On the heels of two consecutive victories and the new invitation to the Copa Sudamericana, it may seem strange to declare that this season is a rebuilding season for D.C. United. At the same time, now is when it should be said, not later in the season when it would appear to be redefining success downwards to suit our egos. So that's the idea I want to bounce off of everyone today, and feel free to have at it.
I know there's a belief out there that you can only plan for one season. Among injuries, international transfers, designated player rules, trades, and the like, it may seem that MLS too much a scenario in-flux to be planned for long-term. That was probably true five years ago. It may have been true three years ago. It is no longer true. With the strategic planning that would go into any designated player signing, with increased salary caps, with increased international competition, thinking only for this season seems like a recipe to buy you a year of success at the expense of three. It could even be worse. Consider Schelotto in Columbus: If that experiment doesn't work, does anyone see a long-term plan taking shape?
I believe that the plans for United are not just for this year, but for the next three to four years. After the 2006 Supporter's Shield campaign, there were several changes. Gone are Nowak, Adu, Rimando, Eskandarian, Prideaux, and Mediate. Arriving are Emilio, Fred, Arguez, Kpene, Addlery, North, Nolly and Casal. That's eight new players coming into a team, of which five have seen significant first team time in the league. That's a lot to integrate in one season. We saw this last year. With pretty much no changes, the 2006 team outperformed the 2005 team, simply because the players were that much more familiar with their roles and expectations. There is no doubt in my mind that the 2006 team, even with its poor finish, was better than the 2005 season.
We now see at least what the plan could be. There is a potential succession in place at forward for Moreno. Arguez can develop safely behind Carroll, Carroll, Olsen, and Simms in the midfield. We've upgraded our wing play and central playmaking with Fred, and with the promise shown by both Casal and Moose. Even the older impact players like Fred (age 27) and Emilio (age 28) offer the potential for multiple peak years.
Still, when combined with a first year head coach, that's a lot to combine. Yes, there are several options with international competition to impress this season, but the fundamental goals of every season are the same: the MLS Cup and the Supporter's Shield.
I think I was fooled by the Olimpia result to some degree, but really what happened is that MLS teams finally met expectations in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Preseason or no, MLS teams should advance by their first round opponents. That the LA Galaxy could not should have been a bigger embarrassment than it was. That is the simple standard from now on. But I was caught up in the sense that something special had occurred, when in reality it was something we should have expected. As a result, I banished my previous thoughts that this might be a rebuilding year. The poor start to the season was a surprise, but Kansas City and, yes, Columbus are higher levels of competition than Olimpia.
This is not to say that winning is impossible this season. It isn't. Parity in MLS may not be as close as some would like, but it does exist to some degree. United should be able to make the playoffs, and not making the playoffs does represent failure. Certainly, once that happens, anything could happen. We're not out of the competition for any silverware, but we shouldn't be expecting it either.
Judging this season by additions to the trophy case is naive. If we win nothing this season, in the Sudamericana, US Open Cup, Reserve League, MLS Cup, Supporter's Shield, or Superliga, then I don't think you can evaluate this season as a loss. Instead, ask yourself if you see the path clear for DC United to consistently challenge for the trophies in 2008, 2009, and 2010. If you do, then this season is a success.
Still, right now, the large concern must be defensive depth. I know that's a subject we've been harping on for some time, but now I think I might understand why no moves were made. If I'm right, I'm guessing United just doesn't feel like the right addition is out there at the moment, but if it became available they would take it. The earlier comments from the Front Office about being satisfied with the backline simply meant that they didn't see a good, affordable option for the upgrade to the depth. Yet the fact that they scouted the player in Poland, and converted to a 4-4-2 with Josh Gros, tell us that they do recognize the problem. What's more, Namoff and Boswell are probably the best bets for national team duty this summer, depleting our backline even more. That could prove problematic this summer. Even a healthy peak performing John Wilson, or Devon McTavish, don't make me feel comfortable with the situation. But perhaps 2007 wasn't the right time to make a move in that area, and the team feels like next year the options will be better. In that case, biding their time might be the right decision, though it could hurt this year.
So let's summarize: DC is not outclassed in its competitions, but I think will be better equipped once the new additions are integrated. If, and I hate to say it, we come away empty handed this year, it doesn't matter if you can see us moving through the next three years with only one or two acquisitions. I think the slogan at Duke (yes, I know...) was "We don't rebuild, we reload." The problem is that reloading in soccer may take an entire year. So be it. I have no problem with that. It's not like we're even writing off the season: We will be competitive, but I feel better about our future than our present. And if I can feel that way, and we can still compete (which we can) then in some ways, we are very lucky fans indeed.
Labels: 2007 Season, Analysis, Roster Moves