Ben Olsen has been busy in his first off-season as head coach of the Black-and-Red, and like Olsen the player, his acquisitions have a lot more than heart going for them.
Hey, boys and girls, AMT here. You might recognize me from such hits as my curious defenses of Kurt "The Turnover/The Yellow Card" Morsink in some comment threads, or my SuperDraft SuperConjecture SuperFuntime FanPost. It's entirely possible you don't recognize me at all, in which case, Hi! I'm Adam. I digress. I'm your newest humble blogger here at B&RU, and I'll be popping up here on the main page every week or so to offer my take on all things United. I hope you enjoy it. Agree or disagree (especially if you disagree!) I hope to hear it from you in the comments. ¡Vamos United!
I'll put it right out front: I'm optimistic about D.C. United this year. I think a healthy Chris Pontius and Clyde Simms, an in-shape Branko Boskovic, and competition at nearly every position on the field will go a long way toward righting the ship after what can only be described as a disastrous 2010. Obviously, though, the team did not stand pat with the personnel from last season; there are going to be a lot of new faces at RFK come March 19.
A lot has been made on the Twitternet and here at B&RU about the nature of these acquisitions. Dax McCarty's motor, Josh Wolff's tenacity, Perry Kitchen's leadership, and even the World Cup-sized chip on Charlie Davies' shoulder have all been compared favorably with Ben Olsen's attributes as a player.
I won't deny these similarities - hell, I've been making plenty of hay about them myself. I'll even go so far as to say that everybody is right to say that motor/tenacity/leadership/etc. are all things United didn't have enough of last year, and the team will be better for having more of those Olsenesque qualities this year.
However, with all the talk about these intangibles, there has been a lot less discussion of the other qualities the new acquisitions bring into the mix - you know, the attributes you can measure. Just like everybody who underestimated Olsen's skill as a player wound up on the wrong side of the scoreline, those who look at his team as nothing more than scrappy players are going to be in for a surprise.
Jump with me, won't you, and we'll delve a bit deeper into the tangible benefits the Olsen's Army set brings to the table.
Let's start with the beginning: Although the expansion draft - and United's shipping Rodney Wallace to Portland in exchange for Dax McCarty - technically happened before Olsen was announced as head coach, quotes from Kevin Payne indicate that Benny was the first to bring up the idea of a trade. There's no question that McCarty is a terrier in the midfield, and his engine is a big reason FC Dallas earned a trip to the MLS Cup Final. But McCarty isn't just a guy who can run a lot. He's got vision, he's got touch, and has an underrated ability to control the tempo of the game while in possession, a set of skills he had on display in the USMNT friendly against Chile last month. In 2011, Boskovic and Najar might play more advanced and creative roles in the attack, but McCarty will be the man charged with linking the back line with the attackers and dictating the flow of the game; his vision and passing will be critical to any success the team achieves this year. Luckily, McCarty's got those arrows - and plenty more - in his quiver.
Of course, any discussion of McCarty's skills this off-season is legally required to reference his sweet bike in USMNT camp so...
In the two-stage Re-Entry Draft, United acquired Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya, two forwards with MLS Cup-winning experience (Wolff against United in '98 with the Fire, and Ngwenya at RFK with the Dynamo in 2007). I don't think that either of these guys is likely to set the league on fire in 2011, but they've got plenty of ability. Wolff at his best is a poacher the likes of which we haven't seen in D.C. since Luciano Emilio went missing, and Ngwenya can cause problems for defenders 1v1. Both are finishers, though, and that's something United didn't have last year.
A lot has been made of United's first couple 2011 MLS Draft selections, Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb, especially that they're "winners," having proven so with the National Champion Akron Zips. However, try as you might, you don't get recruited by one of the top college soccer programs and then take that program to a national title with character alone. Akron coach Caleb Porter knows talent when he sees it (e.g. Steve Zakuani, Teal Bunbury, five of the first eight picks in the 2011 SuperDraft). Both Kitchen and Korb like to defend and play the ball. Kitchen might have some of the best leadership qualities of any American player his age, but he wouldn't be marshaling the U.S. U-20 defense if he couldn't flat out play. Porter has said that he put Kitchen into the midfield so that he would get more time with the ball at his feet; I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Kitchen could grow up to be the most skilled American centerback since Eddie Pope.
International acquisitions: Rodrigo Brasesco is a bit of a mystery, but our scouts say that he should add aerial ability and defensive discipline to our back line. Enough digital ink has been spilled on account of Charlie Davies' possible loan to D.C., but he is - we hope - still Charlie Davies.
In short, there's very good reason we've all been talking about the intangibles of Olsen's Army. Benny the Manager has definitely been looking at mental toughness, drive, and leadership in his acquisitions. But that's not all he's looking at. Every one of the players brought in to compete for first team minutes has some real skills and brings with them tools that United was missing last year.
From back to front, this team is tougher and more skilled than it was last year. Both aspects are a part of Benny's stamp on the team, and that's why I'm optimistic about Olsen's Army in 2011.