Thursday will mark the Superdraft, and with it, the rapidly approaching opening to the 2015 season.
For sure, FCD's current roster is due for some serious changes. We might see a key young player picked up through the Superdraft, and we have to assume other signings, transfers, or trades are imminent. Drew did a fine job over the weekend highlighting where the team currently stands as far as depth. We might see up to 5-6 new players arriving to shore up the midfield and defense over the next few weeks.
However, preseason can also be a time to see familiar faces depart, especially youngsters who have been unable to make the cut or veterans who aren't good enough to compete for their spot on the team. It's also a time to see competition shake up roster spots and the starting XI lineup. It's hard to imagine Hedges, Perez, Castillo, and Diaz losing their starting job, but other players, especially younger players, are still going to have to fight to keep their starting roles and show that they are ready to take the next step.
I'm going to breakdown who I think needs to have a great preseason in each category, and then I want to hear your thoughts on who needs to take that next step in 2015.
As Drew mentioned, our GK situation is pretty darn good. We have a young, bright prospect in Jesse Gonzalez who likely continue to develop and even get some serious minutes in international play this season. I don't think his spot on the roster is in jeopardy regardless of his preseason performance. The key battle will be whether which of Dan Kennedy or Chris Seitz emerges as the No. 1, although both are going to get time in goal over the course of the season.
Walker Zimmerman needs to have a breakthrough preseason. In flashes, the youngster has shown why he has looked like a potential starter and difference maker. I love the power of this goal against SKC in 2013. At times, he has been pedestrian, hampered by injury and just too slow in the run of play. This is a critical preseason and season for him. I don't necessarily see him leaving the team if he comes into camp in poor form, but I would love to see him come in ready to compete for the spot next to Matt Hedges. He's had two seasons to adjust - it's time for him to step up.
Moises Hernandez and Je-Vaughn Watson are two others that I hope have a great preseason. For now, Hernandez has a lock on the LB position, but I think coaches will be looking for him to continue to grow in confidence and aggressiveness as he goes into the 2015 season. Watson meanwhile has definitely earned a place on this team, even convincing "Watson-haters" like myself that he can contribute in various spots. The question for him is whether he is going to make RB his position or move back into the midfield. If he does and Zach Loyd moves over to CB, one huge hole gets filled on FCD's back line. If Loyd resumes his play at RB, then Watson will have to earn his starting position elsewhere in the lineup. I don't think either of these guys have a chance of getting cut or traded, but the team needs them to take that next step in their development and confidence. If Watson does remain at RB, I hope he works harder on his crossing and overlapping runs to make FCD's attack vastly more dangerous. Hernandez is also due to work on that aspect of his game.
Danny Garcia is the one young midfielder who really needs to have that breakthrough in 2015. This preseason is really critical for him. If FCD had more depth on the wings, he might be in more danger to lose his spot on the roster, though he is still very young. He served the team to the best of his ability in 2014, being played out of position at times, but he couldn't get back on the field. I bet he gets loaned in 2015, but the potential is there for him to come in and earn a spot as a consistent backup. He really needs to take that next step. Could he play right wing? Is he just Castillo's backup? Is he wanting to emerge as a backup to Diaz in the center of the park? There are many questions that Garcia needs to begin to answer this preseason.
Brian Span and Ryan Hollingshead really fall into the same category as Danny Garcia. They probably won't feel as much pressure as some other members of the roster, as they are both still sort of new and likely adjusting to MLS play. Span got a loan last season, while a guy like Garcia stuck around, indicating where OP and company may feel about his development level. Hollingshead got some first team minutes and will likely feature some more off the bench. Both could use this preseason to earn bigger roles. I really hope that Hollingshead can take another step forward, as it seems like he may be what OP is looking for in a counterweight to Castillo's offensive style.
I am also looking to Victor Ulloa to have a great preseason. It was so much fun to see this guy go from being cut to earning his starting role over the course of the season. He matured before our eyes. His confidence grew with each game. It's exciting to think about what 2015 may mean for him, so it's clear that this preseason is really important for him to cement his starting role and become even more of an influence on the way this team plays. Like any young player, there are things that need to be worked on, but in some ways, he is a key as to how well FCD will improve as a whole in 2015.
Kellyn Acosta is another player that has an interesting mix of pressure on him to have a breakthrough preseason. I don't think he is in any danger of being cut, but the question is whether he will earn that starting spot at either RB or in midfield or be a great piece off the bench. Could he be Ulloa's partner in crime in 2015? With a strong preseason, there's no reason to think that the possibility is not there. How massive would it be to have two young homegrown players anchor this midfield going forward?
With the departure of Jonathan Top, I don't think there is a tremendous amount of pressure on any of the young strikers on the roster. They have time to develop, to acclimate to the team. However, I do hope Tesho Akindele has a huge preseason. We've seen forwards in this league have a tough sophomore year, and I expect there will be stretches of that for Tesho as teams adjust to his abilities. However, he has the opportunity this preseason to take that next huge step. I hope to see him become more dangerous and lethal in his abilities. His time with the USMNT January camp might even give us a clue. My dream would be to see him come in and supplant Blas Perez in some situations as the No. 1 striker on this team. Wouldn't that be amazing?
David Texeira also needs a breakthrough season. He flashed just enough in a couple of critical games against Seattle to show that he has the potential to make a real difference for FCD, but 2015 is make or break for him. I would not be surprised if he is cut or departs the team in this preseason, although his contract might make that really difficult. In truth, I hope he emerges as a legitimate forward for this team and begins to partner with Tesho or Blas in a more consistent basis.
I'll softly mention Atiba Harris here too. He has experience and flexibility to serve this team in a variety of ways, so I would be surprised if he is cut. But he really needs to step up and earn his role on this team. There are many skeptical fans who were not excited about seeing him back with FCD, so he does have some work ahead of him. Let's hope he proves his versatility this preseason and becomes a really useful player over the course of the season.
As changes to the roster come over the next several weeks, I'll plan to come back and take another look at the status of the depth chart and what new faces need to step up.
Who do you think needs to have a breakthrough preseason in 2015?