D.C. United was a (already established) long shot before entering their two-leg playoff series with the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls had D.C.'s number through the year and extending back to last year, and Sunday's 1-0 loss and playoff elimination brings its own share of raw feelings by fans wearing Black and Red. So let's look at some things:
First and foremost, full marks to the Metros. I honestly can't be mad at a team that uses an MLS Cup winner for D.C. United or another MLS Cup winner for D.C. United to eliminate D.C. United in the playoffs in the last two seasons, or another D.C. United player as a sporting director, to eliminate D.C. United from the playoffs. If that's what y'all need, so be it.
So, with that bit of snark out of the way, here comes unpleasant reality number one: from an organizational standpoint, the Red Bulls are healthier than D.C. And it's not because they spent less money than D.C. For example:
Poor, blue-collar MLS team sends on the sub they have that drew a 7 figure fee. They are so low budget you guys.— Jason (@chestrockwell14) November 8, 2015
To amplify Jason's tweet, they paid a transfer fee for Gonzalo Veron. Just as they did at the beginning of the year for Sacha Kljestan. So if you're going to compare boxcar salary numbers, please make sure to make mention of this, because along with their salaries, their transfer fees, likely north of $3 million, should be included in the discussion of their $3.11 million base salary total. FC Dallas paid transfer fee for David Texeira and Fabian Castillo, used TAM for Ezequiel Cirigliano, and was linked to Mauro Diaz for several weeks before signing on a free. The Portland Timbers spent around $8 million on Diego Valeri and Lucas Melano, and that's not including Fanendo Adi's presumed fee. Columbus Crew SC paid $650,000 for Federico Higuain, and a fee for Gaston Sauro has not been revealed. It's not being mad, or even jealous, this is just stuff that's out there. So if you're going to use the argument about moneyball in some weird way to the detriment of D.C. United, feel free to mention these as well.
So, with that bit of unpleasant truth out of the way, yes, the Red Bulls are healthier from an organizational standpoint, just as FC Dallas is. The NYRB U-23 team lost in the PDL final this year after winning the NPSL final in 2014. Their U-18 and U-16 teams are second and first in their regions, respectively and currently. Less about Jesse Marsch's style and more about Ali Curtis' philosophy, it's that they're embracing their pipeline more and more. We've got Bill Hamid, they've got Matt Miazga. And they're working to improve their pipeline. D.C. came out of the blocks in this race early and has been catching up to MLS ever since.
What you're seeing is the mean, and you're faulting the wrong people for it.
So, with Sean Franklin and Chris Pontius out, D.C. United's 18 were comprised of two guys (Markus Halsti and Perry Kitchen) who are redundant for one another, a starting forward who gets his knee drained so often (Alvaro Saborio) you could boil an egg to it, another player who's been out with mono following a hernia surgery (Collin Martin) and a guy who was just coming back after picking up a knock in training, and had played more than 15 minutes once in almost two months (Michael Farfan).
Look at D.C. United’s 18 today and then tell me Ben Olsen isn’t a good coach, or that he should play ambitious football. Goodness.— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) November 8, 2015
32 different lineups in 37 regular season games, and that excludes the four CONCACAF Group Stage games the team played and went undefeated, securing the second seed in February's group play, and the two-leg series the team played in the quarterfinals in February as the first seed from the previous season, and also excludes the two U.S. Open Cup games played So, in summation, 2015 saw D.C. United play a lot, a lot of times with guys who seemingly came off the street. Both things EVERYONE knew coming into 2015. If you didn't know that, you'll learn it again soon enough. Tell me again how that any of the resources that Ben Olsen had at Ben Olsen's disposal are his fault, or how anyone could have done better with same?
It's stunning how few people seem to realize what kind of straits this team has been, or is, in.
We could go into the weeds very easily (and perhaps another time down the road we will), but look at some of the reactions to Steve Goff's article on the badge change. Heck, if you're friends with Steve on Facebook, go look at some of the reactions there. Speaking as one who shares the rooting interest of the club I'm about to mention, there's a slight whiff of scouse entitlement when it comes to D.C. fans, kind of like Liverpool fans. And I get it, and I want it to be true, and a lot of the people who have reacted are folks I know and/or have had drinks with. But the fact of the matter is that this isn't the type of club that it was back then. It was barely a club that Juan Sebastian Veron was going to go to, and that was in 2007. 2007 was eight years ago, by the way, and not a lot has changed since then for the club. It's gotten worse on a lot of fronts. Compare that to what's changed for teams in New York, Columbus, Dallas, or Seattle.
This team can't scout multiple players and go on multiple trips to sign someone. They're forced to sign guys who fetched a good transfer fee a couple of years ago or who are out of contracts (hey, Facundo Coria was both!), or ultimately turn down D.C. to play in the Columbian second division, or the Italian third division.
Now comes the interesting part.
Using last year as an orientation point, D.C. United's preseason will presumably start around the January 21 point, which makes that a little more than 10 weeks from today. They play their first game that counts (against Liga MX side Queretaro) probably around February 23, in a little more than 100 days. It sounds like, at least, the players and their coach are cognizant of their limitations:
Espindola on what the team needed more of tonight: "Attack. Attack more. Too many long balls, not much of playing between lines" #DCU— Steven Streff (@streffsoccer) November 8, 2015
What's that they say about addicts, that the first sign to solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one? (I kid). But if there is a potential positive in this, it's that ownership, or at the very least, team officials, are aware of some of these issues, and are saying the right things to remedy them. Things like looking at the next Bradley Wright-Phillips, Ignacio Piatti, or Javier Morales, someone to orient to the MLS style of play on the field while generating buzz off it (to go along with the brand/badge modernization next month) ahead of the Buzzard Point move.
But if Messrs. Levien, Thohir and Chang are going to tread on this ground, it better be with sincere shoes, because a quick and disappointing exit from CCL will only expedite already caustic feelings between D.C. United's fans and management. And while the latter of whom may be working with the city to get the shovels in the ground, they'll need to start putting themselves in front of a microphone or two in the coming months.