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Countdown to Soccer: 24 Days - Replacing Lewis Neal is a more existential question for D.C. United

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We open our countdown to D.C. United's Champions League quarterfinal with a look at a LEWIS NEAL-shaped hole on the bench.

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It's time to start counting backwards, friends. In 24 days, D.C. United will take the field in Costa Rica for the first leg of their ConcaChamps quarterfinal series with Alajuelense. And every day between now and then, we here at B&RU will try to bring you a question about the upcoming MLS and Champions League campaigns. In our usual way, the questions will revolve around players and their numbers on the corresponding days of the countdown - today, we look at #24.

Of course, after this winter, there is no #24 on the roster. So let's talk about that. Lewis Neal - sorry, LEWIS NEAL - departed the team this offseason after being selected by Orlando City SC in the expansion draft. Nobody wanted or expected him to be protected in that draft, but most of us also would have liked to see him return to the team, all else being equal. Longtime readers will know that on this site, he was generally referred to as The Standard, a title he inherited in 2013 after Stephen King departed RFK stadium. The Standard is... well, I'll let commenter dccal, who originally proposed the concept, explain:

I've enjoyed thinking about the roster this way, and I've been grappling for a reasonable standard for evaluating players. What is the minimum level of soccer ability that can make you a long-term asset to this roster, reserve roles included?

I think you should be as good at your position as Stephen King, or better. We'll make allowances for promising young players rapidly improving, obviously. But if you can't meet the King level, I just don't see any utility going forward, and too much complacency on the part of management if you keep your roster slot.

I liked da Luz in a couple games, and I thought his one-on-one defending was actually pretty good. But he's slow, and not what I would call dependable playing either way. He does not meet the King standard. So I said "disapprove." We should be doing better, even for off-the-bench/reserve roles.

Lewis Neal, despite his penchant for scoring hugely important goals, was a role player for D.C. United the last couple years, and the guy on the roster who represents the lowest level of play that most of us feel comfortable seeing get regular minutes  - mostly as a sub, but also some spot starts - from Ben Olsen. With Neal's departure, we're in need of a new The Standard. Some candidates are:

  • Jared Jeffrey - He was actually below The Standard last year, sitting behind Neal in the central midfield depth chart. The team, on paper, is better and deeper now than it was a year ago, so downgrading The Standard doesn't seem correct.
  • Davy Arnaud/Markus Halsti - One of these two players will lose the positional battle and start most games from the bench, but both will surely see a lot of time through the many competitions United will contest this year. Given the importance of Arnaud last season and the pedigree of Halsti, I think both players will exceed The Standard. If, however, The Standard is raised to their level (and not because they dropped off), it will potentially be a very, very good year.
  • Chris Korb - I think he's my leading contender at this point. He's certainly not a starter at either fullback position - not with All-Star Sean Franklin on one side and a rapidly improving Taylor Kemp on the other - but he seems likely to get some minutes at one or both spots throughout the year, and I find myself being okay with that.
  • As yet unsigned player - No, I'm not talking about Florida Man here. We could see somebody like Sean St. Ledger or either David Estrada or Andrew Driver earn some minutes this season, which could put them in contention for the title.

At this point, it's a little bit difficult to pin down who The Standard will be for 2015, much more so than it was two years ago when Neal assumed the role. Let us know in the comments who you think should carry the mantle.