First as a resident of the D.C. Metro area, I just wanted to send my thoughts out to all of the families who lost a love one on Monday in the senseless shootings at the D.C. Navy Yard. I lived in Washington D.C. for five years, commute there every day for work, and I was raised in St. Mary’s County where one of the people killed on Monday was from. I know a lot of people from the area read this page (Thanks!) so I hope this provides some joy in an otherwise dark time. No political statements here, just my thoughts to those victims in this senseless tragedy.
Oh DC U,
You got what I need,
And we say you need a goal,
And we say you need a goal..
Club Founded: 1996
Record: 3 Wins- 19 Losses- 6 Draws (Last Place in the Eastern Conference and in Major League Soccer.)
Pedigree: 4-time Winners of the MLS Cup (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004,) 5-Time Eastern Conference Champion (1997, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2007,) 2-Time Winners of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (1996, 2008,) and 4-Time Winner of the Supporters Shield (1997, 1999, 2006, 2007.)
Rivals: New York Red Bulls (Atlantic Cup,) Philadelphia Union, Los Angeles Galaxy (This rivalry is more about trophies than any bad blood between the two squads,) AND the Charleston Battery (The Coffee Pot Cup.)
Coach: Ben Olsen
Top Returning Players: GK Bill Hamid, DEF Chris Korb, DEF/MID Perry Kitchen, MID Nick De Leon, FWD Dwayne De Rosario, FWD Chris Pontius.
Key Additions: DEF James Riley (Chivas USA,) DEF Denis Iapachino (Montreal Impact,) MID John Thorrington (Vancouver Whitecaps,) MID Sainey Nyassi (New England Revolution,) MID Jared Jeffrey (Mainz 05-Germany,) MID Luis Silva (Toronto F.C.) FWD Kyle Porter (F.C. Edmonton-NASL,) and FWD Conor Doyle (Derby County- England.)
Key Departures: DEF Mike Chabala (Houston Dynamo,) DEF Alain Rochat (BSC Young Boys- Switzerland,) DEF Brandon McDonald (Colorado Rapids,) MID Branko Boskovic (Rapid Wien-Austria,) MID Andy Najar (Anderlecht-Belgium,) FWD Hamdi Salihi (Jiangsu Sainty-China,) FWD Maicon Santos (Chicago Fire,) FWD Emiliano Dudar (Chiasso- Switzerland.)
Top Young Players to Watch: MF Collin Martin
Saturday was supposed to be a special day for D.C. United. With Jaime Moreno, the league’s all-time leading goal scorer, being enshrined in the team’s Hall of Tradition it was a time to remember how truly important this team has been to the league and to me. Having grown up a D.C. United supporter, my memories of the team is of the first match at home against the Columbus Crew, of their first title, the exhibition in 2005 where the club nearly beat Chelsea, and of course Marco Etcheverry (El Diablo, kids,), Jaime Moreno, John Harkes, Jeff Agoos, and Tony Sanneh. This was the team that all other teams emulated their programs and style around, and was unquestionably the most dominant team in Major League Soccer.
The operative word there is “was.” To say that D.C. United has been a disappointment in recent years is an understatement. Although United is tied with the Los Angeles Galaxy for the most MLS Cup victories with 4, they have only had one winning season in their past five years. This year has been by far their worst year, where the club has only won 3 matches all season, has scored a league-worst 18 goals and allowed 46 goals, which is second worst in the league. They are also 0-16-1 when the opposition scores first. Just horrible statistics that show you how bad this team has been this season.
The picture looks much worse when you realize that the club has only made the playoffs once in five years, and has only had one winning season during the same duration. When I was watching the game on Saturday, it felt like I was not watching D.C. United, like I was watching a different team. Although I have followed the team for years, it is difficult to look at where this team is and associate them with past glory. If the team was improving it would be one thing. But this squad needs tremendous help to even get itself back to respectability.
Who is to blame for their dysfunction? Management. During the golden years of D.C. United, the club was run by arguably Major League Soccer’s best coach, Bruce Arena and one of the best general managers in Kevin Payne. The club was always able to find the right mix of international players (Moreno, Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce,) with U.S. National Team players (Jeff Agoos, John Harkes,) and diamonds in the rough (Tony Sanneh and Carlos Llamosa.) Unfortunately after Arena left the club in 1998 and the club’s veterans began to retire, the club did a poor job of replacing their players. Freddy Adu anyone?
Change of ownership was part of the problem. When the club was originally founded in 1996 it was owned by progressive billionaire George Soros. From 1996 to 1999, the club found its greatest success winning 3 MLS Cups and the 1996 U.S. Open Cup. After Soros sold the club to Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2001, the club tried to start moving out some of the older players and bringing in newer players like Alecko Eskandarian, Bobby Convey, Justin Mapp, and of course Freddy Adu. It took a while for the club to get back on its feet, but the club once again won the MLS Cup in 2008.
