As much as MLS opening day signifies a new start – a chance to wipe clean the memories of last season and begin anew, hopefully with a better outcome – there’s little denying that on Saturday, D.C. United will travel to the Houston Dynamo (8 pm ET, watch on NBC Sports Network, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com) and be reminded of how their 2012 playoff run came to an end at the hands of the Dynamo.
Even more so because, much as they were for the final month and a half of 2012, United will be shorthanded on Saturday night. Captain Dwayne De Rosario is serving a two-game suspension for headbutting Philadelphia Union's Danny Cruz in a preseason match.
Even more so because United have never won a match in Houston.
Even more so because they want revenge.
“It’s a big game for us,” said midfielder Chris Pontius. “We have a sour taste in our mouth after last year, but it’s the season opener and I think they’re going to be fired up for it. It’s a difficult game.”
Coach Ben Olsen is a bit more reserved about what the match means, preferring to take the long view.
“It adds a little bit of an extra motivation, but it’s still the first game of the year, so you don’t want to be too dramatic about it,” he said. “We understand what happened last year, we understand that they beat us in a crucial game. We still think some things didn’t go our way. Hopefully we can go in and get a result and mix it up.”
This season, despite having to play the first two matches without their captain, United hope to draw on the fact that the nucleus of last year’s team is back and familiar with one another.
“We hope we’re ahead of the curve because of the familiarity that we have with each other,” Olsen said. “Last year, I thought we were organized and committed. That was what got us to where we needed to be and if we don’t have those things, the chemistry doesn’t really matter so much. We’re working to make sure we’re on the same page.”
Added center back Brandon McDonald: “Teams around the world, the most successful teams are guys who have been together for a long time, so I think that plays a major part of the success we’ll have this year.”
That hope, as well as the fact that for 10 matches last season United managed to succeed without De Rosario, provides plenty of optimism for a D.C. squad some are picking to win the MLS Cup this season. Pontius has not minced his words about that being the goal, but Olsen sees the club’s goals differently, more conservatively. At least in his rhetoric.
“We want to consistently make playoffs,” Olsen said. “We could say, ‘We want to raise trophies.’ Everybody wants to win trophies. That’s what this is about. But we need to make playoffs first and foremost every year to put ourselves in a position to do that.
“Then, once you hit playoffs, if you have good form, good health, get a lucky bounce, then you start winning championships. But you have to start with making playoffs in a consistent way. Our goal continues to be making playoffs.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.