D.C. United Season Preview: Nowhere to go but up
Following a disappointing season in 2022 (There are plenty of other words we could use), D.C. United look to make strides in their first full season under head coach Wayne Rooney. With a veteran-laden roster, including many new arrivals, it’s going to be a season of getting to know players as D.C. hopes to prove doubters wrong and reach the playoffs.
For D.C. United, the 2023 season is shrouded in skepticism about the club’s postseason chances. From the day Rooney agreed to be the head coach, rumors have swirled that this is a temporary position in hopes of his returning to England to manage. Rooney’s one-year contract has certainly aided these rumors.
It’s hard to argue the notion that Rooney would want to manage a top English club, but his focus right now needs to be proving that worth and succeeding with United. Success isn’t something the Black and Red have seen in recent years.
The Hernan Losada era was dismal at best and the club hasn’t won a playoff game since 2015. It’s easy for fans to be pessimistic about this season. Especially when you consider how last season ended.
The season is one week away, which means many fans will need a recap on what happened during a very eventful offseason for United.
United won just one of their final 13 games, placing them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. And that is the last I will speak about last season. Let’s look at the roster changes.
When looking at this year’s roster, the most notable absence is club icon Bill Hamid. The homegrown goalkeeper did not have his contract renewed and is currently still without a contract.
This opens up a battle in goal between two MLS veterans. Both Tyler Miller and Alex Bono signed two-year contracts in the winter and will compete for the starting gig.
Miller has 29 clean sheets in 64 league appearances for Seattle, LAFC and Minnesota. Bono has spent his entire career with Toronto FC, and his contract has a third-year option for 2025.
On the left side of defense, Iraqi national Mohanad Jeahze comes over from Swedish club Hammarby IF. At just 25 years old, Jeahze’s pace and 5 ’10’ ‘ frame will be valuable to United as they look to gain a stronger presence on the wings.
United acquired former Orland City right back Ruan in December. Expect Ruan to rotate with Andy Najar on the right side.
The two starting center backs should remain to be Steve Birnbaum and Donovan Pines. The addition of Derrick Williams from the LA Galaxy will provide needed depth from a left-footed defender.
Brendan Hines-Ike, an addition from last season, returns for a second year in D.C.
This is the part of the roster where I’m paying the most attention. Russel Canouse and Victor Palsson can provide transition support for new arrival Mateusz Klich.
Klich comes from Leeds United and was the most notable offseason acquisition for United. The Polish international has excellent attacking vision. I’m excited to see how he can help feed the wingers on rushes, and work with the strikers.
Ravel Morrison will be someone to watch early in the season, especially with the addition of Pedro Santos along with Klich.
Once Martin Rodriguez is through his shoulder injury, D.C. should have plenty of midfield depth to stay competitive for 90 minutes, something that was a major issue last season.
On the bench, Chris Durkin should get increased playing time this season. If Palsson struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised if Durkin takes his starting spot. Jackson Hopkins will get some moments as well, but they may be fewer than Durkin’s opportunities.
During the final three preseason games, Rooney rotated players within a two-forward formation. The first game saw Christian Benteke and Ted Ku-Dipietro start. Benteke started the second game along with Taxi Fountas. Ku-Dipietro returned to start the third game alongside Miguel Berry.
It’s clear that Rooney wants to run with two primary forwards, and those will be Benteke and Fountas. Benteke got off to a slow start after arriving midseason last year.
The same can’t be said for Fountas who led the team in goals and took the fan base by storm. If Benteke can adjust to MLS this season, this duo could be the x-factors that propel United into a playoff push.
Ku-Dipietro impressed in preseason, registering 2 goals and 2 assists, and was the captain for the final game. Rooney should reward this effort early in the season. Nigel Robertha underwent wrist surgery in training camp, but is expected to return soon.
The beginning of the season always comes with optimism and the hopes of unforeseen potential (cherry) blossoming. However, playoff hopes in D.C. will be reliant on a lot of “what ifs.”
Can Miller or Bono emerge as a quality starter in goal? What do veterans like Benteke, Klich and Santos still have in the tank?
Best-case scenario for D.C., getting one of the final playoff spots in the East and maybe making some noise.
Worst-case scenario, the veterans crumble, the youngsters can’t keep up, and it’s another bottom of the league finish, and maybe another coaching change.