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DC United opens training camp


There were no glittery signings or blockbuster trades

Steven Goff/ The Washington Post | 1/23/2015, 12:05 p.m.
DC United opens training camp
El técnico del D.C. United, Ben Olsen, está convencido de que el club puede tener éxito en 2015 sin la contratación de grandes estrellas internacionales. | José Luis Argueta para ETL

As MLS teams snatched up top-profile players from overseas, raising the league’s global profile and stirring interest in local markets, Ben Olsen and D.C. United concentrated on holding the core of the roster together this winter. There were no glittery signings or blockbuster trades. Confident in a well-tested group that executed the greatest one-year turnaround in MLS history, United left the big moves — and big paychecks — to others.

“I think we can have success without the big names and the big splashes,” Olsen said. “Now you have got to prove that year in and year out.”

Without the fanfare of a world-class arrival, United initiated training camp Thursday at RFK Stadium with most of 2014′s key performers, plus a few newcomers, getting reacquainted. Olsen will oversee a workout at Long Bridge Park in Arlington on Friday before operations swing to Bradenton, Fla., this weekend.

Every starter and several reserves from a first-place squad have returned. So while New York City FC added Frank Lampard and David Villa, Orlando City inked Kaka, Los Angeles grabbed Steven Gerrard and Toronto signed Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, United quietly went about the business of building off last year’s renaissance.

“There is a place for world-class players — everyone wants them on their team, everyone wants to play against them – but a lot of teams I’ve been on have proven you don’t need that to have success,” said United captain Bobby Boswell, whose no-frills Houston teams succeeded almost every year.

There are two forces at work: United liked last year’s group and, until new revenue streams open ahead of the new stadium at Buzzard Point, the club will not splurge on pricey talent.

“It’s not who we are,” Olsen said. “It’s not going to be who we are for several years, at least until the new stadium hits. That is clear. And that is okay. I don’t mind it.”

United was not completely inactive in the international market. It signed Markus Halsti, a Finnish national team veteran formerly with Swedish champion Malmo. He will provide depth in central midfield and, when necessary, on the backline.

The club also bolstered frontline depth by trading for Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta, who played three years with Columbus.

The most noteworthy departures were reserve goalkeeper Joe Willis, midfielder Lewis Neal and defender Jeff Parke, who started the first 13 matches before injuries ended his season.

With more MLS teams willing to spend on glamorous players — and the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy having won three of the past four titles — is United falling behind? D.C.’s personnel does not think so.

“You can just look at us last year,” midfielder-forward Chris Pontius said. “Throughout the season, we didn’t need an international star. We didn’t need one in postseason either; we just needed to perform better as a team.

“All these players coming here, it’s great for the league. I look forward to playing against them and obviously it’s going to help those teams, but we have plenty of talent in our locker room.”