Greetings, DOOPers. I'm Adam, the Managing Editor down at Black and Red United - you may remember me from our little takeover of TBG earlier this week. Before you draw and quarter me, though, note that I come not to troll the Union (though not to praise them, either), but to scout my D.C. United, who are, it must be said, far and away the worst team in Major League Soccer this year. By some measures, the squad Dave Kasper has assembled and Ben Olsen has managed could end up the worst team in league history; and yet, both men will be reportedly be returning to their posts come 2014! So take heart in our misery, Union fans, for it knows no bounds.
To Saturday! Ben Olsen has had the "luxury" of playing experimental lineups through the second half of this year, knowing that, with the playoffs out of reach so early on, only the U.S. Open Cup mattered. With that trophy now in the bag, United are squarely in Preseason 2014 mode. Add to that Dwayne De Rosario's absence due to national team duty and injuries to Dejan Jakovic and John Thorrington, and this weekend could see the second D.C.-Philly game in a row that Ben Olsen breaks the record for the youngest United XI ever to take the field.
Olsen has said that he's going to use the three remaining games this season to experiment with different formations and lineups, giving fringe players a chance to earn an invite to camp come February. A lot of us also want him to use the time to give the key players heading into 2014 - your Perry Kitchens, Luis Silvas, Chris Pontiuses and Nick DeLeons - some time on the field together so they can have more familiarity a better understanding of each other than they've shown this year. Which is to say, haven't shown this year, as the team's record-threatening goal-scoring futility will testify. Despite his words and our hopes, though, it's truly a toss-up as to who we'll see take the field at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.
One guy you should probably count on seeing is Jared Jeffrey, a box-to-box central midfielder United signed from the Mainz 05 reserves - off of waivers after every club in the league passed on entering his weighted lottery - has the looks of a very solid building block. The 23-year old dives into tackles with gusto and has a knack for finding himself at the edge of the opponent's penalty box with the ball at his feet and the ability either to play in a teammate or launch a bomb, like the laser-guided missile that won him MLS Goal of the Week at the end of September. Basically, he could be a poor man's version of Michael Bradley, which is a good thing to have in MLS.
Another young American you could see on the field is Conor Doyle, who United won in the weighted lottery they remained eligible for after not entering the Jeffrey lottery. Doyle is currently on-loan from Derby County FC, and United has the option to purchase him outright at the end of next month. He's a forward with a strong work rate and deceptive pace, and he started off strong, scoring two goals in two games against the Impact (his first two professional first team goals in any league, actually). But his scoring form hasn't continued, so he's essentially playing for a contract. That said, there have been some promising signs between him and his youth club teammate Jeffrey, as well as among other United players.
That's been a theme this year, promising signs awash in a sea of everything sucks. We beat RSL in week 2 only to go on a huge winless streak. DeRo scores a hat trick in the Open Cup and completely disappears from league games (metaphorically, usually, unlike this week). Chris Pontius finally overcomes his season-opening tentativeness and promptly gets injured again. We win the U.S. Open Cup and finally have some belief and start the next game with 25 minutes of the best soccer we've seen from United all year, only to lose that game 3-0 to the freaking Chicago Fire.
With that theme firmly established, I think you'll see the following things on Saturday: (1) really, really strong periods of play from whatever experimental XI Ben Olsen throws onto the field; (2) some moments that make you take notice of at least one United player whose name you're not familiar with; and (3) something other than a D.C. United win. I'm the eternal optimist, so I'm calling for a scoring draw, but I'm not super confident about it by any stretch.