Previous Year Recap
A college professor of mine once told me: “Good poets borrow. Great poets steal.” I’m not a poet, but I have written a dissertation that involved quoting lots of people who are far better thinkers and writers than I’ll ever be. With that in mind I’m going to kick off this recap of DC United’s 2020 season by stealing from Matt Doyle. “D.C. made it to the playoffs in 2019 because their defense was very good even as their attack fell apart. D.C. did not make it to the playoffs in 2020 because their defense followed the midfield and attack into the trash bin.”
Yep. That just about does it. Thanks for the assist Doyle. Throw in some bits about Ben Olsen being sacked mid-way through the campaign, youngsters Donovan Pines, Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes and Griffin Yow getting significant playing time, DP Paul Arriola missing the whole season through injury and “key attacking pieces” DP Edison Flores and winger Julian Gressel being just plain “Missing in Action” and I’m good.
The Black and Red enter 2021 with a new manager (Argentine Hernán Losada fresh off guiding Belgian club Beerschot to promotion to the Belgian First Division), a stated commit to playing a more attacking style of football and a roster that remains relatively unchanged from last season. Will they make it out of the trash bin? Hopefully. Will they make it into the playoffs? Doubtful.
Fantasy Players to Watch
Goalkeeper: First choice keeper Bill Hamid had sports hernia surgery in mid-January. (As opposed to “I injured myself while sitting on the couch eating nitro takis and watching sports” hernia surgery. That’s a totally different thing.) Hamid was projected to be out for 8 weeks and hasn’t seen any action during pre-season. I’d look for veteran Chris Seitz to serve in the starting role until Hamid’s back to full fitness.
Defenders: Center-back Steve Birnbaum had ankle surgery in mid-March and is not expected back until June. Veteran center-back Fred Brillant returns as does the aforementioned Pines. There are a few other defenders on the roster but, given that Losada favors a 3-5-2, I think the focus will be on these three (and whoever’s tapped to fill in for Birnbaum).
In particular, I’m keeping my eye on Pines. He was, IMO, the one bright spot on the defensive side for United last season and a regular threat on set pieces. But don’t just take my word for it, take Doyle’s: “[…] a ton of responsibility is falling on the shoulders of Pines. The third-year Homegrown has to rise to the occasion or it’s going to be a long season (again) for D.C.”
Midfielders: Well, let’s see, DP Arriola started 2020 on the shelf with an ACL tear (He returned for the final match of the regular season.) And…wait for it…it looks like he’ll be on the shelf for the start of the 2021 season as well after suffering a quadriceps injury while on loan to English Championship side Swansea City. He’s expected to return in mid-May.
Yamil Asad, the mercurial Yordy Reyna and the teenage trio of Nyeman, Paredes and Yow are all lurking on the roster and expected to get playing time. But the pressure is/should really be on Flores and Gressel to live up to their billing and earn their paychecks.
Forwards: Ola Kamara returns and is the expected starter up top. He had very little to show for the 2020 campaign but has, at other stops in the league, proven to be an effective goal scorer IF he can get regular service. Kamara’s partner in Losada’s 3-5-2 looks to still be up in the air. It might be Reyna, but Erik Sorga and recent signing Nigel Robertha are also options.
Let’s see, starting a season with a new manager working to implement a new more attacking style of play while also missing two key defensive contributors? I’d expect United to concede goals regularly until things get a bit more stabilized. And scoring goals? Well, hopefully. But it’s uncertain, at the moment, how many or where they’ll come from.
I would definitely “FADE” United’s defense, at least for the first few weeks of the season. Although, you might decide to take a flyer on Pines as a bench/switcheroo option given his success on set pieces last year. On the attacking side I’d also go with “FADE” in the short term. I suppose you could incorporate Flores or Gressel or Kamara into your bench crew if the price and the matchup is right. Beyond those three? Nah. I’d advise steering clear for now.
One final note: If I’m correct and United is poised to concede goals during the early weeks of the season you might consider picking against them. I certainly will be. They’ve got NYCFC at home to start and then it’s three straight on the road against New England, San Jose and defending MLS Cup Champions Columbus.
Potential Starting XI
Based on what I’ve gathered from preseason matches and the club’s injury situation here’s how I think the team may line up against NYCFC on Saturday, April 17: