By AVI CREDITOR
After putting last season's historically bad campaign in the rear-view mirror, D.C. United is aiming for a fresh start with Ben Olsen at the helm of a team on a mission.
With a bevy of new faces in camp and a fresh attitude to boot, expectations of a vast improvement are abound in the nation's capital. Prior to the 2011 season's first kick against the Columbus Crew on March 19, though, United will look to repeat one thing from last year: success at the Carolina Challenge Cup.
The defending champions of the tournament, United will take part in the four-team exhibition hosted by the Charleston Battery for the sixth time. D.C. is scheduled to play the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC and the hosts the week of March 5-12. Between that tournament and trips to Florida and California, Olsen should be able to get a good feel for his roster and how to mold his starting XI.
Here's a closer look at D.C. United's preseason plans:
Training schedule: Jan. 26-28 in D.C.; Jan. 31-Feb. 12 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Feb. 16-26 in Ventura, Calif.; March 1-2 in D.C.; March 3-13 in Charleston, S.C.; March 14-18 in D.C.
Tentative game schedule: Feb. 19 vs. Ventura County Fusion; March 5 vs. Charleston Battery; March 9 vs. Chicago Fire; March 12 vs. Toronto FC.
Key arrivals: Dax McCarty, Perry Kitchen, Ethan White, Josh Wolff, Joseph Ngwenya, Rodrigo Brasesco, Steve Cronin, Pat Onstad (goalkeeper coach).
Key departures: Jaime Moreno, Danny Allsopp, Pablo Hernandez, Adam Cristman, Rodney Wallace, Jordan Graye, Troy Perkins.
What to watch for: How all the new faces come together and positions get defined. Between adding McCarty through trade, Wolff and Ngwenya through the Re-Entry Draft process and Kitchen through the SuperDraft, D.C. has plenty of newcomers who are expected to play key roles in 2011. How each of them show in the preseason could determine position placement for players like Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta, who were shifted back and forth from the top of the formation to the midfield during a chaotic 2010.
Of note: D.C. will have four homegrown players vying for first-team time this season. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Andy Najar, headlines the class, which also includes goalkeeper Bill Hamid, centerback/defensive midfielder Conor Shanosky and defender Ethan White. Hamid is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery but is expected to take the reins in net when healthy. Shanosky and White have uphill battles to fight, but impressive showings in training and in exhibitions could give Olsen some tough decisions to make.
What are you hoping to see in D.C. United's preseason? Who do you think should start for the team? Who do think should be the team's captain? Do you see Shanosky and/or White cracking the first team this season? Do you think D.C. can rebound from 2010 and make a run for the playoffs in 2011?
Share your thoughts below.