MLS 2015 Season Preview: DC United

In the build up to the new season we’ll have a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what DC United will be looking to achieve this year.

DC United enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in 2014 as they finished at the top of the Eastern Conference despite being bottom of the pile the season before. Head coach Ben Olsen guided DCU to the playoffs for just the second time in seven years and he will expect to see his squad back there this season.

Last season’s finish: Eastern Conference position: 1st – P34 – W17 – D8 – L9

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What needs to change this year?

DC United don’t need to change much this year as the challenge will be trying to remain the same. They lost the fewest games in the Eastern Conference last year and ended the season on a unbeaten run of six games. Their playoff disappointment against the New York Red Bulls will still be on the minds of supporters and the key is that DCU try and remain the best side in the East.

That will be considerably more difficult in 2015 with the New England Revolution likely to be right up there again, while expansion clubs Orlando City SC and New York City FC will hope to enter MLS with a bang. The Black and Red will start the new campaign without last term’s top goalscorer Fabian Espindola, as he is suspended for the first six weeks of the new season, and it is crucial that DC United hit the ground running without last year’s talisman.

Key changes to the squad:

Ins: Markus Halsti – Defender/Midfielder, Jairo Arrieta – Forward, Dan Metzger – Midfield, Michael Farfan – Midfield

Outs: Joe Willis – Goalkeeper, Samuel Inkoom – Defender, Lewis Neal – Midfielder, Kyle Porter – Midfielder

Key player: Bill Hamid – Goalkeeper

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DC United conceded the joint-lowest goals last year as they shipped just 37 through 34 regular season games. The man that can take the majority of credit for that achievement is USMNT goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who enjoyed another excellent season and was named as MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for 2014. Hamid kept 10 clean-sheets in 30 appearances last year and will need to be at his best again this season.

One to watch: Steve Birnbaum – Defender

Another defensive star for DC United, Steve Birnbaum enjoyed a memorable debut season in MLS and he was recently rewarded for a fine campaign with a USMNT appearance against Chile. Birnbaum made 21 appearances in 2014 but will expect to be one of the first names on the team sheet this season. Expect bigger and better things from Birnbaum in 2015.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 6th

DC United may have been the strongest team in the Eastern Conference in 2014 but this year MLS is at its strongest ever and they will struggle to replicate their conference-winning performance this time around. If they can remain as solid defensively they will be in a strong position but teams like Orlando City and New York City will enter the league with plenty of attacking power and it will be tough to keep as many clean-sheets in 2015.

How will DC United fare in 2015?

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Five takeaways: Chile 3–2 USA – What did we learn about the USMNT?

The US Men’s National Team got their 2015 campaign underway against Chile in Rancagua last night and although it was only a friendly, the game left us with plenty to think about.

Jurgen Klinsmann started the game with a 3-5-2 formation in place but a close to full strength USA side lost the game 3-2 against a Chile B side.

The Chileans have all started their new season and are much fitter than the MLS-based players who have only just started preseason training and that showed in the second-half as the USMNT let a 2-1 lead go as a result of fatigue.

Here are five things we learnt from last night’s game:

1) 3-5-2 is not the reason behind defeat and needs to be tried again.

Many questioned Klinsmann’s decision to lineup in a 3-5-2 setup against Chile on Wednesday night but the system seemed to work well overall, despite some defensive issues. The USA scored more than a single goal in a game for the first time since the World Cup which is obviously a positive but the wingback positions need more attention. DeAndre Yedlin and Brek Shea struggled to get back and defend wide areas as the USA allowed Chile to cross the ball 41 times.

As Shea opens the scoring look at how far forward he and Yedlin are

As Shea opens the scoring look at how far forward he and Yedlin are.

The still shot above shows how far forward Yedlin and Shea were willing to get from the start of the game. As Shea blasts his shot in, Yedlin is as advanced as strikers Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore. Effective in attack, but not in defence.

Klinsmann reverted to a more familiar 4-4-2 after halftime as the USA went on to lose the game 3-2, despite leading at the break. Fitness is a key issue this early in the year but the 3-5-2 experiment cannot be scrapped just yet. Needs more work.

2) Jermaine Jones is too reckless to play in the centre of a three-man backline.

