2012 in Review: DC United
MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 17-10-7 (58 points); 53 GF / 43 GA (+10 GD)
From snowstorm to hurricane to an injured Most Valuable Player and untimely red cards, D.C. United overcame nearly all the odds to reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons under energetic head coach Ben Olsen as he and his youthful club laid the groundwork for a successful future with a memorable 2012 campaign.
After reigning MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario suffered an MCL strain in early September, many left the club for dead. Instead, Olsen embraced a defense-first philosophy that helped D.C. to a nine-match unbeaten streak and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Championship. Though United ultimately lost to Houston – in large part because of an injury-riddled performance in the opening leg in Houston – they outlasted New York in one of the more memorable playoff series in MLS history to get there.
With a nucleus of young, budding stars and experienced veterans all gaining experience during the team’s playoff run, hopes are once again high for a winner in the nation’s capital thanks to a resurgent campaign from MLS’ most decorated club.
Best Moment of the Year
Of all the on-field highlights for D.C. in a memorable campaign, it was perhaps a moment that didn’t even take place at ground level that best exemplifies United’s spirit. After it was confirmed by the league that the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against New York was snowed out, United’s players – led by part-owner Will Chang – climbed over barricades and seats at Red Bull Arena and marched to the top deck to personally thank the roughly 700 fans who braved the elements in hopes of watching their team advance, which United did the following night.
Worst Moment of the Year
Getting the news that any starter will miss a significant amount of time because of an injury is bad enough. Getting the news that it’s your captain and the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player? That’s something else altogether. When De Rosario was injured Sept. 11 in a World Cup qualifying match while playing for Canada, the mood around the club was somber. Little did anyone know the team would go unbeaten in nine straight after that and fall just shy of an MLS Cup appearance.
For as momentous an occasion as De Rosario’s 100th regular-season goal was, perhaps no tally meant more to the organization and its fans than when midfielder Lewis Neal snuck behind the pressing backline of the Columbus Crew and deposited a ball that beat goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in stoppage time for a 3-2 playoff-clinching win. The goal set off a wild, beer-spraying celebration at a sold-out RFK Stadium in a victory that Olsen likened to the “old days” on that cold October night.
With the second seed in the Eastern Conference hanging in the balance ahead of an Oct. 27 match against Chicago, 21-year-old D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid delivered the performance of a lifetime in a hostile environment to help his club attain the second spot. Any of Hamid’s career-high eight saves would be a good candidate for this category, but it was his stop of Sherjill MacDonald in the 63rd minute that stood above the rest. Hamid, already having denied the Fire striker in the first half, dove back and to his left to stone MacDonald from just outside the six-yard box and help preserve the 1-1 draw.
After breaking his leg last season and working tirelessly to regain his form, United’s Chris Pontius was no doubt the team’s most valuable player this year. Despite being slowed by a groin injury in the Eastern Conference Championship, the UC Santa Barbara product scored 12 goals and assisted on four more in a breakout effort. His 12 goals were one fewer than his total in his first three MLS seasons, and Pontius also took on the duties of team captain when De Rosario was sidelined from September onward.
Rarely does a rookie contribute to a club as much as Nick DeLeon did during his inaugural MLS campaign, but the long- then short-haired product of Louisville finished the regular season with a United rookie record six goals to go along with four assists and added two more strikes in the playoffs. As the stage grew bigger, so did DeLeon’s ability to deliver meaningful minutes on either the left or right flank as fans of D.C. likely will spend the offseason salivating at the thought of what DeLeon could accomplish in his second full year.
1. An elite striker: Olsen and GM Dave Kasper haven’t minced words regarding their desire for a striker that can consistently produce. The mix-and-match combos of Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos and Lionard Pajoy (among others) produced frustratingly inconsistent results for a side that, if it acquires that true No. 9, should be in position to challenge for an MLS Cup title next season.
2. Midfield depth: With the loss of Branko Boskovic, United likely will be searching for a solid replacement who can work well with the ever-increasing skills of defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen (right). While the club is currently attempting to reach an agreement with John Thorrington (selected in the Re-Entry Draft), odds are United would like one more central midfield piece to complete the picture.
3. Front-office harmony: In the wake of longtime club president and CEO Kevin Payne’s departure to Toronto FC, things have no doubt felt a little different in United’s front office. That’s something that Olsen and Kasper both expected after Payne moved on. But given the shake-up, a club that has long prided itself in its ability to connect on a personal level with players and fans must continue to do so if it hopes to build on all the positive vibes from the 2012 season.