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D.C. United season review: Taylor Kemp

After a strong 2016, the Black-and-Red’s struggles kept their top left back from continuing his progress

In years past, D.C. United defender Taylor Kemp had established himself as a solid starting option at left back. Last year, Oscar Pareja went so far as to call him one of the best fullbacks in MLS after drawing up a gameplan that relied heavily on keeping him from getting involved. In 2015 and 2016 Kemp managed two straight seasons with 6 assists, good totals for any MLS fullback, and borderline elite totals in a league where left back always seems to be a problem.

2017 didn’t go as well, which is an extremely common theme for United’s players. Kemp finished with no goals or assists, and generally seemed to have less of an impact on games as an attacking force down the left hand side. However, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact issue with his play. His key pass per 90 number only dropped by 0.2 (0.9, as opposed to 1.1 in both 2015 and 2016), his passes attempted per 90 were in line with recent seasons (38.7, which is above 2015’s 35.8 but above 2016’s 39.6), and his successful dribbles were actually a career high 1.1 per 90. He also completed over 70% of his pass attempts, an improvement in a category he has historically struggled with.

I don’t have particularly hard evidence either way, but I’m willing to attribute Kemp’s overall lack of tangible attacking impact on United’s overall struggles. After all, a left back is going to have a hard time putting up strong numbers if the attack isn’t finishing chances. We also never got to see Kemp with United’s revamped attack; his final appearance of the season came in August 5th 1-1 draw with Toronto FC, while the cavalry rode into town a week later.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kemp was probably United’s most consistent player. That’s not to say he was good — no member of the back four had a good year — but he wasn’t as prone to the kind of major individual mistakes that some other starters were in the back. Kemp’s defending has never been perfect, which means on a bad team his smaller mistakes were often compounded by related small mistakes elsewhere. As with his attacking play, it seems fair to point to United’s overall performance as a major factor in Kemp not continuing the undoubted progress he made in 2016.

Kemp’s season ended in August due to surgery on a groin injury, forcing United to look at other left backs for the first prolonged period in about three years. Chris Korb was basically Chris Korb, as expected, while Nick DeLeon appeared to be the best alternative (despite teams being able to hem him in due to his preferring his right foot). However, with DeLeon also appearing to be comfortably the best right back on the team at this point, Kemp’s return to fitness probably means he also walks straight back into a starting role.

There are issues with Kemp’s game that still need work. He still chooses to play long too often, and he leaves a few too many gaps defensively, particularly in transition. However, when it comes to MLS left backs, most teams would probably take Kemp in a flash. His 2017 salary was $120,000 (base and guaranteed), which is very affordable when you consider the very small supply of domestic left backs capable of starting for a playoff team.

“Shooter” may have had a down year, but he wasn’t nearly as far from his very best as some of his fellow defenders. Barring the acquisition of a Justin Morrow-level talent (which could come from abroad, given the international spots coming back to United when the clocks strike midnight on December 31st), it seems sound to expect Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper to look elsewhere when it comes to upgrading starters.

However, we want to know what you think:


Do you want Taylor Kemp back for the 2018 season?

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