Jermaine Jones played in defence once again on Wednesday, but this time at the heart of a three-man backline alongside Matt Besler and Steve Birnbaum. Jones was seemingly allowed to play where he wanted on the pitch though and he failed to stick to his position on several occasions. Being a natural midfielder – the position he thrives in for New England Revolution, Jones has a tendency to carry the ball out of defence, but he was caught on more than one occasion and Chile created chances from his turnovers as a result, with Jones then missing from defence.

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He was seemingly playing in midfield in the second-half but he uses his athleticism too much at points and goes charging into areas that he doesn’t need to. Some more tactical discipline would keep Jones in a position where he could break down an attack, but chasing the ball is not something that will help him, or his teammates.

Jones should be played in midfield alongside Bradley in the upcoming friendly against Panama to allow him to express himself in his natural position. The USA need his box-to-box athleticism, just not from defence.

3) Does a game have to have two halves?

The worrying trend of second-half slumps continued as Chile battled back to turn the game around in the second 45. The USA have now lost their last three games, and conceded nine second-half goals in their last five, a spell in which they haven’t won a game. That is a major concern. Fitness was a reasonable excuse this time around as players haven’t played a competitive game for a couple of months, but the staggering drop in performance levels as the game goes on is something that needs to be addressed quickly.

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One positive is that the USA managed to avoid conceding a goal in the final ten minutes for the first time in four games. They had conceded 11 goals in the last ten minutes of their last 11 games, but managed to stop that becoming 12 in 12 against Chile.

4) Steve Birnbaum largely impressive, Bobby Wood not so much.

Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Wood were both given their first starts in a USMNT shirt against Chile but had differing nights. DC United defender and 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year, Birnbaum played well and looked comfortable at the back, despite having to play in a back three. He almost scored an own goal in the second-half as a cross bounced off his thigh and fortunately into the arms of Nick Rimando in goal. That blunder seemed to affect him as he wasn’t as well organised for the remainder of the game, with the third Chile goal deflecting in off his leg, but that was down to fatigue as much as anything else.

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Bobby Wood started in attack alongside Jozy Altidore but didn’t offer enough of a threat, before being taken off at halftime. He’s struggling for gametime with 1860 Munich in Germany and that showed as he looked off the mark. There are better players that should start ahead of Wood for now.

5) Lee Nguyen needs to start, Gyasi Zardes showed promise.

Lee Nguyen had to settle for another substitute appearance as he gets used to life back in the USA setup, but Klinsmann should have started the New England playmaker. Nguyen has the ability to thread killer balls through – something desperately missing, but he came into the game alongside tiring teammates against a Chile side that controlled possession. Nguyen needs to start against Panama.

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Gyasi Zardes made his international debut last night and left us wanting more. The LA Galaxy striker has improved dramatically over the past 12 months and deserved his chance with the USMNT. He came on and looked lively, despite the lack of service, and forced a save late on with a shot that he will feel he could have done better with. The main thing is that he showed he can create space with his movement, and we look forward to seeing more against Panama.

What did you make of the USA game against Chile on Wednesday night?

FC Dallas’ Tesho Akindele named as MLS Rookie of the Year

FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele has been named as the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year, beating Chicago Fire midfielder Harry Shipp and DC United defender Steve Birnbaum to the award.

The 22-year-old enjoyed a fantastic campaign as he scored eight goals and picked up three assists through the 2014 regular season and MLS Playoffs.

Dallas have run a social media campaign supporting Akindele for the past few months with the hashtag #VoteForTesho. The campaign was an outtake of the classic US comedy Napoleon Dynamite starring Tesho Akindele and teammate Matt Hedges.

The support for the forward clearly worked and his impressive form through July and August saw him score six goals in six games – incidentally when nearest rival for the award Harry Shipp‘s form dipped.

Shipp looked like he was going to run away with the award after his incredible start to life in MLS but the FC Dallas man has beaten him to the award in the end.

Akindele was selected with the sixth pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and wasn’t disheartened by the fact that he only saw 15 minutes of action through Dallas’ first ten league games.

He went on to become a star and became the youngest Dallas player to ever score a goal in the playoffs when he netted against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference knockout round.

Akindele is delighted to have picked up the award and will now be focused on getting FC Dallas back into the playoffs next season.

“It’s honestly one of the best days of my life. It’s such an honor and I couldn’t be happier,” he said upon learning of his award.

Video to celebrate Tesho Akindele’s Rookie of the Year award (via MLS on YouTube):

Do you think Tesho Akindele deserved to be named MLS Rookie of the Year?