D.C. United fans experienced quite the unexpected shock two days after the toughest defeat of the season.
To pile on to the 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union, the news became official that Wayne Rooney — who has supplied so many memories in just over a year in the District — will be leaving at the end of the season to return to England in a player-coach role for Derby County.
But in waiting to leave in January, Rooney will return to Audi Field and try to help United make the playoffs in 2019. The Black-and-Red are in a bit of a rut at the moment, having won just two of their past 13 games. But while the news of Rooney leaving made headlines this week, United were busy in bringing in several players that can help the team in 2019 and moving forward into 2020.
The biggest of the acquisitions was Ola Kamara, a Norweigan striker with three years experience in MLS who scored plenty of goals with the Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy. Kamara left MLS earlier this year for China, but he now returns after making six appearances for Shenzhen FC. The Norweigan has mostly played as a striker but scored 14 goals in 2018 while mainly manning the left wing, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing up top.
His arrival will offer head coach Ben Olsen a couple of different options for starting lineups and formations. Kamara could play up top alongside Rooney, who would inevitably drop further back anyway. Rooney could also line up in the midfield, with Kamara taking over as the lone striker. Or Olsen could use Kamara on the wing and beef up the scoring from the wide positions, though it doesn't seem as likely.
The newly acquired striker turns 30 in October, so there's a chance that United will build around his presence up top going in 2020, and maybe focus on another position in which to bring in a high profile signing. And if Kamara can replicate his previous goal-scoring rate in MLS — in which he scored 48 goals in 90 appearances in three years — then Olsen might have another solution to goal scoring, alongside Rooney for the rest of the season.
In addition to Kamara, United brought in two other players with plenty of MLS experience that can help the club over the final nine games of the season. With Russell Canouse and Chris Durkin possibly out for the entire month of August and Junior Moreno suspended for Sunday's game against the Galaxy, D.C. needed some help at the defensive midfield position.
That help came via a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps, which saw the Black-and-Red acquire Felipe Martins. The 28-year-old Brazilian midfielder has spent the last eight seasons in MLS, playing with the Montreal Impact, New York Red Bulls, and 'Caps. During that time, Felipe has scored 24 goals and provided 48 assists, meaning he can help aid the attack, while he'll mostly be asked to provide cover for the back line.
Felipe might not have many fans yet at Buzzard Point, but he will always put in the maximum effort when on the field, which makes him an ideal player for Olsen. And given how long Canouse and Durkin might be out, Felipe's presence over the rest of the season might make the difference between United making the playoffs in 2019 or missing them completely.
And one thing that he 2019 version of United has sorely missed has been exceptional speed on the wings. That need was addressed this week when United traded for Emmanuel Boateng from the Galaxy. The Ghanian will be by far the quickest winger United have on the roster now, which will help a stagnate offense be able to stretch defenses.
Boateng can play in space or while running at defenders with the ball. That should give Olsen options on the left wing, opposite of Paul Arriola. With Boateng, there's more speed, more heading right at defenders in order to create chaos. With Lucas Rodriguez in that role, the Argentine will help connect dots more, move possession through crowded midfields. Earlier this year, Olsen didn't have as many options to craft a style of play to attack weaknesses in opponents. Now, with Boateng on the roster, there are more options for United over the course of a game, for the rest of the season.
It's important to keep in mind that even with the loss to the Union and the impending departure of Rooney, United still occupy a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. There are nine games left in the regular season for the Black-and-Red to turn around their form and make the playoffs for the second year in a row. And with the new arrivals this week, United might have righted the ship in time to make a run at the playoffs.