Ben Olsen

Disappointment can’t overshadow season of improvement for D.C. United

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One year ago, D.C. United were watching the MLS playoffs from home after finishing seven points out of the playoffs. Burdening with one of the worst defenses in Major League Soccer, Ben Olsen’s club was dragging to seventh in the East, a -3 goal difference unable to compensate for their 52 goals allowed. For the RFK faithful, it was another disappointing season and another year removed from the franchise’s glory days.

It’s a testament D.C.’s 2012 accomplishment that the dour mood that surrounded the franchise is now a memory. No more talk of fading legacies. No delicate thoughts of the Bruce Arena years. This season, Olsen kept D.C. in a playoff race since March. Thanks to a late season run to second in the East, La Barra Brava had reason to believe their team a contender.

And ultimately, that belief was rewarded. Though Houston’s 4-2 aggregate victory in the Eastern Conference final left little doubt who should represent the East in the MLS Cup Final, D.C.’s presence in the conversation spoke to all the improvements the team’s made since last year:

  • A year of health from Chris Pontius plus the addition of rookie Nick DeLeon helped D.C.’s attack take a step forward, the team’s 53 goals scored ranking fourth in MLS. A near-full season of Dwayne De Rosario helped;
  • Perry Kitchen, moved back into midfield for his second MLS season, provided cover for the back line;
  • Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic helped the defense shave nine goals off 2011’s total;
  • As did improvement in goal from the still-improving Bill Hamid.

But as Houston made apparent over the last week, there’s only so much progress you can make in 12 months. Over the course of 180 minutes, D.C. United — playing essentially a 4-5-1 formation that helped protect a still vulnerable defense — was a better set up to take advantage of opponent mistakes than create opportunities of their own.

It’s a formula that’s rarely going to beat a Dominic Kinear-led team. Without De Rosario and Pontius (who only played 12 minutes in the series), United was left reliant on lapses like the one that led to Branko Boskovic’s second leg goal. There were never going to be enough. Without a threat up top or any push from their two-man shield, D.C. wasn’t going to keep up with a in-form Dynamo.

But in light of how far D.C.’s come in 2012, it was too much to ask them to keep pace. Houston was a finalist last year and have since added Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark, and Mac Kandji (while losing Geoff Cameron). They’re better positioned to claim 2012’s title than 2011’s. It would have been an amazing accomplishment if Olsen found a way past Kinnear’s team. That he didn’t shouldn’t diminish how far D.C.’s come.

If that’s doesn’t serve as a silver lining for United fans, consider the improvements the team’s likely to see next season. Bill Hamid will be a year older and, presumably, a year better. Same can be said for Andy Najar (suspended for the final series), Kitchen, and DeLeon. If they make the playoffs again in 2013, D.C. can expect better health from their two main goal scoring threats: Pontius and De Rosario. Ben Olsen, having proved himself one of the league’s promising young coaches, will build on this season’s experience.

Positives are always elusive in the minutes after a season’s extinguished, but when D.C. and their fans are ready to move on, they’ll be able to reflect on their most successful season since claiming 2007’s Supporters’ Shield.

And the 2013 season is only four months away.

ProSoccerTalk will keep up the discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final.

One week left: Shopping lists for each Premier League side

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and Jose Fonte of Southampton compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on January 23, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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We are one week away from the transfer window slamming shut on Premier League clubs, some of whom have a lot of glaring holes.

Others? Not-so-much, but all 20 teams certainly have areas their managers would love to see strengthened for the other 36 games of this grueling season.

[ MORE: Jack Harrison in his own words ]

It’s hard for some teams to assess at this point, with players coming off busy summers, and adapting to new leagues, coaches and roles. Some teams, like Hull City, are off to a dream start but surely also no illusions. Others, like Arsenal, know things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem after a 1-point start to the campaign.

Although things are indeed bad. Just not relegation bad.

Let’s wait no more…

Arsenal — I’m starting to consider that Arsene Wenger‘s defensive preparations involve using a club to whack at his defenders’ bodies. Depth in the back is key, and Arsenal sure could use that high-profile, effective forward they’ve needed for a long, long while.

Bournemouth — In a pretty good spot now, but an added defender capable of playing any position on the back line is not a bad idea.

Burnley — While the addition of Steven Defour is fantastic, another weapon like him wouldn’t be bad. Honestly, it’s too bad Danny Ings didn’t stick around!

Chelsea — Defensive depth in the center park would be useful. The long time link with Napoli center back Koulibaly isn’t going anywhere.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

Crystal Palace — All set on target strikers, someone to run off Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham could be useful.

Everton — What’s needed is much different from what would be appreciated, and Ronald Koeman wouldn’t mind an upgrade at goalkeeper, insurance at center back, and depth at striker.

Hull City — Name a position, and Hull could likely use an addition. We’re not trying to be mean, it’s simply the name of the game for the 2-0 Tigers.

