2014 was without a doubt a historic year for D.C. United. As the year draws to a close, we can take this opportunity to rejoice in all of United's accomplishments.
Every January we give United five resolutions to accomplish in the new year, and every December we return to look at how the team did on those goals. In 2014, we have more to celebrate than usual. We've generally seen mixed results in years past. Such as in 2013 when the team missed virtually all of its goals both on and off the field, yet still somehow managed to win a trophy. Or in 2012, when the team did a great job building its roster but didn't make the progress we'd hoped to see on a new stadium. In fact, that statement could be made about every previous year (see: 2011, 2010, and 2009). Stadium Progress has been a running theme of these resolutions over the years, which leads us to a glance back at the New Years Resolutions that we set for D.C. United for 2014:
1. Continue the stadium progress
This fanbase has been waiting for a new soccer stadium to be constructed for roughly 17 years now. We can afford to be patient. We understand that the proposed land swap that will put a nice stadium-sized parcel of land on Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington into the hands of the D.C. Government is a complicated ordeal. And we know that the City Council will take an appropriate amount of time to review any deal that involves the spending of taxpayer money. [...] That progress must continue in 2014. If by April we're farther along than January, and July farther than April, and so on, we'll take it. By December, the remainder of the path towards stadium construction should be nearly a sure thing.
Yes! After so many years in which Stadium Progress could be measured merely in our optimistic thoughts, we finally have a year in which it can be measured in actual legal documents, culminating in Mayor Vincent Gray signing the D.C. United Stadium bills just yesterday. United will get its stadium in the District as we've all wanted all along. Progress towards that effect was slow and frighteningly quiet for much of 2014, but this year's progress ended with what could be described as a feverish pace by political standards. Potential pitfalls were hurdled at every turn as the number of powerful advocates for the stadium grew. In the end, we're left with unanimous support from the D.C. Council, and plenty of cause for celebration. Obviously more work remains, but we won't be held back.
2. Hold the right people accountable
The folks in charge at D.C. United responded to the worst statistical season in MLS history by firing... the Chief Marketing Officer? It was as if Jason Levien was holding Doug Hicks and his marketing and sales teams responsible for the declining attendance at RFK Stadium, rather than the poor on-field product. The worst team in league history elected to keep both its coach and its general manager to give them another chance. [...] This isn't just about Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper though. Everyone needs to be held accountable for his performance. If guys like Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, Conor Doyle, and Chris Korb once again put up disappointing numbers in 2014, they should not expect to keep their jobs, or should at least not continue to be automatic starters.
Our frustrations surrounding the dismissals of well-liked staff members have certainly faded. And while those individuals are still missed, we must credit Levien for his faith in Olsen and Kasper. None of us predicted the turnaround that we experienced in 2014, and keeping the coach and general manager together was ultimately a brilliant decision. It's difficult to grade the team on this goal since accountability isn't generally a great concern of winning teams. But if we are to dive deeper into this specific list of players, it must be said that DeLeon and Pontius both put together better performances in 2014, and that Doyle and Korb both lost their starting jobs to more talented players. United performed its usual purge of the bottom of the roster following the year, but is seeking to keep the core group of players together, as it rightfully should.
3. Return to the MLS Playoffs
This might sound like a fairly ambitious goal for a team that won only three games last season, but I think it's attainable. D.C. United has now made the playoffs just once out of the last six years. [...] There's enough talent here to compete with any team in the Eastern Conference. There's no excuse for Olsen's team to miss the playoffs again this year.
Make that twice out of the last three years. Not only did United achieve its goal of returning to the playoffs, the team even managed to lock up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Between its CCL berth and last place finish in 2013, United was given an unprecedented amount of assets to rebuild its roster to compete on multiple fronts, and Olsen and Kasper used those assets wisely. The 2014 MLS campaign was definitely a success.
4. Find some international talent
This has long been a major problem for D.C. United. The last international acquisition that actually lived up to his expectations was Dejan Jakovic, and that was way back in 2009, meaning that United has now gone four full seasons without having a major contributor arriving from a foreign league. [...] So here's another modest goal for United: sign at least three international players during 2014, and have at least one of them pan out. As modest as that goal sounds, it's amazing that the club has fallen short of that goal so many times in the past.
Uh oh. United continues to fail at procuring international talent, with this deficiency becoming more and more embarassing as the years pass. This year's internal acquisitions were Christian Fernandez, a fullback who was discarded before mid-season, and Samuel Inkoom, a successful Ghanian national teamer who never quite cracked our lineup and was traded for an MLS journeyman shortly after the season ended. Fortunately the team, was able to utilize other more domestic means of building the roster this year, but that won't be quite as easy in 2015 without an early pick in the college draft or a desirable allocation order position or an affinity towards any players in the Re-Entry Draft or quite the same sum of allocation money. But that's a topic for another day.
5. Compete seriously in the CONCACAF Champions' League
The league has given United the resources necessary to compete through additional allocation funds intended to help bolster the roster depth of teams that have qualified for the CCL. United must use those resources adequately to not only improve the starting lineup, but also to ensure that we have enough starter-quality players to field competitive lineups in both competitions. Part of this team's tradition is to take games in auxiliary competitions just as seriously as MLS league games. [...] Let's not take our eyes off of our history. Winning championships is part of this team's tradition. United was the first to win MLS Cup, the first to win an international tournament, the first to have four stars above its badge, and still the team with the most total trophies all-time in the league. How sweet would it be if United is also the first MLS team to win the CCL?
So do you guys think sweeping our CCL qualifying group counts as "competing seriously" in the event? United's pursuit of the CONCOCAF Champions crown continues in the coming months, but for 2014, this was an absolute success. Our CCL group proved to be less daunting than expected, and United took full advantage. Olsen managed to effectively navigate through the team's CCL schedule by using mostly reserve players and just a few ringers, with Eddie Johnson having particular success against inferior opponents.
And so we leave 2014 in high spirits, having completed an epic worst-to-first turnaround on the field and overcame perhaps the biggest hurdles towards stadium construction. There is still more work to do on both fronts though, and 2015 is sure to have its share of challenges. We'll unveil a new list of resolutions for D.C. United later this week. What do you think should be on it?