Having assessed the general strengths and weaknesses of the team in Part I, it's time to move on to the player-by-player assessment portion of our program. We'll begin with the goalkeepers and defenders. Note that I'm including the loanees and injured reserve guys in this roundup.
Bill Hamid: A big kid who turns 19 this month, Hamid is a no-brainer for next year's roster. He's generation adidas (won't have to be protected from the expansion draft and takes one of our developmental spots), with size and a decent body of work in the youth ranks. The question will be, is he ready to be the #2? And if so, do the roster restrictions and ability to call in pool/loan keepers make carrying three keepers on the final roster a luxury?
Steve Cronin: During his loan spell, the 26-year old proved that he belongs in MLS next year. The problems are: (1) he proved it to everybody, not just DCU, and interest is sure to be high, plus (2) Portland may not want to let him go, preferring instead to enter MLS in 2011 with their netminder already firmly in place. Also, if the Union get the same rules as Seattle had last year, they get first dibs on any USL players (unless the Galaxy still maintain right of first refusal under some byzantine league rule). I'd love to have him on board next year, but it doesn't look likely at this point.
Milos Kocic: The 24-year old arrived via the draft accompanied by some strong hype from the FO and coaching staff, but never really proved himself capable of being a starter, a fact highlighted by the loan signing (and subsequent playing) of Steve Cronin in his place when Wicks went down injured. Kocic would still be eligible (though who knows how willing?) to remain on the developmental roster next year, which is perhaps the only thing working in his favor at the moment. I certainly wouldn't protect him from the expansion draft.
Josh Wicks: Wicks just turned 26, seems to marshall his defense well, and won the three-way contest for the starting keeper spot in 2009. While those points argue in his favor, there have been questions about his temperament. Also, despite some excellent saves (usually from shots taken outside the box), far too often this season he was left standing flat-footed by close-range shots or beaten far to easily one-on-one. Add in the fact that he'll be struggling to get fit for the start of next season after recovering from surgery, and I'm more than hesitant to hand him the #1 jersey, much less a spot on our "protected" list.
Avery John: The 34-year old John was one of the half-assed darts that the FO tossed at the problem left back spot. The fact that he managed to hack his way though a handful of games for United says less about his qualities than about his competition for the spot. While I wouldn't complain if he's in the frame competing for a spot in camp next year, I hope to hell we don't go into pre-season with him as a key part of our plans, and I certainly wouldn't protect him from the draft.
David Habarugira: Ah, now here's a mystery! Habarugira is just 21 and did enough in his trial that he landed a senior contract in the summer. We heard that he was a left or central defender, and the coaching staff raved about his "polished" performances. But when he made the field for United, it was in limited minutes at right back, where he looked quick and technically competent going forward, if not exactly "polished" in the defensive and tactical portions of the game. Add in that United signed Lawson Vaughn to fill in when Namoff went down, and you have to wonder about Habarugira's future. For me, I wouldn't mind having a young, athletic guy in the stable who can slot in anywhere across the back line, so I hope to see him in camp.
Julius James: At 25, he's still a project, but a project worth embarking on. In the few moments we got to see them playing together in the middle of a back four, James and Jakovic partnered well. Assuming James can recover from his off-season surgery, I would expect we'd see more of that combination. Of course, the FO seems to want an experienced head at the back, so we'll probably wind up with some run-down Sudamericano stealing major minutes from the athletic and high-upside James, who could do with some seasoning. I'd definitely select him as one of the three internationals the rules say we have to protect (assuming the rules stay the same from last year).
Lawson Vaughn: Vaughn fought his way back into MLS after suffering a rash of injuries. He's still just 25, but has good experience in the league, having featured as a central midfielder, right back, and central defender. His fitness suffered down the stretch for United, but he still supplied some valuable minutes and provides a decent mix of athletic and technical ability. Do I think that's enough to get him on the protected list? Nope. Do I think he might be the type of player Nowak is looking to land in the expansion draft? Quite possibly.
