As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and running the proverbial rule over each player on D.C. United's roster. Today's subject: team defender of the year for 2012 Brandon McDonald.
He hasn't been around RFK Stadium quite as long as yesterday's subject in this space Dejan Jakovic. But Brandon McDonald is, without a doubt, D.C. United's most important defender. It is his organization that keeps the back line in sync, his long balls out of the back that provide us a pressure release valve and his attitude that define the Black-and-Red back four. How B-Mac performs in 2013 will go a long way toward whether the team as a whole achieves its goals of a top finish in the Eastern Conference and a run at MLS Cup this fall.
Let's start with the first of those three items I listed, McDonald's organizing. When he was acquired by D.C. United on the very same day as Dwayne De Rosario, one of the things B-Mac immediately brought into the side was his voice. At the time, United were lacking the guy who would - or could - yell at his fellow defenders and get them, literally, into line. That vocal organizer is a must on any team, particularly one that features a young goalkeeper and a defense that to that point had been too reliant on reactionary, individual defending. McDonald brought that element to D.C.
The next thing McDonald brings to the team is a bit of a double-edged sword, his long balls out of the back. Too often in his first year-and-half at RFK, B-Mac's long passing resulted in his trademarked Long Balls to Nobody in Particular and gifted possession right back to the opposition. Last season, though, we started to see more accuracy on these passes, whether to Lionard Pajoy up top or to wingers and overlapping fullbacks on the outside. This is probably an undervalued development, particularly with regard to United's string of results to end the 2012 season. If he can continue to improve in this area - which will probably come, somewhat counterintuitively, with fewer attempts at long-range passes - it would greatly help United's short passing game by keeping opposing teams honest as they pressure our back line.
The last, but certainly not least, element I want to talk about is McDonald's attitude. Sebastian Salazar talked about this a lot last season on the Capital Soccer Show, and he wasn't wrong to; McDonald is the type of hard-nosed defender who decides that you aren't going to beat him and then doesn't let you. There's still room for that in MLS - and around the world, if we're being honest - especially with the other traits that McDonald brings to the table. It's especially important, as that kind of attitude is infectious and can bring other teammates around to the same way of thinking.
So what's your take on B-Mac? Think he can cut out more of the Long Balls to Nobody In Particular (TM), or will his wayward long passing make an unwelcome return this year? Are he and Jakovic a championship-caliber pairing? Let us know in the comments.