a position where you'd like dependability. DeRoux has, to date, shown me little to think that time in the first XI would be well spent on him, although you never know. Which means that I'd put your options as Wilson, Needham, and Stokes, in that order. From what I've read, Needham has impressed to-date, and maybe he is another Bobby Boswell, but that's a hell of a lot of pressure to put on the kid and I'd rather we bring him along slowly and let him develop rather than sacrifice him prematurely.

The keeper situation you knew was going to be a downgrade heading into this situation. Troy Perkins was the man, and Nick Rimando could be a starter for a lot of MLS teams. That situation was great last year, but couldn't be justified for multiple years. The backup keeper situation is, as we all know, in-flux. Perkins as our everyday starter is great, but the fear of an injury could turn us into the 2006 Columbus Crew. Verdict: Downgrade, primarily because of depth. (UPDATE: Yup, depth is certainly a problem now)

I know that this team still has all the potential in the world, and it is not infeasible for this team to outperform last year's. However, the uncertainty level is higher, the questions more pressing. Overall, it is not morning in America.

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At 13 February, 2007 20:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis.
Its a huge question who will be the creative playmaker when Gomez and Moreno hang it up... So far DCU has always had that player (Etch, Moreno, Gomez) would the team be the same without such a player? Would the team have the same character without such a player? Hopefully the scouting trips to South America continue...

At 13 February, 2007 20:43, Anonymous cynic said...

Yeah, but we've got lots more cap room than this time last year.

At 15 February, 2007 11:51, Anonymous Rafa said...

with Needham gone, the defensive situation looks even more bleak...

that said, there's lots of time to bring in reinforcements during this season (and we're going to need them). But we are dangerously short on depth in essentially every position except for defensive midfield.


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