After a heartbreaking 1-0 extra time loss to the Houston Dynamo last week, DC United was absolutely pummeled 3-0 by Real Salt Lake over the weekend. Despite the losses, DC remains 5 points ahead of Toronto FC for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. Is it too soon to sound the alarms at RFK?
Perhaps memories (read: nightmares) of last season are still too fresh for this writer. For those who don’t recall that dark time, in 2013 DC United managed only three wins on the way to perhaps the most abysmal season in MLS history.
Despite the many roster changes and stellar overall first half to the season, the last two losses looked all too familiar. Against Houston, DC looked likely to pull out a road point against a solid Dynamo squad. That is until an embarrassing mix up between rookie defender Steve Birnbaum and Bill Hamid led to an open net for Houston forward Omar Cummings in the 91st minute. There was no last-minute disappointment this weekend against RSL, as Kyle Beckerman and Co. were in control from the opening whistle.
So is it time to panic in DC yet? Not quite. As mentioned above, United is still solidly in control of second place in the East. Further, starting striker Fabian Espindola returned from injury as a second half sub against RSL. However, reserve strikers Michael Seaton and Connor Doyle are both out with injuries. Espindola, along with Eddie Johnson and Luis Silva, will have to carry the load.
So panic is out, but what about mild concern? Now we’re talking! DC hardly looked like a legitimate championship contender in their last two matches. Here are three good reasons to be concerned:
2013 DC United appeared to be a team desperately in need of some veteran leadership, and the addition of Bobby Boswell, Davy Arnaud, Sean Franklin, Chris Rolfe, and Jeff Parke addressed that and then some. However, the youngest of that group is Franklin at 29. The MLS plays a long season, and let me tell you, the summer heat in DC is no joke. With Parke already out with migraines, youngsters Steve Birnbaum and new acquisition Kofi Opare will have to play some meaningful minutes in the backline for this club to make a run at the cup.
2. Depth Up Front
This wasn’t supposed to be an issue with the addition of Eddie Johnson in the off-season. However, it’s actually been Espindola who’s made the difference so far this year. More on Johnson in a moment, but with Doyle out for the season, DC lost a valuable contributor off the bench. Chris Pontius is still recovering from hamstring surgery and just returned to light jogging last week. There’s still no set timetable for his return, but October seems plausible and his presence in the playoffs could be huge. That said, at 27 DC likely won’t rush him, as head coach Ben Olsen knows better than most what recurring injuries can do to a promising young career.
3. Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson was the biggest name brought on board this off-season. He’s certainly had an impact, just not the one most DC fans were hoping for. He started off the season saying his former Seattle teammates “had more quality on the ball” than those in DC. Since then, he’s been suspended by MLS for a reckless challenge, benched by Ben Olsen, and most recently twitter beefed with ex MLS star Brian Ching. I’m hot and cold on Johnson as a player, but it’s 100% clear that his influence could have dangerous effects on the chemistry of this team. With Pontius and Doyle out though, DC may not have any other options. Eddie Johnson needs to shut his mouth, play like we know he’s capable of, and probably delete his twitter account.
So what do you think? Is DC United a contender or a pretender?