Since 2007, the club has had 3 different ownership groups run the club, each with their different ideas and philosophies. They even had former Duke basketball player Christian Laettner purchase some stock in the team. Coaches and cheap international players have come and gone and the team has continued to sink lower and lower in the standings. There has been very little consistency in the structure of the organization, which has trickled down to the field. When their current owner, Erick Tholnir (who is also the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers) took over the club in July 2012, there was talk of the team becoming a global brand.
Then of course there is the stadium situation. For those that do not know, D.C. United is one of two teams in Major League Soccer that does not play in a soccer-specific stadium (the other is the New England Revolution.) The club currently plays at R.F.K. Stadium, the former home to the Washington Professional Football Team, a stadium that is close to 50 years old and has seen better days. I have seen raccoons in the bathrooms, felt the stadium move as Barra Brava cheered on United, and smelled some of the foulest odors while going to matches. And avoid the food at all cost.
Although it appears that D.C. United will be moving into a new stadium in Southeast Washington D.C. sometime around 2015-2016 (Though it still has to get approved by the D.C. City Council, one of the most inept and corrupt legislative bodies outside of FIFA,) the stadium is not the reason why United has taken a nosedive. Having watched enough MLS matches, I have seen teams like Sporting Kansas City and San Jose Earthquakes make it to the MLS Cup while playing in minor league baseball parks. And last year I saw about 40,000 people show up to a D.C. United playoff match. Teams do not need fancy stadiums, cup holders, and modern accoutrements to win on the field. They need direction from ownership, a plan from management, and quality players on the field. If United ownership assumes that all of their problems will be resolved with a shiny new park, they are fooling themselves and their fans.
For the team this season, their main problem has been injuries. What made last year’s squad so special was the chemistry that their starting 11 had. With young players like Defender Perry Kitchen and Midfielder Nick De Leon and proven veterans like Midfielder Dwayne De Rosario and Forward Chris Pontius (Hamstring,) the team had a solid flow from defense to their striking options up front. Coach Ben Olson adopted 4-1-3-2 system that allowed for creativity on the wings and let De Rosario control the center of the field. However, with this year’s team, all four players have been sidelined with major injuries. That in addition to the injuries of Defender Chris Korb (Hamstring,) Defender Lewis Neal (Groin,) Midfielder John Thorrington (Knee,) and Forward Lionard Pajoy (Hernia) has crippled the squad.
Replacing these players has been difficult. While I like the recent additions of Midfielder Luis Silva (3 goals in 8 appearances with the club) and Forward Conor Doyle, some of their other acquisitions have left a lot to be desired. Forward Carlos Ruiz is a shell of his former self. Oh, he is still able to flop at the most ridiculous phantom challenges. Unfortunately, he lacks the ability to put foot on ball in a direction near a goal. Their other major off-season addition, the Brazilian striker Raphael has already left the team. He had once nice goal against the Columbus Crew and then could not handle the physical play.
The club also did not do themselves any favors by moving quality veteran players like Defender Brandon McDonald and Forward Maicon Santos. They may not be All-Stars, but every team needs glue players, players that can make a spot start if there is an injury. For relief, the club has often had to tap into their reserves that are playing with the NASL team Richmond Kickers, which is the minor league affiliate of D.C. United. While the club is currently in the NASL playoffs and have shown great promise, these are mostly kids who are 18-23 years old who are at least a year away from being ready to play in MLS. There are some promising players in this group. 18 -year- old Midfielder Collin Martin has looked superb in his first four matches with the club, playing energy and pace that the team has needed for months. 23-year-old Midfielder Jared Jeffrey has also impressed, scoring a goal in the 3-1 victory over the Montreal Impact.
But with a young team there will obviously there will be growing pains. The club has committed 88 offside fouls this season, which is the second most in MLS. They have also had great difficulty finding the back of the net. For some perspective on their scoring maladies, the leading goal scorer in MLS, Montreal forward Marco di Vaio, has actually scored more goals this season (18) than the entire D.C. United team (17.)
That being said, the club has played much, much better the past few weeks than they had at the beginning of the season. Now I use the term “better” loosely because they have only earned 5 points in 10 matches. In Saturday’s match against the Galaxy, you could start to see some of the chemistry that the club had last season. De Leon and Kitchen were starting plays from the back. Defender Chris Korb, who reminds me of a bulldog, was mixing it up with the likes of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan and able to stymie the attack of the Galaxy on numerous occasions. Full credit to their improved squad should go to Coach Ben Olsen. Although he has been through the wringer this year, you can tell that the group that they have out there are at least trying for him. He has had a few blow ups, and may have been ejected from a match or two, but he has generally been a steadying force for the team.
