The holidays are behind so that must mean one thing: the Major League Soccer offseason is in full swing! While MLS’ offseason technically begins after the final whistle of MLS Cup in truth the real exciting parts don’t normally happen until January when the international transfer window starts heating up. So far D.C. have been quite busy signing midfielders Junior Moreno and Ulises Segura. Those moves, coupled with the addition of Frederic Brilliant from December’s draft bonanza, has D.C. partially looking like a full side ahead of training camp. We say partially well because there is still plenty of work to do?
So how is the roster looking so far? Here is our projected starting XI along with how the roster depth chart is looking.
(One quick note: We did not include Gonzalo Veron on this list because although he was picked up by D.C. he hasn’t signed with the club. We did however include the rumor of a certain Danish goalkeeper coming to the side mostly because the goalkeeper position is very much an open spot and because the rumors seem to indicate this being a more plausible. If Veron signs, we will add him down the road).
Possible 2018 D.C. United Starting XI
Starting Goalkeeper: Steve Clark
Back-up: Travis Worra and ?
As things stand right now Steve Clark is the presumptive number one, just ahead of Travis Worra. Neither keepers work last season did enough to make them stand out over the other. Clark started five games for United in 2017 and carried a 2.20 Goals Against Average and saved 48% of shots taken against him while Worra’s had 2.80 GAA and a save percentage of 42.3. There isn’t much separating the two empirically and judging by their performance on the pitch last season United didn’t really play any differently with one on the pitch versus the other. Given that Clark (105 starts versus Worra’s 18) does have a bit more experience though we are giving him the nod for now.
The for now part of the last paragraph is important because chances are United is not done shopping for this particular position. The loss of Bill Hamid leaves this club very, very vulnerable at the back end and while both Clark and Worra have had their moments, neither has had quite the career that Hamid has had. Keep in mind over the better part of the past decade Hamid has been United’s best player and without him the club will be missing a dynamic goalkeeper that can literally tilt the result of a match. Glass City FC reported on Twitter that the club has acquired the services of former Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted which, if true, would make him the number one starter. It should be noted though that United will still need to sign him.
— GlassCity (@GlassCityFC) December 24, 2017
Starting Defenders: Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brilliant, and Nick DeLeon
Back-ups: Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Chris Durkin
Kemp, Birnbaum, and DeLeon are the holdovers from last season while Brilliant joined the club after having played the last two seasons with New York City FC. At 6′ 3″ 181 pounds Brilliant will give United another physical piece inside the box for set pieces. At NYCFC under Patrick Vieira he also showed that he can be counted on to make the decisive clear when necessary while at the same time staying away from the referee’s pocketbook (just seven yellow cards and zero red cards in two seasons).
The two big questions for Olsen are: 1.) Is Taylor Kemp full recovered from his groin injury that saw him miss the last two months of the season? and 2.) Is Nick DeLeon the answer at right-back? Olsen will also need to find time for Jalen Robinson, the Homegrown Player who in six starts last season impressed with his dogged defensive work and ability to kick-start the counter-attack. If Kemp is not healthy or if DeLeon is needed elsewhere look for Robinson to be the first called off of the bench.
With regards to Durkin one would expect that he will probably most of his playing time with the Richmond Kickers and get a perhaps more aggressive schedule of what we saw with D.C. last season (U.S. Open Cup matches, occasionally making the eighteen man roster on gameday). However, he could still earn a spot with a good showing in the preseason. Olsen likes to have some versatility in his defense and midfield and with so many question marks on the defense and new pieces getting adjusted in the midfield he could find himself some starting time. United have struggled in the past at finding playing time for Homegrown Players which has led to so few cracking the glass ceiling in recent years. Durkin has certainly shown in limited time with United and with the United States Youth National Team that he has the talent and the skill to be an exceptional player. It is just a matter of timing now and D.C. may be forced to accelerate their plans for him.
Starting Midfielders: Zoltan Stieber, Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno
Back-ups: Ian Harkes, Jared Jeffrey, Ulises Sguera, Durkin, DeLeon,
Over the past six months United have completely transformed their midfield getting younger, faster, and hopefully a bit more creative in the process. With the club adding Junior Moreno of Zulia FC and Ulises Segura of Saprissa over the holidays they have solidified their midfield and can now focus on adjustments and alignments. Moreno is more of a defensive midfielder and showed his value for Venezuela during World Cup Qualifying, holding off a dangerous Argentina side to a 1-1 result in September. Olsen has always liked to have two defensive midfielders in his 4-5-1 set so look for him to feature alongside Russell Canouse. What will be interesting to see is if Olsen opts to have either Canouse or Moreno move the club into an attacking posture or to have Acosta drop back some with Arriola and Stieber leading in from the outside. Finding out where Segura fits in this roster will be one of the United’s staff first tasks of 2018 although serving as Acosta’s back-up might not be a bad place for him to get some minutes and get adjusted to Olsen’s philosophy.
The one big omission from the starting lineup would have to be Harkes. In reality he is probably tied with Moreno for the spot opposite of Canouse given his experience with the club. However, his passing accuracy has to be a big worry for the club. He needs to have made the next step in 2018 in showing some progress not just with the timing of his passes but with the choices that he makes in terms of organizing an attack.
Starting Forward: Patrick Mullins
Back-ups: Darren Mattocks, Bruno Miranda
Mullins earns the nod based on his experience working with Acosta, Arriola, and Stieber and for his late season scoring spark (all five of his goals came in the last month of the season). There is also the age factor with Mullins being just 25 years old and Mattocks being 27. Injuries last season greatly hampered Mullins’ ability to find space in the box. But make no mistake about it: if he cannot find the back of the net early and often for D.C. in 2018 look for Olsen to go to Mattocks. Unless of course United makes another signing or trade up top.