With training camp looming, goal-starved D.C. United hasn’t landed a scorer
D.C. United failed to attain in half of its matches final season, so it appeared affordable to assume its major goal this winter can be to accumulate a trusty striker with a goal-pocked portfolio. But with training camp a week away, United has not landed a high-end scorer and, barring a massive transfer earlier than the March three opener, will enter the MLS season with three forwards who’ve by no means recorded greater than eight targets in a single yr.
The membership did acquire one frontline candidate in a commerce with the Portland Timbers: Jamaican ahead Darren Mattocks. But as a substitute of a main improve at that place, Coach Ben Olsen stated United will depend on Mattocks’s athletic expertise, a fortified midfield and a collective scoring effort to rebound from final yr’s last-place end within the Eastern Conference.
“It’s always going to be by committee with us,” he stated throughout a current interview. “We design our team in that way and everybody has to help from a goal standpoint. Why? Because David Villa is not on our team.”
Villa, the Spanish nationwide workforce’s all-time scoring chief, has posted 63 targets and 21 assists in three seasons for New York City FC. He additionally earns $5.6 million, 5 instances greater than any D.C. participant. While a participant like Villa is out of attain for many MLS groups, the league’s main scorer final yr, Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic, scored 24 instances whereas incomes a extra affordable base wage of $1.7 million.
With revenue-generating Audi Field opening this summer season, United has pledged to extend spending after years of thrifty selections. In the previous six months, the membership has added six gamers with nationwide workforce expertise: Mattocks, Bruno Miranda (Bolivia), Paul Arriola (United States), Zoltan Stieber (Hungary), Ulises Segura (Costa Rica) and Junior Moreno (Venezuela). It additionally traded for David Ousted, one of many league’s higher goalkeepers, and veteran defender Frederic Brillant.
The MLS Players Association won’t submit salaries till the spring, so it’s unclear how far more the group has dedicated to the payroll.
United stays available in the market for depth at vast midfield and out of doors again, however there’s unlikely to be a blockbuster signing earlier than the summer season switch window. It additionally has the No. three total choose in Friday’s MLS draft, however such gamers are primarily for depth.
Asked if United pursued a high-priced, confirmed scorer this winter, Olsen stated: “Yes. We’re always looking, and we will continue to look for, competition up there. It’s a vital position, but they are all vital.”
Mattocks, 27, has scored 24 targets in 136 common season appearances. His profession excessive was seven in his 2012 rookie season with Vancouver. Last season, he scored simply 4 instances however, thrust into Portland’s lineup due to Fanendo Adi’s accidents, he was very influential late within the season.
Returning to the roster is Patrick Mullins, who was terrific upon arriving in the summertime of 2016 with a career-best eight targets, however poor final yr; 4 of his 5 targets got here in a single recreation. Also again is Miranda, who turns 20 subsequent month. Last yr, he appeared in 5 late-season matches, all as a substitute, and didn’t rating.
“Mattocks is a potential starting forward in this league,” Olsen stated. “Of course, there is a leap of faith with him taking his game up to where it needs to be . . . I have a lot of faith in Mattocks’s ability to show he is a starting striker in this league. I have faith in Patrick Mullins that he will rebound this year and make it very difficult for Mattocks to get on the field.”
Marked enchancment within the midfield, Olsen stated, will elevate total manufacturing. Last yr, United tied its personal MLS report for scoreless performances (17 in 34 matches) and completed stage with Colorado for fewest targets (31).
“This isn’t just about forwards,” he stated. “We need goals, but we also need providers just as much as we need guys to score goals. We need people around them to provide. If you don’t have that, it’s very, very difficult, unless you have someone on a different level who can create their own shot.”
Olsen stated he expects beginning wings Arriola and Stieber to search out their approach after becoming a member of the workforce midstream final yr. He will even rely on artistic midfielder Luciano Acosta, 23, who was participating and electrifying at instances however absent and petulant at others.
“A lot of what was good coming from us last year was coming through him, and we put a lot of responsibility on a young kid who came into this league [in 2016] as a 60-minute or 30-minute player,” Olsen stated. “All of a sudden, he’s in this role with much greater responsibility, and that takes some time.”
Olsen can be excessive on the opposite 4 younger candidates in central midfield: Segura (24), Moreno (24), Russell Canouse (22) and Ian Harkes (22). The latter two, together with Arriola, 22, are at the moment in U.S. nationwide workforce training camp.
Olsen, who’s coming into his eighth full season as head coach, stated he isn’t locked into one formation.
“We will be tactically flexible because you have to be: As soccer evolves, you have to be more flexible,” he stated. “We’re going to ask our guys to come out of their comfort zones at times — that’s on us to define their roles. We have a group that is excited for it and open to it.”
The membership claimed attacker Gonzalo Veron (six targets for the New York Red Bulls final yr) within the reentry draft, although he was at all times prone to signal abroad; Argentine membership Colon de Santa Fe is reportedly pursuing him. D.C. prolonged a homegrown contract provide to attacker Eryk Williamson, who left the University of Maryland after three years to pursue a professional profession right here or overseas; he’s undecided.
In the again, Brillant and Steve Birnbaum are the front-runners to start out in central protection, with Taylor Kemp on the left and Nick DeLeon on the suitable, Olsen stated. The goalkeeping battle between Ousted and Steve Clark, Olsen stated, “is open.”
United will take a onerous look in preseason at defender-midfielder Chris Durkin, who spent a lot of final yr with the U.S. under-17 nationwide workforce and the second-division Richmond Kickers. “It was a big year for him” in 2017, Olsen stated, “and now we’re looking for him to continue his development this year. We’re looking forward to seeing where he is.”