Get to Know
The Midfielders by RJ Rolsen
DC United will go into the 2023 season with a mixed bag at the midfield. If the Designated Player signing hits, and the homegrown signings can take the next step in their development, DC United could be really strong, but there’s a lot of “ifs” that have to hit right for the Black and Red. Soccer is often won or lost in the midfield, and Rooney has done a lot since he took on the Head Coaching role to give his team a lot more opportunities to win the middle of the pitch.
Between Mateusz Klich and Victor Pálsson, DC United has two top-level experienced players in a couple of crucial midfield positions, who bring their Premier League and Bundesliga experience to the MLS. Both were brought in to bring leadership on the pitch. Joining them will either be homegrown Chris Durkin or non-stop hustler Russell Canouse. Rooney’s preferred playing style seems to be clog the middle, get the ball to the outside and advance it on the wings. The players will be asked to press opponents and shield the back line, while getting the ball back and moving forward. The team has decent depth, but lost a bit when DC United decided to move on from Ravel Morrison. It is likely that the team is currently looking at potential replacements. Till a new player is found there will be opportunities for two young homegrown players.
For the beginning of the 2023 season, DC United Midfielders are:
Mateusz Klich: The newest addition to DC United’s midfield, the 32 year old Polish Designated Player was brought in this winter from Leeds United in the Premier League. Head Coach Wayne Rooney has called Klich a “leader” that DC United needs. He can play as either a box-to-box or attacking midfielder, who will help push the ball forward, and get the team into the attack. DC has potential goal scorers in Taxi Fountas and Christian Benteke, but they need to have someone get them the ball in goal scoring positions. Klich is seen as being the key to delivering those opportunities.
From his time with Leeds United, Klich is an all-energy player who will cover the field, break down defenses with his dribbling, and make quick passes in tight spaces. He will not be a traditional number 10, attacking midfielder, but will be more attacking than the traditional number 8 box-to-box midfielder.
One other factor that Klich demonstrated at Leeds was his leadership qualities. The farewell that he received from teammates and the supporters of Leeds is a good indication of the regard with which he was held. Leadership and mental toughness were qualities that Wayne Rooney sought to add to the locker room.
Victor Pálsson: One of Wayne Rooney’s first acquisitions upon becoming the Head Coach, the Defensive Midfielder was brought in as the team’s second Designated Player from FC Schalke, though the Icelandic midfielder had his contract bought down during the offseason to a TAM contract, so DC United could sign another DP.
Pálsson was another player brought in for his leadership qualities, although he really didn’t get the opportunity to make an impact in the DC locker room, as the 2022 season was pretty much lost by the time Pálsson had his visa sorted out. On the field Pálsson will be asked to control the area in front of the back line, and to use his long passes to shift the point of attack and stretch the field.
It will be interesting to see if having time to settle into MLS, and having a preseason will help Pálsson have more of an effect on the field. In Germany he was known to be a bit of an enforcer and was seen as a key factor for getting FC Schalke promoted back into the Bundesliga.
Chris Durkin: The veritable prodigal son returned home during the early MLS transfer window from Sint-Truidense of the Belgian Pro League. This was the team DC United had first loaned and then sold the homegrown academy player to. It was a bit of a surprise that Durkin had returned. He had earned valuable minutes with 71 appearances, often a starter, for Sint-Truidense, and had generated some interest in the Italian Serie A.
Durkin is the first player DC United used the U22 Initiative to sign, and originally was seen as a perfect player for Hernan Losada’s uptempo high press style, though it never came to be, as Losada was let go just after Durkin was reacquired. This disruption makes it difficult to judge Durkin’s initial performances, which were less than overwhelming. However, as things settled with Wayne Rooney taking over, Durkin seemed to settle into the combination role of 6 and an 8. Rooney liked to utilize Durkin’s range of passing, and his ability to cover a lot of ground. The expectation is that with a preseason he will be expected to do even more.
Russell Canouse: The veteran of the locker room, having joined DC United in August 2017 when he returned from playing a couple seasons in Germany. Canouse made a name for himself as a strong defensive midfielder, who would make the hard tackle. Canouse doesn’t excel at the long pass like Durkin or Pálsson, so he’ll most likely come off the bench for most games, and serve as a spot starter. This could help Canouse, as he’s had issues staying healthy over an entire season.
Having Canouse come off the bench to help shut down opponents and put away games, and to push for starts will help make DC United a better team than they were last season. This is because what he does best is control a midfield, he will give a hard challenge and will hustle for every ball, and will push it forward.
Theodore "Ted” Ku-DiPietro: Ted KDP is another homegrown player that has come up through the Academy and cut his teeth at Loudoun United. In many ways Ted has been a better example of how DC could use Loudoun United to develop its players. Not as rushed as other Academy players had been, he was able to get a lot of valuable minutes playing time.
This year Ted KDP should get a number of minutes with the first team. Most likely he will play on either wing, or up the middle as a traditional number 10. His biggest strength has been his ability to keep the ball, and to make well placed passes. He has shown in the preseason an ability to find the back of the net, and so could help the team’s anemic scoring. The twenty one year old has the potential to be the surprise breakout player for the team, and will make it palatable for DC to move Morrison.
Jeremy Garay: Last, but not least, this season is Jeremy Garay. Another homegrown, the nineteen year old is the only player to not have any first team minutes. However he has played a lot of minutes at Loudoun United and has really improved his game. A natural defensive midfielder, he has really worked on transitioning the ball to offense once it’s been won.
With the change in the relationship with Loudoun United, it will be interesting to see if Garay spends time in the USL Championship or if he provides depth on the bench for DC. Again I believe Garay has the potential to be a breakout player, and his readiness probably has a bearing on the team moving on from Morrison.
Blew His Opportunity
Ravel Morrison - Wayne Rooney says Morrison will not play with DC United