Friday, April 06, 2007

DC United MLS Season Preview 2007

Although the hoopla for Major League Soccer in 2007 might center around David Beckham, the fact of the matter is that Becks isn't arriving until July. The big story from the start of the season until then should be the dominatation dealt upon MLS by DC United.

A typical RFK sight in July.

Last year, DC United jumped out of the gate and cruised from the very get go. They had a 15-match unbeaten streak at one point and had the entire league by the balls for the majority of the season. That being said, the Black-and-Red struggled mightily down the stretch, going 3-5-6 post-All-Star Game. DC barely hung on to win the Supporters Shield, edging out FC Dallas by a mere 3 points. If the regular season was one week longer they likely would have lost out to the Hoops.

DC continued the so-so performance in the play-offs against the New York Red Bulls. Christian Gomez bailed the Black-and-Red out twice in those encounters. The league MVP scored DC's only goals in both games, including late in the 2nd leg to clinch advancment to the Eastern Conference Finals. Let's just say that if you're celebrating a tie with the New York MLS team, things aren't going as well as they could be. DC United finally looked sharp against the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Revs were better overall and held on for a exciting 1 - 0 victory at RFK.

In the offseason, DC United had some major acquisitions and some major departures. All things considered, the team should be better in 2007 than they were in 2006.

This season, there are many changes to look forward to...

The coach. DC has a new coach at the helm, Tommy Soehn. He's replacing Peter Nowak who left to become an assistant for the US Men's National Team. Soehn has been an assitstant for DC for many years and is getting his time to shine.

The newbies. Luciano Emilio instantly won over DC fans with four goals in three games during the CONCACAF Champions Cup. He netted three against his former team, CD Olimpia, and one late goal against Chivas de Guadalajara. Also joining the team are former Australian League MVP, Fred, and English youngster Yinka Casal. These players should take some of the load off of Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez during the dog days of July.

The competition. Clint Dempsey is gone and the Revolution have added no one to keep their string of MLS Cup appearances alive. Chicago added Mexican superstar Blanco, but that's more of a ticket-seller move than Beckham. The Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, Kansas City Wizards and expansion Toronto FC don't seem a threat, as well. The Eastern Conference is definitely DC's for the taking.

With all the good about the team, there are a few points of concern:

The veterans. Jaime Moreno is old. Old people aren't good at soccer. This is worrysome. Aside from the absolutely AWESOME bicycle kick against Chivas, he's done very little for the squad in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Also, Christian Gomez is looking for more money at the end of the season and DC might opt not to give it to him. These two players are the heart and soul of the team and need to be consistent contributors AND have their heads in the game. If not we're toast.

The departed. Freddy Adu and Alecko Eskandarian are gone, to Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC, respectively. Both of these guys were key members of DC's 2004 MLS Championship team and last years Supporters Shield team. Neither of them, however, was very consistant. Backup Goalkeeper Nick Rimando is also gone, leaving us with a weaker back up (Jay Nolly). It's yet to be seen if their departure will be a blessing or a curse.

The schedule. DC's season started two months earlier than most MLS teams because of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. They'll also be playing in the new MLS/FMF SuperLiga and could lose a few starters for the Gold Cup and Copa America. This team ran out of gas last year because they were overworked with matches. This could be there undoing again in 2007.

With all that being said, DC United is clearly the best team on paper. The only other serious challengers for MLS Cup 2007 are the Houston Dynamo (last year's champs) and Los Angeles Galaxy (assuming Beckham and Donovan mesh well).

Expect many reasons to wave flags this season.

With MLS Cup 2007 taking place in Washington, DC at RFK Stadium, I fully expect the Black-and-Red to be playing for their 5th Cup Championship. Along the way I wouldn't be suprised to see them pick up another Supporters Shield and possibly the new SuperLiga crown. The foundation for success has been set. It's time for the players to take the pitch and continue the winning tradition for DC United.

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