Saturday, March 8, 2008

For DC United, More Latin Flavor Might do the Trick

This is the first article of the new year devoted to DC United and though every soccer loving part of me demands I get straight to all the excitement surrounding this year's team, I must defer for a moment to make a brief point. With each Washington spring comes a flood of sporting indulgence, an overdose of massive sports stimulus if you will. The Wizards and Capitals are sprinting to what we all hope are playoff berths. The Nationals are testing recently mended limbs and making sure they'll be ready for what should be an incredible year in a beautiful new park. The media frenzy of NFL free agency and the college draft is, even if the Redskins are remaining unusually quiet throughout, seducing the masses with disgustingly large contracts and sub-4.4 40 times. It’s understandable that amidst the spring sports euphoria a few major stories (or sports) might slip under your radar. This is particularly unfortunate because, even if you’re not a soccer fanatic, there has never been a better time to follow DC United.

United posted another great regular season in 2007, capturing the Supporter's Shield for best regular season record (16-7-7) and first-year forward Luciano Emilio was named league MVP. Though they were riding high from regular season success, United found only disappointment in the MLS Cup playoffs as the Chicago Fire handed United an early exit in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The loss in the MLS Cup only added to a building frustration in Cup matches. United had been dismissed from both the CONCACAF Cup and the Copa Nissan Sudamericana Cup by Mexican side CD Guadalajara, defeated in the U.S. Open Cup by Harrisburg City of the USL and saw their chance of winning the inaugural Superliga Cup come to an end after a 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy. For a team that has built a tradition around winning these major tournaments, reaching the semifinals (3 of 5 Cups) could not fulfill the team’s or fan’s expectations.

What’s the fix for a team with such potential and league success but who faltered in critical matches?

One of DC United's most endearing qualities and a main reason for their continuing success is their ability to bring in and develop talent. The current air of excitement and the promise for an even more exciting 2008 is staked on the potentially incredible talent that have been amassed this offseason. The team, in a move that Dan Snyder would certainly applaud, has performed a complete overhaul from their team of two years ago, with only four players remaining from the 2006 starting eleven.

Last year's acquisitions were highlighted by two sensational Brazilians, Emilio and Fred. This year, spurred the departure of starting goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who was sold to Valerenga I.F. of the Norwegian top flight league, and looking to upgrade several other positions, United has opened the door to another influx of impressive new players. Parting ways with long-time playmaker and DC fan favorite Christian Gomez, starting center back Greg Vanney, and starting midfielder Josh Gros, United made a beeline for the soccer goldmines of South America looking for both talented youth and tested ability that could make immediate impacts for the Black and Red.

The first South American acquired was Argentinean forward Franco Niell, on loan from Argentinos Jaguars. Niell, a player with speed and a good finishing touch, is expected to pair with Emilio up front in coach Tom Soehn's 4-4-2 formation.

With the next wave of Sough American signees United hoped to both improve and add depth to its defense core. Colombian defender Gonzalo Martinez and Argentinean defender Gonzalo Peralta were both signed by United as big, skilled defenders with Martinez most likely getting a starting role. Jose Carvallo, a 22 year old goalkeeper from Peru, comes on loan to DC as a highly touted player already with international experience and is expected to challenge newly-acquired Zach Wells for the starting role.

The marquee signing of 2008 is without a doubt Marcello Gallardo, who comes to DC with a weight of expectation as United’s first Designated Player. The Argentinean midfielder joins the Black and Red from Paris-Saint Germain, of the French Champions league, where he spent 2007. Prior to his short stint for PSG, Gallardo starred for French side Monaco and Argentinean power house River Plate. He has also earned 44 international caps, scoring 14 times, and being selected to the Argentinean team for World Cups in 1998 and 2002. Gallardo dons the number 10 jersey, replacing Christian Gomez as the team’s playmaking midfielder – a role that he has excelled in throughout his career.

United has also made several domestic acquisitions with the main addition to the senior team being keeper Zach Wells. Wells transferred to DC from Houston at the end of December as the sale of Troy Perkins to Valerenga solidified. Primarily a backup with the Dynamo, Wells is expected to start for United though, as said earlier, he will be challenged by Carvallo.

With the beginning of the CONCACAF Cup only 4 days away and the beginning of the MLS season on the 29th of March, I will be updating soon on predicted starting lineups as well as status updates on new players. Look also for news on DC’s developmental players and what impact they could potentially make.

This is an interesting story about how Jamaica views the MLS - "H'View vs DC United Flasback"

Next: Outlook 2008 – How the new-look United stacks up in the MLS

- The Phoenix

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