On closer, nit-picky inspection, D.C. United’s playoff campaign was not such a highly decorated one.
Four matches brought one victory, dramatic and memorable as it was. They were outscored in the playoffs, 5-4. That’s not exactly the stuff of MLS champions.
But that’s just fine and dandy, I say.
Let’s not lose perspective here. The Black and Red just completed a wonderful post-season campaign (its first since 2007, don’t forget) that speaks quite well of the league’s youngest manager, Ben Olsen.
Keeping some of the young talent – Andy Najar in particular – will be tricky. But a nucleus of young talent (Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid most notably) make up terrific, economical young building blocks.
And Dwayne De Rosario still has something left. He will be 35 next year, but the veteran Canadian international takes care of his body and showed only marginal signs of decline this year. He’s a shrewd performer who can be counted on tweak his playing style, leaning a little more toward “passing” playmaker, a little less toward the slash and dash that once defined his sizzling game.
Olsen has the right blend of historic connection and passion that United’s upper management covets, married with a professional approach. He’s still learning, and Olsen would be the first to say so. So long as DCU’s second-year manager accepts the learning curve and keeps his mind open, there’s reason to believe he could successfully steer the Good Ship United for some time.
There is a danger: the entitlement complex that seems to lie within the organizational DNA must be tamed. This is not the MLS of yesteryear, where 10 or 12 teams competing to see who could best exploit the pliable player acquisition mechanisms, and where one coach (Bruce Arena) was often a cut above the coaching field.
D.C. United will never dominate as it did in those initial MLS days, and the targets must reflect the day of MLS 2.0. The approach must remain measured, otherwise that sense of entitlement corrupts the decision process.
If management is smart, they’ll dump the underperforming “stars” and re-balance the salary budget with a little more attention to the back line.
Either way, United has plenty to like about 2012 – and reason to look forward to even better days ahead.
Olsen clearly sees it the same way. What he said following Sunday’s second-leg against Houston:
We talk about laying a foundation here. Having something special for years to come. And I believe that it’s here. I really do. It’s a bunch of great young guys who are willing to fight and do what it takes. This experience was invaluable for them, being in these real games down the stretch. It’s a special group. There’s a certain character and spirit that makes me proud to be a part of them.”