The Lay of the Land
First let's orient ourselves with regards to the team going forward--a task easier said than done. Despite high expectations from most quarters, a team that, on paper, looked like a fairly good bet to succeed in 2008 managed to crash and burn. Was this the result of too much reliance on foreign talent unproven in MLS, a horrible string of injuries, too many matches, too much roster turnover, a stagnant coaching staff, or, most likely, an explosive cocktail of all of the above?
And considering the failures of 2008, what will be the response in preparation for 2009? Do the front office blow it all up and start over again? Do they blame injury and bad luck and stick to their guns? Do they reassess and make minor tweaks to try and succeed with only a few adjustments to last year's philosophy? If I'm a betting man, I go with the latter, but I wonder if the shorter leash that the ownership are putting the FO and coaches on plays a role in their thinking.
So questions abound about the direction the club moves in. But what about the current roster? What are we working with, and where are the big, obvious holes that need to be filled?
Roster in Flux
At the moment, the big question is Marcelo Gallardo. Rumors continue to swirl about a return to Argentina, a move that would bring even more questions than his current presence on the roster (and the salary cap) does. For the moment, we'll assume that Gallardo is going to be in Black and Red for 2009. If he does return, and if he manages to stay healthy, I think the next step is going to be adapting the formation to highlight his strengths and minimize his weaknesses as they pertain to MLS. This will be the subject of an entire post in this series, so stay tuned.
But Gallardo is not the only player whose future is in question. We already know that Martinez has made it at least three of five 2008 sudamericano signings who won't be returning in 2009. But what about . . ?
- Kirk and Peralta? Word is that we're trying to resign both at lower salaries. I think Kirk has potential and would provide some much needed athleticism if we can talk him down from that big Generation Adidas contract. But I'm still not sold on Peralta unless he takes a massive pay cut. Still, his loss would be the harder to replace, given that the only other center backs on the roster are Janicki, fresh from USL2 and unproven in a full MLS season; Koroma, a complete unknown; Carroll, still raw; and part-timers McTavish and Burch, neither of which I can see as first-choice options in central defense.
- Namoff? Simms' contract has been wrapped up, but what about our other consistent rock in the back? Namoff is never going to be a world-beater, but for MLS, he's precisely the type of player that United needs: consistent, tough, experienced, and savvy. We have some candidates to fill the potential void, but will any be able to step up and do so?
- Olsen and Mediate? More so the former than the latter, but do either of these guys return from their injuries? Olsen's return would be huge for our depth in midfield, the vacuum in the hard-nosed veteran leadership department, and the heart of the team in general. If he can't return, we've got some cap space to play with, but we're also left with a gaping wound in the pride, passion, and guts of this team.
- Doe? Did anybody else even realize he was technically on loan to MLS last year? Whatever the case, Doe proved that he could be a solid contributor, particularly in some clutch situations down the stretch. If we can't extend his loan, our depth up top is hugely suspect and will require reinforcements.
Having raised the major questions surrounding the roster and the potential direction the FO takes, we'll need to lay the groundwork for the type of players that need to be brought in. The first place to start will be determining where United is headed tactically in 2009, and that will the subject of Part II of the 2009 edition of What I Want For Christmas.