Your December 2007 priorities were:Wow! That's some pretty shocking consistency (and fairly damning evidence of the FO's 2008 failures). So let's review. As we headed into the 2008 season, expectations were high, and we seemed to have addressed most of the needs I laid out . . .
2. Central defender
5. Replacement for Gros's energy
Your December 2008 priorities are:
1. Central defender
3. Holding midfielder
5. Replacement for Olsen's heart
@winger - Quaranta? Kirk? not ideal, I'll grant you, but there seemed to be an indication of progress and potential
@central defender - Peralta & Martinez - the flying Gonzalos!
@forward - Niell the mighty mite + "Don't Call Me Francis" Doe (not added in pre-season, but April/May is early enough for our consideration)
@keeper - Wells + Carvall0 - one of them has to pan out, right?
Gros' energy? hmmm.
And yet, here we are, a year later, with many of the same needs, and the same glaring problem hanging over our heads. Change the roster too much and you risk losing continuity (arguably one of the big problems with the defense last year--bringing in two new starters), but don't change anything and you're left with gaping holes in the lineup. What's a front office to do? Let's isolate the defense as an example of a possible approach.
Priority #1: Get Namoff back in the fold.
He's not flashy, he doesn't have tremendous athletic gifts. He is what he is--a reliable and consistent MLS defender. We could probably replace him quality-wise, but how long would said notional replacement take to blend with the team? Would this replacement be as durable and consistent? And don't count MLS experience out of the equation.
So assuming we do get Bryan back, what does the back line look like?
Burch--McTavish--Janicki--Namoff, with Zaher and Carroll for depth. Ruh-roh! Burch hasn't yet proven to me that he can be a solid defender, McTavish is a hole-plugger who seems to fit better in midfield than he does in defense, and Janicki showed decently in a handful of games on the back end of last season after making the jump from USL2. That's three-quarters of your defense.
Priority #2: Don't add too many pieces that you're counting on to save the day.
What? Didn't I just say that three-quarters of the defense seemed inadequate? Yep. But we saw what throwing too many unproven, new pieces into the mix did to the defense last year, didn't we? Sure, injuries played a role, as did Wells not being able to organize the back line, but I think the key here is to add two players--one a veteran, preferably domestic with MLS experience, though an import of real quality (Osman Chavez?) is an option as well, and the second a draftee that we think can absorb some minutes this year, but who were aren't heavily reliant upon.
Obviously, I'm not overjoyed with this solution, but I think too much tinkering will hurt more than not having an ideal set of defenders. Given another year of growth, Burch may well turn the corner he seemed to be stuck on last year. If he doesn't, Guerrero can plug that hole in a pinch and Zaher should pick up some minutes. Janicki showed enough last year to suggest that he has the potential to be a reasonable MLS center back. Can he hold up over an entire season? That's a gamble, but we've got McTavish and Carroll and (hopefully) a mystery rookie for cover.
Of course, all of this is predicated on getting Namoff back and landing a reliable centerback as part of the bargain. And don't forget that defending is not solely the responsibility of the backs. Will Crayton's tendencies towards "sweeper-keeping" make up for our lack of speed in defense? Will adding more steel and energy to midfield via formational shift (pairing Vide & Simms in the center behind Gallardo?) or simply playing Guerrero more than Fred allow us to close up some of the gaps that were too easily exploited last year?
What do you think? Has the FO learned from the mistakes of 2009? Will they attempt to "garnish" the existing roster rather than presenting an all new main course? Or are we just awaiting the arrival of the next boatload of foreign legionnaires at RFK? Perhaps the United braintrust think we've already got guys on the roster (Zaher, Carroll?) that are ready to step up?