D.C. United is working hard to make gains in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the MLS playoffs this year.
The 2012 season has restored hope among D.C. United fans who have stuck by their home team through two years of dismal performances.
A restructured roster and nine new players have helped the District’s Major League Soccer (MLS) team win six straight games. D.C. United is ranked second in the Eastern Conference after a 4-1 win over longtime rival, the New York Red Bulls, on April 22.
Last year, the Red Bulls beat D.C. United 4-0. What a difference a year makes.
The MLS has 19 teams, 16 in the U.S. and three in Canada. In 2011, D.C. United finished seventh in its conference, missing the MLS playoffs in a league in which 56 percent, or 10 teams, make the cut. It was the fourth straight season D.C. United didn’t make it to the postseason.
Despite difficult back-to-back seasons, D.C. United holds four MLS Cup champion titles, the most of any team since the inaugural championship match in 1996.
Fans are optimistic, but there is divided opinion about the new players. That includes a stronger defense and greater camaraderie among the players. Head Coach Ben Olsen, a 12-season D.C. United player himself, has made a point of finding new players of equal or even greater talent, and the team looks to be improving overall.
“You’re essentially looking at a similar lineup from last year but more experienced and cohesive with one another,” said Wuroh Timbo via Facebook on D.C. United’s page. “The roster will have more depth…[I] can’t help but get excited (fingers crossed).”
Instead of high-priced players taking the credit for D.C. United’s recent winning streak, new additions like Nick DeLeon, Maicon Santos and Danny Cruz are leading the charge with help from veterans like midfielders Chris Pontius and Dwayne DeRosario.
“I’m definitely over all that stuff that went on last year,” said De Rosario, commenting on the 2011 season. “It’s a new year, a new season. The main thing now is getting our guys [totally] focused.”
Olsen and the technical staff parted ways with several club veterans during the preseason, including Santino Quaranta (10 seasons), Clyde Simms (seven seasons), Devon McTavish (six seasons), and Marc Burch (five seasons). Pontius, drafted in 2009 and in his fourth season, is now the the team’s most veteran player.
In 2010, D.C. United finished last in the league, and with the worst statistical record in MLS history. They scored only 21 goals in five months of regular season play.
The team increased its goal output to 49 last season. The defense is working harder, too. Through eight games in 2011, United gave up 19 goals. This year, that number is eight.
D.C. United went into this season hoping to begin what Olsen called a “new chapter” in franchise history.
Olsen has also changed who gets substantial playing time. Several new players are being favored over more senior players who’ve been accustomed to starting. Former No. 1 choices are now serving as second choice or backup.
“It’s a matter of finding the right balance,” Olsen told The Washington Post a few days before the game against the Red Bulls.
Fans will find out next month if D.C. United is a legitimate contender in the East. The team plays the Houston Dynamo twice in the next three weeks and also has matches against the Western Conference-leaders the San Jose Earthquakes.