D.C. United last season learned all too well the chances a team takes when fielding a thin roster.
On Sept. 10, a 3-0 win at Chivas USA moved United to 8-7-10, putting the club in enviable position to end its three-year playoff drought. But midfielder Chris Pontius broke his leg during the contest, a blow that came days after center back Dejan Jakovic strained his hamstring on Canada national team duty.
Neither player logged another minute the rest of the season as United went 1-6-2 down the stretch and missed the postseason once again.
So when general manager Dave Kasper put together his checklist heading into the 2012 MLS campaign, one of his goals was clear: craft a team that is truly two-deep at every position.
After a flurry of moves, it would appear to be mission accomplished. In addition to the acquisitions of clear starters in veteran right back Robbie Russell and Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi, a designated player, United have added a slew of talented depth players, including center back Emiliano Dudar, midfielders Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon, and forward Maicon Santos.
“If you look around the team, on all the areas of the field there’s competition now, and that’s good, that’s something that was lacking in the past,” forward Dwayne De Rosario said. “When you have a guy on your heels trying to fight for your position, it makes you that much more focused on working hard every day.”
The Canadian’s supporting cast, however, now features an accomplished goal-scorer in Salihi, acquired last week via a transfer from Austrian side Rapid Vienna. United also will benefit from the returns of Branko Boskovic, a playmaker who suffered a torn ACL early last season, and Pontius.
To Olsen, who retired as a D.C. player in 2009, revamping the roster did come with some heartache. The team cut ties with several veterans he had built relationships with over the years, including defenders Devon McTavish and Marc Burch and midfielders Clyde Simms and Santino Quaranta.
“It was a very tough offseason for me personally because of what those guys mean to me, as people over players,” Olsen said. “But I said at the beginning of this that I have to do what’s right for the club and put those feelings aside.”
Midfielder Saragosa adds ‘bite’
Olsen, after calling last year’s team “a little bit soft,” cited the signing Monday of midfielder Marcelo Saragosa as a move to add “more bite” to the roster.
A product of Brazilian club Sao Paulo’s youth system, Saragosa appeared in 116 MLS games with the Los Angeles Galaxy, FC Dallas and Chivas USA in seven MLS campaigns before spending the past two seasons in Azerbaijan.
The 30-year-old likely will back up defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, who could miss several matches this season playing for the U.S. under-23 national team in Olympic qualifiers and, should his squad advance, the London Olympics.