United Calls on Youth Brigade

Veterans moved out in favor of young prospects
by Peter Muller   |   Friday, July 19, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

D.C. United seems to have decided that one of the youngest head coach’s in the league should manage the youngest squad in the league. And that may be their smartest decision in years.

The club’s mid-season roster transition continued this week with the trade of veteran defender Brandon McDonald to Real Salt Lake and the acquisition of 21-year-old striker Conor Doyle on loan from Derby County.

These moves come after the recent sale of Alain Rochat to Swiss club BSC Young Boys, the acquisition of 24-year-old Luis Silva from Toronto, the signing of 23-year-old midfielder Jared Jeffrey and the promotion of 18-year old Collin Martin from the youth academy.

And with the recent emergence of Ethan White, Taylor Kemp, Conor Shanosky and Casey Townsend – none of whom is older than 24 – United has gone all-in on young players they hope will blossom into a productive core for years to come.

The moves come at the expense of McDonald and Rochat and will mean even less playing time for veterans Lionard Pajoy and Carlos Ruiz. But at this point in a lost season, and with Pajoy and Ruiz unlikely to return next year, it makes sense to give the young players an opportunity.

And don’t be surprised to see a scrappier and more successful United team as a result.

DCU manager Ben Olsen, 36, has often lamented the lack of grit and determination his team has shown this year. United has too often looked flat at the start of games, made lazy mistakes that contributed to easy goals and lacked commitment in attack.

So a squad filled with young players eager to earn their stripes and make a good impression may finally give Olsen what he has been searching for.

We saw a version of this last year, when Dwayne De Rosario was injured and an undermanned United fought for a series of narrow victories that got them through the opening round of the playoffs.

Olsen seems to be better equipped to manage younger players. With the exception his contemporaries who are finishing out their careers, like Josh Wolff last year and John Thorrington this season, the veteran players have had a hard time maintaining Olsen’s trust.

Hamdi Salihi, Bronko Boskovic and Emiliano Dudar, who were expected to provide experienced leadership, had difficultly cracking the lineup last season and were disposed of. This year, McDonald, Pajoy, Ruiz and James Riley have spent more time on the bench than on the field.

Even De Rosario spouted off about being benched for a game this season. And the question now may be whether D.C. can off-load him during this transfer window, even if it means remaining on the hook for a significant portion of his hefty contract. It is difficult to see how an aging and injury-prone midfielder fits in with a youth-oriented team.

By contrast, Olsen cannot hide the trust and confidence he has in Perry Kitchen and has spoken proudly of Shanosky’s excitement about playing for his hometown club. This combination of home-grown players and young American signees my respond better to Olsen’s leadership and prevent United from recording one of the worst seasons in MLS history.

United takes on the Chicago Fire

The new-look United squad will travel to Chicago on Saturday to take on a Chicago Fire team that was rejuvenated with the mid-season acquisition of Mike Magee, but is coming off consecutive losses to Kansas City and Vancouver.

Magee, who was named to the All Star Game roster for the 1st time in his career, has scored 6 goals for Chicago since his trade from the Los Angeles Galaxy 2 months ago.

Olsen is expected to be able to choose from a mostly healthy roster this weekend. In addition to the new acquisitions, Kyle Porter is back from his stint with the Canadian Men’s National Team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  Also, Nick DeLeon and Dejan Jakovic returned to full training this week and De Rosario is aiming to recover from a hip injury in time for Saturday’s match.

The game will serve as a preview of the U.S. Open Cup semifinal between these teams at Toyota Field on August 7. With United out of contention in MLS, the U.S. Open Cup has become their main competitive focus and only hope for a trophy this year.

United has struggled mightily on the road this season so a positive result in Chicago this weekend could bode well for their Cup hopes in August.

NEXT UP: July 20 – D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill., 8:30 p.m. EST, CSN Washington, MLS Live.


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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.