The lull in D.C. United’s activity this offseason has been unbearably painful.
Offseasons are usually difficult to endure. The deafening silence has not been quite this bad for about 12 months, and this author feels the pain can only be compared to that which was felt on January 18, 2010 when United signed Danny Allsopp. But this offseason has been worse for several reasons. At the end of 2011, the club chose to release (or otherwise not keep) 12 players on a team that just missed the playoffs. They could have let just three or four go (especially Joseph Ngwenya who they should have released twice because once just is not enough). At this point in the offseason though, the MLS Combine and the draft are the only things discussed in the news, on podcasts or anywhere else. Hope over some sort of announcement about anything related to stadium news (even renegotiation of the RFK use agreement) is starting to look like a lost cause.
United’s 2011 season was not a complete loss; the team needed depth, and this shortcoming came back to haunt the club in the last two months of the season. However, this is certainly a respectable conclusion for a team that finished dead last in 2010. Dwayne De Rosario arrived to show his class, Chris Pontius continued to improve his game and became a legitimate offensive threat and Ben Olsen showed he can coach. So it was a real surprise to see United put 12 players out to pasture when the season ended. Most of these players really were not doing enough to earn a salary anyway. In some cases (Ngwenya for instance), the players were doing so poorly that United would have probably been better off if they had chosen to play a man down. Adding only Robbie Russell (a very good player) has caused much consternation - due primarily to the enormous cliffhanger that supporters are dangling from.
MLS is presently gripped by player Combine-fever! Err…perhaps "fever" is too strong? "Luke-warmness" would be more appropriate. Anyway, this is where MLS waits until about seven days before players report to their clubs, so that selected players can discover which clubs those are, so they can hurry home to pack up their dorm rooms and move. One cannot imagine something like that happening in any other league. The Combine process itself is a good idea for this league (and unique to American soccer) but why wait until so late? Why not the week before winter break and extend winter break by a week?
In United’s case, the greater issue is the need to balance wages of established players with newly drafted players and compensation to players new to the league. It is exciting that United will have some new blood this season (even while bidding a bitter-sweet farewell to Santino Quaranta), rather than recycling players from elsewhere in MLS. Moreover, two players still available but who D.C. has not resigned are Jed Zayner and Austin da Luz. If Zayner remains healthy he would make a good back-up to Russell, while signing Da Luz could be little more than an act of desperation.
The topsy-turvy nature of the first team and the lack of liquidity reopens the festering wound: news about a stadium. The only good news so far has been that D.C. Ward 6 Councilman, Tommy Well, introduced a resolution to the D.C. Council that the city "should take active steps to create strategies and solutions that keep D.C. United as a professional soccer team located within the District of Columbia." However, so far Mr. Wells has not demonstrated enough corruption to gain broad support from either the Mayor or the Council. In fact, he has not even been accused even once of taking bribes. How will anything get done? Backing off on statements last year, D.C. United may be ready to accept two or three more years at RFK, but only if the stadium use agreement is renegotiated.
Over the next week or two, supporters will continue to hold their collective breathes, pray, burn incense, and speak to their Jaime Moreno fatheads, hoping desperately for some news … any news that shows what the club will look like in 2012.