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Downstream: What to expect from DC United in Game 1 of the 2020 MLS season

What can we expect from D.C. United in the 2020 season opener?

DC United v Toronto FC - First Round Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

I’m back once again for another year of pre-game previews, team-based teardowns, facts factored in facetiously, and generally being wrong about how the game is about to go. But instead of just repeating what I’ve been doing the last couple of years, I’m putting a challenge to myself. We’ll get the boring stuff (read: numbers) out of the way and then get into more a general discussion of the team. No more of the echoing what I’ve learned in 20 minutes of Googling the team. I’ll try to pepper up my writing to make it a little more entertaining and read less like an 8th grade essay. I might change up the format a little bit, but for a first edition, let’s get started with the first opponents the Rapids will face in their 2020 campaign:

DC United

2019 Record: 13-10-11, 50 points and 5th in the Eastern Conference

Goals For: 42

Goals Against: 38

Postseason: Lost in first round to eventual Eastern Conference Champions Toronto FC

Key Roster Losses: Wayne Rooney, Lucho Acosta, Paul Arriola (injured with an ACL tear, but still on roster)

Key Roster Additions: Julian Gressel #Gresselmania, Edison Flores

DC United… one of the most inconsistent teams of the last few years. Excellence followed by disappointment. Rooney arriving followed by Rooney leaving. Promise of millions for Acosta followed by him leaving for nothing. 2019 was set to be a banner year for them as they started riding a wave of big wins to start the season, but ended the season with three wins and two ties. Good enough to secure a comfortable mid-playoff spot eight points above the red line. They drew Toronto FC, who went on to the final, so their postseason didn’t last long, but still, they made it!

This time last year, hopes were high. 2018 ended well and they were about to have an entire season with an MLS superstar on the team. Then, their star player announced he was leaving. Yep, Wayne Rooney, one of the few people who can actually be seriously considered a superstar in MLS, announced he was leaving at the end of the 2019 season to move back to England and become a player-coach for Championship team Derby County. The all-time greatest goalscorer both for the England national team and Manchester United, leaving DCU in the dust. Oh well, at least they were going to still hold on to Lucho Acosta, right?

Then Lucho Acosta left. The Argentinian player combined very well with Rooney, with the fans giving them one of the worst Hollywood couple names of “LuchaRoo.” They continuously set each other up for goals and were easily one of the keys to the team. At one point, Acosta was linked to French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain and numbers started floating around for some serious dollar bills to get sent D.C.’s way for the talented player. Rumors were for a whopping $10 million. Then, 2019 happened, and his form wasn’t quite as good as the year before. Then, he left for nothing. Oh well, at least they still have Paul Arriola healthy and able to play, right?

Then, just in this last month, Arriola suffered an ACL tear and will likely be out for the entire season. Unlike the others, he’ll still remain on the squad’s roster, which… not to sound callous, but almost makes it worse. If he returns to the field next year, he will be a great asset. In the meantime, though, he’ll occupy a DP spot and take up a big cap space hit. He might not have been the goalscorer that Rooney was, but he was still crucial to their midfield and it isn’t easy to replace him. Here’s to Arriola, though. Injuries suck, and I’m hoping he can come back healthy next year. Just… you know. Don’t play well against us.

So three major losses to their roster. That’s rough. But that isn’t to say that DC United has nothing to look forward to this season. They spent some major cash to sign Edison Flores, the 25-year-old Peruvian who was most recently with Mexican club Morelia. A $5 million fee is nothing to sneeze at, and they have high hopes for such a player to make up for the loss of… ugh, do I have to say it again? LuchaRoo. The team’s newest DP might not have the name of the team’s previous DPs, but looks to have more staying power at the least.

And, in a shocking headline-making trade, Atlanta United sold one of—in my opinion—the greatest players in MLS, Julian Gressel, to D.C. for a good amount of cash. The 2017 Rookie of the Year, Gressel is a utility player who can play at nearly every spot along the right side and should prove to be a huge factor in his first season with his new team. Atlanta is definitely going to miss him, but D.C. is on the better end of one of the biggest trades of the season.

The rest of D.C.’s core roster is still fairly solid. Bill Hamid is a very talented goalkeeper. Yamil Asad is returning after being on loan with D.C. a few years ago. Ola Kamara at the top should be a pretty reliable player. Russell Canouse is back from injury as well. They might not have a lot of depth currently available, but their defense is largely returning and the addition of Flores and #Gresselmania is going to make them an interesting team to watch.

So at the end of this, I’m not sure what to expect. In the handful of preseason matches, the Rapids showed that their offense seems to be clicking. Younes Namli is showing a lot of promise, Kei Kamara is of course still Kei Kamara, and with newcomer Nicolas Benezet, our ideal XI is a really good team.

Conversely, it is the first game of the year, and a few players might still need some time to gel. D.C. is a pretty good team, and we’ll be on the road. Don’t let the warning signs get to you if we lose, don’t start declaring us the greatest team in the league if we win, and don’t start changing expectations either way.