D.C. United an early MLS Cup contender? Slow your roll, club stresses

Olsen – DC United – after game

WASHINGTON — Will D.C. United make a statement if they begin the season with back-to-back victories at home against Atlanta United and away to New York City FC?


How much of one? Let's not get carried away.

That’s more or less the company line as D.C. turn attention to their visit to NYCFC Sunday (3 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; DAZN in Canada) following an emphatic 2-0 triumph over the Five Stripes in their 2019 opener.

“If we beat NYCFC this weekend it would show that we are one of the better teams in the league,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid told MLSsoccer.com following training on Tuesday. “But we have to wait a little longer before we can start throwing ‘contender’ out there.”

The Black-and-Red have made no secret that winning the club's fifth MLS Cup is the ultimate goal, especially with a full season of Wayne Rooney ahead.

However, as the club’s recent history shows, early matches don’t necessarily dictate the form D.C. will be in when playoffs roll around during the fall.

“You’re just not sure who you are over the first couple games or the first month until you really get your legs, and even if you add a new piece or two, it’s a tricky first month,” coach Ben Olsen said. “Some teams are able to take advantage of it, and we’d like to continue taking advantage of the first four or five games and seeing how many points we can get.”

Both of D.C.’s recent playoff appearances have come after second-half surges, including last year when the club went unbeaten in its final 10 league matches. In terms of roster composition, Rooney, Hamid, Paul Arriola and Russell Canouse are examples of players who arrived midseason by one means or another.

Paul Arriola was first to admit Tuesday that D.C. may have benefited from Atlanta’s split attention between their league opener and the Concacaf Champions League.

“Maybe we caught them at the right time where they’re in between Champions League games, so it was definitely to our benefit,” the U.S. international said. “But at the same time we still had to go out there and play the best that we could.”

Perhaps D.C. are also getting NYCFC at an ideal time as they learn their own identity in life after Spanish striker David Villa? Plus, the Cityzens coughed up a two-goal lead in last weekend's 2-2 draw at Orlando City SC.

Nonsense, Hamid says.

“They’re a dangerous team, Week 2 or Week 20,” Hamid says. “NYCFC is one of the most dangerous teams in the league because they came with a philosophy through (former manager Patrick) Vieira and they’re still implementing it. They’re solid. They’ve got a solid goalkeeper in Sean Johnson. They’ve got a strength in the back and then going up top, they’re going to miss the goals, but they still have quality.”