D.C. United's offseason is barely underway, but if you're anything like me, you're already itching for 2016. Well, we here at B&RU are nothing if not enablers, so let's scratch that itch. Over the next few weeks, we've got a series in store for you, with members of our staff looking at different ways Ben Olsen's side could or should look next year.
Of course, we don't have the benefit of knowing what's in store for los Capitalinos this winter. We don't know with any certainty the fate of several important players, let alone any acquisitions. But when have we ever let details like that stop us?
Since I pitched the series, I'll be going first. Look for more posts from other writers starting next week.
As much as I want and expect Ben Olsen to experiment with diamond-inspired midfield shapes and even - stay with me, now - five-man midfields, I think we'll probably see something broadly similar to the 442 favored throughout the last two years when D.C. United take the field in 2016. Of course, with guys like Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen and Chris Pontius potentially on their way out, there will have to be some new names in the XI. We all know the front office's penchant for bringing in MLS veterans with chips on their shoulders, rather than scouting out international talent, so you can guess where I think those new names will be coming from.
GK: Bill Hamid. I don't know whether the homegrown 'keeper will still be around come August, but with a new contract, he should be at RFK to start 2016. There can be nobody else in this spot.
RB: Sean Franklin. He can defend, and his support in the middle and final thirds is vital to United's attack. His salary is a bit high for the position, but it's going to be tough to improve on the Los Angeles native, who will turn 31 in March.
CB: Bobby Boswell. I know some folks would like to see Kofi Opare in this spot. But Boz is the captain and the brains of the backline. Opare may displace the veteran later in the year, but the starting gig is Boswell's to start the year.
CB: Steve Birnbaum. He hit a bit of a sophomore wall in 2015. I expect a jump next year that will leave his name on the team sheet in sharpie.
LB: Taylor Kemp. With his defense much improved over the course of the year and his left foot as cultured as ever, the trick for United is keeping Shooter from being pinned back.
RM: Patrick Nyarko. This team needs to get faster, and there are few in the league who can beat the Ghanaian-born winger for pace. Nyarko is better than the prototypical burner, even if he's not the world-beater some Chicago Fire fans convinced themselves he was, and he'd be a solid in-his-prime addition to the wide midfield corps. Depending on whether the contract he signed in late 2014 was for one year or two, the 29 year old could be in the inaugural crop of MLS free agents this offseason, and if he is, United could pounce.
CM: Markus Halsti. I'll say it - I'm resigned to seeing Kitchen decamp for Europe this winter. (Hey, I don't like it any more than you do.) With a hopefully injury-free preseason under his belt, the Finnish international Halsti walks into the holding role.
CM: Will Johnson. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your new Davy Arnaud. United have needed a guy who brings obscene levels of give-a-damn, and if Arnaud can't be it, Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper will have to go out and get someone who can. The 28-year-old Canadian is the closest to an Arnaud clone you're ever going to find - both positionally and fortitudinally - and he seems likely to be on the way out in Portland after their success in a new formation has left him behind.
LM: Nick DeLeon. He may not have the stats of his rookie campaign, but when he's on, he can be the best player on the field. Now the trick is finding that 2012 attacking form on top of doing the dirty work he's tasked with in the 442.
F: Chris Rolfe. Headband or no headband, there's no question here.
F: Fabain Espindola. Because duh.
Of course, this doesn't mean Michael Farfan and [international signing TBD] won't be important parts of the team, but given United's needs and tendencies, I think the above is the most likely scenario.
Let me know in the comments what you think of this totally-set-in-stone-mark-it-down-you-guys lineup.