As we approach the start of the 2016 season, there has been a lot of questions about the back line that D.C. United will walk out onto the field against Querétaro F.C. on Tuesday night and against the L.A. Galaxy to begin the Major League Soccer season on March 6th. Sean Franklin, the veteran right back who will turn 31 on March 21st, has been the preferred choice on the right side of Ben Olsen's defense since he was selected by United with the first pick in the 2013 Re-Entry Draft.
When he's in the lineup, Franklin has been very dependable not just on defense, placing among the team leaders in tackles and clearances with a work rate that is effective and even-keeled despite the absence of the flash and panache that other right backs may possess. He has been just as effective on the offensive end, providing timely crosses and long balls to start our attack from our defensive third, and routinely making accurate passes to maintain possession and finding midfielders in space to continue progressing upfield.
Last year, for the first time since 2009, injuries limited Franklin to less than 25 games, and while he was recovering, United saw increased production from fellow defenders like Taylor Kemp and Chris Korb. With Franklin now healthy, the question is whether he has the durability to start 30 games at right back or will the team need to cede time to Kemp, Korb, or youngsters Luke Mishu or Jalen Robinson. With a new-look attack this season, Franklin may be the one best suited to move forward and provide the long balls and crosses into the box while still providing cover for midfielders and challenging forwards in the defensive third.
In Franklin's 2015 season review, readers overwhelmingly preferred to have Sean Franklin back on the roster. With Bill Hamid out for a huge chunk of the regular season, the defensive four will be counted on more than ever to keep balls out of the goal and turning defensive clearances into scoring opportunities at the other end. And with his simple play and his work ethic on the field, he will be counted on to be the same dependable Sean Franklin we have seen in his time in D.C. Is success attainable with 30+ games including Franklin at right back? Or is this where Olsen should begin to see if defenders like Mishu, Robinson, Korb or Kemp have the juice to be the preferred option at that position? Either case, the depth of the back line will be important this season, and the mix of veteran and young talent we have will allow for everyone to get better and be active in clearing out the garbage on the defensive end. Sean Franklin should still be a great fit on the squad in 2016.