doyle-season-recap-DC

Pretty grim.

A GIF is worth a thousand words…

It turns out that Hernan Losada was a one-year wonder. Yes, he got D.C. to punch above their weight in 2021, but come 2022 he lost the locker room, lost his way and subsequently lost his job.

Chad Ashton was supposed to be the interim head coach through the rest of the season while United’s front office conducted a search. Except things got so bad under him that they punted that plan and brought in Wayne Rooney midsummer, while jettisoning big pieces – Julian Gressel (to Vancouver) and Edison Flores (to Liga MX’s Atlas) being the most obvious – and bringing in bigger ones (Christian Benteke is the most well known).

Didn’t matter. The results have gotten worse, and worse, and worse.

Formation and tactics

Since Rooney took over it’s primarily been a 4-3-3, though there were a few games where it was more of a 4-4-2, and then suddenly in the past couple of outings we’ve seen variations on a 3-5-2. It’s hard to say at this point what the preferred shape is actually going to be.

What I think we know for sure is that Rooney wants this team to build from the back and use the ball a ton, and yes, that includes the goalkeeper. I also suspect that there will be no true No. 10 in that midfield, but rather the attack is supposed to be generated by creating dynamic overloads and getting either the wingers or fullbacks/wingbacks into the primary assist zones for pullbacks or back-post crosses.

I’m not sure which current team would be the best comparison. Maybe FC Dallas.

Highlights

Do you recall the heady days of early March, when D.C. were atop the standings at 2W-0L-0D? I assure you, dear reader, that I myself did not until looking back and trying to come up with something to put in this section that I had honestly been contemplating leaving blank!

Still, it’s more fun to throw a comp of Benteke highlights here than it is to stuff in a match recap full of guys who mostly won’t be on the team in 2023:

The only other conceivable highlight was that 10-game stretch in spring when Taxi Fountas was keeping United’s playoff hopes alive week after week. That was fun, but even when it was happening it was pretty clearly unsustainable.

Lowlight

A 7-0 loss at the Union in mid-July sparked such a panic in the front office that Ashton’s brief interim tenure was summarily ended. That definitely has a shout. A 6-0 loss vs. the Union a month-and-a-half later had Rooney saying he hoped it “hurts the players” and that he was going to put pressure on the front office to “bring in better players” this offseason. For most teams, that’d be it.

But I actually think it was the four-game losing streak that led to Losada’s firing just six games into the season. It’s not just that the losing streak itself was very bad, but that it laid bare the D.C. front office’s inability to make a tough decision over the winter. After all, if you know your head coach is on that short a leash, why are you bringing him back?

What ended up happening is they squandered almost 20% of the season with a coach they didn’t want, then handed most of the rest of the year to a coach they didn’t intend to keep before finally scrambling to bring Rooney in permanently.

I’m sure everyone understands that’s less than optimal planning.

Revelation

Nobody. I really, really hoped that homegrown midfielder Moses Nyeman would be here in big, bold letters, but the 18-year-old – who’d played 500 minutes in 2020, and another 800 in 2021 – got hurt, barely featured, then got sold for $350k to a second-tier Belgian side. Ugh.

A bunch of other academy products got minutes, but none of them impressed enough to be classed as a revelation. Neither did rookie midfielder Sofiane Djeffal, but I think I got more enjoyment out of watching him this year than out of anyone else on the D.C. roster (other than goalkeeper Rafael Romo, though I only enjoyed watching him because I am a bad person).

Shouts, at least, to 15-year-old Matai Akinmboni, the homegrown center back who became the youngest defender in MLS history when he took the field against RSL on Sept. 10. He looked pretty good!

Disappointment

Wait, should I have written the Nyeman blurb here? Or the Losada blurb, maybe? Or the Romo blurb? Ok sorry I hate to do this to you, D.C. fans, but c’mon…

That’s just from one game! Unforgettable performance.

The truth, though, is that the whole season was a disappointment – save, perhaps, for finding Djeffal in the SuperDraft and having a summer transfer window that showed a newfound willingness for the ownership to open the checkbook a bit.

2023 Preview

Five Players to Build Around

  • Benteke (FW): He’ll be 32 when next season starts, which is definitely not too old to put up a full, excellent year. My expectations are high.
  • Fountas (FW/W): I’m not sure that Taxi’s a perfect fit for how Rooney wants to play, but he’s skilled, in his prime and sniffs out chances.
  • Victor Palsson (DM): Veteran, DP d-mid who was brought in this summer to anchor the whole thing. If he’s not the definition of a foundational piece, then D.C.’s in trouble.
  • Ravel Morrison (CM): Another of the big summer signings (though he’s TAM and not a DP), Morrison seems like an every-game starter, at least.
  • Steve Birnbaum (CB): Still an above-average MLS center back.

Offseason Priority

They’ve got to fix this Frankenstein’s monster of a roster, which has been put together by two different front office execs (Dave Kasper and Lucy Rushton) for four separate coaches (Ben Olsen, Losada, Ashton and Rooney) over three years. It’s a mess.

The question will be who’s doing the steering and ultimately calling the shots. Rooney clearly has a ton of influence – Morrison played for him, and he scouted Palsson while doing his coaching license. Neither of them would be here without him, and I doubt Benteke would be either, which… honestly, fine. Just pick one person’s vision and then go for it.

That’s what D.C. needs more than anything. Develop an org chart, develop a plan, and then really commit to both.