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Posted at 9:12 AM ET, 01/ 4/2011

Ignoring the burning wreckage, part 2: the defense

By Jeff Maurer

Let's find some positives from United's 2010 defensive performance. Julius James played better than expected. Jed Zayner played worth his salary, and I don't mean that as an insult. Beyond that, well...nobody died. That's a positive. No animals were harmed. I don't believe that United's defense in any way worsened the global financial crisis, nor did it bring Iran any closer to a nuclear bomb. That I know of. That's all I've got in terms of positives.

In fairness, United's defense spent 2010 in the same condition as United fans' pride: injured. Namoff missed the entire season, Burch, Wallace and Pena (who wins the Steve Guppy award for 2010) missed most of it, and Jakovic also missed significant time. The back line got thin enough that Clyde Simms had to fill in several times, and for a few games I suspect that Benny had shorts and shin guards on under his pants (it almost would have been worth sustaining another injury to see Ben rip off those Dockers NBA-warmup-stripper-pants-style). I'm taking a look at United's 2011 defense with the hope that looking at the 2011 defense won't break it the way that the 2010 defense could be broken by breathing on it, talking to it, or thinking about it.

March Burch
2010 grade: incomplete
It says a lot about United's 2010 squad that when Burch was on the field, he looked a cut above just about everyone else. It was only two years ago that he was a marginal starter, but now I think there's no question that if he's healthy, he plays. It's an irony and a shame that his injury was to his best feature: his gigantic left foot. That's like James Earl Jones losing his voice, or Selma Hayek damaging her...excellent ability to act.

Dejan Jakovic
2010 grade: B-
Look, we all make mistakes in our early 20s. You forget to pay bills, you date someone you shouldn't, you play ill-advised back-passes and give the ball away in bad positions. Jakovic is 25 now, and it's time for him to get it together, buster. I think that 2011 is a make or break year for him; if he doesn't show some progress, I doubt he comes back for 2012. It's supposed to be a learning curve, not a learning plane.

Julius James
2010 grade: B
Andy Najar may have trademarked the phrase "a bright spot in a dark season", but I'm going to apply it to Julius James (and pay Mr. Najar the $5 royalty fee). James played pretty well - well enough to convince me that he can be a legitimate starter in this league. From previous discussion on this board (and Goff's), it seems that a lot of people agree with my assessment that he was better than Jakovic at the end of last season. Here's hoping both that he can continue moving forward, and also that the forward motion in question isn't a studs-up, two-footed tackle.

Bryan Namoff
2010 grade: incomplete
Namoff isn't on United's roster, with a concussion having forced him into hopefully-temporary retirement But he remains United's right back in exile. I'm hoping he can escape Elba and return to lead United's back line to glory. If he's reading this - or, more likely, having someone softly read this to him as he sits in a dark room - I'd like to let him know that United fans will always remember him, even if he can't always remember us.

Devon McTavish
2010 grade: C+
I think it's fair to call D-Mc-T a fan favorite. And by "fan favorite", I mean "slow". Fans tend to love those scrappy, hard-working players with less-than-outstanding physical gifts. It's like watching a three-legged dog chase down a frisbee: unless you're made of stone, you just have to root for him. And I'll admit: I love me some D-Mc-T. I think he's versatile and has a good soccer brain. But I think that hypothetical three-legged dog would beat him to just about any frisbee you could throw, because the dude is just not very fast.

Ethan White
2010 grades: still awaiting transcript from University of Maryland
I admit: I don't watch college soccer. I don't really have time between MLS, the EPL, national team games, the Champions League and the occasional Spanish or German game. Oh, and also I've got a wife and stuff. But people who follow college soccer say good things about White, and by signing him to a homegrown contract we get a guy who might have gone in the first round of the draft basically for free. I'm excited to see him play, and you have to think he'll get some chances.

Jed Zayner
2010 grade: B-
Jed Zayner was United's defensive player of the year in 2011. The 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West this year. I won the slam dunk competition at 5th grade bible camp. My point: sometimes you win something partly because the competition just isn't that great. Don't get me wrong: I think Zayner's a good guy to have on the roster, but I don't see him as being much more than a roll-player. That being said, I think he'll start at right back unless Namoff gets healthy or we draft somebody.

Draftee to be named later
I could definitely see United going with a striker with their first pick (Omar Salgado?), but I think it's equally likely that they pick a defender (Kofi Sarkodi? Zarek Valentine? Any opinions, college soccer wonks?). And I would be shocked if they don't pick a defender in ANY round. Whomever they draft will have an excellent chance to make the roster and become part of the 2 percent of 2010 college graduates to find a job right out of school. 

By Jeff Maurer  | January 4, 2011; 9:12 AM ET
Categories:  Jeff Maurer, United  | Tags:  D.C. United, Jeff Maurer  
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Next: "Southleast" no more


Your assessment of Jakovic is both correct and concise. There's a great player in there, but it has to emerge soon or it'll be time for us to move on.

As for potential defenders we could draft, I think Sarkodie fits our needs and Olsen's preferred approach. He's faster than just about anyone we have, and he'll come forward to help the attack frequently. If we could be sure that Sarkodie could switch flanks and become a strong left back, or if Zayner could do the job, I'd say we should take Sarkodie and rejoice at the prospect of not having left back be the problem it is (can you tell I don't endorse Burch as a starter?).

However, since a position switch from Sarkodie or Zayner is no guarantee, I think the public statements about going with an attacker can be taken at face value. Picking up White via the homegrown route was like getting a free 1st round pick, so I think we use the #3 pick to grab Will Bruin or trade for an accomplished MLS striker.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 6, 2011 2:47 PM | Report abuse

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