DC United put together the most impressive turnaround in MLS history between 2013 and 2014, and they didn't need a whole lot of flashy signings in order to do it. That 2013 United team was similar to the Colorado Rapids of 2014: a team that undeniably had talent in spots, but who had very little in the way of depth and a couple of spots on the roster that nobody could seem to produce in.
So how did United improve so quickly despite the lack of 'marquee' signings? It's simple, as Ben from our DC United blog explained to me in his Three Questions post with me prior to the 4-2 loss against his team earlier this season:
B&RU: The biggest turnaround may sound kind of obvious, but it was that the front office acquired proven MLS talent in the offseason. Players like Fabian Espindola, Davy Arnaud, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, Sean Franklin, and Chris Rolfe are not flashy names, but when you put all of those veterans around Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon it actually produces a MLS team capable of winning games. Between 2012 and 2013, the team made no real signings and thought that a team one non-call away from MLS Cup could repeat in the following year. In a league that is improving as quickly as MLS, that is just not possible.
The Rapids have some stars in the making in Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna, Shane O'Neill and Deshorn Brown. All four of those guys had pretty good seasons in 2013, but were dragged down by the rest of the team being absolutely devastated by the smallest injury crises and lacking many other impact players or proven MLS talent.
That in mind, it's very encouraging that their first two pick-ups of the off-season -- Michael Harrington and Bobby Boswell -- are both MLS veterans with starting experience. Like Ben said in his post, those aren't flashy names, not the guys who will get shown in MLS advertisements for their games of the week. But they're both good players, and both upgrades over the other players in their positions from last year. There's a long way to go, but that's a good start, and the re-entry draft can provide even more opportunities to bring in veteran talent.
The X-Factor in all of this is, of course, Pablo Mastroeni, who is having a very Ben Olsen-esque start to his managerial career. If Pablo doesn't improve as a manager, all of this may be moot by the time we're a few months into next season. That, however, is a story for another post at another time. At this point, it's time to look with cautious optimism at what looks like a promising start to an off-season roster rebuild and, ideally, a competitive, deep team in 2015.