Tony's take: Patience is a virtue
If Major League Soccer were formatted like the top leagues in Europe, D.C. United might be nervous right now. In a single table format with no playoffs, D.C. would have a bit of ground to make up this season after missing out on eight points in the last three games.
Fortunately for United, the league does not yet follow that format, so the playoffs still mean everything, and in some ways the long regular season is less important. Having said that, the defending league champions have not been playing like it, and they need to start winning some games.
Last season, after winning on opening day, D.C. United tied their second match and lost the next two; exactly like this year. Using history as an indicator, United players, coaches and fans should not be overly concerned about the start to the season.
Injuries have forced D.C. United to use a back line with little MLS experience. Bryan Namoff was one of United's best defenders last season (according to Ryan Nelsen, he was the best defender) and Brandon Prideaux is another proven defender who would surely help solidify United's back line. David Stokes and Bobby Boswell are improving with each match and head coach Peter Nowak will reiterate how important each player is to the team, but neither would be playing extended minutes in place of a healthy Namoff.
On Saturday night, David Stokes had to leave the match in the 30th minute after suffering a concussion. He tried to play through the injury for a few minutes, but then asked for the substitution and was taken to the hospital to get evaluated. If Stokes is not available for next weekend's match, the already short list of defenders gets even shorter.
The defense has to get healthy before they can start playing the way they need to. Once all of the defenders become available, United will have a true sense of how the defense will perform through the rest of the season.
The match versus New England showed that the offense is improving quickly, and the options in the attacking third started to flourish for D.C. United. Alecko Eskandarian, who was already playing through a nagging knee injury, left the match at halftime after an injury in the final moments of the first half. Santino Quaranta began the second half as a striker alongside Jaime Moreno and scored his first goal in over two years for United. Eskandarian will be critical to United's success this year, but it is still quite a luxury for D.C. to have a player such as Quaranta to step in and make an immediate impact. There are more goals coming from Quaranta.
Freddy Adu is still trying to make his way into the starting 11 and every time he takes the field, it looks like he deserves to be there. Adu was a halftime sub and his energy and speed changed the game instantaneously.
Adu set up Quaranta's goal by playing a quick ball to Steve Guppy, who picked up his first MLS assist with a precise cross to Quaranta. Whenever Adu plays in the midfield at the same time as Christian Gomez, the offense improves dramatically. Both Adu and Gomez can create chances, dribble at defenders and score goals. United may start using that dynamic duo together much more often.
In the last two matches, D.C. United have been trailing in the second half and thrown players forward looking for the equalizer. They came up short in both matches, but the beautiful swarming, attacking play should fill D.C. United fans with the same confidence that the Black-and-Red had when Marco Etcheverry and Raul Diaz Arce were tormenting defenses in the early years of MLS. Sometimes it takes teams a few weeks to truly find their form, but once the roster gets healthy, expect United to quickly climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.