As D.C. United did their homework ahead of last year's MLS SuperDraft, they kept a close eye on Casey Townsend. After scouting the striker at the University of Maryland and taking note of his standout combine, it was only logical the club would weigh filling a position of need with the local blue-chip prospect.
But with Chivas USA plucking Townsend fifth overall, United at No. 7 never had that chance.
So imagine coach Ben Olsen's delight when word reached him that Chivas were not only shopping the Michigan native but also willing to part with him for a mere second-round pick.
"We jumped on him," Olsen said. "We were excited. At the combine, we were hoping he would come our way in the draft. So to have him now, to have him back home -- well, his college home, where he feels comfortable -- we're looking for big things."
Townsend, who scored 43 goals during his four years at Maryland, will be asked in Olsen's system to wreak havoc by applying high pressure to opposing back lines.
It's a demanding task, but a key one that forces the other side into errant passes and opens space in midfield for the likes of Dwayne De Rosario to work in.
"What I've always done is be a hardworking forward," Townsend said. "I'm not going to wow you with any fancy moves or anything. I'm just going to go out and play blue-collar soccer and work hard defensively and offensively, and hopefully score some goals."
During Townsend's rookie year, however, things didn't pan out that way. Appearing in 17 matches (10 starts), the forward recorded one goal and two assists for a league-worst Chivas attack that scored just 24 times in the entire 34-game season.
The futility led leadership at the Carson, Calif.-based organization to overhaul the team's philosophy. As an affiliate club to Mexican powerhouse Chivas de Guadalajara, Chivas USA returned to their roots by bringing in Mexican coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola and instituting an emphasis on acquiring Hispanic personnel.
For Townsend, that ultimately meant leaving Chivas at a bargain price.
"I heard rumors, obviously; everyone does. When I finally found out, I was really excited and couldn't wait to get here," Townsend recalled. "It's just the direction they want to go. Us players, it's just part of the business. Pack up and go."
Easing the move for Townsend is the presence of two former Maryland teammates: third-year center back Ethan White and rookie left back Taylor Kemp.
But a time of transition still is expected. While Townsend surely is a promising talent, Olsen noted the 23-year-old has some habits he feels must be eradicated before the player becomes a key contributor.
"It might not be this year," Olsen noted. "He still has a ways to go to make it in this league. He knows that, and he's going to work hard and get focused and get ready to help this group."
Added White: "I think the coaches kind of have to motivate him into the player they want him to be. He's still young, but he's a forward who works hard, gets into the box and finishes stuff. So if he can bring us that, I don't think there's going to be any problems."
With the exits of strikers Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos and Long Tan, there are minutes for the taking up top. While veteran Lionard Pajoy and recently signed Brazilian striker Rafael figure to vie for the starting spot, the acquisition of Townsend adds another wrinkle to that competition.
"Everyone wants a chance to play," Townsend said. "I just want to contribute in whatever way I can. If that's starting, that'd be great. If I'm not starting, I'll come out in practice and try to help make everyone else better."
NOTE: United on Thursday departed the District for Orlando, Fla., where they will train until Feb. 24 while competing in the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. The club opens the MLS season March 2 at the Houston Dynamo.
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