The offseason moves have started to roll in for D.C. United, but it's still probably too early to be predicting the 2016 lineup for the Black-and-Red. In spite of that, we are charging headlong into the fray in yet another incredibly early guess at United's starting eleven next season. For the rest of the collection, check our Storystream.
My first instinct was to get really crazy here and craft a workable 433 for United, but that seems like a pipe dream. Instead, I think I'm going to be the wet blanket that says that the same old 442 that United has played for about 98% of the past two seasons isn't going anywhere. What fans should both demand and expect is an attempt to be a better 442 team. In United's case, that means maintaining defensive security while scoring more goals - particularly on the road - and being more positive in general.
United needs to add some new faces in the midfield to make that happen. With more inventive players, I think we see more positive intent from United tactically. However, I am painfully aware of United's history with international signings in this post-Luciano Emilio era. We're talking about a team for whom Markus Halsti - a potentially good player who doesn't really fit as a partner or replacement for Perry Kitchen - still has to count as an above-average signing. As such, I'm focusing on what Dave Kasper does well: Moves within MLS for players that won't require vetting.
GK: Bill Hamid. United should be preparing for his exit, but I think they have a year to line up his successor.
RB: Steven Beitashour. I like Sean Franklin and do not think he needs to be replaced, but let's be real: Beitashour is 2 years younger, has no real history of chronic injury, makes less money, and is currently the better player. Vancouver declined his option, and as of this writing he'll be out there in the Re-Entry Draft. I think he's enough of an upgrade that United should take him in round 1 (a.k.a. the round where you pick up a player's existing option). It's probably not going to happen due to the number of bad defensive teams that need help, but if he's there United should pounce.
CB: Bobby Boswell. I understand the popular groundswell for a transition towards Kofi Opare as a starter, and I do believe Opare's future is as a starting center back for United. I don't think it's going to happen in 2016, or at least for most of 2016. Boswell's organizational talents are still required here.
CB: Steve Birnbaum. No doubt about this one. In 2016, "Birdbomb" needs to make sure he grows as a player after treading water this past season. He's a player you build around for years.
LB: Taylor Kemp. I think DCU's focus with Kemp needs to be coaching him up and continuing to improve the defensive side of his game. In this 442, Kemp's crossing is too valuable a weapon to set aside.
RM: Nick DeLeon. We should probably move away from the idea that DeLeon is going to be a 6-7 goals per year scorer, and instead hope that he can add some more assists. If United is going to be a better team in terms of aesthetics, DeLeon's consistent passing and willingness to move for his teammates will be a key factor in terms of retaining possession.
CM: Perry Kitchen. United needs to use their TAM allotment for something other than a trade, and retaining Kitchen is probably the single most likely to work thing they can do. His salary demand is likely above the maximum cap hit, which in turn means the club can use TAM towards his salary. If not, Markus Halsti is likely to take this role. I'm not sure he's mobile enough to be the team's more defensive central midfielder, but he has consistently said he feels like his 2015 was not representative of what he can do. United fans probably need to hope that's true.
But since this is the Cascadia edition, let's talk about someone reportedly being shopped around MLS for a trade: Osvaldo Alonso. If Kitchen goes, I think United will enter the Alonso sweepstakes. He's had some injuries in the past couple of seasons, but playing on grass and having shorter road trips might help that. Alonso would require a DP salary, but United's DPs tend to be guys that were already in MLS anyway.
CM: Russell Teibert. I know we're all abuzz with talk of Will Johnson being a potential United target, and that makes plenty of sense. However, I'd prefer to see DCU go after a younger player with better vision and fewer disciplinary problems. Teibert is not first choice in Vancouver, and in MLS pretty much every non-starting player is someone you can get without a crazy trade offer. I think Teibert would improve United's attack by quite a bit, and he still puts in plenty of hard defensive work while showing the smarts to start games alongside a roving ball-hawk like Gershon Koffie.
If United isn't pursuing Teibert, it would be silly not to be doing something at this position. Davy Arnaud's career appears to hang on whether his concussion symptoms recede this winter, and he'll turn 36 next June anyway. Johnson would be an acceptable signing, and to stay in Cascadia I'd also note that Gonzalo Pineda's role in Seattle has diminished. Pineda is a lot like Arnaud in terms of being a hard-working, abrasive veteran, but we're talking about a guy who has 44 caps for Mexico. Pineda is 33 himself, so he'd be more of a stopgap, but I think Olsen would like him quite a bit as his new #8.
LM: Lamar Neagle. He's being brought in to play as a starter on the left. I also like the idea of Olsen swapping him and Rolfe for chunks of a game just to confuse opposing defenses. Neagle's speed, Rolfe's invention, and Espindola's tendency to drift left should cause opposing right backs major fits in 2016.
FW: Chris Rolfe. United looked their best with him and Espindola working as an unconventional forward pairing, and the only reason to change that would be a DP striker coming in.
FW: Fabian Espindola. It's going to be nice to see him all season long rather than missing a fifth of the season to suspension. United's attack is still going to be built primarily around his movement and his ability to get to the endline and create from there.
Bummed to see the same old formation? Got a name from abroad that would change United's stars when it comes to the international market? Want trade acquisitions from less rainy climes? Tell us your thoughts on this wildly early stab in the dark.