I also really like the trade of Luis Silva from Toronto F.C. Ever since he was picked up in the middle of July; he has added an immediate spark to the midfield. In yesterday’s match against the Galaxy, his breaks on the left flank gave United multiple goal scoring opportunities, including the goal that Chris Pontius scored to even up the match. He also scored a peach of a goal against the Montreal Impact earlier this season. Considering the only thing that United gave up for him was money, which they would have probably spent on a washed up South American, I consider this to be a victory for D.C.
He seems to have taken over the role of playmaker from De Rosario, who appears to be on his last legs. Perhaps it is due to the mounting injuries that he has sustained over the years, but De Ro has not been the same player that he was two years ago when the club signed him and he was named MLS MVP. At 35, no one should expect him to be playing like he was 25. While he still can be creative with his shots, and he did make an excellent goal against Toronto F.C. three weeks ago, it does not appear that he has the same stamina that he once did. He looked absolutely gassed at about the 70 minute mark in Saturday’s match, which is shocking given that it was a pleasant 70 degrees with a cool breeze at RFK.
While it would benefit the team to have him as a 60 minute player or a super-sub next season, if he can be shipped off for younger players the club should do it. In the past, he has shown himself to be difficult in accepting change and the club cannot continue rolling him out for 90 minutes because his ego cannot accept his limits.
They also need to make a decision on Forward Chris Pontius. Pontius has been one of my favorite players for many years now, but his injury history makes him a liability. He showed promise this past week that he can get back into form, but until he can do it on a weekly basis I am skeptical. He has often looked very shaky and unsure of himself since coming back from his injury three weeks ago. In the Chivas match, he had an excellent opportunity to level the score in the 74th minute. However, he looked at where he wanted to shoot and missed the ball and then-over corrected for a wild kick. Perhaps he could get his touch back with time, but United may want to look at moving him if a better deal comes.
The club also needs to figure what it is going to do with Goalkeeper Bill Hamid. While Hamid has been pegged by many (including yours truly) to be one of the next great American goalkeepers, the fact of the matter is that he has not made the improvements in technique and in maturity to be considered one of the best goalkeepers in the country. I was incredibly happy that he was not named to the Gold Cup squad this year for the U.S. Men’s National Team because it would be rewarding him for false achievements. Yes, he is physically capable of handling the position.
Yes he has made some of the best saves in all of MLS this season. But when you look at his positioning on shots, his distribution to his defenders after key saves, and his ability to gather his defenders, he still needs to improve. He has just been maddeningly inconsistent. For example in the match against Chivas U.S.A., he was able to make an incredible save (1:30 mark) based off of natural skill. But this was also in the same match where he chose to volley a ball in the air as opposed catch it with his chest. Not all of D.C. United’s problems can be blamed on their defense. The star goalkeeper needs to shoulder some of the blame as well.
He is still a young player and he does have time to mature. But he has also shown interest in playing abroad, so perhaps it is time to see what his value is and move on. Their two backups, Joe Willis and Andrew Dykstra, have shown some promise. I would like to see Hamid stay, but only if his actual value can finally exceed his potential.
It will be very interesting to see what direction this club goes in the next few months. Tholnir will have had a full year to assess what the club’s capabilities are and what they lack. The club will be playing the U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake on October 2nd so they still have an opportunity to win a major trophy this season. With a potential spot in the CONCACAF Champions League (the winner of the Open Cup qualifies for this tournament) and a top pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft all but sealed after losing to Chivas U.S.A. 2 weeks ago, the club will have a few assets for next season. There is a nucleus of young and talented players to build around. But their long-term success depends on finding some consistency in management and a core of players that can stay healthy and be dependable. Only then will D.C. United return to the ranks of the best teams in Major League Soccer.
Beer of Choice: D.C. Brau, The Citizen
While most United supporters would say that the Bud Ice King Kong beer which is sold at RFK Stadium is the beer of choice, we here at Global Football Today try to go for beers that you can enjoy at the park and on your couch. While Bud Ice is great for tossing after goals it tastes like it was the first keg cracked at RFK fifty years ago. Side note: never eat the hot dogs at RFK Stadium. Ever.
While watching a D.C. United match you should have a beer that is filling, has a little bit of hops to it, and is a little bit stronger than your average beer. The Citizen is a Belgian-style ale that has a slight orange taste to it and a bit of a kick at 7.0% ABV. When watching a United match, you need a drink that will taste good and help you loosen up as you jump up and down sing with the rest of Barra Brava. Plus, make sure to share your beer with the raccoons that live in the stadium!