- Worst to first in Eastern Conference last year
- Has won four MLS Cups, four Supporters’ Shields, and three U.S. Open Cups
- Eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals in last year’s playoffs
[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS previews for 2015 ]
Key Player: Fabian Espindola
If you aren’t sure just how important Espindola is to Ben Olsen’s squad, just look to how they did without him last season. He was injured in mid-June and were thrashed by Los Angeles 4-1. He got sent off in a game against New York in the first half, and they lost 1-0. Every time he was missing, they looked less dangerous up front. Espindola’s creativity and goalscoring ability was both flashy and productive last season, and they’ll need all they can get from the 29-year-old Argentine yet again if they hope to repeat last year’s regular season performance.
Unfortunately, Espindola is suspended a whopping six matches to start the season for shoving a referee in DC’s playoff finale last year, a huge blow for the beginning of their Eastern Conference title defense.
Other players to watch: Luis Silva, Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen
Perry Kitchen was one of the best players in Major League Soccer last year, even though it took a while for everyone to notice. For a holding midfielder to earn that kind of respect says a lot, and Kitchen at just 23 years of age has a long, bright future ahead. Silva’s partnership with Espindola last season was well documented, and the pair made each other better on the field. Hamid’s goalkeeping earned him a national team call-up and is one of the possibilities to take over for Tim Howard going forward long-term.
Head Coach: Ben Olsen
Last season’s Coach of the Year award was a no-brainer. Having taken the team from the basement in 2013 to the peak of the Eastern Conference in stunning fashion, Olsen was a runaway winner. The 37-year-old signed a long-term contract with D.C. on top of that, and looks to be a mainstay barring things falling completely apart. That doesn’t seem likely, as this team looks to be built for sustainable competitiveness rather than a one-and-done year. The former D.C. United midfielder is a big reason why.
Few saw what would come in 2014. After winning a total of three games all year the season before, they won the Eastern Conference by a comfortable four-point margin and came to the brink of an MLS Cup finals. The turnaround was remarkable, but this season is all about sustained success. The crux of the team is young and rising, suggesting there’s no reason why last year should be a fluke. D.C. will absolutely be challenging not just for the Supporter’s Shield, but for all major trophies across the season. Look out, Eastern Conference.