WASHINGTON – When D.C. United welcome the Columbus Crew in their respective season openers on Saturday night at RFK Stadium, both teams will be looking for fresh starts after they underwent similar makeovers during the offseason.
The Crew arrive in the nation’s capital boasting a host new faces. Veterans like Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk and Gino Padula, key figures in the club's 2008 MLS Cup run, are no longer on the team. A number of new draft picks and other additions like Sebastian Miranda are preparing to make their league debuts.
DC, meanwhile, have undergone a similar facelift. Only 14 players currently on the D.C. roster were with the team last year -- 15 if non-rostered midfielder Brandon Barklage is signed. A handful of those returnees were either Academy signings, or missed the 2010 season with injuries.
Unlike United, the Crew have played meaningful competition prior to the first regular season game, going up against Real Salt Lake in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. They lost 4-1 on aggregate, but 180 minutes of serious competition gives the Ohio outfit a head-start in the jelling process.
At the same time, it has also given DC’s coaching staff a chance to do some advance scouting
“The one nice thing is we’ve seen them play,” DC goalkeeper and coach Pat Onstad said. “I know they’ve had some injuries that are a lot healthier now. Big Chad Marshall’s back, that’ll make a difference for them. Will Hesmer in goal. There are some additions they’ve brought in so it’ll be a little different, but it’s a team in transition and so are we.”
Without players like Schelotto in the starting lineup, the Crew are going to present different challenges than ones DC players have seen in previous encounters.
“It’s a different team altogether,” United midfielder and captain Dax McCarty said of the 2011 edition of Columbus. “They’re a team in the past that have kind of relied on their veterans to get them through games, a lot of experience and obviously Schelotto was a big part of their team.
"They’ve lost some very important guys but at the same time they’ve replaced them with some younger, a little more athletic and a little more hungry guys.”
That's not a unique phenomenon in the league.
“A lot of MLS teams are in the same position,” midfielder Santino Quaranta said. “You come into the season optimistic as a team and as a group. It’s positive, in preseason, and you find out who you are in the first couple of games.”
There would be nothing better than an opening day victory to prove to a team that it's headed in the right direction. Both D.C. United and the Crew will hope they can begin to build momentum and confidence in their new squads from the very start.
“I think it’s very important to get off to a good start,” DC defender Daniel Woolard said. “Anywhere in the league, getting an opening three points is huge.”