DC Seeks Turnaround Against Dynamo

United hopes to end 5-game losing streak
by Peter Muller   |   Wednesday, May 08, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

DC United knows as well as any franchise in Major League Soccer that a dreadful start to a season doesn’t have to mean a team can’t find success by year’s end.

In MLS’ inaugural season in 1996, the United team managed by Bruce Arena and featuring Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and John Harkes, began the year 1-6 before righting the ship, making a run at the league title and establishing the club as the early Major League Soccer dynasty.

Much has changed in MLS since the league began, but one thing hasn’t – teams that start poorly can still compete for championships. The current title holders, the Los Angeles Galaxy, began last season 3-8-2 before making their run.

But it is also true that United’s performances this year have put them in an enormous hole and shown little indication the squad is capable of such a dramatic turnaround.

If there is any hope for the 2013 campaign to be salvaged, the team needs to put an end to its 5-game losing streak when it faces the Houston Dynamo at RFK stadium Wednesday night.

The early stages of United’s season have been characterized by a sluggish offense that creates few goal scoring chances and often fails to convert the opportunities that do materialize; a defense that appeared solid in the first few games but has regressed in recent weeks, culminating in Brandon McDonald’s meltdown in Columbus last week; and a handful of controversial decisions that have gone against them.

United is the lowest-scoring team in MLS, putting the ball in the net just 4 times in 8 matches, and it is the only side that has yet to score a goal away from home. Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon accounted for 25 goals and 9 assists in 2012, but they have yet to score a goal and have tallied just 2 assists among them this year.

The lack of offense highlights the absence of Andy Najar, whose surging runs out of the right back position provided a spark last year that is missing this season. Najar’s ability to disrupt defenses with his speed and quickness created opportunities for United’s attacking players. Without him, United’s attack has looked staid and predictable.

The front office brought in little in the way of reinforcements during the offseason, with young Brazilian Rafael and aging Guatemalan Carlos Ruiz failing to offer much so far. Unless, and until United can find other options, De Rosario, Pontius and DeLeon will have to find a way out of United’s offensive funk.

The defensive problems should be easier to fix. Manager Ben Olsen has a healthy core to choose from, and, while none may be all-star candidates, all are capable MLS defenders. And they are backed up by goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who is prone to the occasional blunder but is one of the better young goalkeepers in MLS.

It is the mental errors that have to be addressed. Until United’s offense gets revved up, the team cannot afford the types of lazy mistakes McDonald made against Columbus or the failures to mark closely on set pieces that cost DC in earlier games.

On the plus side for United, both DeLeon and Pontius appear ready to return to the lineup after missing recent games with injuries.

And, thanks to a curious decision by MLS’s schedule-makers, a well-rested United team will face a weary Houston side that played a Sunday night, MLS Cup rematch against the Galaxy in Los Angles before making the cross-country trip.

Houston beat the Galaxy 1-0 and its most influential player, Brad Davis, had the night off while he served a red-card suspension. So, even a jet-lagged Dynamo team will pose a significant challenge to the Black and Red.

But United needs to make the most of this competitive advantage. Following the game against the Dynamo, they will have to travel to play FC Dallas in Texas on Saturday.

And, if DC is going to make the type of turnaround that previous MLS teams have shown is possible, they need to begin now.

NEXT UP: May 8 - DC United vs. Houston Dynamo, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 7 p.m. EST, Comcast Sports Net Washington, MLS Live.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.