As D.C. United introduced a quartet of midseason reinforcements — including the most expensive signing in club history — the narrative wrote itself.
For a last-place club mired in an 0-6-1 skid, the unveiling of playmaker Zoltan Stieber, defensive midfielder Russell Canouse, forward Bruno Miranda and winger Paul Arriola offered a silver lining to a seemingly lost season.
While United sits 13 points out of a playoff spot with 11 matches remaining, those additions have the club poised for a brighter future when its long-awaited soccer-specific stadium, Audi Field, opens next year in Southwest.
But that’s not the storyline being spun in the United locker room — not yet, at least.
“We got talent, we’ve filled positional needs and we’re very, very excited, not only about Audi Field but this year,” United general manager Dave Kasper said, “because this season is not over.”
Even if qualifying for the postseason comes across as a pipe dream, the mindset sends a message about the club’s plans for the home stretch of its final season at RFK Stadium — starting when Real Salt Lake (7-12-5) visits United (5-14-4) on Saturday.
“We need to get more points and still make our team relevant over the next couple months and see if we can’t make a run at this thing,” coach Ben Olsen said. “I haven’t ruled us out. Everybody has, but I think the guys are still very committed to make this thing interesting.”
For a club with a league-worst 19 goals scored in 23 games, Arriola represents a particularly welcome injection of attacking vigor. Although United, per league policy, did not announce the transfer fee the club paid to sign the 22-year-old from Mexico’s Club Tijuana this week, D.C. did confirm it was the largest payment in team history.
Known for his speed and unrelenting work ethic, Arriola emerged as a U.S. national team regular this summer — earning the nod for a World Cup qualifier against Mexico and starting all three knockout-round games as the Americans won the CONCACAF Gold Cup last month.
Arriola is expected to man the right flank for United, while Stieber — a 28-year-old Hungary national team veteran — is poised to play on the left. In Canouse, 22, and Miranda, 19, the club also has bolstered its roster with a pair of enticing prospects.
“Bringing in players brings, I think, some hunger to the team,” Canouse said. “Me personally, I’m going to come in to fight. I’m ready to go. And I think it’s pretty special for everyone coming in now to have an opportunity to be a part of the tradition of RFK and slowly transition into Audi Field.”
The buildup to Wednesday’s trade and transfer deadline wasn’t only about incoming talent, with United sending defender Bobby Boswell to Atlanta and midfielder-forward Lamar Neagle to Seattle in exchange for draft picks.
Both players played influential roles in the club’s run to the postseason last year, but the veterans were deemed expendable as United looked to clear roster space for this week’s flurry of signings.
“If you don’t do well and you’re in last place, no one’s really safe,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “Obviously we’ve got something to prove.”
If nothing else, the players in United’s locker room understand the coming months could serve as an audition for a 2018 roster slot. As a reloaded squad looks to also send out RFK in style and set the tone for Audi Field’s introduction, there suddenly is renewed energy going into the final 11 matches of 2017.
“I’m confident that we’re going to make the playoffs for the years to come,” Arriola said. “But the season’s not over. I think everyone in the locker room, no one has put their head down — at least from what I’ve seen. I’m asking to get on the field as quickly as I can because [it’s] one game at a time and you never know what can happen.”
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.