D.C. United 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season
D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen will face increased pressure in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete your season preview?
In part one of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Black and Red this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.
Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS' complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.
|M||Davy Arnaud||Trade from Montreal|
|D||Sean Franklin||Re-Entry Draft Stage 1|
|D||Bobby Boswell||Re-Entry Draft Stage 1|
|F||Conor Doyle||Transfer from Derby County|
|F||Eddie Johnson||Trade from Seattle|
|F||Fabian Espindola||Re-Entry Draft Stage 2|
|D||Nana Attakora||Re-Entry Draft Stage 2|
|D||Jeff Parke||Trade from Philadelphia|
|D||Steve Birnbaum||MLS SuperDraft|
|F||Christiano Francois||Waiver Draft|
|D||Christian Fernandez||Free Transfer|
|F||Carlos Ruiz||Option Declined|
|F||Lionard Pajoy||Option Declined|
|M||Marcelo Saragosa||Option Declined|
|M||Dwayne De Rosario||Option Declined|
|M||Syamsir Alam||Option Declined|
|D||James Riley||Option Declined|
|M||John Thorrington||Option Declined|
|D||Daniel Woolard||Option Declined|
|D||Dejan Jakovic||Transferred to Shimizu S-Pulse|
|D||Ethan White||Traded to Philadelphia|
The Story to Watch: Ben Olsen's Pressure to Succeed
Last season, Ben Olsen's job security increasingly became a narrative. Given his club's historical shortcomings, it's understandable why. Olsen himself even admitted that was the case during one of his numerous post-match meltdowns:
I don't worry about my job because I understand coaches get fired. I've seen coaches get fired for less than 0-7 in the last seven games. But I don't worry about it because that's completely out of my control. Is my job on the line? It better be – I'm the leader of this team, but I have faith in what I'm doing and I'll continue to go about my work.
His faith panned out and allowed him to propel his club to an improbable U.S. Open Cup run.
But how much faith will remain should DCU succumb to another disappointing season?
Since taking over as interim head coach in 2010, Olsen has led his club to a 32-55-27 record. A playoff appearance in 2012 and a U.S. Open Cup title can easily be countered by a losing record and one of the worst seasons in MLS history. Add to that just one playoff appearance in three full seasons, and you're not exactly carrying an invincible resume.
Blame what you want for past failures, but built-in excuses no longer exist in the nation's capital. With a complete overhauling of the club's roster, Coach Olsen now has the most talent at his disposal since holding the reins in 2010.
Expectations have risen, and with that comes an increased pressure to succeed. Winning a trophy Bruce Arena doesn't even care much for will not serve as a saving grace in 2014. More will be required.
Another 9-13-12 season, á la 2011, cannot be tolerated.
The Number to Watch: It'll Be Higher Than 0.65
Luis Silva—as well as Dwayne De Rosario and Kyle Porter—was DCU's leading goalscorer in 2013.
He played just 13 matches. He scored just three goals. That's one less than the four own goals United conceded as a whole. Even worse, the club's 0.65 goals per match set the league record for offensive impotence.
Ironically enough, the record initially belonged to the 2010 version of DCU (0.70).
Don't expect that to be the case in 2014.
Futility was replaced by excitement in the offseason. With the arrival of Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, a more potent attack is already in place. The two combined for 18 goals in 2013, almost equaling the total of all 34 United players that saw minutes last season (22).
In an exclusive interview on the club's official website, Johnson left little doubts about his expectations for 2014:
For me, [I look] to come in and be a leader, be a veteran and play a good role as far as pushing the guys week in and week out. [I look to] be that person that the team can really look up to to score goals and win very important games, get us into the playoffs and compete for an MLS Cup.
As Pablo Maurer points out on MLS' official website, even Espindola is excited about the stylistic opportunities this partnership creates:
This works great for me. I like to be outside, he's more of an in-the-box guy even though he can go outside as well. His speed is great, too – I feel very comfortable with it.
There is, however, one caveat.
The 2014 World Cup will prevent some MLS players from being with their clubs in both May and June. Early July will also be missed if they're fortunate enough to advance past the group stage. With 18 appearances for the U.S. men's national team since 2013, expect Johnson to be one of those players missing action.
Pivotal matches fill United's schedule during that two-month span, including a clash with Johnson's former club on June 28. Unfortunately for the 29-year-old, a match with Germany will be taking place just two days prior. A salivating showdown will be missing the one piece necessary to hold the narrative together.
Depth at the striker position will be tested. Less-heralded commodities will need to grab hold of an opportunity.
Listlessness awaits should they fail.
The Players to Watch: Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell
Lost in the 22-goal debacle of 2013 was the fact that DCU conceded the second-most goals in MLS last season (59). Chivas USA have the dubious distinction of leading the league in that category (67). United, however, have undergone a complete facelift in the center-back department in hopes of rectifying their anemic defense.
You can't blame them after analyzing the numbers of Ethan White, Daniel Woolard, James Riley and Dejan Jakovic:
Enter Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell.
Just based off last season's numbers, the two will serve as an immediate upgrade in 2014:
Fingers crossed the two can remain healthy. No one wants to see Perry Kitchen—a true defensive midfielder—at center-back this season.
The Match to Watch: D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls
April 12, 2014.
This won't be the first time DCU will have the opportunity to prove themselves on the national stage. That comes just two weeks prior when the Chicago Fire visit RFK Stadium. But this will be the first of three nationally televised matches against the club's biggest rival, the New York Red Bulls.
Last season, DCU failed to capture a victory in one of MLS' oldest rivalries. A scoreless draw in Week 3 was followed by a pair of losses in Weeks 7 and 27. The combination of results allowed the Red Bulls to capture their third Atlantic Cup in four years.
After a busy offseason, D.C. will look to reclaim a rivalry its predominately owned since 1996.
In 62 regular season contests, United are 31-22-9. Couple the head-to-head results with an impressive trophy case (13 combined titles), and the club has enough ammunition to spray the New York faithful.
But the bragging rights are beginning to turn. Especially after the Red Bulls captured their first major trophy in 18 years and finished atop the MLS standings last season. United's nightmarish campaign didn't help matters, either.
Reestablishing dominance in this Atlantic rivalry should remain a goal in 2014.
The first opportunity to do so comes in Week 6.
Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC