Washington, DC – Washington, DC (SportsNetwork.com) - D.C. United suffered through one of the worst seasons in the history of Major League Soccer last year. But it appears it can only get better from here.
United, historically the league's most successful franchise with four MLS Cups to its name, also got in the record books for being historically bad, becoming the first team in league history to win three or fewer games.
They did manage to stun Real Salt Lake and win the U.S. Open Cup, but Cup conquests aside, after a season with 24 losses, a re-build was certainly in order.
The front office jettisoned several big-name figures from last year's team, including former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, Carlos Ruiz, Lionard Pajoy, along with several members of the starting back line, including Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White and James Riley.
The club then went for a massive overhaul of almost the entire squad, starting with the acquisition of U.S. international Eddie Johnson from Seattle Sounders FC in exchange for allocation money.
A hallmark of last season's squad was D.C.'s inability to put the ball in the back of the net as they scored just 22 goals. Johnson should help kick start the offense as he bagged 23 goals over the past two seasons in Seattle.
To help Johnson with the scoring duties, United made a splash in the league's Re-Entry draft by selecting former New York Red Bull Fabian Espindola. Espindola came to New York last season in a trade from Real Salt Lake but never found his footing in New York, scoring just eight goals.
However, Espindola has displayed his scoring prowess in previous seasons, so it could just be that a change of scenery is all that is needed for him to regain his form.
In midfield a pair of young, talented players will return to the fold in Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen, while former Montreal Impact captain Davy Arnaud arrives via trade to provide some veteran leadership in the middle of the park.
The key to D.C.'s midfield, however, will be whether or not veteran Chris Pontius can stay healthy. Coming off an excellent 2012 season in which he scored 12 goals, Pontius struggled to stay on the field last season, scoring just two goals.
But where United's biggest overhaul came was along the back line as the club will have an entirely new starting four this season.
They nabbed former Houston Dynamo starter Bobby Boswell in the Re-Entry draft and completed a trade with Philadelphia for veteran Jeff Parke. Former Los Angeles Galaxy man Sean Franklin will man the right back spot, while Christian Fernandez will handle the left side of the defense.
Fernandez, 28, is a relative unknown, but he has a nice international resume with more than 100 appearances for various clubs in La Liga.
On paper, this should be one of the most improved teams in the league, but with such high roster turnover, developing chemistry on the pitch quickly could be an early issue.
Luckily for United fans, manager Ben Olsen likes the makeup of his side,
"We have the right mix of individuals between youth, experience, guys that have been around and guys that have held trophies," Olsen said. I'm excited about the talent of this team. But the trick is to make them a team."
That last part will be the key to United's entire season.
ACQUISITIONS: Eddie Johnson (F), Fabian Espindola (F), Davy Arnaud (M), Sean Franklin (D), Bobby Boswell (D), Jeff Parke (D), Christian Fernandez (D).
LOSSES: Carlos Ruiz (F), Lionard Pajoy (F), Dwayne De Rosario (M), John Thorrington (M), Dejan Jakovic (D), Ethan White (D), James Riley (D), Casey Townsend (F).
OUTLOOK: After such a poor outing last season, the only way is up for D.C. United. They've overhauled and improved every position on the field and added some much-needed star power with Johnson and Espindola. The new back line could take some time to jell and Pontius' health is a wildcard. But on paper, United have done enough to at least be in the playoff discussion in the East. It will come down to how well Olsen gets his team to become an actual team.