For DCU Fans, Any Reason Left to Watch?

Lost season for DC United leaves little reason to tune-in
by Peter Muller   |   Tuesday, July 09, 2013

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

A perennial debate among certain MLS fans is whether the league should institute a promotion/relegation system. Never mind that such a suggestion is completely impractical given the structure of the league – it can still be a fun discussion to have.

D.C. United presents an interesting case study for this debate. Would the possibility of relegation give more meaning to the rest of United’s wasted season?

As far as we know, United’s ownership group is working to resolve its untenable stadium situation and hopes to build a new home in the city that will cost the club tens – if not hundreds – of millions of dollars.

It is one thing to make such an investment to participate in Major League Soccer – which is flourishing and appears to have a bright future – and host games against brand-name teams like the New York Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

But no sensible owner would even consider such an investment if one historically bad year, such as United is experiencing this season, would see the club relegated to a lower division to play the likes of Minnesota United or the Carolina RailHawks.

Yet without relegation, what compelling reason is there to watch D.C. United play their remaining games?

The playoffs are out of reach and have been for weeks. The entertainment value of their games is low, given United’s chronic inability to score. And, with the international transfer window opening soon, there is a sense that any changes United makes to its roster will be around the fringes rather than a high-profile player who will provide excitement.

The one ray of light is United’s performance in the U.S. Open Cup. But to continue that run they will have to find some way to score on the road in Chicago (or hope for a scoreless draw and advance on penalty kicks).

Without relegation there is no penalty for finishing in last place and thus no urgency to pick up points in the remaining games.

As a result, following a 2-0 loss to Seattle, manager Ben Olsen can say, “I still feel solid about this team. I’m not blowing smoke. I still like a lot of what I saw tonight.” And after a limp scoreless draw with Colorado, “beggars can’t be choosers right now and we’ll take the point.”

To be fair, Olsen also regularly expresses his frustration at the teams’ performances. He has harped all year on their inability to make the final pass, connect on the rare scoring opportunities they create or avoid the mental mistakes that lead to easy goals.

But for the fans at home, all United has to offer over the next 3 months is a look into the open tryout the team is conducting for next season. Will Taylor Kemp prove to be a decent use of a 1st-round draft pick? Will Conor Shanosky be the next graduate of the youth academy to earn regular playing time? Will Casey Townsend show enough to get a shot with the team next year?

These may be questions of interest to the handful of United supporters who used to attend the team’s reserve league games. But they are hardly sufficient to draw-in the average fan.

Followers of international soccer leagues know the excitement relegation battles bring to losing teams. No fan wants to see their team in such a fight, but you can be sure they invest as much emotional energy as they would if their team were challenging for the championship.

In these dog days of the MLS season, D.C. United fans can be grateful their team won’t be relegated no matter how badly they finish the year. But the fact that there is nothing riding on the results makes watching their games feel more like obligation than entertainment.

International Friendly

United takes a break from its MLS schedule this week and will host Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara for a friendly match on Friday, July 12.

Typically, these mid-season friendly’s are an opportunity for some of the team’s younger players to get minutes against better-know opponents. But given the way United’s season has gone, young players like Ethan White, Kemp and Shanosky have received more playing time than expected.

Will this provide Brandon McDonald, who was not included on the team’s recent road trip, an opportunity to climb out of Olsen’s doghouse? Perhaps 17-year-old striker Michael Seaton will get a shot with first team?

The biggest question, however, may be whether Chivas fans outnumber United fans at RFK Stadium.

NEXT UP: July 12 – DC United vs. Chivas de Guadalajara, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C., 8 p.m. EST, TBD. 


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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.