United Autopsy 2009 | Part V: Filling in the Gaps

At long last, we come to the end of our autopsy. The corpse is laid out on the table before us, and we can step back and make an overall assessment, not just of cause of death, but of what needs to change if we don't want to sit here next fall looking at a similar mess. We'll do this in two parts. Part I will review what we've got to work with, and Part II will identify the questions we need to answer this offseason in order to flesh out the roster.


For simplicity's sake, I'm going to assume that whoever we bring in to helm the team will be going with four at the back. Also, there are looming questions about who the FO is going to resign, since pretty much all of the squad is coming up on contract renewals. Nevertheless...

Goalkeeper: Wicks is the returning starter, but he'll be injured for the start of next season, and I, for one, am not convinced he should be handed the starting job. In fact, no less an authority than the Goffblog has also expressed doubts about his future with the team. That leaves us hunting for a number one, because Kocic sure as hell isn't ready (if he ever will be), and I doubt we'll put our fate in the hands of a 19-year old, no matter how big or sure the hands.

Defenders: A back line of Wallace, Jakovic, James, and Namoff doesn't look too shabby, though (1) we don't know if Wallace's long-term future is in defense or midfield, and (2) James is more potential than finished product at this point. Assuming that John and Janicki are as good as gone and no losses to the expansion draft, we've got reasonable backups on the flanks in Vaughn (excellent) and Burch (could be better), but precious little depth in the middle. Also, there's the troubling question of Namoff's damaged noggin.

Midfield: Lots of questions here, but Simms and Szetela in the middle with Quaranta on the right has promise. Will Fred still be around to compete at left mid? Is Gomez gone? How many minutes (if any) can Olsen play? Will the new coach want to keep Pontius as a flank midfielder rather than up top? Will Wallace continue in midfield? On the left or in the middle? Will Nowak want to take Szetela off our hands? Jacobson and a fit-again Barklage give us some depth, but not much. The other pickings are slim.

Forward: There are probably even more questions here than in midfield. Is Emilio gone? Will Moreno be back and how many miles can his old legs take? Is Pontius a forward? Do any of N'Silu, Boyzzz, and Shipalane return? None of those last three would seem to be of starting quality. Moreno might be able to coax another year from his body, but not as a starter. Emilio is more of a burden than an asset (both on the cap and the field) at this point. That leaves us with only Pontius as a potential starter in my book.

So that gives us a starting eleven of...



That's a lot of question marks, so let's break them down into the five areas that need to be resolved. Of course, we'll keep in mind that the expansion draft, players failing to extend their contracts, and the FO clinging desperately to players past their best (or who never had a best to offer) may add further questions (or propose bad answers to existing ones), but we'll cross those bridges when we come to them. For now...

(1) Who is your starting keeper? The depth looks pretty good. Hamid and Kocic can duke it out for number two. Hell, if Wicks stays cheap or the CBA opens up the cap a bit, Wicks might be in that picture as well, but I won't be thrilled if we go into 2010 with him as the anointed #1. That said, I've talked to (and read) others who are fine with Wicks. The anger issues, statue-pose keeping against close-range efforts, questionable decision making, and the ease with which he is often beaten one-on-one make me less sure.

(2) Is James the partner for Jakovic? We have the FO on record as wanting a more experienced head on the back line, and James is still raw. Given that we'll most likely be parting ways with Janicki and that our other options in central defense are conversion projects that don't seem to be working out (McTavish and Burch), it obvious that we'll need more depth anyway. But given some of our other needs, will we have the coin to pursue a high-quality (and consequently high-priced) option at centerback? Another option might be having a look at Namoff (an experienced head already on the roster) in the middle, as we've got another viable right-back in Vaughn.

(3) Is Wallace a midfielder or defender? One of the glaring weaknesses last year was the inconsistency of the lineup. If we're to be more consistent next year, we'll need to give the guys with enough quality to start a defined role in the starting lineup, rather than shifting them around as needs present themselves. The problem is that Wallace offers good things in the three spots we can play him in. Attacking overlaps and good recovery speed at left back? Yes, but his defensive positioning is suspect. Good runs (with and without the ball) at pace on the attacking left flank? Yes, but the finishing needs to be better. Dynamic energy as a box-to-box central midfielder? Yes, but the positioning and anticipation are once again lacking. So where is his best spot?

(4) What does the future hold for Fred? I'm still convinced that the player we had in 2007 is hiding in there somewhere and that he offers us options both as a left winger or playing in the hole beneath a striker (or strikers). I know that the evidence of the last two years might make this seem like outright crazy-talk, but I still think Fred has something left to give this team and that a little confidence and some respite from the off-field troubles might do the trick in returning him to form. Still, he does carry a considerable (though not as high as some) cap hit, and hasn't posted the numbers to justify it lately.

(5) What's the deal with the forwards? So far, we have no indication that Jaime is going to hang them up. That said, he's not going to be starting 25 games next year either. And what does the FO do with Emilio? I can't see keeping him on DP dollars in any circumstance, and his loss of quickness, both darting behind the line and turning defenders, severely hampers his ability to create chances for himself. Can we afford to rely on an aging poacher who's lost his first step? At the moment, Pontius is our only solid option up top though, like Wallace, his versatility also makes him an option at multiple positions. Assuming we stick with him as a striker, we still need to find him a partner, preferably one that can run off Pontius' aerial work and threaten defenses with his speed.


