United once more: Soccer returns to D.C.

WASHINGTON — After surviving a labor scare, the Major League Soccer season will kick off as scheduled on Saturday, with D.C. United hosting the Montreal Impact at RFK Stadium at 3 p.m. It’s been an eventful offseason — if one can even call it that — with plenty happening on and off the field.

Late Wednesday evening, with threats of a strike looming, the players and owners agreed on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement running through the 2019 season. Here are the key take-aways:

  • The players established a limited form of free agency which will only affect players 28 and older with at least eight years of experience. Raises for free agents were structured within set limits on salary increases.
  • The minimum salary was raised from $36,000 to $60,000.
  • The salary cap was raised, but it is unclear yet by how much.

While establishing some form of free agency may seem like a win for the players, not everyone was happy with the result. “Not only did this deal destroy the future of the American player; it barely helps the current group of players,” one player involved in the negotiations told Sports Illustrated.

Nevertheless, by limiting the new CBA to five years while the league’s new television deal stretches for eight, the players will have another chance to renegotiate greater gains after seeing how the league fares the next few seasons.

“At the end of the day, we’re soccer players and we want to play soccer,” said veteran Bobby Boswell, one of D.C. United’s player representatives.

The CBA was announced just as D.C. United was playing in what turned out to be their final game of the CONCACAF Champions League, a 2-1 home victory over Alajuelense. Due to United’s 5-2 loss in the first leg of the matchup in Costa Rica last weekend, they lost the aggregate score 6-4 and were eliminated.

While disappointing, that will allow them to direct their full attention to the MLS season, beginning with Montreal Saturday. In a fitting twist, the Impact also competed in the CONCACAF Champions League this week, so neither should enjoy any sort of rest advantage.

“We’ll be in the same boat for the most part on Saturday, in terms of bodies and depth,” said United head coach Ben Olsen earlier this week.

As for the conditions, despite the snow Thursday, the sun is expected to be out with temperatures in the 40s on Saturday. That should be an improvement over the freezing rain the team endured Wednesday, but Boswell just chalks that up to the part of the game that’s out of his hands.

“I can’t control the refereeing, can’t control the field, can’t control the weather,” he said.

Key Additions

Miguel Aguilar (SuperDraft), Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew), Michael Farfan (Cruz Azul — Mexico), Markus Halsti (Malmo — Sweden)

Halsti is the most intriguing of the new additions, as the 30-year-old Finn joins the club after playing in the top flight of Swedish soccer. He has made 20 appearances for the Finnish national team and provides additional veteran depth in the midfield as one of only six United players in their 30s.

With Fabian Espindola on the bench for the first six games of the season due to a suspension dating back to last year’s playoffs, D.C. United will need to find production out of the likes of Arrieta and incumbents such as Chris Pontius early in the season to keep pace.

“We’re going to have to rely on a lot of guys (all season), and it starts this week,” said Olsen. “We’re already going to be dipping into our depth for the first game of the season.”


D.C. United is already dealing with some injuries, but hopes to be fully healthy within a few games. 2014 All-Star goalkeeper Bill Hamid made his return from a back injury on Wednesday, making four saves while allowing a single goal. Halsti is sidelined with an MCL strain, but is expected back within a week or two. Meanwhile, midfielder Luis Silva is working his way back from a soft-tissue injury in a similar spot to the hamstring injury he sustained earlier this year.

Player to watch

Bill Hamid led all MLS goaltenders to play at least 30 games in 2014 with a 1.13 goals-against average. The first homegrown D.C. United player to make the senior club, Hamid posted 10 shutouts en route to his first All-Star appearance. While there were plenty of reasons for the team’s worst-to-first turnaround, Hamid will be as big a part of backing that season up as any other member of the team. If he continues to progress this year, he might cement his role on the U.S. National Team as a potential successor to Tim Howard.


The early suspension to Espindola will hamper D.C. United’s ability to score early, and he will be missed in the two early matchups with the New York Red Bulls, who ended the red and black’s season last year. A slow start won’t keep D.C. United from a return to the playoffs, though, and they should continue to improve and get healthier as the season progresses. A Supporters’ Shield may not be in the cards, but a deep playoff run is very much a possibility.

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