United Autopsy 2009 | Part I: Strengths & Weaknesses

autopsy (noun)
(1) an examination of a body after death to determine the cause of death or the character and extent of changes produced by disease —called also necropsy
(2) a critical examination, evaluation, or assessment of someone or something past
Thanks, Mirriam-Webster.

And so, having let the frustration and disappointment fester for a couple of weeks, it's finally time to lift the bandages and take a look at the rotting corpse of DC United's 2009 season. We'll break this down into several stages, starting with today's general assessment of the strengths and weaknesses both of this year's team and what lies in store for the 2010 edition. That'll be followed over the next few days with a player-by-player assessment culminating in a list of players to protect from the expansion draft and a rough draft of my What I Want For Christmas wishlist. Ready?

  • A general lack of attacking movement, energy, and speed. It's no coincidence that much of our attacking thrust was dependent upon players who are at (or well past) their "sell by" date.
  • United's defensive organization was poor, as it has been for the last couple of years. The coach should take his fair share of blame, but it also can't help that defense should begin at the top, and we've already discussed the relative lack of energy there. Tied up in this has to be the questionable decision-making of both the back line and the guys in the net.
  • Inability to connect the dots. All too often, United's attacking play consisted of passing and waiting, rather than passing and running, relying on the player in possession to beat his defender or make an incisive pass, which often went unrewarded owing to lack of movement by his teammates or resulted in yet another back or lateral pass. Watching other teams, you could see players having the confidence to play quick, "blind" balls into gaps or space, trusting that a runner would be there. United? Not so much. Of course, we've heard the excuse of not being able to field the same team consistently, which leads us to...
  • The busy schedule exposed a lack of depth. This is, naturally, a league-wide problem that could be considered to be out of our FO's hands. That said, the competitive core of players for Houston and the Crew (who faced similar schedules to ours) seemed to be larger.
  • Soehn seemed to have more questions than answers. Admittedly, the lack of depth hurt his ability to field a consistent team, but was that lack of depth to blame for the formation changes, the pattern of making substitutions before halftime, and the mysterious choice to ride the veterans hard for much of the year, only to leave them on the bench in the games that we really needed to win?

  • Despite the lack of athleticism (and some might claim effort), we have guile and did score more goals than most of the teams in the league. Were we too dependent upon that guile at times, when a more direct assault might have proved more effective? Probably. This was probably also at the root of some of our attacking "let him do it" complacency.
  • We have a good core of players in their early and mid-twenties that don't command too much cap space, providing a solid foundation to build upon (provided they don't jump ship for a Euro-payday).
  • If we shed some of the overpriced underperformers, we'll have a lot of cap to play with, so the potential is there to address specific weak points in the roster
  • A lighter schedule next year will give us a chance to really find our strongest lineup and give it time to play together consistently.

Now, in addition to those strengths and weaknesses (and I have no doubts that you'll fill in the gaps for me admirably in the comments), we have some questions that should be kept in mind as we proceed through the roster. Namely:
  • How much roster and salary dead weight will we be able to shed this off-season, and will a new coach with fresh eyes be allowed to do so by the FO?
  • Are Olsen and Moreno part of that dead weight or do they still have something more to contribute at their high cap figures?
  • Is Wallace a midfielder or a left back?
  • Will Pontius be permanently installed up top?
  • Can Quaranta learn patience?
  • Does Szetela have a future in DC?
  • Does Wicks inspire confidence as a first-choice keeper?
  • What effect do the long-term injuries to Wicks, James, and Quaranta have upon building team playing chemistry in pre-season?
Tomorrow, we'll start dissecting the defense and goalkeepers. See you then.

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