WASHINGTON – It might be stating the obvious, but D.C. United are a better team in 2014 than they were in 2013.
Just how much better, though, is something to behold.
Aside from intangibles like the air of positivity in the halls of RFK Stadium, the statistical differences are staggering. Starting with the big ones, D.C. United already have won more games (6) than their MLS record-low total (3) of last year and have already won more road games (1) than they did last year, breaking a 22-game road winless streak on May 10 against Philadelphia.
They have also eclipsed last season's paltry point total of 16 (the worst points-per-game average in league history) by reaching 22 points in only 14 games.
There are other dubious marks that United seem to have put to bed, such as their current plus-four goal differential, a far cry from the near-record-low of minus-37 last year. Then there is the scoring: In 2013, United put more goals in their own net (4) than any single player on their roster put in their opponents' net (3).
Fast forward to 2014, and United’s overhauled backline has not turned on their own goalkeeper once, and forward Fabián Espíndola, brought in to help spark United’s anemic attack, has seven goals. As a team, D.C. have 18 goals, just four behind the 22 they scored all of last season.
The most important piece of the puzzle for D.C. United in 2014 has been the massive roster overhaul that saw head coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper cobble together an experienced group of MLS veterans, aided by the allocation money afforded to United both for missing the playoffs and for reaching the CONCACAF Champions League by virtue of the team's 2013 US Open Cup championship.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head there,” one of the 2013 holdovers, midfielder Lewis Neal, told MLSsoccer.com when asked about the roster overhaul. "Benny and Dave have brought in some really good, experienced guys. These guys make a huge difference – not just on gamedays; they make a huge difference in practice, training, everywhere.
"I remember last year, there were a handful of games where we didn’t really play poorly but just couldn’t score. The experience these guys have has paid off this year; they know how to grind results out.”
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From Olsen's perspective, the more experienced players – many of whom were cast off by other teams due to their salary or their age – have been better at finding the consistency necessary at this level.
“We have seven new starters, and the guys that stayed around are very good soccer players and competitors,” Olsen said. "They’re experienced. I don’t have to rev this crew up as much - they’ve been doing this a long time, and they know how to get up for games."
Perhaps goalkeeper Bill Hamid – in his fifth season at age 23 – put it best. Asked about the differences between United’s 2013 and 2014 squads, the Homegrown product shook his head and chuckled before offering his response:
“Bro, I’m done talking about 2013.”