DC won the Carolina Cup Challenge! We dominate pre-season!
That's not entirely fair; DC wins lots of games that don't matter, not just pre-season. Before any observers get too excited about United's undefeated pre-season, they should realize that DC was undefeated in pre-season last year and DC's competition this year were colleges and some of the worst teams in MLS last year (Chivas USA, Chicago, and Toronto). It's great for team morale to get those W's, but that's not what is really important. Nevertheless, I think DC did have a fair successful pre-season.
Last year, during the pre-season, all of DC's goals came from Jaime Moreno. Alright, maybe not all. But he was the only one to score in the Carolina Cup Challenge and that turned out to be a harbinger for the season - no one scored. This year, Ngwenya, Pontius, Davies, Brettschneider, and others have put the ball into the net. This is a very good thing. Also, Brettschneider looked quite competent during the pre-season and that looks good for DC's long term plans.
DC looks to have a lot of good options in defense. The sole weak spot appears to be left back where the choices are Marc Burch or Woolard. Kitchen has looked quite good. I haven't seen much of Brasesco, but those who have have been quite pleased. Jakovic looks to have tossed off much of last season's lethargy. Jayner doesn't look too bad, although I think he is spending too much time on the ball. Ethan White and Chris Korb have also looked very decent as cover at the very least. Although, DC's defensive frailties last year were not particularly apparent in last year's pre-season, they rapidly became so during the season.
Coach Olsen has instituted competition for every spot on the field. Which is great in theory, but I also think that he has been fortunate to have the talent to do so. The strikers that DC acquired in the off-season have all shown fairly well, quite well in the case of Brettschneider. DC is loaded in the midfield, particularly on the wings with Najar, Quaranta, Pontius, Boskovic, Junior, and Fred all competing for playing time. That said, Dax McCarty seems to have a lock on the central "midfield engine" spot. Although Boskovic played in the position last season, Olsen has stated that he intends to play Boskovic on the outside. King is a central midfielder, but doesn't really appear to hold a candle to McCarty. Fred has also played in the creative central midfield role and may give McCarty some competition, although how much remains to be seen. The central midfield spot does appear to be up for grabs with Morsink playing well and challenging the ever-reliable Simms for the position.
What to Expect When You're Expecting
This line-up looks much stronger than last year, but what to expect from this season remains to be seen. It also raises the question of what to expect from the season opener against Columbus. I'm not certain - DC is a completely redone team. It is also a very young team. I believe it completely plausible that the first half of the season will be extremely rough for United and that they will drop points that they probably should not while the team learns to play with one another and gel and while some of the rookies and younger players gain confidence and experience. Columbus is not the team that they have been in years past. A number of the reliable players as well as their playermaker, Schelotto, have left in the off-season. In fact, they looked relatively weak against Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions' League games earlier in this pre-season. Under other circumstances, I would say that if DC is going to have a successful season, three points against Columbus at home should be expected. However, I have to allow some slack for all the new faces. Instead, if the first game is to be a harbinger of the season (and there are plenty of reasons for it not to be), I think the focus has to be on the creativity and the extent to which the players are on the same page. The extent to which DC appears to play coherently as a team may indicate whether DC fans will have to grind their teeth through July and hope for a strong finish and the following year or whether DC will be competitive for the whole season and really bounce back from last year's disastrous season.