Let's make no mistake, Marcelo Saragosa is an important part of D.C. United coming into the 2013 season. His partnership with Perry Kitchen in the deeper part of central midfield is one of the major factors that helped shore up United's defense and allowed the Black-and-Red to keep clean sheets at the end of last season. He also acts as a leader on the field, vocally organizing the midfield and pushing players forward when necessary.
All that said, and even if he's among the more attacking options among our defensive midfielders, Saragosa is limited as a central playmaker. He's got good passing range, but he's not truly a #10 sort of attacking midfielder - he's not even really a #8 type of two-way midfielder who can help run an attack. And one of those archetypes is the type of player United will need on the field to take that next step and really push for silverware this season.
All of which leads me to ask two questions: First, when will Marcelo Saragosa's place in the starting XI be usurped? And second, by whom? Like Lionard Pajoy on the forward line, Saragosa played an important part in the Black-and-Red's push into the playoffs last year and figures to be pencilled into the starting lineup come First Kick in eleven days' time. And like Pajoy, I think United will be better still once he's been supplanted on the field. So when do we see it happening, and who do we see taking his place?
Obviously, the two questions are closely related. Saragosa will be replaced once somebody replaces him. It could be yesterday's subject, Saragosa's fellow Brazilian Raphael Augusto, once he's back from injury. That would definitely give United more attacking thrust, but at the expense of defensive bite. It could be a Lance Rozeboom or even a Conor Shanosky, though both would be at least somewhat of a surprise, at least on the needed attacking side. It could be Lewis Neal (LEWIS NEAL!), whose passing vision we've seen from a more forward attacking role and who never stops working. It might be newcomer John Thorrington, who has historically provided both attack and defense (when he's been healthy) in his time playing with the Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps.
As far as timing, I think the later names on the list are more likely to take over the starting job from Saragosa - if at all - earlier than the later names. That's not to say that they are more likely to be the guy to beat him out, but if Thorrington is the one to take over the position, it's more likely to be earlier in the year than if Augusto ends up being the guy. Of course, the most likely scenario involves multiple changes at the position, which makes this even harder to predict.
Just to throw another variable into the mix is the possibility (or probability) that somebody comes on board at the position once Hamdi Salihi's salary is off the books. A new midfielder could come into the team early in the year or not until summer, or not at all.
Give us your predictions as to the who and when in the comments.