WASHINGTON – D.C. United’s 2014 regular season was one for the record books. A record-setting 43-point turnaround served to wash away the misery of a 2013 that saw D.C. write themselves into the wrong end of the record books. They finished atop the Eastern Conference for the first time in seven years and stormed through their group in CONCACAF Champions League play.
Yet, after all of that success, United could not replicate their regular-season dominance in the postseason, eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the New York Red Bulls, 3-2 on aggregate. If their regular-season performance put D.C. on cloud nine, the series loss to their most hated rivals knocked them right back down to earth.
After Sunday’s 2-1 victory – a well-put-together performance, just not enough to overcome the 2-0 hole United had dug for themselves the previous weekend – United’s locker room at RFK Stadium was predictably quiet. Players spoke in hushed tones, lamenting the performance a week earlier that had made advancing on Saturday nearly impossible. There were hugs, handshakes, thousand-yard stares and a whole lot of silence.
There was also plenty of positivity. After all, when the dust finally settles, United’s playoff loss to the Red Bulls will likely be an afterthought to a more essential point: D.C. United rose from the ashes in 2014.
“We brought life back to the club from 2013, which is a great positive sign,” United goalkeeper Bill Hamid told MLSsoccer.com after the match, "We brought life back to the world of soccer in this city, because 2013 was a year that a lot of people gave up on us, and we knew that, and we approached this season with the right mindset. We brought an energy and a buzz back to this city.”
“We’re proud,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “That’s hard to maybe say right now because it does hurt, because we’re thinking about what just happened. We know that we could have done something a lot more special this year.”
Arnaud is among a group of veterans United relied heavily upon this year, brought in during the offseason to provide an immediate injection of skill and experience. The 34-year-old was among United’s most durable players, pairing well with Perry Kitchen and destroying opposing attacks like a player with a decade less mileage on his legs.
Chris Rolfe played a key role, too, as did former Houston Dynamo center back Bobby Boswell and his early-season defensive partner, Jeff Parke. Lewis Neal proved useful off the bench, and Eddie Johnson carved out his own opportunities. Every one of those players is more than 30 years old, leading some to wonder just what United’s 2015 squad will look like.
On Saturday, all of those players – and every other one polled informally in United’s locker room – expressed a desire to come back. There was an abundance of excitement at what’s to come.
“We have a great group,” said Arnaud. “This is an amazing group we have. Everybody in here would say the same thing: we want to have another run at it [next year.]"
United head coach Ben Olsen shared a similar outlook. While the coach of the year candidate admitted he will likely lose a few players in the offseason, especially in the Expansion Draft and Re-Entry Draft process, he also expressed faith that the core group of players he brought in to right the ship in 2014 would return in February.
"You’re always going to have turnover,” said Olsen. “As a professional organization, you’ll always have to replace guys that come in and do the job. From a core standpoint, this team can be around for several years for sure. Some guys are going to get old, some guys are going to retire or move on. We’ll lose somebody in the Expansion Draft. Those things happen, and we’ll have to replace them. The core is right, though; the character of this group is good."
Added Boswell: "Just like that, your season’s over. But it was a great year for a lot of these guys, career years for some, and for some of us it was kind of refreshing to get a new start and be part of a successful team. With the guys we have in here, you give us another year together, I think we’ll figure more teams out. I think some of it this year was us figuring ourselves out. Then once we learned to play with each other, we were able to go out on the field and figure other teams out."