After big changes D.C. United ready for new season

There’s been a lot of changes at D.C. United since the club found itself just one game away from the MLS Cup last year. Photo: Carlos Ruiz joins D.C. United, Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. February 28, 2013 — There’s been a lot of changes at D.C. United since the club went 17-10-7 (58 points) last season and found itself just one game away from the MLS Cup. As the club faces its season-opener at Houston on Saturday will the recent moves, which saw key players and the club’s president leave the team, help or hamper the team this year?

The Godfather leaves - Kevin Payne, the president and firm hand at United since the day the club was born, has moved on. Payne is now the GM at Toronto FC. Can he turn that club around? Toronto certainly needs some love and success.
Payne guided United to win 12 trophies over his 17 years and made the club the flagship team of the league in the early days. He knows the American game in and out and has a shrewd eye for talent. While United has lost a soccer genius, on the playing side, the club is in the good hands of Dave Kasper. It was Kasper and Ray Hudson, who spotted Christian Gomez, the man who helped the team win its last title in 2004.

Little Fish arrives - In a stunning move, which has some United fans scratching their heads, United acquired Guatemalan goal-machine Carlos “El Pescadito” Ruiz. He’s known as “the little fish” for the way he wriggles around defenders. Ruiz is like a lazy carp that in seconds can turn into a fighting piranha. He has habit of disappearing from a game only to suddenly appear and notch a crucial goal. The striker has an amazing history in MLS, scoring 88 goals in eight seasons. The well-travelled Ruiz arrives with a reputation and a personality you just can’t help but love. D.C. fans will remember when the 2002 MLS MVP helped FC Dallas down United 2-0 in 2005 when he scored on a beautiful bicycle kick and added a penalty kick.  Now we all can’t wait for his first goal for United.

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Big paychecks booted - United has said goodbye to designated players Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi. Boskovic, a true gentleman off the field, could never quite duplicate the form we saw when he led Montenegro against England in World Cup qualifying. Salihi, the man coach Ben Olsen predicted would score goals, struggled on the field and never produced the numbers expected.

Andy goes to Belgium - United’s talented right-sided defender Andy Najar was sold to Belgium giants Anderlecht for around $3 million and will likely be Champions League soccer next season. It’s a big loss for United and defenders Chris Korb, or newly arrived James Riley, will have big shoes to fill.

The core of United’s starting lineup from last year is in place for the upcoming season led by the talented Chris Pontius, but it could be tough to replicate the 2012 season where the team had the third-best record. Still, the club looks to be a sure playoff contender.

John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
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John Haydon

John Haydon has covered soccer for The Washington Times for two decades. He has reported on international soccer events in Germany, South Korea and Spain. John hails from Birmingham, England and has lived in the Washington D.C. region for over twenty years.  

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