September 15, 2019

D.C. United Analysis: First-quarter evaluation, part 5 – Management

It raised a few eyebrows around Washington when it was announced in the offseason that both D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper and head coach Ben Olsen were going to remain in their jobs after the club went an atrocious 3-24-7 in 2013, one of the worst Major League Soccer seasons ever recorded.

After an offseason filled with almost as many transactions as United scored goals in the league last year (22), the roster was remade through a variety of means. It’s far too early to judge Kasper and Olsen’s success in changing the team. When a club only wins three of 34 games one season, it’s not necessarily the biggest feather in anyone’s cap when that club surpasses its win total the next season, even when it does so in nine matches.

But in United’s case, it was an important milestone on a couple levels when United won at the Philadelphia Union last Saturday, 1-0, for win number four in 2014. It was also United’s first road win since early October … 2012, at Toronto FC. It was not the signal that things have turned around, but it was one checkpoint along the way. It will soon be forgotten if United craters from here, though playing in an Eastern Conference filled with so-so teams for the most part and some straight up bad ones, United returning to last year’s struggles now would be surprising.

How Kasper built the club was interesting, acquiring a quartet of veterans at the back (one, Cristian Fernandez, from outside MLS), adding more veteran help up front in Fabian Espindola (four goals, three assists) and Eddie Johnson (no goals, one assist), and picking up another MLS old hand in Davy Arnaud (two goals) for the midfield. They are the kind of moves you see a team make when they are ready to “win now.” This typically comes after you see a team either just miss the playoffs or bow out one step short of the MLS Cup final, like a certain United team did in 2012 to Houston.

United did bring in some young players, too, including number-one draft pick Steve Birnbaum, a standout college defender who should contribute down the road. Forward Conor Doyle (23) was acquired on a permanent basis and other youngsters such as defender Jalen Robinson (20) and Michael Seaton (18) are awaiting their chance.

The seven notable acquisitions who are getting time all have ridden past their younger days. From Fernandez (28) to Arnaud (33), all are in their late 20s or early 30s. Their staying power to still be main contributors when the group of younger players are ready to step in is a question Kasper and Olsen will have to face at some point in the future.

That crossroads won’t come in 2014. But with the stadium issue always looming in the background and MLS growing at a much faster rate than United’s ability to get its new home done is evolving, winning as soon as possible would probably brighten everyone’s mood. Olsen has been a bit more consistent with his lineups this season and the roster isn’t nearly the porous corps that it was a year ago.

For Olsen, this is the first stop on what he probably expects to be a long coaching career. Kasper has been with United since late 2001 and in that time, the club has won five trophies (including the 2004 MLS Cup, the last of D.C.’s quartet of league titles), but it has also finished last in the league three times (2002, 2010, 2013). Rebuilding the club into a winner again would be a welcome way to forget the 2013 league season (even though United also won the U.S. Open cup in 2013).

All isn’t right with United yet, and any semblance of the dynasty in MLS’ early years has been long gone for quite a while. The roster now is talented enough to compete most nights and Olsen can be more fairly judged as a coach given a decent roster to work with. But how the younger players are developed and what future moves are made to enhance the team as the crop of veterans brought in this offseason begin to disappear will determine the on-field future of the club.

NOTES: In the club’s immediate future is a home match Saturday night against the Montreal Impact. Montreal is 10th of 10 in the Eastern Conference at 1-5-3 (6 points) and the Impact have already racked up a -10 goal differential. United is 2-0-1 all-time vs. Montreal at RFK Stadium. … Felipe Martins (two) is the only Impact player to score more than one goal this season. … The Impact come into Saturday’s match not as well rested as United, having had to play FC Edmonton on Wednesday in the Canadian Championship, a match Montreal won, 4-2, to advance. … United is 4-1-1 in its last six matches; while the Impact are 1-2-3.

Ed Morgans is the D.C. United Page Editor for District Sports Page. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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