2013 in Review: US Open Cup title lone bright spot in DC United's historically dark year
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2013 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with D.C. United and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2013 record: 3-24-7 (16 points); 22 GF / 59 GA (-37 GD)
In short, D.C. United’s 2013 campaign was historically bad.
The club tied an MLS record for fewest wins in a season (three) and finished with a paltry 16 points. But, somehow, not all was lost for head coach Ben Olsen’s group as United managed to win an against-all-odds US Open Cup title, upending Real Salt Lake on the road in the final, to salvage some semblance of success from a season that didn’t include much of it.
A year that started with high expectations after United reached the Eastern Conference Championship in 2012 quickly plummeted as, whether because of injuries or poor form or both, Olsen never was able to settle on a consistent starting XI, inhibiting the club’s ability to string together encouraging performances. United, which didn’t feature a player who scored more than three goals, finished the year without a road win in MLS play and won more Open Cup matches than MLS games.
Best Moment of the Year
As Olsen said in an interview shortly after his team arrived home from its 1-0 victory in the US Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake, it’s hard to consider any season during which a team wins a trophy a complete failure.
And by that token, when D.C.’s players, coaches and owners showered each other with champagne and beer in RSL’s visiting locker room on Oct. 1, it represented far more than a championship celebration. It represented a season’s worth of frustration released in the grandest fashion.
Worst Moment of the Year
Does the entire season count as a moment?
Of all the troublesome matches for United – during which one defensive lapse or the consistent inability to finish continually led to trouble – perhaps no contest was more demoralizing than a 4-0 loss against Houston at RFK Stadium on May 8. Not only was it D.C.’s worst loss of the season by goal differential, but the Dynamo already had beaten United to start the season and were a few days removed from a cross-country flight.
The defeat dropped them to 1-7-1 and the realization that the season wouldn’t go as D.C. had hoped was quickly setting in.
For the second straight year, United midfielder Lewis Neal comes away with United’s “Best Goal” honors. And while the finish itself wasn’t necessarily as impressive as Nick DeLeon’s long-distance rocket against Philadelphia in Week 33 or Dwayne De Rosario’s blast in August against Toronto FC, it was the most meaningful.
Neal snuck a far-post shot by Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando right before halftime of the US Open Cup final for the only score D.C. would need in their 1-0 victory.
One of the perpetual bright spots for United, defensive midfielder (and later in the year, center back) Perry Kitchen continued his maturation process in a big way.
United’s iron man logged a team-leading 2,773 minutes in 31 matches (31 starts), scored one goal and assisted four more. A tireless competitor, Kitchen set the team standard for work ethic in his third MLS season and has already logged more than 8,000 minutes in his career.
A July re-tooling that focused on bringing young, American talent to the roster helped revitalize the final few months of United’s season. Perhaps no acquisition during that time was more impactful than that of midfielder Luis Silva.
Acquired via trade from Toronto FC for allocation money, Silva finished tied for the team lead in goals (three) and assisted two others. More importantly, he’ll likely play a key role in the middle for D.C. next season as they try to turn things around.
“I’m glad we won Open Cup. But that record man, I’m sorry, it [expletive] sucks.” – D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid after his team’s last game of the season, a 2-1 loss against Houston on Oct. 27 at RFK Stadium.
1. An elite striker: This was tops on the list last season, too. And that fact isn’t lost on anyone in D.C.’s front office. Especially after cutting ties with captain and former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, the pressure will be on United to find someone who can consistently put the ball in the net.
2. Reinforcements: Now that United will compete in the CCL in 2014, stockpiling depth at every position will be as important as ever. Still, Olsen made it clear that United’s needs for being able to play at a high level span far beyond acquiring a bit of depth. But it doesn’t make that process any less crucial, either.
3. A dedication to fitness: At no point during the season did United have a fully healthy roster. Olsen, at times, questioned his training methods and wondered why the injuries piled up so drastically in 2013. Signs pointed to a lack of preparation in the preseason, which is something Olsen said he’ll try his best to ensure doesn’t happen again in 2014.