2017 MLS SEASON PREVIEW
In terms of midseason overhauls, the 2016 MLS campaign will be defined by the Seattle Sounders' worst-to-first surge. But don't forget that RFK Stadium played host to quite the reinvention as well.
As July came to a close, D.C. United found itself sitting eighth in the East while averaging less than a goal per game. Then came the offensive fireworks — a remarkable 33 goals in 13 matches as United ended the year on a 6-2-5 run.
The summer acquisitions of Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam coincided with an upturn in form from playmaker Luciano Acosta, who embraced a new 4-1-4-1 formation. After an all-too-short playoff run, United is hungry to build off that strong second half of 2016 and prove the surge was no flash in the pan.
While the offseason additions were limited, United returns Ben Olsen's entire first-choice XI. If Acosta and Mullins continue to develop while the likes of Bill Hamid and Steve Birnbaum keep things tidy in the back, United can be a contender in 2017 — and beyond.
How did D.C. United perform in 2016?
2016 finish: Fourth in Eastern Conference (11-10-13), eliminated in Eastern Conference knockout round
United overcame that sluggish first half of 2016 to not only make the playoffs for the third straight year but earn a home game in the knockout round as well. But Laurent Ciman's early goal stunned the RFK Stadium faithful, and the Montreal Impact cruised to a 4-2 win to put an abrupt end to United's impressive run.
D.C. United's key offseason losses
United's core remains intact, though a handful of role players did exit this winter. The most notable loss is retired striker Alvaro Saborio, who scored a respectable six goals in 19 games last season but logged just 94 minutes after losing his starting spot to Mullins in mid-July.
The club also parted ways with seldom-used reserves Andrew Dykstra, Luke Mishu, Miguel Aguilar, Collin Martin and Kennedy Igboananike.
D.C. United's key offseason additions
It was a fairly quiet offseason, with United mostly focused on making Acosta's loan a permanent move and inking Birnbaum to a new deal. But the signing of homegrown player Ian Harkes — the reigning Hermann Trophy winner and son of United legend John Harkes — looms large.
The front office also bolstered the club's depth. Costa Rica international Jose Guillermo Ortiz looks poised to fill Saborio's void, while MLS journeyman Sebastien Le Toux should provide a dependable locker room presence. Although right back wasn't a position of need, United was pleased to see Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem drop to No. 12 in the MLS draft.
How will D.C. United's starting lineup look in 2017?
For now, expect the back line of Sean Franklin, Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell and Taylor Kemp to remain intact. But Nick DeLeon is pushing for minutes at right back after impressing there late last season, and Franklin has been getting looks at center back during preseason.
Now 35 years old, Marcelo Sarvas will battle with Rob Vincent for the deep-lying playmaker role. Harkes, Jared Jeffrey and Julian Buescher, meanwhile, are pushing for minutes at the advanced central midfield slot alongside Acosta.
Reduced to a bench role down the stretch in 2016, Lamar Neagle quietly led United with nine goals. Look for Neagle or Patrick Nyarko to start on the left, with Le Toux serving as depth behind Sam on the right. And Ortiz could be a factor in a number of attacking midfield roles, in addition to backing up Mullins up top.
Full D.C. United roster entering the 2017 season
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid, Eric Klenofsky, Travis Worra
Defenders: Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Nick DeLeon, Sean Franklin, Taylor Kemp, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Kofi Opare, Jalen Robinson
Midfielders: Luciano Acosta, Julian Buescher, Chris Durkin, Ian Harkes, Jared Jeffrey, Sebastien Le Toux, Lamar Neagle, Patrick Nyarko, Lloyd Sam, Marcelo Sarvas, Rob Vincent
Forwards: Alhaji Kamara, Patrick Mullins, Jose Guillermo Ortiz, Chris Rolfe
D.C. United's national TV coverage schedule
D.C. United vs. New York City FC - Saturday, April 8, at 4 p.m. ET on UniMas
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United - Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m. ET on FS1
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United - Saturday, May 20, at 4 p.m. ET on UniMas
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. D.C. United - Saturday, May 27, at 7 p.m. ET on TSN
Toronto FC vs. D.C. United - Saturday, June 17, at 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN
Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United - Saturday, July 1, at 7 p.m. ET on TSN
D.C. United vs. Toronto FC - Saturday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. ET on TSN