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PREVIEW: D.C. United brings in new team to end slide
by Paul Kennedy, March 3rd, 2014 7:26PM
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TAGS:  d.c. united, mls


[MLS 2014: Eastern Conference] If there is an MLS club that needs to turn the page, it's D.C. United, which set a record for futility when it won a record-low three out of 34 games in 2013. But while there was a change of management -- Michael Williamson left United to become Inter Milan's CFO -- GM Dave Kasper and head coach Ben Olsen were retained for the 2014 season. On the field, that's another matter as D.C. United will open the season Saturday with seven new starters.

To say D.C. United never got going last season would be an understatement. After splitting its first two MLS games, it went on a 13-game winless streak. It was then five games between the second and third wins, and after that it was a 13-game winless streak in league play to finish the season. The only thing that saved D.C. season -- and probably the jobs of Kasper and Olsen -- is that D.C. United won the 2013 U.S. Open Cup title for its MLS-record 13th trophy.

2013 D.C. United
Record: 3-24-7
Finish: 10th in Eastern Conf.
Playoffs: did not qualify.

The one positive to being eliminated from the playoff race so early was that Kasper and Olsen got an early start on planning United's remaking. The first order of business was to blow up the backline. The 59 goals they allowed weren't the worst in club history -- they conceded 63 goals in the lean years of 2000 and 2001 -- but they led the league by a wide margin in the number of ugly goals they gave up.

Olsen identified the changes he wanted to make and introduced them early in preseason. Early results weren't good -- three shutout losses -- but D.C. United followed that up by winning the Carolina Challenge Cup in South Carolina.

Eastern Conference Preview:
Chicago | Columbus

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? D.C. United hit the allocation double, earning allocation money for failing to qualify for playoffs and qualifying for the Concacaf Champions League as Open Cup champion, and used the money to wheel and deal.

Sean Franklin
, Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke, all MLS veterans with a record of success elsewhere, are a big improvement in front of Bill Hamid, now in its fifth season in goal. Eddie Johnson was acquired from Seattle, giving United, on his day, one of the two or three best strikers in MLS.

At 36, Olsen is already the longest-serving head coach in D.C. United's 19-year history. He knows MLS and what it will take to turn the team around.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? New co-owners Erick Thohir and Jason Levien are both heavily involved in other sports ventures -- Thohir bought Inter Milan, hence Williamson's transfer, and Levein is CEO of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies -- and they've yet to demonstrate the commitment to spend on high-priced new talent. The only offseason signing from abroad was Spanish left back Cristian Fernandez, released by Almeria in December after he lost his starting job following the club's promotion to La Liga.

Lingering effects of hamstring surgery have pushed back the comeback of Chris Pontius, United's best returning attacker. That leaves Johnson and Fabian Espindola as United's main threats. A mid-May call-up to the World Cup will mean Johnson will miss a minimum of seven games.

On top of everything else, United will play in Concacaf Champions League. Its squad is thin as it is. If one thing is for sure, it doesn't have the personnel to compete in two competitions at once.

PROJECTED FINISH: 10th place. United's 2013 collapse was not an anomaly. Except for 2012 when it reached the Eastern Conference finals, United hasn't won as many as 10 games in the last five seasons. That followed a five-year run that featured one MLS Cup title (2004), two Supporters' Shields (2006 and 2007) and one Open Cup title (2008).

28-Bill Hamid (23)/USA (5th season)

5-Sean Franklin (28)/USA (LA Galaxy)
32-Bobby Boswell (30)/USA (Houston Dynamo)
2-Jeff Parke (31)/USA (Philadelphia Union)
3-Cristian Fernandez (28)/Spain (Almeria)

14-Nick DeLeon (23)/USA (3rd season)
23-Perry Kitchen (22)/USA (4th season)
12-Luis Silva (25)/USA (2nd season)
8-Davy Arnaud (33)/USA (Montreal Impact)

9-Fabian Espindola (28)/Argentina (New York Red Bulls)
7-Eddie Johnson (29)/USA (Seattle Sounders)

First off the bench:
19-Kyle Porter (24)/Canada (2nd season)
30-Conor Doyle (22)/USA (2nd season)
26-Jared Jeffrey (23)/USA (2nd season)
29-Michael Seaton (17)/Jamaica (2nd season)
D.C. United: complete roster.

returning players in bold.

March 8: Columbus, 7 pm ET
March 22: at Toronto FC, 4:30 pm ET
March 29:
Chicago, 4 pm ET (NBCSN)
D.C. United: complete schedule.

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