Sports

United, Impact tangle at RFK

Washington, DC (SportsNetwork.com) - D.C. United will begin its 2015 season on home turf when the club welcomes the Montreal Impact at RFK Stadium on Saturday.

Ben Olsen's team announced its winning intentions in the first game of 2014 with a 3-0 win over the Columbus Crew. United maintained that success all season and finished at the top of the Eastern Conference with 59 points.

Unfortunately things fell apart in the playoffs as the club suffered a 3-2 aggregate loss to the New York Red Bulls.

Despite the playoff defeat, the club had an outstanding regular season and many of the key cogs from 2014 will be in the mix this time around.

Along the back line, United's breakout star is second-year defender Steve Birnbaum. The 6-foot-1 defender anchored the defense and earned himself a U.S. National team call up in the process.

Joining Birnbaum in central defense will be former Houston Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell, who is back for his second season in the black and red of United, while Sean Franklin will occupy the right back spot and Taylor Kemp slots in at left back.

In midfield Perry Kitchen sits in his preferred holding midfield spot, while newcomer Markus Halsti could be next to Kitchen or in the back as the Finland international can play both positions.

Halsti, 30, comes to United after seven seasons with Malmo in the Swedish top flight. He brings plenty of European experience to United having led Malmo to three league titles in the last five seasons. He also has made 20 Champions League appearances with Malmo.

"We are pleased to be adding a player with solid European playing experience at the club, Champions League, and National Team levels," said D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper. "Markus can play as both a central midfielder and central defender, and this was quite attractive to us. He is a tough competitor and another very good character piece for our club. We look forward to having him join our family."

After a disappointing exit from the CONCACAF Champions League in midweek, Olsen's team will aim to get their league season off to a good start against a team that struggled mightily last season.

After winning 12 and 14 games respectively in their first two seasons in MLS, the Impact took a big step back last year, tying for the league low with just six victories.

Montreal failed to win a game on the road last season and the club finished with the second-worst goal difference in MLS ahead of only Chivas USA.

In short, it was a debut season that head coach Flank Klopas will be eager to forget.

One of the few bright spots for the Impact in 2014 was the arrival of Argentina native Ignacio Piatti as a Designated Player midway through the season.

The 30-year-old came to Montreal from San Lorenzo and had an immediate impact, scoring four goals in his first six games. However, Piatti missed the final five matches through injury, which pretty much summed up the season.

Piatti's presence for a full season will be a big boost to the attack, but the question will be which forward combination will work best for head coach Frank Klopas.

Marco Di Vaio led the Impact with nine goals last season, but the Italian veteran retired at the end of the season, leaving Jack McInerney and recent acquisition Dominic Oduro to fill the void.