So I was part of the way though prepping a series of posts on probable moves for DC United in the summer transfer window when…
Boom goes my post series.
Hmmm. The best laid plans of mice and fullbacks, eh? Instead of tossing out the whole thing, let me just post what would have been the key conclusions in that series and look at how the moves for De Rosario and McDonald address (or don’t address) what I saw as the outstanding needs for United at the midway point.
3 Missing Links
The conceit of my post series was a look at what three upgrades United could make that would have the biggest impact on the roster and what moves they could make to get there. The latter was covered by the already concluded moves that saw Fred and Brasesco leaving as well as a proposal to get rid of Ngwenya, who makes takes up far too much cap space considering (a) Brettschneider has effectively relegated him to #4 on the forward depth chart and (b) his touch is a crime against humanity.
With those moves adding to presumably existing cap room1, I made the argument that we could reasonably expect to acquire two starting-quality players and another one or two for depth if needed. Priorities would be as follows…
Midfield steel. I have questions at the back and up top, but the biggest failing in my mind was a featherweight midfield that didn’t have the strength, dynamism, and tactical nous to consistently close down and break up attacks that were shredding our back line, even with two sitting deep.
An idea man. Though Najar and Pontius are dangerous on the wings and we have an array of useful forwards, there was no dot-connecter, no danger-man that put defenses on their heels by threading passes or racing through gaps from deep, either with or without the ball. McCarty, King, and Simms were not getting the job done from midfield, and Wolff, though he has his moments, can’t always make2 the springing pass when dropping deep.
Back line depth. With Brasesco sent packing, we were left with three center backs, and the only non-rookie is on the shelf. Though Zayner and Woolard could cover the middle in a pinch, that’s not ideal. While Zayner, if healthy, looks to be a good option on the right, our options on the left are USL-quality Woolard and the perpetually dinged3 Burch. Considering the youth/inexperience of the back line, any move that would bring an steady organizing presence would be a bonus.
McDepth or McDestroyer?
So where does Brandon McDonald fit in? He’s played as both center back and hard-man in midfield. He is an immediate answer to #3, both because he provides a fourth center back, and one with experience and reasonable reading of the game to boot, while simultaneously freeing Kitchen as cover on the right should he be needed there (perhaps pushing Zayner to the left?). I have my fingers crossed for a real option at left back, but I’m not holding my breath given the FO’s mysterious attachment to Burch.
Likewise, McDonald provides a partial answer to the midfield steel question either on his own or by freeing Kitchen to do so. While I don’t see either as an ideal or complete solution there, the options are better now. Do I still hold out hope that there might be another move or an international signing that could fill what I see as the biggest hole? Not really, but then again, I don’t have any first-hand evidence yet what Kitchen might do in such a role.
What Happens Up Top?
The potentially more interesting question is what Olsen does with De Rosario. The assembled nabobs of internet punditry say a diamond four in midfield with De Rosario at the point behind Davies and one of the supporting-striker cast. I’m not so sure. Such tactics would require our otherwise excellent wide attacking options, Najar and Pontius, to provide more defensive cover. It would also require a single d-mid to provide steel and bite in a midfield that I already complained was weak in that department.
Might McDonald or Kitchen do better than the likes of Simms, McCarty, and King? Probably. But I’m not sure they’d be that much more effective in isolation than the current two-deep set. The argument could be mounted, of course, that on the other end we would be forcing opposition midfields deeper to counter the additional threat ours carried with the mobile and threatening De Rosario. Personally, I’d be more interested in seeing De Rosario play as a trequartista off a lone striker, given free reign to go where he can to do the most damage, whether that be on the flanks when a winger cuts in, deeper in midfield to pick passes, or sitting just off the striker, but I know I’m in the minority.
With two moves, United’s FO has addressed some of the weaknesses that I (and presumably they) see on this roster. Given De Rosario’s hefty cap figure, I wonder how much is left in the bag to go after a third piece to the puzzle. And, if there is room left under the cap, what are they looking for? A real left back or dynamic midfield backstop, one would hope, though one would probably then be disappointed.
What’s confusing to me is the apparent contradiction in roster-building. DC United 2011 has largely been about the youth movement. I, and others, have been working under the assumption that Olsen was building a core of young players that would take the team forward. They’d challenge for a playoff spot this year, but the next few years were the real payoff.
Which makes these latest two signings, neither of which looks like a long-term move, so puzzling. McDonald is relatively young, but casting his eyes Europe-ward when his contract runs out this winter. De Rosario is on the far side of his peak years and declining. Both are moves intended to push for silverware now rather than later. But is the rest of this squad ready for that?
More likely there is a middle path here. The core-building project proceeds apace, but maybe adding a little veteran spice in the right areas and catching fire at the right time might prove a potent blend that could take advantage of the league’s parity a provide some form of immediate success, breeding further success by giving the youngsters a taste for (and experience of) the stuff. I suppose much depends upon the fickle winds of injury and form as well as the possibility that Kasper, Payne, et al are not done shopping. As it stands, I think we’re top-heavy, but at least the score-lines should be exciting even if the points haul is not.
Based on media comments from the FO. ↩
That should probably read: rarely makes the springing pass. He does work hard, coming deep to get the ball, and the gaps are there to be exploited, but more often than not the ball is too soft or behind the runner, killing attacks before they have time to flower. ↩
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine if a healthy Burch is really an asset or if it’s better for the back line that he’s always injured. ↩