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."
De Rosario, the MLS Most Valuable Player with whom the team is negotiating a contract extension past this season, remains the centerpiece of coach Ben Olsen's attack.
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.
"The other teams can't go into a game and say, 'Oh, we'll focus in on [De Rosario] and shut them down,' " Pontius said. "That's just not going to happen with us."
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.
Club nearing RFK lease agreement
With United's March 10 home opener against Sporting Kansas City less than five weeks away, the organization is close to announcing a lease agreement with Events DC for the upcoming season at RFK Stadium, club president Kevin Payne said Monday.
"We obviously awkwardly have not made a formal announcement about that yet," he said. "But given the timing, I think it's safe to assume we'll be playing at RFK."
In regard to United's search for a permanent home, Payne said the Maryland General Assembly will discuss this legislative session further studying a new stadium project in Baltimore.
In the meantime, though, United continue to talk with officials in the District, and Payne noted the organization last week had a meeting with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown.
"We're confident the District of Columbia and its leadership wants us to remain here and wants to find a way to work with us to accomplish that," Payne said. "We continue to work on parallel tracks."
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