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D.C. United season review: Sean Franklin

Can Franklin shake an injury to return to his best?

Since the 2014 revolution at D.C. United, one of the most consistent performers has been right back Sean Franklin. Selected in Stage One of the 2013 MLS Re-Entry Draft from the LA Galaxy, Franklin seamlessly became a mainstay in United’s back line. With Franklin in the mix, United have qualified for the playoffs each of the past three seasons, even if they couldn’t get further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Up until August 24th this year, Franklin was the only player that manager Ben Olsen had used at right back in MLS play in 2016. Franklin started that day’s game against the Montreal Impact, but was pulled at half time as United struggled through a stretch of three games in seven days. Franklin’s consistent performance, plus the season-long absence of Chris Korb and questions about Luke Mishu, meant that Franklin was the only real option at right back.

But Franklin went down with a calf injury against the New York Red Bulls on September 11, which robbed him the chance at finishing out the season. Mishu spelled Franklin before Olsen turned to Nick DeLeon, who helped United finish the season strong.

Franklin did return and start against Orlando City SC in the final game of the season, playing 45 minutes before getting pulled at halftime. The conventional wisdom was that Olsen removed Franklin to help keep him healthy for the playoffs, but that might not have been the case. Four days later, in the playoff loss to the Impact, Franklin wasn’t part of the game day 18, and was seen in the locker room wearing the same boot on the same right foot that he had been previously.

Whether the injury reoccurred during the Orlando game, or if Franklin re-injured it during training that week is unknown, but the unavailability of Franklin hurt United in their home playoff loss. DeLeon played at right back in place of Franklin, but the Impact continuously picked on DeLeon, with Ignacio Piatti in particular taking advantage of the mismatch.

Franklin’s offensive contributions were limited in 2016, though they improved upon his 2015 numbers. Franklin once again tallied a lone goal, making a surging run forward to sweep home a finish against the New England Revolution back in June. But after an assist-less 2015, Franklin supplied two helpers this year, one in the 4-1 loss to Toronto FC, and the second in the 6-2 win over the Chicago Fire.

Injuries, along with age, are beginning to be concerns for Franklin. In 2015, an especially brutal stretch in May and June led to Franklin picking up an injury that forced him to miss eight games. Franklin returned in August, and finished out the season by playing all 90 minutes in the last 9 games. The calf injury forced him to miss 5 games this year.

And at the beginning of next season, Franklin will turn 32 years old. He’s shown that since his move to the nation’s capital that he’s a capable defender that can help his team offensively, but at some point, his age will catch up to him. But with Korb still on the mend from his ACL injury back in 2015, Franklin will likely enter 2017 as the unquestioned starter at right back.

So the question is: