Ever since the D.C. United schedule for 2012 was released, we've been talking about how difficult the start of the season would be for this team, especially with so many new pieces added to our roster. This will be the last post on the subject, but it's an important one, as it's a view from a different perspective.
United's 2-2-2 record has the team currently sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference standings. That's a great start, regardless of the level of difficulty of the early schedule. As cliché as this statement is, United would be in the MLS Playoffs Proper (without the need for a play-in match) if the season ended today.
But what should really have us excited is that United has gotten the toughest part of its 2012 schedule out of the way early, and hasn't suffered a bit for it. Follow me further down to see more of why I'm excited
If we had charted before the season the 10 most difficult matches that D.C. United would face all year, we would have had the following list (in loose but probably not exact order):
1. at LA Galaxy, 3/18/12
2. at Real Salt Lake, 9/1/12
3. at Sporting Kansas City, 8/11/12
4. vs Seattle Sounders 4/7/12
5. vs Sporting Kansas City, 3/10/12
6. at Houston Dynamo, 5/12/12
7. vs FC Dallas, 3/30/12
8. at New York Red Bulls, 7/14/12
9. at Vancouver Whitecaps, 3/24/12
10. at Portland Timbers 9/29/12
What jumps out at you in that list? What jumps out to me is a whole bunch Marches and an April. That's right, the first five games of United's 2012 season were five of our 10 most difficult games the entire season.
That doesn't mean that we can stop sweating now, or that Ben Olsen should take his foot off the gas pedal even a little bit. It just means that we've been at an ever so slight disadvantage when compared to our rivals in the Eastern Conference in the early stages of the season, and that we'll be at a slight advantage later in the season. We got five of our toughest games out of the way early. The Red Bulls haven't had to fly to LA yet. The Columbus Crew haven't had to try to shut down the Sporks yet. No one else has had the pleasure yet of hosting the Sounders and FCD.
Our upcoming schedule isn't "easy" by any definition. But at least it's no longer the most difficult part of the whole year. On Saturday we saw what D.C. United can do against an opponent that isn't one of the 10 toughest we'll face. Now let's see what the team can do with a three-game home stand.