Nick Rimando has done very well this season acting as a leader for D.C. United. With the off-season loss of Ryan Nelsen, United lost the anchor of their defense as well as their most vocal leader and Rimando has filled both roles admirably.
After last weekend's frustrating loss at home to Kansas City, it would be easy to criticize United for continually failing to put together an extended streak of quality results. United players, coaches and fans are all understandably upset about the team's third home loss, but Rimando manages to ease everyone's anxiety with his calming attitude. His message is basically, "Relax everybody, it's still a long season."
D.C. United are now exactly halfway through the season. After 16 matches the team has six wins, six losses, and four draws - not what you would expect from the defending champions. As United look forward to the rest of the season, there is some good news and some bad news.
The bad news is that United trail the New England Revolution by 10 points in the standings (technically, the Chicago Fire are the top team in the East, but they have played three more matches than the Revolution). Although not impossible, it is a long shot that D.C. would be able to overtake first place in time for the playoffs. So, if D.C. United are to repeat as MLS Cup Champions, they'll have to do it as an underdog.
Another bad part is that United have given away a lot of points in the standings. D.C. had back-to-back scoreless draws on the road when there were clear chances to steal at least one of those wins. United have also already lost three times at home; they lost only twice at RFK all of last season. The missed opportunities and lost points could leave United shaking their heads when the season is complete.
The good news is that D.C. United have not had a lot of things go their way during the first half of the season. Alecko Eskandarian, Bryan Namoff and Steve Guppy have all missed extended stretches for the team. When United finally get healthy and the key players start returning, it will give a boost to the rest of the team.
Eskandarian and Dema Kovalenko have not scored a goal this season. They are both sure to break onto the score sheet in the second half of the year, which will bolster United's attack even further. United's front office continues to pursue the mystery South American player, and if D.C. manages to sign him, he has the potential to make a late-season impact like Christian Gomez last season and Jaime Moreno in 1996.
Six wins is not enough for the defending champions at this point of the season, but if United get six more in the second half of the year, they will finish with 12 wins - one more than last year. As D.C. looks at the calendar through October, the second half of the MLS schedule is more favorable than the first half, statistically speaking.
Of United's remaining 16 matches, eight are home matches and six are against teams with below .500 records. Contrarily, Chicago has 13 games remaining with six at home and only four against sub-.500 teams.
D.C. United are still in good position to finish the season with a strong push. Circumstances change very quickly in Major League Soccer and it can be a very fine line that separates missing the playoffs and winning MLS Cup. Last year, D.C. United learned the value of putting together victories at the right time of the season, and even if the turnaround doesn't begin this weekend, just remember the consoling message from Rimando.
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.