He only joined United at midseason, but with three goals and two assists in league play, Luis Silva was D.C. United's leading scorer in 2013. Those numbers were enough to win him the Nelly Award, given out by this site to the team's newcomer of the year, as well as earning him near-unanimous approval to return for 2014 from our readers. He's impressed somewhat in preseason, making key plays if not dominating games thus far.
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The 2013 Nelly Award, for United's best newcomer
The candidates: John Thorrington, Luis Silva, Kyle Porter and Conor Doyle. (The vote wasn't particularly close.)
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The big question I had for Luis Silva seems to have been resolved by offseason acquisitions and the apparent tactical adjustments Ben Olsen has made through this preseason. That question was where Silva fits into the side this year. Last year, with Olsen utilizing a 4-4-1-1 for most of the year, Silva played in the hole underneath another forward - sometimes Dwayne De Rosario, sometimes Conor Doyle or somebody else. With the acquisition of Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, the forward line won't need Silva, but Olsen's reliance on a double-pivot in midfield over the last season-and-a-half wouldn't really leave room for a #10-type.
Hence those tactical shifts I mentioned. This year, it looks more likely that Silva will more explicitly be a part of the midfield, playing ahead of Perry Kitchen and behind two true forwards in some variant on the 4-4-2 diamond. This means a much greater defensive burden for Silva, as he will be responsible for closing down the opposition's deep midfielders and preventing guys like Michael Bradley (aside, think about a midfield pair of Bradley and Silva feeding Jermaine Defoe and Gilberto - thanks again, Kevin Payne!) and Dax McCarty from getting their heads up and spraying the ball around in space.
So I'll amend my question to this: Will Silva prove up to the responsibility of pulling the strings in United's reworked attack while also adding more defensive duties to his plate? In a lot of ways that's the linchpin for the early part of the season. If Silva can step up, United could be better sooner than anyone expected (especially if the D lives up to its preseason performances so far, but that's for another day). If not, then it'll be back to the drawing board for Ben Olsen.
So, what say you, United fans? Does the first part of the season truly turn on Silva, and will he be able to bear the load?