Welcome back, boys and girls, to our annual countdown to the upcoming D.C. United season! As of today, we are a scant 34 days away from the Black-and-Red's Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Queretaro, and we shall take the opportunity to talk about the man who wears number 34 for United - at least when he can get into the side - Luke Mishu.
The undrafted Notre Dame product had a sneaky kind of rookie season in 2015, racking up 19 appearances across all competitions for United and their USL affiliates, the Richmond Kickers. He did well enough that fully 92% of B&RU readers voted that he should stick around for 2016 in our year-end review series.
What we didn't ask then is what his role should be, assuming he does stick for the upcoming season. So let's do that now.
Mishu seems likely to be no higher than fourth on the combined fullback depth chart as of today. He's certainly behind Sean Franklin and Taylor Kemp, and Chris Korb, as well, once the small-shinguarded one returns from injury. Last year he beat out Jalen Robinson for minutes early in the year and split time with the homegrown during Champions League play in the fall, also playing some centerback.
Of course, when push came to shove and Ben Olsen was short on starting fullbacks, he deputized Steve Birnbaum out wide rather than pushing Mishu onto the field. Obviously not the strongest endorsement at the time.
Without overthinking it, I'd say a repeat performance of 2015 would be a reasonable goal for the 24-year-old Mishu: Start as many games as possible in Richmond (when he isn't in the DC 18) and show as well as possible for D.C. United in when he can get minutes. The problem is that there's going to be fewer non-MLS minutes to be had with United in 2016 - basically just U.S. Open Cup.
Which forces me to ask whether there's room for both Mishu and Robinson on the roster once Korb, who will be the first backup at both fullback positions, returns to full fitness. Luckily there is always the Richmond affiliation, which should provide good opportunities for both prospects (though Mishu is close to the age where it's tough to refer to him as a "prospect").
In the end, there's a pretty wide conceivable range of possibilities for Luke Mishu in 2016. If he gets (stays?) ahead of Robinson on the depth chart and Korb faces a setback, the Knoxville, TN native could become a regular in the gameday roster, if not on the actual field. If either or both of those conditions change, however, he could end up not suiting up in Black-and-Red at all after the end of preseason.
The question is which of those is more likely, and what each would mean for Mishu - and the team.