After managing just three wins in 34 contests a season ago, D.C. United has overhauled their roster in hopes to compete for a spot in the MLS playoffs in 2014.
With new personalities and new faces, coach Ben Olsen realizes that an overnight turnaround is far from likely.
With the drastic roster changes this offseason, Olsen isn't necessarily looking for perfection the first time the team takes the pitch in the opener.
"I don't care who you are, if you throw seven or eight new starters onto a team, [chemistry] doesn't just happen overnight," said Olsen. "There are still partnerships and relationships you have to develop with guys around the field."
United will get their first shot at a turnaround on Saturday when the team welcomes the Columbus Crew to RFK Stadium.
The preseason, where United claimed the Carolina Challenge Cup title with a 1-0-2 record, left Olsen confident – while still eager to see the team's growth as the season goes on.
"Preseason can only gauge so much," said Olsen. "We'll really see [the improvement] this Saturday."
Even with very little time to adjust and become accustomed to one another, expectations are still sky-high.
"A realistic goal for this team is the playoffs," said Olsen. "Coming off of being in last place in the league, we can't get caught up in anything but making the playoffs. We have a whole new squad."
The influx of talent includes forward Eddie Johnson, who will be looked on to score goals early and often. Last season, United only scored 22 goals – with no player netting more than three. Johnson scored 23 for the Seattle Sounders FC over the past two seasons.
The expectations this season for Johnson are quite simple, according to Olsen. Johnson, who has had 62 caps and scored 19 goals for the U.S. Men's National Team, will be looked on to score early and often.
"We need goals from him," said Olsen. "That's what he's done throughout his career, and hopefully it will be no different playing for us. He changes the game and that's something we were missing last year."
Goals weren't the only thing missing from the club a season ago. Yielding 59 goals, United had a goal differential of -37, tied with Chivas USA for worst in the league. With the addition of an entirely new back line, the hope is for the team's defense to be a strength in 2014.
After acquiring defenders Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke and Christian Fernandez in the offseason, Olsen is encouraged with the "steady" play and strong communication the four have shown during the preseason.
While there a many new faces, Olsen knows that the old faces need to change things up in order to avoid a similar fate this season.
"We have a lot of new guys here that had nothing to do with last year, but we have some guys that do have some things to do with last year, including myself. It's important to have a fresh start and start off well and I think we are in a good position to do that." said Olsen.
One of the old faces, midfielder Nick DeLeon, will look to bounce back from a frustrating season. After suffering a hamstring injury early on, DeLeon struggled to get things going knocking in just two goals and notching one assist in 2013.
"It was a difficult year." DeLeon told goal.com last month. "I think our coaching staff and our general manager have made some good moves in the offseason, and the talent they've brought in has honestly made me just forget about last year. With the talent we have this year, I can guarantee you we're not going to have another year like that."
With such a changeover in talent, the depth of this year's squad will be a strength. With several players having the ability to consistently contribute off the bench, Olsen is happy with the talent at his disposal.
Olsen welcomes the challenge of piecing together a puzzle with entirely new pieces. With no definite shape just yet, the pieces are beginning to fall into place – which should provide optimism for D.C. United fans.
"I like the character, I like the group, I like the experience, I like the balance," said Olsen. "There are a lot of things positive about this group. If things go right and we get a couple of bounces and start to create partnerships and relationships out there, we can make the playoffs."
If luck is on United's side in 2014, Olsen knows that anything can happen.
"If you make the playoffs and you're playing the right style at the right time – you can go far."
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