I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of the "D.C. sucks" meme. If it's not Grant Wahl peddling the narrative, it's Alexi Lalas acting on Soccer Morning like D.C. United doesn't exist until the new stadium is built. If it's not a site literally calling United a red-headed step child, it's MLS Extra Time questioning whether Ben Olsen will actually play Luciano Acosta - apparently because Lucho is a technical player and therefore the kind of player that Ben Olsen inherently will not play - never mind that Acosta has appeared in 100% of the club's games so far this season.
Even if I disagree with it, I can see the argument put forward by Matt Doyle, that Olsen and Dave Kasper didn't do enough this offseason to keep pace with an improving league. I willingly concede that United are not favorites to challenge for trophies in 2016.
But they weren't supposed to be any good in 2014, either, and all they did was win the Eastern Conference regular season and make it through the Champions League group stage unscathed. They weren't supposed to be anything last year, when they almost pulled off both feats again.
Yes, United lost some important pieces this winter. Wins have been hard to come by the last couple years when the departed-for-Scotland Perry Kitchen or newly retired Davy Arnaud or injured Bill Hamid weren't available. But that was a team that was built first and last on preventing goals. From every new piece of evidence we have, this team isn't that, and pretending otherwise will only make you look foolish.
If you're somebody who has been calling for Ben Olsen to loosen the reins and let the attack flow, you should be optimistic about this season. Olsen's lamenting at the end of 2015 that the grind-it-out system may have taken the team as far as it could seems to have been honest, as United replaced Kitchen and Arnaud in the middle with Nick DeLeon and Marcelo Sarvas. Through two games, defense-first central midfielders have yet to crack the starting XI.
Then there's the small matter (apologies) of Lucho, the 5'3" Boca Juniors product that most fully represents this team's departure from the Old Ways. The 21-year-old has jaw-dropping close control and speed to burn. If he can get MLS's physical demands and other eccentricities figured out quickly, La Joya could be a force in this league for years to come.
Or, he might not be. But there's no questioning the intent behind United's pursuit of both Acosta and former AC Milan, now Orlando City SC (yay tampering!), midfielder Antonio Nocerino. Olsen and Kasper are building a team for 2016 that is less about stopping soccer and more about playing it. With Nocerino falling through (again, yay tampering!) and the team still missing some depth at the forward position, we might not see that ambition realized until the summer. But we shouldn't make the mistake of confusing a missed shot with throwing that shot away.
United spent the winter getting faster and more creative through the acquisitions of Acosta, Patrick Nyarko and Lamar Neagle. They added a number of central midfielders in Marcelo Sarvas, Acosta and rookies Julian Buescher and Paul Clowes to Markus Halsti and a repurposed Nick DeLeon.
Throughout preseason and the two games of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals, we've documented on this site how Olsen seems to have moved away from the 442 of the last two years to something more like a front-foot 4411. The defense isn't set as deep, and everything about their play is more proactive. The central midfield pairing of Sarvas and DeLeon takes more risks while keeping the ball on the ground.
But nobody from the outside has been paying attention.
And, honestly, that's fine by me. Let them ignore the facts on the ground so they can have their narrative.
Let them look past the fact that a preseason D.C. United out-shot a midseason Mexican team, in Mexico, at altitude. Let them assume that boring, boring United will try to grind out 1-goal results come hell or high water. Let them think that the Black-and-Red won't touch the ball unless they're clearing it out of their own box. (And, while we're at it, we can let them forget that United has overachieved the last two years in ways none of them predicted.)
We'll know better. And when they see the error of their ways - whether that's when Bobby Boswell is lifting a trophy or just after a hard-fought loss - we can say, "I told you so."