Was 2012 a good year for you? Well it was a good year for D.C. United. The team overcame injuries among other adversity to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and even ended the season of its most hated rival.
But that doesn't mean that 2013 can't be even better. The following is a list of Resolutions for United:
1. Keep D.C. United
You've already seen the website. You've already signed the petition. If you're a fan of the team, or even just a fan of the league, or even just a resident of the DMV, then you know how important it is to keep United in D.C. with a new stadium deal. Building a new stadium for United has been our top resolution each of the last two years, and it needs to be the team's top priority until it's done.
That's not all this is about though. I don't just want to keep D.C. United in D.C. I want to keep D.C. United as D.C. United. I want this team to remain the same team that I've been following for the last 17 years. We've welcomed Jason Levien and Erick Thohir as the new owners, and then we promptly watched them dismiss the man who led the team for those 17 years and many of his employees without giving us any assurances about how they will be replaced.
We've grown quite fond of this club, and we recognize Thohir and Levien's desire to make United a global brand. Growing the fan base will be good for everybody. We just don't want it to happen at the expense of United as we've known it. Seeking new fans can't come at the expense of the existing hardcore fans. This team has won championships without signing the biggest names to the biggest contracts and will do it again too.
2. Identify the next generation of team leaders
We've already had two scares this offseason. They may have both been false alarms, but even if Andy Najar and Bill Hamid do stay on the United roster for the 2013 season, we know that they won't stay forever. The same is true for Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon, who are already almost too good for MLS. We must prepare for the reality of Dwayne De Rosario retiring, and our young stars chasing their European dreams.
And while the roster had only a few holes at the end of the 2012 season, it's just a bit worrying that United's top options off the bench were veterans like Lewis Neal, Maicon Santos, Robbie Russell, and Marcelo Saragosa. The team will be set again next year with almost all of our starters returning, but the long-term future of this club isn't quite clear at the moment. These worries could be set aside by signing a few new homegrown players, or some young Central Americans with potential.
Nationals fans like to point to Anthony Rendon as the heir apparent to Ryan Zimmerman's throne at third base, but we have no idea who will take DeRo's throne at RFK Stadium. Who is the Next Man Up? United does have some young players on the roster, but since we barely saw any of Rafael Augusto, Lance Rozeboom, and Conor Shanosky in 2012, it's hard to know what to expect from them.
3. Sign a core player from a foreign league
We talked earlier this week about how United fulfilled the very modest goal of having at least three international players contribute in 2012. And yet we don't really feel like the team improved in its international scouting. The two major international acquisitions in 2012 were Hamdi Salihi and Emiliano Dudar. Neither turned out to be core players, and we're not sure that either will be back for this coming season.They both contributed in some key moments, but I look at the other top teams in MLS and I see guys like Javier Morales, Blas Perez, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Saborio, Aurelien Collin, and many many more. Other teams have core players that they scouted and signed from a foreign league. Not United though. We haven't signed a core player from abroad since Dejan Jakovic came over in 2009.
Instead, United's core players have come from the Academy, from trades, and from draft picks. And while our Academy will eventually produce more core players and Dave Kasper isn't likely to quit fleecing other MLS teams in the trade market, we can't count on drafting more guys like Pontius, DeLeon, and Perry Kitchen because we don't want or expect to have high draft picks anymore.
It's cool that United's roster is almost entirely constructed of domestic players. But has that strategy ever really been successful in MLS? What team has won a championship with only a single core player that it signed from a foreign league? I can't think of another team in the league without any foreign signings likely to return next season. And while I'm not totally convinced that this is a problem (I mean, it wasn't really a problem in 2012), it's something that should be addressed. It's something that the team should and can address, especially with its expanded scouting department.
4. Be a dynamic attacking team
United has the pieces to make the resolution happen. But it hasn't quite happened yet.
Too often in 2012 the team had to rely on elite individual performances to earn goals. That's what the undefeated streak at the end of the year was all about. The team was compact defensively and limited its opponents' chances, but the players weren't exactly playing beautiful soccer. They weren't crafting team goals on a regular basis. Many of the goals were instead coming from a few magical moments and a bit of opportunistic behavior.
With Pontius, DeLeon, Najar, De Rosario and our currently unsigned, unidentified (undead?!) forward, United should be able to assemble an attack that consistently overpowers its opposition. It happened a few times in 2012 (the home matches against the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls come most immediately to mind), but it should happen with regularity in 2013.
5. Win a trophy
2012 was a great year. The team made huge progress from previous years. Ben Olsen in particular made huge progress from previous years. I want to see that progress continue in 2013.
How great a year was 2012? It was great enough to see United advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and finish in third place overall in MLS. Let's make 2013 even greater. Win the MLS Cup, or Supporters' Shield, or U.S. Open Cup. Win the Eastern Conference crown. Lock in a spot in the CONCACAF Champions' League.
This United team is young and talented, getting better every year. The team should continue to improve on its results in 2013.