Marc Burch: Is this project over yet? It's no secret that I'm no great fan of Burch. Yes, he is still just 25. Yes, he does have that cannon left peg and can hit a nice cross-field ball. Yes, he's a decent athlete. But I'm still not sold on his ability to do a reasonable impression of an MLS-caliber defender (and the standard isn't that high, is it?). His defense has improved, but not as significantly as you would have expected given two and a half years as a starter. And something about his attitude just makes me want to smack him. Obviously, I wouldn't put him on the protected list, but that's no guarantee the FO won't. That said, if he signs a lowball contract and comes to camp committed, I wouldn't mid having him on board as depth (but depth only, mind you!).
Dejan Jakovic: Keep him. Next! Sorry, I guess I'll elaborate. Jakovic was a fantastic signing, particularly since we probably wouldn't even have landed him if the whole "Roger" thing went through. Given his ability on the ball and excellent anticipation, I can't wait to see him get a solid run with a partner in the middle of a back four. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought "libero!" while watching him cut out passes and dash into midfield with the ball. While he did make a number of mistakes, mostly involving holding the ball too long or failing to communicate with a rotating cast of keepers, those things come with age, and Jakovic is only 24. Building block? Absolutely. Protect him from the draft and mark him down as Required International #2.
Greg Janicki: Gone. Janicki showed well in limited minutes as a stopgap in 2008, but 2009 demonstrated that the 25-year old is not cut out for MLS. The good news is that the US lower divisions seem to be multiplying like rabbits, so he shouldn't struggle to find a new home.
Devon McTavish: After two years that saw him log 20+ appearances, the versatile 25-year old fell off the map a bit in 2009. Considering he's supposed to be a guy who can fill a lot of holes and that we had plenty of holes cropping up, that doesn't bode well for his MLS future. Like Burch, he's the type of player that I wouldn't mind seeing back in the fold if he doesn't command a big cap hit, but I wouldn't mark him down as a key component of the team either. Of course, young, versatile, and cheap might be exactly the sort of player Nowak is shopping for as well.
Bryan Namoff: He's 30 and coming off a bout with concussion, but he's also United's most consistent defender. There's a worry that Namoff might be starting to decline, but his experience isn't something our assortment of mid-20's defenders can match. I'd have to think that Nowak would bite our arm off if we left him unprotected, but there's also the cap figure and the number of potential right backs waiting in the wings to consider. That said, there's no way you give up an unquestioned starter who's still among the better right backs in the league when your looking to build up the defense, right?
Rodney Wallace: I don't think anybody would argue that the 21-year old Wallace isn't going to be a key part of the roster next year. That said, the big question will be "where?" Wallace was brought in notionally to solve the left-back problem, but he saw most of his minutes in midfield, either on the left or in the middle. In order to complete the next stage of his development, I think it's important that we decide where he fits best, with my preference being as an attacking left back. Given the minutes he played this year, I'd also expect that he'll graduate from generation adidas and that we'll need to protect him from the expansion draft.
At the very least, I put Wallace (assuming he graduates from GenAd), Namoff, James, and Jakovic on the protected list, and pencil them in as your probable starting back four in 2010. An upgrade to James or bringing in another left back to let Wallace play in midfield should be considered, but I wouldn't have many issues with that group.
When it comes to backups, I wouldn't go so far as to protect any of them, but I also wouldn't be shy with the pre-season camp invitations. From the group of Habarugira, Burch, McTavish, and Vaughn, we should be able to take at least two that provide cover on both flanks and in the middle. That would leave the one defensive spot to address in the center, where the FO's stated preference for an experienced head would already seem to have indicated our direction, and I wouldn't have many problems with that. I hold out little hope for John and Janicki.
The goalkeeper situation is an interesting one in that much will depend upon roster rules for next year. Assuming we stay with the 24 man roster, I wonder if we keep three keepers or just proceed with two. You've got to assume that Hamid will take one of the goalkeeper slots, but with Wicks possibly not being ready in time for the start of the season, do you go into the first month with a 19-year old between the pipes? Such a situation argues for bringing in somebody capable of being the #1 (Cronin?) and having him and Wicks battle it out when Wicks returns from injury.