Second in a series of posts on the MLS Also-Rans.
After last night's loss to Marathon in the CONCACAF Champions League Match, DC United is done and dusted for 2008. The season for me is a mixed bag of matters. The highlights must include the U.S. Open Cup, which guarantees some international play next year, i.e. qualifying round for the Champtions League. Who knows about Superliga since MLS keeps changing the rules on that one, for all I know L.A. Galaxy will be in it. When not injured, Marcello Gallardo was putting in some solid performances and at $1.75 million a year, he should. Got to get him healthy. Some players stepped up and showed some real promise this year, Marc Burch, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms and Louis Crayton. A lot of young developmental players showed some promise as well.
But there are some darknesses as well. First and foremost--no playoffs. Second, lousy international play (Soehn looked like he didn't even care at times). Third, injuries that kept Gallardo, Peralta, and Olsen on the bench for long periods of time. Fourth, a very streaky offense; Emilio was nowhere near his MVP status, Francis Doe didn't do as much as hoped, and Fred was AWOL for long periods of time. Fifth and finally, poor player acquisition decisions in the front office, i.e. Zach Wells as a starting goalkeeper for way too long, Franco Niell, Jose Carvallo, etc. Really a bad year in the player acquisition market.
So what does DC United need to do for the next year?
Front Office Matters
1. Don't fire Tom Soehn--yet. Yes, some of Soehn's tactical decisions at the start of the year were questionable, but this is his first head coach job, give him a little time. Yes, Soehn looked like he was phoning it in on the international play, but by the time that got started in earnest, Soehn's squad was reeling from injuries, suspensions and poor play from leading players. I don't want to make excuses from Soehn, but DC United came close, i.e. withing four strikes of the woodwork in the final match against Columbus, of making the playoffs despite all the crap that happened this year. He has earned a chance to see if he can right the ship next year, well, at least half a year anyway.
2. Shuck some dead weight. Rod Dyachenko, don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out. Ditto for Zach Wells. Fred? Sorry, time for you to find employment elsewhere. Ivan Guerrero, you are a nice guy and you work hard, but unless you can play somewhere else on the field, we need a left back with more pace and better service skills. Buh-Bye.
3. Restructure some contracts. As a DC United fan, these next two things hurt to say: Jaime Moreno is a good man, a great player, but a player whose production, pace and presence has diminished. Sorry Jaime, a pay cut for you but with incentives (I know Moreno got to double figures in goals and assists, but really, a lot of those goals came from the penalty spot). Ben Olsen needs to either a). retire if his ankle doesn't improve dramatically, or b) take a big paycut (I am talking at least 50% of his $215,000 salary). I don't mind a big incentive laden contract, founded on appearances, minutes, etc., but Benny is taking up lots of cap space and played like what 15 minutes this year. Gonzalo Peralta, same story. Gonzalo Martinez, yep-you too. Dominic Mediate--nice guy, but if you can't play, even your tiny salary and more importantly your senior roster space has to go to someone else.
4. Give the following people good raises. Clyde Simms--DC's iron man, deserves more than his $59,000 a year salary. March Burch certainly deserves more than his minimum salary. Quaranta's incentive laden contract will get him a raise. Joe Vide, Ryan Cordeiro, Craig Thompson, and Greg Janicki all deserve bigger pay and at least Vide, Cordeiro and Janicki have probably earned senior roster spots.
On the Field Matters.
1. Build some depth on the back line. DC United's problem this year wasn't necessarily an inability to score goals, well it wasn't their problem all year long. But the one problem they had all year long was the back line. Defensively, DC looked terrible. The first couple of games I chalked up to new players getting used to each other and a keeper who couldn't command the box. But as the year went on things didn't improve. DC conceded the second most number of goals (51). Some of those goals are the result of poor goalkeeping, but most weren't. Soehn and Kevin Payne need to find two more center backs, one to play everyday with Gonzalo Peralta and one back up. Gonzalo Martinez might be better off moving to right back or even more forward if Soehn is willing to try a 4-2-3-1 type of set up, with Martinez and Clyde Simms playing in those two defensive midfield posistions. Many times this year, they looked in synch and it might work well and take a little pressure off of Gallardo in the center of midfield.
2. Find some wingers. I don't know if Quavas Kirk has the pace and service to be a winger. Quaranta made a solid effort on the right, but he is not really a winger--but could be. I don't see anyone else on this squad is who ready to fill that role and DC needs it.
3. Get a target forward. Francis Doe, Thabiso Khumalo, Luciano Emilio--what do all these players have in common? Smaller size, decent pace, better at going at defenders and less capable of working in the box with their back to goal. Soehn and Payne need a target man, someone who can knock the ball down to one of these guys.
4. Get a better backup keeper. James Thorpe impressed me in his 30 minutes last week in the Champions league, he made some good saves. Is Thorpe the guy to be Crayton's back up? Maybe, but right now I wouldn't bet the farm on it. Thorpe has earned a continued spot on the developmental roster, but I think Soehn/Payne need to find a quality backup.
In reality, DC's woes stem from the defensive third of the field. If United can short that up, they can do much better next year.
Previous Episodes in this Series.