United Squanders Opportunity for Overhaul

Conservative approach to rebuilding misses the mark
by Peter Muller   |   Monday, January 20, 2014

John Hefti Photography - Eddie Johnson, DC United

When D.C. United finished dead last in the 2013 Major League Soccer campaign the team received a nice bonus prize – a package of goodies designed to help them rebuild their squad.

In the spirit of competitive balance, MLS awards its worst team additional allocation money and gives them the first pick in each of the various player selection drafts.  United also earned more allocation money by winning the U.S. Open Cup.

This infusion of resources, combined with the roster space and cap room United made available by cutting ties with a number of high priced veterans, gave D.C.  a rare opportunity – the chance to rebuild the team from its foundation.

But instead of embracing a youth movement that could set United on a course for sustained prosperity, General Manager Dave Kasper and manager Ben Olsen have squandered this precious chance.

At a critical time for United, they blinked.

Instead of committing to the long-term and searching for players who will still be around when United finally has a stadium to call their own, they chose marginal improvement in 2014 over doubling-down on the future.

When it all went wrong for D.C. last year the team appeared to make a commitment to youth.  They acquired young American players like Luis Silva, Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey and gave opportunities to academy players like Collin Martin and Conor Shanosky.

The results on the field weren’t pretty but the players gained valuable experience.

The youth movement made sense. United has produced some quality talent in its academy and Olsen seems well suited to manage a squad of young players.

But United’s moves this offseason have been a rejection of where they seemed to be headed.

By acquiring Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke, United has simply replaced last year’s veterans with a new set. They are spending roughly $500,000 on a group that may be more professional, and provide better leadership to their young teammates on and off the field, but who are not the future of the club.

Instead of plunging precious resources into players who are past the prime of their career, that money would have been better spent on young players with higher up-sides.

D.C. will be better in 2014 – they could hardly be worse – but United will be competing to finish in the middle of the table, not the top.

With mediocrity as the best case scenario, it makes more sense to focus instead on building a squad with an eye toward real success in 2015 and beyond.

The most glaring example of United choosing expediency over patience is the trade of Ethan White to Philadelphia for Parke. Parke is an experienced defender who will make United’s backline better than it was last year. But he is 8 years older than White and costs 3 times as much.

Meanwhile, White, who was a homegrown player, showed signs last year of being a useful central defender and given the opportunity might have grown into a long term solution for United.

Likewise, if Davy Arnaud gets any significant minutes for United this year, it will be at the expense of someone like Jeffrey, who desperately needs time on the field to develop.

United’s veteran acquisitions also left them in a position where they could not afford players like Maurice Edu or Marco Pappa, despite holding the first selection in the allocation order for players returning from overseas.

United has an obligation to its fans to put a competitive team on the field and the veteran players they have acquired will help them meet that obligation. 

With their qualification for the Concacaf Champions League, the team has even more reason to mix in experience with youth. And the acquisitions of Eddie Johnson and Sean Franklin will fill key holes with players who still have something left in the tank.

But United also has to think about the future prospects of the club and be willing to make decisions that might involve short term sacrifice in exchange for long term success, and that his where the club has fallen short.

If this were just any offseason they could point to the Johnson acquisition or to first-round SuperDraft pick Steve Birnbaum and say they have improved their team.

But this isn’t just any offseason – this one in which United had hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra allocation money and the opportunity to redefine the club for years to come.

As it stands, all D.C. has to show for the resources showered upon them is a team that won’t be embarrassing in 2014. 

They should have been shooting for something more.

NEXT UP: March 8 – DC United vs. Columbus Crew, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C., 7 p.m. EST, MLS Live.


Saint Mary's
Club Domestic:
DC United
Club Foreign:
Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.