Leicester City — With Europe on the horizon, any depth would be useful for the Foxes. Another outside back or a contract extension for Danny Simpson wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Liverpool —  We forget how many players have yet to debut for the Reds, who really don’t have to add at this point (but may, perhaps at left back).

Manchester City — Pep Guardiola has shaken up everything, so who knows what else could happen? We suspect offloading, if anything.

Manchester United — Jose Mourinho would like to strengthen his center back depth, and signing Jose Fonte would certainly help United contend in both England and Europe.

Middlesbrough — The Boro have added plenty this offseason, and might just be done. Though with Jordan Rhodes looking increasingly likely to leave, another forward isn’t a bad idea.

Southampton — An attacking center mid and striker depth will be important, as will confidence in its center back corps if and when Jose Fonte leaves town.

Sunderland — Keeping Lamine Kone would be as big a victory as any player David Moyes could add, though the Black Cats need help almost everywhere. Center back is the biggest concern, Kone or not.

Stoke City — Center back help is needed here, too, but let’s not forget that Geoff Cameron is indispensable and yet to debut.

Swansea City — See above, as Ashley Williams‘ move to Everton really hit Francesco Guidolin‘s team where it was already thin.

Tottenham Hotspur — Depth moves here, perhaps most likely in the midfield.

[ MORE: West Ham to add Swiss mid? ]

Watford — Likely done, though another defender wouldn’t hurt.

West Bromwich Albion — Tony Pulis has made a couple very good pick-ups in underrated QPR man Matty Phillips and Everton loanee Brendan Galloway. That said, he’d love to get better at every spot on the pitch. Anything is possible if the bosses open their wallets.

West Ham United — A striker would help with injuries to Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew. Otherwise, the Irons are sneaky deep everywhere.

Watford adds marauding Dutch back Janmaat from Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Daryl Janmaat of Newcastle in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Newcastle United at Craven Cottage on August 5, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Watford has added value with the transfer of Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle United.

Janmaat, 27, is a marauding right back with size who made 77 appearances for the Magpies. The fee is reportedly in the $10 million range.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

In Janmaat, Watford has scooped a former Newcastle Player of the Year who is terrific down the wing and an excellent crosser of the ball. He has 27 caps for the Netherlands.

From WatfordFC.com:

“I’m really happy to be here, it’s a new adventure for me. I was really pleased that Watford showed interest in me because I wanted to play in the Premier League.

“We [Newcastle] lost three times to Watford last season. They had a good season and I hope we can do the same again this year.

“The club is showing great ambition and wants to improve, and I want to be part of that.”

The Hornets have drawn Southampton and lost to Chelsea this season, and were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Gillingham on Tuesday.

West Ham adds big $7.5 million midfielder from Swiss League

THUN, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 26: James Ward-Prowse of England U21 (R) fights for the ball with Edimilson Fernandes of Switzerland U21 during the European Under 21 Qualifier match between Switzerland U21 and England U21 at Stockhorn Arena on March 26, 2016 in Thun, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is not done in the transfer market.

According to Sky Sports, the Irons have added another midfielder to their potent attack.

Edimilson Fernandes, 20, comes from FC Sion, and will reportedly cost Slaven Bilic‘s side about $7.5 million.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

The 6-foot-3 20-year-old has made 48 league appearances for Sion, and has an assist in five matches this early season.

West Ham has added Havard Nordtveit, Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore to the mix, and already had a talented mix with Cheikhou Kouyate, Dimitri Payet, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini.

Suffice to say the Irons are well-stocked for the Premier League and Europa League. West Ham picked up a road goal in a 1-1 draw last week in Romania, and are 90 Thursday minutes away from advancing to the group stage of UEL.

Fernandes is the cousin of current Rennes and ex-Man City man Gelson Fernandes.

CCL Update: Vancouver seizes control; FC Dallas in Nicaragua tonight

Vancouver Whitecaps' Cristian Techera celebrates his second goal against Sporting Kansas City, during the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Things do not look good for Sporting KC in CONCACAF Champions League play.

Vancouver worked SKC 3-0 on Tuesday night, using a pair of goals from Cristian Techera and a goal and assist from Erik Hurtado to gain a five-point lead on both KC and Central in Group C.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

The ‘Caps beat Central 1-0 in Trinidad and Tobago, and still get to host them and visit Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

Thanks to Central’s 1-1 draw with Sporting KC, Vancouver is in fine shape to advance with another win, another draw between SKC and Central, or a few other scenarios.

MLS in CCL

FC Dallas at Real Esteli — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday
Vancouver at Sporting KC — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 13
Portland at Deportivo Saprissa — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 14
Alianza at New York Red Bulls — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 15
New York Red Bulls at Antigua GFC — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 27
Portland at CD Dragon — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 27
CD Suchitepequez at FC Dallas — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 28
Central at Vancouver — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 28
Central at Sporting KC — 8 p.m. ET Oct. 19
Deportivo Saprissa at Portland — 10 p.m. ET Oct. 19
FC Dallas at CD Suchitepequez — 8 p.m. ET Oct. 20