The preseason is upon us! Well, the preseason has been upon us for quite some time now. But for D.C. United supporters the preseason has been a bit quiet. Aside from a match on the Bradenton Academy network against Jonkopings FC (That is Swedish for don’t fuck with us or something) there really has not been that much action on the D.C. United front.
That will all change this weekend when United partake in the Suncoast Invitational. Over the next week the club will play two matches against two of their Eastern Conference foes in the Montreal Impact (2/17 5pm EST) and the Philadelphia Union (2/25 5pm EST). While neither match will feel like a derby match in say August or September there will certainly be plenty at stake for United’s players and coaches. Their time at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida will hopefully give coach Ben Olsen a better idea as to his roster depth and a starting eleven.
So with United’s preseason about to pick up here are three players to keep an eye on over the next week.
#1. Right-back Sean Franklin
Despite having started 29 matches last season for United Franklin seems to be in a bit of a battle with Nick De Leon for the starting right-back position. The ten year veteran at times seemed to lack his speed and pace from years past, an asset that helped him contain outside midfielders on the counter-attacks. In Franklin’s defense injuries did hamper his production; he missed five weeks last due to a calf injury.
The interesting thing about Franklin is that he did sign a multi-year extension with the club so it is not as if he will lost his roster spot. But if there are signs against the Impact and the Union that he still cannot keep up with overlapping attackers then Olsen may opt to use Franklin more as a substitute this season.
#2 Forward Jose Guillermo Ortiz
Ortiz was United’s major offseason acquisition, coming to the club on loan from Alajuelense by way of Herediano. The Costa Rican international had a very good 2015-2016 for Alajuelense, scoring 14 goals a career-best. But there are two big questions surrounding Ortiz. The first is how does he fit up top with the likes of Patrick Mullins and Luciano Acosta. It is rare when United have multiple attacking pieces to play with at the forward/attacking midfield area. The hope is that Ortiz can fit in seamlessly with Mullins up top with Acosta playing an attacking mid. Whether that is feasible remains to be seen.
The second question is how long will it take for him to adapt to Olsen’s style of play and methodology. Many international players have come and gone through United during Olsen’s tenure with very little success. Although he has shown a willingness to adapt in recent seasons, his conservative approach has not synced in well at times with players who are use to a more free-flowing adaptive style. Even Acosta last season butted heads with Olsen over tactics. The good news is that Ortiz has played against United before in the CONCACAF Champions League so he should have a good understanding of what is expected of him. The question is now can he use that experience to expedite the adjustment process.
#3 Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas
Much like last season Sarvas is faced with having to compete for minutes with multiple different midfielders for essentially two positions. Olsen likes to use a 4-4-2 which will likely mean that in the midfield Acosta will be guaranteed a starting spot. Last season he liked to use some combination of Lloyd Sam, Lamar Neagle, and Patrick Nyarko at left and right midfield. That leaves essentially one spot open for Sarvas, Rob Vincent, Julian Buscher, Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes, and possibly De Leon to fight for.
Sarvas did show his value last season with his ability to slow down the pace of the match and to create opportunities for Acosta. But his penchant for getting bad fouls and putting United at a disadvantage hurt the club on more than one occasion. Although the club certainly has more depth this season Sarvas has to play with a cooler head.
There is also the question of age. At 35, he is the oldest player out of the names listed that would be contending for the hypothetical starting spot. While he hasn’t lost much of a step United do have a number of younger options in that same position. Olsen does like to give his veterans the benefit of the doubt and the chance to keep their spots. But as evidenced by Acosta and Mullins last season he is more than willing to go with a younger player.