After D.C. United drafted Rodney Wallace, our ticket representative called to see about renewals. I had been frustrated by watching Tom Soehn's team muddle through games, but the timing of the call was perfect and I enthusiastically reupped for the season while babbling about how excited I was about watching Wallace in a United jersey.
Rodney Wallace is gone now. After watching him play for two years at Maryland and two years (the second cut short by injury) with D.C. United, I am not happy to see the back of Wallace, but am coming to grips with the promise of Dax McCarty.
Today's announcement that United signed Ethan White helps the coping process as well. For the majority of games that we caught at Ludwig this season, Ethan White was the best player on the field. White anchored the defense well and was a worthy heir to Omar Gonzalez in that respect. Gonzalez was blessed with three remarkably talented players on the backline with him (Delagarza, Costanzo, and Wallace). While Lee, Kemp, and Woodberry are quality players in their own right, White did not have the same margin for error afforded to Gonzalez.
With White in the mix, the question is: Does he play regularly for DCU? Going into the 2011 season, United can play a very young team -- with Hamid (20) in goal, White (19) taking one of the center back positions, Shanosky (19) playing holding mid, behind Najar (17) and Junior (19) -- but it seems unlikely that any of the youngsters beyond Najar and Hamid will see regular playing time.
On the other hand, the front office has been strangely critical of the club's center backs, asserting that the club needed more leadership from the backline. Julius James and Dejan Jakovic proved, throughout the season, that they were the best option as a pairing at the back. In the 30 game season, James and Jakovic only started together in 11 games. But in those 11 games, the two accounted for four of the club's six clean sheets and gave up almost a third of a goal less than D.C. United allowed in games where James and Jakovic did not start together -- 15 goals in their 11 games (1.36 average) versus 32 goals in the other 19 games (1.68 average).
Admittedly, giving up 41 goals over a 30 game season is not a huge improvement over giving up 47 goals. But it is an improvement. In a few games last season, Julius James was D.C. United's best player on the field and, even where he was not, James put out maximum effort everytime he donned a D.C. United shirt ... something that could not be said for some of his teammates.
I am therefore puzzled by what appear to be shots at Jakovic and James (is a lack of leadership at the back the reason why United scored a third less goals -- 21 -- than the second most incompetent offense in the MLS?). One possibility is that the team may look to move Jakovic and bring in a more "veteran" presence as a new center half. Like, I don't know, gifting Carey Talley and Juan Pena starting jobs based on their leadership attributes, because that seemed to have worked out well. If this were the (misguided) direction embarked upon, White would be more likely to see significant playing time as a stand in, either because DC United is, once again, not competitive, or as a replacement for the inevitably injured veteran.
If, however, film is reviewed and assessments revisited and Jakovic and James are given the opportunity to build on their play from last season, I think Ethan White's playing time will be limited, but still entail meaningful minutes. At the moment, White provides essential depth to a roster that is bereft of proven center halves after James and Jakovic.
But all of the foregoing are issues to be hashed out later. For now, Ethan White is a full-fledged professional member of D.C. United and that is, without question, a good thing.