At some point at the end of this upcoming regular season (and perhaps during it as well), we are going to start saying things like:
"If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would be sitting in this position entering the playoffs, I would have taken it in a minute!"
"If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would miss the playoffs, I wouldn't have believed you. How could a team with so much talent miss the playoffs?!"
Of course, as we sit here in late February awaiting D.C. United's opening match against the Houston Dynamo this coming Saturday, we have no idea how the season will actually unfold. We do have predictions, hopes, and dreams for how the Black-and-Red will perform this season, however, so let's take time before the season begins to write down what we would think right now if certain events happen (or not) in the 2013 season.
1. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would win the MLS Cup, I would've been ecstatic. Recent MLS history tells us that you don't have to be the best team in the league to win the MLS Cup, but you do have to be good enough to make the playoffs and hot enough to stay alive through multiple playoff rounds. Whether D.C. United is one of the elite teams during the 2013 regular season or not, whether they play beautiful soccer or nor, if they manage to win the MLS Cup, it will be one of the best seasons ever for the franchise and fulfill the expectations of so many fans as we enter the 2013 season.
2. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would not win the MLS Cup, but would win either the US Open Cup or the Supporters' Shield, I would've said it was going to be a very successful season. Yes, the MLS Cup is the pinnacle of American soccer, but adding any silverware to the D.C. United trophy case will be a welcome outcome at the end of the 2013 season.
3. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would have a highly competitive 2013 season that saw the team fall just short of winning the MLS Cup, the Supporters' Shield, and the US Open Cup, I would've said it was a strong season. It would be a tough pill to swallow, but if D.C. United wins no trophies in 2013 but is in the hunt for the Supporters' Shield all season long, makes a deep run in the US Open Cup (semifinals or finals), and gets to at least the Conference Finals in the MLS Playoffs, I won't be able to say the season was a failure. I want the teams I follow in all sports to put themselves in a position to win championships each and every year, and even if the trophies don't come this year, I'll be satisfied if D.C. United is right there knocking on the door for all three.
4. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would have to fight tooth and nail all season just to make the playoffs, and then got bounced short of the MLS Cup, I would've said it was going to be a disappointing season. In 2012, we as fans could get on board with Ben Olsen's oft repeated goals of taking back RFK and making the playoffs. In 2013, however, that won't be good enough. With the terrific talent that forms the returning core of this team, and the new deep-pocketed ownership group that arrived on the scene last year, we as fans expect more. Merely making the playoffs won't define a successful season in 2013 for me.
5. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would adopt their defensive tactics from the end of 2012 as their primary approach to the 2013 season, I would've said I'm OK with that. Like many (most?) D.C. United fans, I want to see this team play attractive, attacking soccer. With that said, I would personally rather see them play winning soccer more than anything else. If that takes playing the defensive soccer we saw at the end of last season, whether due to coach's choice or circumstances forced on us as the season progresses, as long as United gets a lot of wins (even 1-0 wins), bring it on!
6. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would announce their long-awaited stadium deal, gain all the necessary approvals, and host a groundbreaking before the end of the year, I would've said 2013 is going to be the most consequential season at least since 2004 (when the team last won the MLS Cup), and perhaps in their entire history. The team's stated mission is to "Win championships and serve the community." That's actually a fantastic mission statement, and long-term, nothing is more fundamental to that mission statement than getting a new stadium. The team deserves it, the fans are more than ready for it, and the long-term future depends on it. Let's hope 2013 is the year it finally happens.
7. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would not have their new stadium deal complete by the end of 2013, I would've said, "What's taking so long?" Additionally, I would have grown very pessimistic. I've been optimistic since the new ownership group showed up in the summer of 2012, and the recent remarks by Jason Levien also sound very positive to me. But if the deal is not finished by the end of this year, there really will be major questions for me about the seeming lack of progress 18 months into the new ownership group's tenure.
8. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would average less than 16,000 in attendance per home game in the 2013 regular season, I would've said you're wrong. Yes, D.C. United finished the 2012 regular season averaging only 13,846 fans per home game, but I think there's a minimum 15% attendance boost likely in 2013 (5% already baked in due to the new schedule, and 10% likely due to the team's 2012 success). Doug Hicks, D.C. United's Chief Marketing Officer, said at the recent Season Ticket Holder event that the team had set a goal of four sellouts this season. If they get those four sellouts (they only had two in 2012) and the team continues to play well, I'm optimistic average attendance will be north of 16,000 by the end of the year.
9. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would lose either Chris Pontius or Bill Hamid during the summer international transfer window, I would've been happy for them and very unhappy for us. While I know we may lose one or both of these stars in the coming year(s), I keep hoping they choose to follow the Landon Donovan model (I know, his decision to stay in MLS wasn't completely voluntary) and spend the vast majority of their professional career in MLS. With Jurgen Klinsmann at the controls of the US Men's National Team and actively encouraging US players to go overseas, however, that seems unlikely. Both Pontius and Hamid are indelible parts of this team, and even getting hefty transfer fees for them won't make their departure any better for me.
10. If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United's leading scorers in 2013 would be Lionard Pajoy and Carlos Ruiz, I would've said to the soccer gods, on behalf of the entire Black and Red United staff (for whom I have no authority to speak), "Thank you! It's going to be a very fun season here on the site!"
There's a lot of other interesting things we may say at the end of the 2013 season as well, such as:
- If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would leave Rafa on the bench for most of the 2013 season, I would...
- If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United's James Riley would take over the right back position from Chris Korb, I would...
- If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United's Chris Korb would be a MLS All Star, I would...
- If you had told me at the start of the season that D.C. United would not make a big move during the summer transfer window, I would...
Let's hear your reactions to these possible events in 2013. What would you say right now if these events occurred (or didn't occur)? Fill in the blanks above, or give us some of your own.