With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror, it's time to take a look back at the year that was. In the first of a three-part series, Sebastian Salazar reviews some of the positives as we look at three things learned in 2011.
Andy Najar needs more touches
Before the injury to Chris Pontius, Andy Najar was not enough of a priority in United's attack. Through the west coast swing in which Pontius was injured, Najar took just 31 shots. Over 26 games, that works out to a measly 1.19 shots per game for a player that might be the best striker of the ball on United's roster.
Over D.C.'s final eight games, Najar took 26 shots. That nearly tripled Najar's shots per game average (3.25 spg). Following United's return from Seattle on 917, the 18-year-old notched two goals and two assists over the Black-and-Red's next three games.
"I think he needs to eventually end up playing as a second forward or centrally where he's even more involved in the game," former United coach Thomas Rongen said towards the end of the 2011 season. "His numbers will go up when he plays centrally."
Whether it be through a move inside, or just a renewed focus in finding him in the attacking third, Andy Najar must get more touches on the ball in 2012.
Perry Kitchen's home is at DCM
When Perry Kitchen was drafted at the beginning of 2011, United's brass were keen on making the third overall draft pick a central back at the professional level. A year into Kitchen's career and it seems clear that thinking has changed.
"Everybody is pretty committed to seeing Perry Kitchen in the midfield," Kevin Payne told Steven Goff of The Washington Post this week. "Everybody believes that's his best position."
Our first real look at Kitchen in the holding midfield role was against Vancouver late in the season. The rookie was dispossessed from behind multiple times, something he hadn't worried much about as a defender. Seven days later, Kitchen looked much more comfortable in midfield and his sharp distribution eased United into attack on multiple occasions.
Kitchen's potential move to midfield raises questions about Clyde Simms' role with United. Simms has earned the trust of this coaching staff, but the difference in distribution quality alone should make Kitchen a clear choice over Simms moving forward.
Santino Quaranta can still contribute
Halfway through the 2011 season, Santino Quaranta was a forgotten man.
Between a concussion and a crowded midfield, Quaranta played little through the spring and summer months. Then, as soon as he was cleared in early August, Olsen turned to the veteran for a crucial match against Toronto. Quaranta answered with an assist and a ninety-minute performance, despite not having played since May.
Over the season's final three months, Quaranta played some of his best soccer since returning to United in 2008. He proved capable of playing wide or in central midfield, where his passing was an upgrade over both Clyde Simms and Stephen King. Even as a second-half substitute against Vancouver and Chicago, Quaranta provided energy and danger in the attacking third. His service on corner kicks was consistent down the stretch.
In recent years, Quaranta has drawn plenty of criticism from United's fan base. Some of the time, that criticism was warranted, but his strong play during D.C.'s playoff push deserves equal recognition.
Next Up: In Part II of this three-part series, Sebastian Salazar takes a look at the three biggest question marks left over from the 2011 season.