At the beginning of the 2012 Major League Soccer season, Toronto FC set a record for utility by losing their first nine matches. The Reds were roundly called one of the worst teams in MLS history at that point. In fact, one of their highly paid star players, Danny Koevermans, famously said they were "setting the record for the worst team in the world." After their first 12 games, TFC had won exactly one game and accumulated four points (with a total record of 1-10-1). How does this year's D.C. United team compare to last year's Toronto squad?
Following their 2-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday night in front of 14,131 "Bad Weather" fans (h/t to the District Ultras and La Norte) at RFK Stadium, D.C. United now has a 1-9-2 record after 12 matches for a total of one win and five points. Yes, United has one point more than TFC had at this point last season, but in Round 12 last year, Toronto started a stretch in which they earned eight results in nine games (4-1-4, 16 points). Is there any reason to believe D.C. United can match last year's Toronto team and get to 19 points after Round 20 (5-11-4)?
What They Said:
- Steven Goff: "Coach Ben Olsen seethed about his team's lack of toughness and again promised personnel changes. Captain Dwayne De Rosario voiced his anger about being benched and questioned Olsen's handling of the roster. Others spoke in soft, disappointed tones, gutted by another dreary performance."
- Pablo Maurer: "More surprising than the final result were some of Olsen's lineup choices, most notably the omission of Dwayne De Rosario from the starting lineup, and the inclusion of Carlos Ruiz. It was Ruiz who earlier in the week went public with his complaints about playing time. Olsen responded by handing him a start, and benching former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario in the process. If Olsen's mood was dark, the angst in the locker room after the match was other-worldly. De Rosario, who entered the match mid-way through the second half, voiced his disapproval with his role as a second half sub. "[Olsen] doesn't think that me and Carlos can play on the same field together, so that's the way it is. I'm not happy about that," said De Rosario, who cracked a smile when asked whether he believed that he'd pair up well with Ruiz. "I think if you look at our track record as goal scorers, as creators, that's not a bad problem to have to try once.""
- Adam Taylor: "Remember that more fired up D.C. United side we saw last week against Sporting Kansas City? The one that - while not quite as good at the soccer part of the game - was willing to scratch and claw to a point? Yeah, that team didn't show up this week, and the Black-and-Red saw their winless streak go to nine games as they lost a 2-0 home result to the Portland Timbers. As has been the case so often this year, United actually out-performed the victors in several statistical areas. D.C. outshot the Timbers, sent in more than twice as many open play crosses, won 56% of the duels, and controlled the majority of possession while matching the Timbers passing accuracy. But where United's defense made two unforgivable blunders, the Timbers defense did just enough to pressure D.C.'s attackers into blowing their chances."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "It's embarrassing how soft we are, everywhere around the field. The lack of anger that a few of our guys play with, the lack of a chip on some of our guys' shoulders is mind-boggling to me. Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon? Any day of the week. Carlos Ruiz? Any day of the week. But I'll tell you what: we have a long way to go...We're not a good team right now. We now have a month of teams that are either middle or lower in the table, so now we'll match up against some competition that I think is a little bit more realistic for us right now, [and] hopefully we can start getting points from those teams. We have had a tough schedule. New York twice, Kansas City twice, Houston twice, Salt Lake, Portland, Dallas. These are all teams that are doing very well in the League, and we are not. So hopefully, we can make adjustments, get some guys in here to help and get points against some of these teams that are middle, lower in the table."
- Dwayne DeRosario, via dcunited.com: "There is talent in this locker room, but I don't know if they're using that talent to the best of its ability."
- Ethan White, via dcunited.com: "I'm not happy. I think we gave up two pretty soft goals that easily could have been dealt with. We created chances we didn't finish. I think we also got a little screwed over with the handball in the box, but we can't make excuses for ourselves. We didn't play the whole game like we should of. They kind of beat us up every now and then, throughout mainly the first half. I think we came out and put more chances on the goal in the second half and pushed them back, but I feel like we gave them the game."
- Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: "It was just another poor team performance and it sucks, man. It feels like we're doing all we can, but we have chances and we don't put them away. Defensively, we're not doing well. I should have made some saves. I made some saves, but not enough. All around, I don't know. I feel like we're doing everything we can, but we're not coming off."
- Chris Pontius, via dcunited.com: "Unfortunately for me, I wasn't good enough tonight-just mistakes, missed chances. I look at myself first, and I didn't think I was good enough tonight."
- Portland Timbers Coach Caleb Porter, via dcunited.com: "We planned all week to be aware of [Dwayne De Rosario]. So it's a bit surprising. But you go into a lot of games and what you tell your team is here's what we think they're going to do, but often times the coach does something different. So once we get the start sheet we start to plug in the names and what we think they're going to do and our focus quickly moved from ‘Okay, we got to be aware of De Rosario' to ‘Now we've got to be aware of [Carlos] Ruiz,' because we knew Ruiz is a very good player [with] experience. And I actually thought he was a handful today."
What I Say:
In a season of dashed expectations with almost nothing positive to write about, Kyle Porter has become for me perhaps the most interesting player on the team. He was all over the field on Saturday night, running at defenders, creating chances, taking long distance shots, missing traps, taking every corner, taking free kicks, making errant passes, switching from the left to the right, spraying crosses all around (and out of) the box, and being the engine that drove D.C. United most of the night. In the end, it was to no effect as D.C. United was unable to score, but if the rest of the team were giving the same effort as Porter every game, you have to think things would be going better for the Black-and-Red.
Other bright spots? They remain few and far between, but certainly Carlos Ruiz brought a spark (but no goals) to the D.C. United attack against Portland. His combination play with Chris Pontius in the 12th minute was one of the more entertaining displays of creativity all season long for D.C. United, but in the end it didn't produce a goal. Perry Kitchen continued to look good in the middle of the field, and Nick DeLeon had flashes of real quality.
On the negative side, a team that was supposed to be defensively elite is utterly woeful. As many here on B&RU have commented, the play of the fullbacks is not good enough, and the continued lapses by the center backs result in goal after goal. There are other problems for sure, but getting the defense squared away immediately would provide this team a foundation from which to start producing results (even if that meant a long stretch of scoreless draws).
The Last Word:
Watch this video of Danny Koevermans talking about Toronto FC from last year. Close your eyes, and listen. He could be talking about D.C. United this season. It's almost indistinguishable.
We are all Torontonians now.
Where does D.C. United go from here? How much longer can the ownership group go without making a big change? What will that change be? What should it be?