By almost any measure, D.C. United’s 2013 Major League Soccer season was a bust. Yes, they did win the U.S. Open Cup, but they also finished dead last in league points (16), scored the least amount of league goals (22), gave up the second most number of goals (59) and, of course, missed the playoffs.
In fact, their 2013 campaign was so bad, they finished with 10 less points than Chivas USA—who suffered through one of the most embarrassing seasons in MLS history—and 13 points behind Toronto FC—who were downright awful.
Considering how bad the Black and Red were in 2013, it might seem like a fantasy to think they could win the league in 2014. But considering their coach, their talent level and their off-season moves, that’s exactly what could be in the cards.
The 2013 MLS season was a season for young coaches. Mike Petke took the New York Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield and Caleb Porter engineered a remarkable turnaround in Portland that turned the Timbers into one of the most feared teams in the league.
But in 2012, the hot, young coach in MLS was Ben Olsen. Although Olsen had some rough patches as the interim coach for the second half of the 2010 season and only guided the team to a 9-13-12 record in 2011 in his first full season in charge, 2012 was a banner year for Olsen and United. The team finished second in the Eastern Conference and third, overall, in the league.
D.C. United entered the 2012 playoffs on a seven-game unbeaten streak and bested the Red Bulls and their big-name lineup of Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill, in the conference semifinals.
While there’s no doubt that 2013 was a nightmare, Olsen proved in 2012 that he can get it done with the right pieces in place. He will have the chance to prove it again in 2014.
D.C. United has made a number of big moves this off-season, but before those moves even began, they had a number of important pieces in-house.
In the back, they have talented young goalkeeper Bill Hamid and center-back/holding midfielder Perry Kitchen. Hamid is still prone to the occasional mistake, but his shot-stopping ability is undeniable. Kitchen fell off the radar a bit in 2013, but he is a former U.S. youth international and, at only 21 years of age, already has three full seasons of MLS play under his belt.
In the midfield, D.C. has Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon and Luis Silva, three very talented attack-minded players. Pontius was so good in 2012 that many were calling for him to receive a United States men’s national team call-up and DeLeon finished 2012 with six goals and four assists as a rookie. Silva picked up three goals and two assists in 2013 for United, despite only playing 13 games for the team.
Last summer, the team also picked up former U.S. youth internationals Jared Jeffrey and Conor Doyle midseason.
With those pieces already in place, D.C. United’s off-season moves may put the team over the top in 2014.
This off-season, D.C. United has been one of the most active teams in MLS. They picked up American international Eddie Johnson, who has 26 goals in his last two MLS seasons. They nabbed Bobby Boswell, an experienced center-back with 10 years of MLS experience, who helped lead the Houston Dynamo to back-to-back MLS Cup finals. They signed right-back Sean Franklin, who helped the LA Galaxy to back-to-back MLS Cups. They traded for Jeff Parke, who was twice named the Seattle Sounders’ Defender of the Year, and Davy Arnaud, an experienced MLS veteran.
Finally, they picked up forward Fabian Espindola, who has scored 28 goals in his last three MLS seasons.
When you add all these new signings to a coach eager to prove himself and a solid foundation of talent already in place, D.C. United have to be considered one of the favorites for 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran
Follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/AmericanTouchline