- Goalkeepers: B- [We've got a probable starter, and not a whole lot else.]
- Central Defenders: B- [Vanney-McTavish is a reasonable quality MLS center back pairing, but where, oh where, is the depth? Paging orange traffic cones . . .]
- Defensive/Holding Midfielders: A- [Simms is growing into a player of real quality--if he can get that shot from distance honed to a bit more lethality, it just adds to the damage we can do in attack. We don't exactly have great cover, but it's decent considering the limitations of roster numbers and the salary cap.]
- Fullbacks: A- [We've got one proven starter and a second that shows a lot of potential, but the depth (as always) is a bit of an issue.]
- Wide Midfielders: C+ [Unless Gomez is staying, in which case we're up to a solid B as Fred and Olsen are not a bad pair to have, despite not being true wingers. Otherwise, we're in a deep patch of doodoo and praying for the front office to dig up another gem in South America to cover Fred's probable shift to the middle.]
- Attacking Midfielders: A [Assuming Gomez stays. If he leaves, we're probably down to a B+ until Rod or Fred prove their worth. Heck, if Jaime sticks around, he might even see some minutes in this spot. Diagnosis at the moment--deep and varied = loaded!]
- Forwards: B [Maybe a bit harsh here, but if Moreno and Gomez are gone, a lot of weight is going to fall on Emilio to bang them in. We really need another front-line striker to pair with Emilio, preferably one with the speed threat we so sorely lack up top.]
As far as gaps go, the most obvious are in the wide midfield and central defensive areas. With those points in mind, I present to you the top 5 gifts that I'd want to strengthen the United roster before we kick a ball in anger in 2008.
- A true winger with pace - If this player can also double as a speedy striker and manage to address some of our depth and pace concerns up top, so much the better. But the addition of a wide threat will be a serious upgrade for an attack that often got stifled attempting to ram the ball down the opposition's throat.
- A stud center back - Vanney, should he negotiate a deal to remain with United, is getting older and slower, and McTavish isn't quite the seasoned veteran yet. I'd like to see McTavish get significant time in the middle, but also be available as cover for the entire back line when the inevitable injuries and fatigue set in. With that in mind, the second of the "major" upgrades would be an athletic center back with a bit of size and strength to match up against the bruiser forwards and the wheels to keep up with some of the quicker strikers in the league. A decent reading of the game and some skill with distribution from the back would be helpful as well--but the chances of United being able to afford such as player are questionable at best. Our best bet is to grab someone young and cheap who is possibly looking for a shop window, à la FC Dallas' Juan Toja.
- A second/third striking option - If Jaime doesn't go, I think his contribution to the team will become more and more limited. I don't see any of the current forwards being able to step up and partner Emilio, so we'll need to get a viable option up top. Preferably, this would be someone with a bit of pace, creating the chances to (1) get behind defenses, (2) drift wide to get crosses into the box and clear space for the attacking midfielder to push into, and (3) threaten defenders, thus keeping them from pushing up to crowd out our possession game in midfield. Barring that, getting a big body (admittedly probably an easier option to acquire) for onrushing midfielders and Emilio to run off, and who can finish with a bit more consistency than Addlery, might also work. Hell, in the utopian world where we can afford all of these myriad presents stocked beneath the tree, maybe we can get both!
- A challenger for Wells - Wells looks like he'll be a solid keeper, but I'd be more comfortable if we had a viable backup on the bench, preferably one who can push Wells for playing time. Could Nolly somehow mysteriously transform into this player? I suppose anything is possibly, but he really hasn't shown an capacity for doing so yet.
- A replacement engine - With Gros hanging up the boots, wouldn't it be nice to have another player with a big engine to chug up and down the wings? This doesn't have to be a starting player, just somebody you can throw on as a fullback or wide midfielder who will get the job done, not always in the most stylish and dynamic fashion, but consistently and with maximum effort and commitment to the cause. In the ideal fantasy world referenced above, this player would also have the versatility to spell Simms in the center of midfield--the classic utility player in the Phil Neville sense, just plug him in and watch him do the job effectively and with minimal fuss.