There is a fair amount to work with here, but there are still significant gaps. Some of those gaps, worryingly, are the same ones that we've been trying to pave over for the last couple of years. So is that (1) the FO's fault in failing to make the right acquisitions, and have they learned their lessons, or (2) the previous coach's fault in not being able to adequately define roles or instruct players in filling them?

Which reminds me, I saw this bit on No Short Corners about what KC needs next year...
If Onalfo were still in charge, I would have said "A coach that will maintain some form of consistency in his lineup selections and on-field role assignments."

One final bit to consider here before I sign off on the autopsy. Goff is reporting that the Bearded Bombardier is seriously considering calling it a day. You'll notice that I didn't have him pencilled into the prospective starting lineup above. There's a reason for that. While I love Benny, that wasn't enough to rose-tint my vision. His body just can't keep up with his spirit any more. How many times was he making cynical or mistimed challenges or just flat-out trailing the play last year? Can he do spot duty next year? Probably. And I wouldn't be against that at all, but in all my calculations I'm factoring him in as depth at best.



  1. In goal, I see Wicks as either a backup or gone. You laid out the case against him pretty well. His decision making is the biggest problem, in my eyes. However, as a backup he'd be acceptable. Hamid is definitely the #3, so I see Kocic being squeezed out. I won't lose any sleep over that.

    In the back, I think it's time to finally construct a good back four. When you ask if we'll be able to afford to address defense given our other needs, I'd reply that we need to address defense before our other needs. Jakovic and a fit-again Namoff are quality starters, but James is not there yet and Burch never will be. I prefer Wallace at midfield, so that's 2 spots that have to be filled. As much as we harp on the attack, the fact is that only FC Dallas scored more goals than we did. What undid us time and time again were avoidable defensive mistakes. We need a back four that teams actually have to beat, rather than one that will beat itself.

    Elsewhere, I have been thinking a lot about what could be done if we use Moreno the way Columbus uses (used?) Schelotto. He's got energetic guys on either flank, solid players behind him in central midfield, and a physical, hard working striker leading the line. We can replicate that with what's already here: Quaranta and Wallace on the wings, Simms and Szetela/Olsen in defensive midfield, and Pontius up front. There would be depth concerns, as well as wondering what we'd do when Moreno can't go, but it's an appealing system at this point. Playing alongside Emilio, Moreno had to do more running than he should be doing at this point. Given a high-octane, physical partner, Moreno could focus on what he does best.

    Finally, when it comes to Fred, I've got to disagree. After his poor 2008, I felt how you do now. After 2 years of it, I'm done. We can do better with that salary. Let me put it this way: I think we could acquire guys like Jerry Palacios and Walter Martinez from Marathon with that kind of money, and they're both definitely better than Fred. The problem with Fred is that he won't stay for the amount what he's worth to an MLS team.

    So, basically, give me 3 new players (in order of importance: CB, GK, LB) and some depth, and I think we have a very good team. It might seem crazy, but I really believe we have a group that needs tweaks rather than big changes. Guys like Pontius and Wallace will improve this season...actually, so should Quaranta, given his age.

  2. I agree with you in theory about using Moreno like Schelotto. In fact, I've made the same suggestion in these very pages myself. What I have to wonder is how many minutes he can log, and what plan B is if he goes down or gets exhausted. Columbus had more options than we currently have, thus prompting the need for another quality attacker.

    I suppose Quaranta could deputize if he learned patience (and we had a competent deputy for him at right mid/wing--Boyzzz/Shipalane?), but this would be an area where I can see keeping Fred around as an option. Of course, it doesn't have to be him, and we can probably find a cheaper option, as you suggest. Much depends upon what's available for cheap and what changes are made to the CBA.

    I'm in roughly the same camp as far as acquisitions and being tentatively satisfied that the core is strong (I'd add a forward/wide attacker to your list of three), though I'd argue that adding 3-4 starters is more than "tweaking," though that's all meaningless semantic table-tennis, isn't it?

  3. Your 5 questions sound like they will lead nicely into a list of 5 WIWFC suggestions, though in a different order. With Olsen's retirement though, we may also want to add CM to the wish list, because I'm not sold on Szetela as a starter yet.

    I know Chest is going to disagree with me, but I still wish we had a new coach here to help make these decisions instead of just leaving it up to Kasper and Payne. A fresh set of eyes to look at this roster wouldn't be a bad thing.

  4. That was the intent of part V, to serve as a sort of WIWFC rough draft. To your other points, Shatz...

    (1) I agree that it would have been useful to have the new coach in place, but I don't think losing one player is going to make a huge difference. I doubt we leave anybody exposed that we're going to be building a team around. Frankly, losing a depth player should take less precedence than taking the time to get the right head coach.

    (2) I wonder if protecting Jacobson over Vaughn (my initial instinct) carries more weight with Olsen stepping out of the frame? Of course, it also means we might be able to protect both, though I'm still not clear on whether Emilio has a "no-trade" clause in his contract.