What can be said about DC United’s 2019 season that might be helpful when speculating about the team’s upcoming 2020 season? The rather abrupt departure of Wayne Rooney at the end of last season drew most of the headlines. (However, Rooney continues to haunt Audi Field in spirit. There’s still a huge photo banner of him hanging over the main entrance to the stadium.) But, for my money, there was a more important development in 2019 that will impact the 2020 season.
There’s this bit of dialogue in the final fight scene of the original “Ghostbusters” (Go ahead. YouTube it. I’ll wait.) where Venkman (aka Bill Murray) imparts this pearl of wisdom: “Ray, the next time someone asks you if you are a god you say: ‘Yes!’” The international soccer corollary to this pearl of wisdom is: “If Paris Saint-Germain offers you $7-8 million for a player who can leave on a free transfer at the end of the season you say: ‘Yes!’” United’s management ignored that corollary, said ‘No’ to PSG and Lucho Acosta had a miserable 2019 and left on a free transfer. Had United said “Yes!” to PSG they could have had some big cash in the bank and spent 2019 integrating Acosta’s replacement. Instead they’ve lost Rooney and Acosta and will be spending 2020 figuring out how to replace both of them.
Tactics & Key Players
Personnel have changed in the off-season, especially in the midfield, but I don’t see Ben Olsen moving away from his preferred 2019 formation, a 4-2-3-1 (although a 3-5-1 might also appear at times).
Goalkeeper: I’ve got two words for you: Bill Hamid. Yeah, there are backups, but unless something goes real sideways (Stops typing. Knocks on wood.) it’ll be Hamid getting the vast majority of the starts.
Defenders: Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant are poised to return as the first choice center back tandem. Donovan Pines is the only other center back currently on the roster. He filled in for both Birnbaum and Brillant at various times last season. Joseph Mora is the incumbent at left back. Behind him is? Um, nobody. But, IMO, right back is really the big “?” along the back line at the moment. At least four different players currently on the roster spent time there last season: Oniel Fisher, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Russell Canouse and Paul Arriola. Canouse played right back in all of United’s preseason matches. Recent signing Julian Gressel spent some time at right back during his time with Atlanta United but it remains to be seen if Olsen will ask him to reprise that role at his new club. Per Steve Goff at the Washington Post there is also some speculation that United may be looking to add a French center back, but as of this writing such a signing had yet to materialize.
Defensive Midfielders: Canouse, Junior Moreno and Felipe “I’m good for a red card or yellow card accumulation suspension every six games” Martins are expected to share time in defensive midfield. According to Goff, it was recently disclosed that Moreno had offseason hernia surgery so he’s still working his way back to full fitness. Moreno and Felipe paired up in United’s most recent preseason match against Louisville City SC.
Attacking Midfielders: Peruvian Edison Flores was the big DP signing during the off season. It’s expected that he will slot into central midfield. With Arriola on the shelf for 2020 courtesy of an ACL tear I suspect we’ll be seeing alot of the newly signed Gressel on the right side. Gressel’s old Atlanta United buddy Yamil Asad is returning for a second tour with United. He’s expected to slot in at left wing. Other players that figure to see decent playing time in the attack include Emma Boateng and Ulises Segura.
Forwards: Ola Kamara is the expected starter up top. And plan “B” is….? United has signed 20 year old Estonian striker Erik Sorga to a contract with the team’s USL Championship side Loudon United. But, it’s expected that Sorga will get promoted to the first team at some point during the season.
Wildcards: Homegrowns Griffin Yow (F/M), Mosey Nyemen (M) and Kevin Pardes (M) may also see minutes but I wouldn’t count on any of them for fantasy points.
Rooney, Acosta and defender Leo Jara are gone. Gressel and Flores have joined the squad. A “safe standing” section has been added at Audi Field. In honor of the team’s 25th year in the league the 2020 home jersey includes three white stripes over the right shoulder, a throw back to the team’s original 1996 kit. The team’s 2020 away jersey…looks like a fancy white Hanes t-shirt.
Key stat courtesy of Goff: “United conceded 38 goals last year — only Los Angeles FC allowed fewer — and ended the regular season with five consecutive shutouts.” Until proven otherwise, I expect I’ll be including Hamid and members of United’s backline (especially Birnbaum and Brillant) in my regular fantasy rotation. They’ll all be expensive but if they perform as they did in 2019 it’ll be worth it. United faces the new look Colorado Rapids (H), the expansion Miami Beckhams (H) and MLS sophomores FC Cincinnati (A) in their first three matches of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept that regular season shutout streak going for a few more matches.
On the offensive side, I’m taking a wait and see attitude. On paper, United are poised to have a strong attack. But, as I believe MLS Fantasy Boss podcast co-host Michael Denton has noted on more than one occasion, Ben Olsen hates to score goals. I’m not sure I have quite as strong a take as Mike on United’s goal scoring prowess, but Olsen’s squads have definitely tended to privilege stability at the back over throwing caution to the wind in attack. Flores might be tempting to pick up depending on how he’s priced, but, because of visa issues he wasn’t able to begin training fully with the team until late in preseason. Asad sustained a groin injury early in preseason that’s expected to keep him out for a few weeks so I wouldn’t expect to see him getting extended regular minutes until the third or fourth week of the season at the earliest. Gressel has been a great player for Atlanta United over the past two seasons but I think it may take him some time to get settled with his new club. Kamara is a proven goal scorer in the league, if he can get regular service. Depending on his starting value he might be worth taking a flyer on early in the season.
Based on what I’ve gathered from the preseason matches I feel fairly confident about goalkeeper, the backline, the d-mids and Kamara up top. I’m uncertain about the attacking mids. I think Segura will probably slot in at left wing while Asad’s returning to full fitness. Segura, Flores and Gressel formed the attacking midfield trio in United’s final preseason game. I’m not sure if this will change once Asad is back to full fitness.