After doing so well during the second half of 2016, D.C. United decided to stand pat for the most part this offseason. Sebastien Le Toux and Jose Ortiz were the two biggest signings, but both appear to be likely substitutes rather than starters. Maxim Tissot was officially added to the team on Friday, but he’ll be second choice to Taylor Kemp at left back. Ian Harkes was signed as a homegrown player to much fanfare, and Chris Odoi-Atsem and Eric Klenofsky were added through the draft.
But those were the only six players brought in, and none of them are likely to feature as starters next weekend as the Black-and-Red open up their MLS slate against Sporting Kansas City.
On Saturday night, a presumed opening day starting lineup excelled in the first half against the Philadelphia Union, eventually settling for a 3-2 win in St. Petersburg, Florida in the Suncoast Invitational.
Was that a sneak peek of the starting lineup for next week?
“We won’t be changing too much from that group,” United head coach Ben Olsen told B&RU after the game.
That group on Saturday evening was Bill Hamid, Taylor Kemp, Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Nick DeLeon, Marcelo Sarvas, Patrick Nyarko, Luciano Acosta, Jared Jeffrey, Lloyd Sam, and Patrick Mullins, lining up in the 4141 formation that seemed to suit the Black-and-Red last fall.
Two questions heading into this second preseason camp was who Olsen would settle with at center back to partner Birnbaum, and who would play the number 8 position in midfield. By the looks of it, Franklin, converting from right back, seems to be the choice alongside United’s USMNT central defender. That will allow DeLeon to start the season at right back, where he showed promise at the end of last season. Interestingly, it will be the third straight year in which DeLeon projects to start at a different position.
And in midfield, Jeffrey appears to be the pick. It was DeLeon’s position to start 2016, but by the end of the season, that position saw a platoon of players, including Jeffrey, Rob Vincent, and Julian Buescher. This preseason, Jeffrey had to hold off a challenge from Harkes. That might not last the duration for the season, but it appears for now the position is Jeffrey’s to lose.
And in their last preseason tune-up, United displayed just what they’re capable of with this starting eleven. United put on their best display thus far in 2017. Nyarko’s opener may have been a bit opportunistic, but goals from Jeffrey and Mullins within the 10 minutes that followed showed off United’s offensive prowess.
“When we get in good spots defensively, we have good skill players that can hurt teams and punish them,” Mullins told B&RU of United’s ability to turn defense in offense. “You saw that in the first half.”
United would concede twice in the second half to make the game interesting, but in general, Olsen was pleased with what he saw from his group. Other than Acosta, who was removed in the 59th minute after having needed a bit of treatment midway through the first half, all the starters got at least 75 minutes on the field, setting the team up for next weekend’s game.
“The first 45 was good, and the second half wasn’t bad either. We tried to sustain 90 minutes of high concentration on both sides of the ball,” said Olsen after the game. “The quality on the offensive side was very good. But it was our defensive structure that led to a lot of those attacks.”
In addition to the game against the Union, United also played a closed-door game against the Impact on Saturday morning. That gave United another opportunity to give a 50 minute run-out to several players needing minutes. One of those players was Tissot, who was finally able to get his visa situation worked out in time to join up with the team at the end of their second preseason camp.
Tissot played in the first game against Montreal, featuring at his traditional left back position. He then got 15 minutes as a left midfielder against the Union, replacing Nyarko in the second half.
“It was nice to get a few minutes tonight, even if I played this morning,” Tissot told B&RU after the game. “I missed a big part of preseason, so it was good to get on the field.”
Tissot was originally brought in for a trial last July after being released by the Impact. The former Montreal homegrown player couldn’t seal a contract then, but ended up with the Ottawa Fury in the NASL, playing in every game to finish the season. United remembered what they saw in the summer, with Tissot doing enough to get a contract offer.
“The plan was at the end of July that I would get a shot in January,” said Tissot. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity. I’m an international, so it shows a lot of confidence in me by the staff.”
“With Montreal, I was on and off. Playing left midfield, playing left back. Playing two or three games in a row, then not playing for five or six,” he added. “In Ottawa, I played every game. I got my confidence back up. I felt that I was a step ahead this year compared to other years. I felt really good.”
Missing most of the second preseason camp has Tissot a bit behind the rest of the team in terms of fitness. But now that he’s with the team, that’s something that can quickly be rectified.
“I don’t think I’m far behind. I had a cap with the national team 10 days before the start of preseason,” said Tissot. “Extra work here and there after training and I’ll be good to go.”