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D.C. United's positional needs: Center backs

Our look at United's roster continues with a focus on central defense.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With the MLS draft out of the way, we can get back to talking about D.C. United's roster and where the club needs to add players. In the distant past we took a look at United's goalkeeping situation; today, we focus on the center backs. In 2014, this was a very deep spot for the Black-and-Red. Bobby Boswell was nominated for Defender of the Year, Steve Birnbaum was nominated for Rookie of the Year, and a mid-season trade for Kofi Opare added strong depth as well as promise for the future.

In fact, United was so deep at center back last year that losing the experienced Jeff Parke for the final 60% of the season really had no impact. With Parke starting, United gave up 1.08 goals per game. After Birnbaum took over alongside Boswell, United gave up 1.10 per game. Opare only made appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League, while Nana Attakora and Conor Shanosky ended up in a largely similar scenario. Thankfully, Perry Kitchen wasn't forced to play a moment at center back or anywhere other than his natural position in the midfield.

At the top of the depth chart, nothing has changed. Boswell appears to be in the same physical shape that he was as a rookie, while Birnbaum is already hard at work thanks to his first call-up to the USMNT. Opare went unselected in the Expansion Draft, so the enviable top three United ended last season with remains intact.

Once we go further down the chart, however...well, other than Markus Halsti, there is no "further down the chart." Parke, Shanosky, and Attakora are all free agents at the moment. There was talk right after the season that United would consider offering Parke a reduced deal after the Re-Entry Draft, but since there has been no follow-up on that it seems safe to assume that it's unlikely to happen. Shanosky was talked about similarly, but it seems more likely that he's headed elsewhere:

It's also worth noting that Halsti is said to have been an elite player in the Swedish top flight as a central midfielder, not as a center back. He's also said to be on the slow side, which means he's more likely to fill in for Boswell than for Birnbaum. I'm sure we'll see Halsti playing central defense a few times in 2015 - especially when you consider that Davy Arnaud is still here - but Boswell is notoriously durable. If he avoids red cards, we may see Halsti's central defensive appearances limited to CCL or US Open Cup play.

I've written plenty about Opare this offseason that indicates how I see him. There are a few MLS teams that would put him straight into their starting lineup. He didn't make any appearances in the league last season, but that won't be the case in 2015. With trips to the CCL and USOC finals, United would be looking at 49 competitive games this season (plus as many as six more in the playoffs). Birnbaum's USMNT call-up indicates that he could get a shot in the Gold Cup, and even if that doesn't happen we shouldn't reasonably expect him to start all the time.

United is in a pretty good spot now that Halsti is in the fold. Both starters have a natural back-up, and Opare can actually fill in for either Boswell or Birnbaum. Kitchen could still play there in an emergency, and Sean Franklin actually won Rookie of the Year way back when forced to play center back by the Galaxy.

Nonetheless, I'd prefer to see United add one more center back. I'm not saying that a starter is needed, but center back is a position that generally punishes experimentation. It would be a good thing in my book to sign an NASL or USL-PRO player who has the hunger to possibly move up the ranks. If said player can fill in as a fullback, all the better. It's not crucial or anything, but I don't think it can be dismissed.

In querying the rest of the staff, I think my admittedly mild stance on this subject is still an outlier. Every single response I got was the same: Using a scale where 1 is the lowest need and 5 is the highest, the B&RU staff voted 1 every single time. As you can probably tell, I'm voting 2.

Since we're all voting, here's your chance: