The top two seeds for the Eastern Conference playoffs are locked in and nothing anyone says, or thinks, or does can change that. The worst to first story of DC United has turned into one of the least inspiring versions of the little engine that could.
The disrespect of DCU has been a narrative through their rise up the standings. As Major League Soccer’s regular season closes this weekend, it is the 2nd seeded New England Revolution that is considered the favorite out of the East. Arguments have been made that the play-in match teams would have a greater opportunity of reaching the MLS Cup Final going through DC. Though, that opinion seems to be coming from New York Red Bull and Sporting Kansas City fans as they both sank in the standings.
The lack of respect for DCU is reality, but is the reasoning based on perception?
Reality is DCU could finish anywhere between second and fourth in the overall league table. The perception is the Eastern Conference is weak and the numbers are inflated. Against playoff teams including the Portland Timbers, DCU is 6-7-4, with a 5-3-3 record versus the four other Eastern Conference playoff teams. With only 22 points out of DCU’s 58 coming from the league’s playoff teams, perception is reality.
DCU lacks elite scoring talent to win them big matches. The team’s lone Designated Player is Eddie Johnson, who DCU brought in this off season and was rewarded with a paltry 7 goals. Fabian Espindola received legit MVP talk prior to the World Cup with 7 goals and 8 assist before the break. Since his injury in June he has 3 goals and 2 assist in 11 appearances. Their leading scorer with 11 goals, Luis Silva, has developed into a nice MLS player, which is the exact same phrase used for two-thirds of the DCU roster. At 26, the year under Ryan Nelsen at Toronto FC likely set back his development, thus residing him to the late bloomer label. Three years ago this is borderline elite talent, but today they are all nice players.
Defense winning championships has been true in MLS recently as 2 of the last 3 MLS Cups winner had the best goals against in the regular season. DCU is currently 2nd allowing only 1 goal more than the leaders LA Galaxy at 35 goals conceded. Bill Hamid has finally earned the best young American goalkeeper tag this season. Bobby Boswell is a clear Defensive Player of the Year finalist, and if there is justice Steve Birnbaum is at least a Rookie of the Year finalist. Let’s just go ahead and slap the nice MLS veteran player label on rightback Sean Franklin and if not for Wil Trapp of the Columbus Crew, DCU’s Perry Kitchen would be the next young holding midfielder in the US Men’s National Team pipeline. DCU definitely has the individual and team defensive ability to grind out playoff results.
Is DCU as good as their record, or in a Dennis Green voice “They are who we thought they were?” Honestly, it is somewhere in the middle, based slightly on perception. Nevertheless, it won’t be a surprise if DCU ends up in the MLS Cup Final. And don’t be surprise if the media will continue to disrespect them even if they lift the cup.
This Week’s Throw-In:
- Last year spoiled MLS fans. The end of this season lacks the drama of having seventeen season ending scenarios going into the playoffs. Perhaps, this is why the pro/rel talk seems to be ratcheting up of late.
- The Colorado Rapids – MLSSoccer.com – Chris Bianchi issue reminds us that the lack of established media coverage of the league and teams is a serious issue to the growth of the sport in the US. MLS has the right to fire Bianchi regardless if it is fair or just. In several markets, MLS teams do not receive coverage from established newspapers, radio, or TV stations. Independent media has a voice, but those with access can easily be shutout for dissenting opinions. Not sure how to correct it, nevertheless it is a major problem.