For all of the attention placed on D.C. United's historically inept attack in 2013, one might overlook the league's second-worst back line and its role in that 3-24-7 record.
But the defense was certainly a priority for the D.C. front office Thursday, when United became the first club in the re-entry draft's four-year history to select multiple players in stage one by picking right back Sean Franklin and center back Bobby Boswell.
"This has been the best re-entry draft," general manager Dave Kasper told Goal USA. "And it happened to be a re-entry where in stage one we could address some needs. It's hard to make trades in our league; it's not easy. Essentially we got two free players today."
While the attack hasn't been ignored, with the club trading Wednesday for veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud from the Montreal Impact, United in a five-minute span Thursday rebuilt half of a back line that allowed 59 goals in 2013.
The gem of United's offseason thus far, Franklin won 2008 Rookie of the Year honors, was an All-Star in 2011, and started for the LA Galaxy's 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup-winning sides.
"It's definitely going to be a change for me, growing up in LA and I've been here my whole life, but I'm excited," said Franklin, a Cal State Northridge product. "It's always tough when you leave your closest friends and family. But I'm grown now — I'm an old man. So it is one of those things where this could be a good change for me."
After enjoying success in 2012 with Andy Najar as an overlap-friendly right back, United struggled to create chances last year following Najar's sale to Belgian side Anderlecht. In coach Ben Olsen's midfield-clogging 4-2-3-1, dynamic threats from the flanks are critical.
Combining the regular season and playoffs, Franklin has compiled six goals and 22 assists over the past four years, making him one of the top attacking fullbacks MLS has to offer.
"Sean is someone who is in the prime of his career, and he is guy that we see getting up and down the right-hand side," Kasper said. "It's pretty rare to find a solid player of his ability in the re-entry draft, so when we saw his name we were very excited. ... We do like our right backs to get as forward as possible. It fits the way Ben likes to play, and Sean fits that role."
Although Boswell isn't coming off his finest season, he still started a remarkable 43 matches in all competitions for the Houston Dynamo in 2013. And before spending six solid years in Houston, Boswell was a fan-favorite with United, winning MLS Defender of the Year in 2006.
As Kasper put it, Boswell adds "much-needed leadership in the back line." Between him and Franklin, United's unit has seen an instant upgrade in MLS pedigree.
"Bobby has been around the league for a long time, he's won championships, and it's the same for Sean Franklin — he knows what it takes to be a part of a winning team," Arnaud said. "I think that's important. You have to have guys that get it, and you have to have guys who know what it takes in MLS, and both of those guys certainly do."
Looking ahead, Kasper confirmed the organization is still in talks with players it made available in the re-entry draft and that "it's possible one or more of those players will be returning to the team" before Wednesday's second stage, which offers clubs more flexibility to negotiate contracts.
While the team formally parted ways with Dwayne De Rosario, Marcelo Saragosa and Carlos Ruiz in October, it has made no such announcement on Daniel Woolard, James Riley and John Thorrington.
When asked about dedicating a significant portion of the salary cap to the veteran trio of Franklin (28 years old), Boswell (30) and Arnaud (33) — all of whom made at least $220,000 last season — Kasper cited the team's flexibility to make further acquisitions.
With the top spot in the allocation order, the first selection in the re-entry draft's second stage, the No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft and considerable allocation money, United has plenty of roster mechanisms at its disposal.
"There's still more to come," Kasper said. "We still have salary cap available to make more additions, and we plan on doing that."
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