WASHINGTON — While Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at Audi Field represented the joyful end of many years of stadium uncertainty, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen knows Saturday’s opening match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (8 pm ET | TSN — Full TV & Streaming info) must also be a new beginning.
“In some ways we’re at the top of the mountain. But in reality we’re actually at the bottom of the mountain,” Olsen said after the ceremony. “And we understand what we need to climb in order for us to get into the postseason. So it’s a huge challenge for us and one I think we’re excited to take on.”
Olsen’s concerns are the immediate business of using a backloaded and home-heavy second half of the season to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Black-and-Red enter Week 20 thirteen points beneath the playoff line, but having played at least three fewer matches than every team above it.
However the bottom-of-the-mountain metaphor works on a macro scale as well.
While the recent signing of 32-year-old superstar Wayne Rooney — and the August 2017 additions of Paul Arriola, Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse — are promising investments, there is some way to go to rival the outlay of Eastern Conference titans in New York, Toronto and Atlanta.
D.C. general manager Dave Kasper has indicated there may be one or two more additions in the Secondary Transfer Window that opened Tuesday, but that Rooney had been the “top priority” of that term.
Owner Jason Levien understands that the pressure on the club to mount an ascent back into the upper stratosphere of MLS begins now, with the Rooney in the fold, a stadium opening this weekend and a new training center set to come on line next year. Owning and operating team in USL could also be in near future.
“Our fans have, I think, had a healthy dose of skepticism about the organization, because we couldn’t get out of RFK fast enough, because we couldn’t build the kind of roster we wanted to build ,” Levien said following Rooney’s official public introduction last week. “And I think it’s fair for them to have those questions. And we want to deliver for them. And we want to engage new fans.
“There’s a whole new generation of folks who live in D.C. who don’t remember the 90s and the early 2000s when we were winning championships. And this time it’s for them.”
What D.C. have is a roster already with more youth and depth in past years. It’s also one that has, even before Rooney’s entrance, scored at nearly double the rate of the 2017 squad, despite playing 12 of their first 14 matches on the road.
Given that, Olsen doesn’t care whether outsiders believe the club has truly stepped into the so-called “MLS 2.0 era” yet or not.
“I don’t get into the 1.0 vs. 2.0,” Olsen said. “I get into progress, or evolution of our league or our club. And yes, this is a huge step for the club. Both moving into the stadium and signing a marquee player, and also having a different type of team than we’ve had over the last four or five years. A younger team that’s exciting, that is I think fun to watch.”
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