As the holiday season comes to an end and the new year begins, a slight depression sets in for many of us. Because we won't see some extended family again for almost 12 months. Because we won't get another paid holiday from work again for almost five months. Because another year has gone by without accomplishing some of our life goals.
For fans of D.C. United, that last box has gone unchecked for many years now. Forever, really. And that's why when we plan for the new year, our top resolution for United for 2012 is the same as it was for 2011.
1. Make some progress on the stadium
This isn't just the top priority anymore. Its the only true priority, because its the only goal that the future of the organization depends on. Its a priority that upper management at United should be working to accomplish every single day.
Its continuously disappointing that United doesn't seem to get any help at all from the league office; that Don Garber can publicly state that MLS has hired someone to work full-time on adding a second club in New York, but hasn't noticeably dedicated a single resource to United's stadium search. But this isn't a list of resolutions for MLS. Its for D.C. United alone. The team must resolve to ramp up its efforts in every way imaginable. Network with potential partners. Meet with developers. Hire a consultant. Whatever. Its possible and perhaps even probable that all these things are currently happening behind the scenes. And that's fine. If United is making legitimate progress but isn't disclosing it to the media at this time, I'm totally cool with that. Tell us when you've finalized a deal and we'll all pump our fists in delight.
We could forgive the team for its lack of progress previous to 2011 because the market was crap. Its not anymore. New construction is happening all over the D.C. area right now as we speak. Cranes all over town have been erected for hundreds of projects. Its a shame that a United stadium isn't one of them. It should be. Plans, financing, bidding, and construction all take time. There's no reason to think that we can't at least see the first steps in the process happening by the end of 2012.
2. Add international players who can contribute
United had only one international player who played significant minutes in 2011 - Dejan Jakovic. I think a reasonable expectation for 2012 would be three. And if one of those three is Branko Boskovic, that indeed counts. United needs much more from the central midfield position next season, and a healthy and fit Boskovic can bring it. So Jakovic, Boskovic, and at least one more. Holes remain at striker, left back, and wide midfield depth. United can fill one of those three in the 2012 MLS Draft, but the other two will probably need to come from abroad. And United will need to have more luck from its foreign searches than in the previous three years if it hopes to return to the playoffs.
3. Add homegrown players who can contribute
United had three homegrown players as vital members of the team in 2011. I want a fourth in 2012. Similar to our international conundrum, that guy might already be on the roster. With Perry Kitchen likely to miss several matches this summer on Olympic duty, and without a fourth center back under contract, Conor Shanosky has the opportunity in front of him to make the big impression that we've been waiting for him to make. But if Shanosky isn't up to the task, perhaps Collin Martin or Jalen Robinson will be. Both United Academy products were named to Tab Ramos' U-20 camp this week, and have bright futures ahead of them.
4. Improve the depth
Last year we talked about D.C. needing to add depth to cope with the potential for injuries. They did. But when those injuries happened - Jakovic and Chris Pontius each missed over a month at the end of the season - the team fell apart. The depth wasn't good enough.
We've discussed the Stephen King standard before, as it related to our Approval Ratings. But how about this for a new version of the Stephen King standard: King shouldn't be our first midfielder off the bench. He shouldn't be playing 20 games for us next season. And Ethan White shouldn't be playing 24 unless its because he passes Jakovic or Brandon McDonald on our depth chart. We're quickly approaching training camp, and the team only has 18 players on its roster. It needs 10 or so more. Where will they come from? I don't know. But they should be better than King.
5. Spend some money
There’s this sinking feeling that I haven’t been able to get rid of that suggests that the ongoing disaster of a stadium situation is detrimentally affecting every aspect of this club. I try to put it to the back of my mind as often as possible, focusing instead on analyzing tactics, roster moves, etc. But it’s hard to escape the depressing conclusion that it’s all meaningless until D.C. United has a new place to call home.
The evidence of budget constraints is mounting. Only one international signing last year. No rookie free agents in training camp last year. No selections in either Re-Entry draft last month. The team probably couldn’t buy Charlie Davies’ contract if they wanted to (they didn’t).
As the contracts of Joseph Ngwenya, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, and Marc Burch disappear from the books (as well as whatever portion of Troy Perkins’ contract United was still hooked for), D.C. has plenty of room under the salary cap for some new additions. Who will they be? That's not for me to decide. But another year with all but one acquisition coming from either within the league or the SuperDraft will be unacceptable to the fan base. The stadium crisis shouldn’t affect the technical side of the team. Please prove to us that it doesn’t.