Scoring 19 goals in the first 20 games of the season isn't going to get D.C. United back to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. It’s no secret that the team is not scoring enough goals this year, which is the main reason why they are currently in the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. United's defense will keep them in most games, but DC is currently too reliant on that facet of the game to get points.
United just recently traded their joint top scorer, Fabian Espindola, after a formation tweak left the Argentine without a natural spot on the field. Espindola's departure leaves just 7 players on the roster with a goal to their name in league play. By comparison, the Black-and-Red had 14 goalscorers in the 2015 campaign.
So for United to drag themselves back into a playoff position during this upcoming four game home stretch, they’ll need to start consistently putting away chances, something they’ve only been able to do in spurts this years.
"I think we just need to take more risks offensively. Be a little more creative offensively, put some goals in early," midfielder Nick DeLeon told B&RU on Wednesday. "That will make a big difference for us."
Although United hasn’t been close to an offensive juggernaut this year, they’ve still created a fair amount of scoring chances. Maybe not enough to have completely altered their season if they put more of them away, but enough that might have them above the red line at the moment, instead of below it.
But as things are, United is lacking both in terms of precise finishing and in getting enough runners into the box. The recent string of road games didn't help, but on the other hand, DC hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard at home either.
"It’s not one or two players, it’s everyone. When you attack, if you don’t have people moving or taking chances, you won’t be able to score," Marcelo Sarvas said to B&RU. "It’s not just up to the front guys to make the play. It’s everyone around the ball, moving, creating spaces."
"It’s everyone. Of course, we know we need to produce more goals. Chances, we are creating. We need to produce more goals. Everybody knows that. I hope we can find the way to do that," added Marcelo.
Central midfield is one area that United seems to need more production from. Jared Jeffrey, normally thought of as a purely defensive midfielder, has scored twice in the last four games, but DeLeon and Sarvas have combined for zero goals and one assist this season. With the recent formation change, Marcelo is sitting deeper in the midfield, meaning he’s less likely to contribute numbers-wise on the offensive end.
DeLeon though, is another story. In his first four years, playing out wide in the midfield, DeLeon scored 12 goals, and chipped in 15 assists. This year, he’s mostly occupied a new position, though Jeffrey's jump into the starting lineup has recently pushed him to the left wing. His passing accuracy is reliably among the best on the team, but the lack of goals and assists is worrisome. There might be an expected drop-off considering the position change, but the team's overall struggles going forward have magnified DeLeon’s zeros more.
"I’m hungry to score, I’m hungry to get on the board. I’m working at it everyday to get on it. I don’t have a good answer," DeLeon said of the lack of goals this year. "I would like to score, it’s a rut right now. It’s been a rut for a while. I’m going to do everything I can to get on the board. I’m hungry to score, it’s long overdue."
United had a team meeting today to discuss the need for points. They know the task at hand: overcoming a four-point gap in the final 14 games of the season. Staring down a stretch of four games in a row at home, against the Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, and New York Red Bulls, the team set a goal for what they need to get accomplished.
"We talked about it today, we believe we need to pick up all 12 points. Four wins here, minimum of at least three," said DeLeon. "These are crucial games, and a lot of the guys have a playoff mindset right now, because we put a lot of emphasis on these four games."
"We have to come off with a playoff mentality," he added. "These games are crucial."
"It hasn’t been consistent, the way to win games or tie. From game to game, we’ve been like a roller coaster all season," said Sarvas. "We have to focus on the small details that are making the difference in the 90 minutes."