D.C. United Tries To Go From Worst To First in 2011 MLS Season

Phil ShoreCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2011

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 21:  Charlie Davies of USA celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FIFA Confederations Cup match between Egypt and USA at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on June 21, 2009 in Rustenburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

In 2010, the New York Red Bulls went from having the worst record in the MLS to first place in the Eastern Conference. Their Atlantic Cup rival, D.C. United, is poised to make a similar ascent up the standings.

After finishing last season with the worst record in MLS, and failing to qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive year, D.C. made a lot of changes to its roster, picking up some very recognizable names.

Joseph Ngwenya, Josh Wolff, Pat Onstad, Dax McCarty and Charlie Davies will all represent the Black and Red on the pitch this season.

Ngwenya, Wolff and Davies were all brought in to help an impotent offense that was the only team in MLS last season to not score 30 goals (21). All the attention will be on Davies, however.

It seems like ages ago Davies was a promising USMNT forward who wowed fans with his blistering speed, earned their respect with his tireless hustle and got their attention with his “Stanky Leg” goal celebration. Then a car accident nearly took not only his soccer career, but his life as well.

Davies has persevered, though, and has finished his rehab. His parent club, FC Sochaux, thought he was unfit for first team action with them, so he needed a fresh start. In a surprising twist, he wound up exactly where it all fell apart for him.

Fans around the world, especially American fans, will watch Davies closely; Is he still as fast? Can he score? What’s going to happen if someone comes in with a hard challenge? Can he be the great player we thought he would be before the accident?

It’s a lot to live up to, but Davies seems to realize what he’s gotten himself into, relishes it and just wants to focus on becoming first-team fit again.

He’ll have plenty of support behind him in the midfield. Andy Najar, last season’s Rookie of the Year, will be joined by Designated Player Branko Boskovic, Santino Quaranta and Dax McCarty. Najar was the team’s leader in goals scored last season, and the team’s lack of talent will thrust him into a starring role. But it won’t be all up to him this year.

The majority of the team is young, so McCarty will provide the leadership this squad lacked last year. He’s only 23 years old, but he’s been in the league since 2006 and made it to the MLS Cup final last season with FC Dallas. He’s getting increased looks from the USMNT and was the team’s captain in its January friendly against Chile.

The big names have come on offense, but the defense is a bit thin. It was supposed to be homegrown product Bill Hamid’s time to shine in net, but he suffered a shoulder injury early in preseason.

Backup Steve Cronin was also injured, so it’s up to 43-year-old Pat Onstad—who retired and signed with D.C. to be an assistant coach, only to unretire to fill out the goalie position—to lead a relatively unfamiliar unit. Outside of rookie Perry Kitchen, the team’s first round pick, the rest of the defense is a bunch of unknowns.

A big problem for United is that while the additions are of high-profile names, do they still bring talent or are they working on big names alone? Teams get rid of players for all different reasons, but make no mistake about it: Ngwenya, Wolff and Onstad were all let go by their respective teams. Wolff only scored two goals last season, Ngwenya netted only one goal and Onstad retired. And can Davies stay healthy?

The defense looks to be the weakness, but the other positions are full of potential and promise. Things may start out a little rocky, but this team does have the talent to at least sneak into the playoffs.

If anything, this team gives the faithful fans something to be optimistic about despite the performances over the past few years and the possibility that the team may be moved.