Unwanted recognition: D.C. United sets MLS record with three-win season

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Chivas USA can be forgiven for their 2005 win total. It was their first year in Major League Soccer. Their expansion brethren, Real Salt Lake, only won five games that season, too. There were a lot of reasons those Goats served eight years in the league’s record books, their win total spending almost a decade as the league’s mark for futility.

As of today, however, that Chivas squad is off the hook, replaced by one of the names at the opposite end of the league’s prestige spectrum. Whereas the Carson-based club as been the most mercurial in the league’s short history, D.C. United has been one of MLS’s most accomplished. But after losing 2-1 to Houston at RFK, the four-time league champions, four-time Supporters’ Shield winners, five-time Eastern Conference champions and three-time Open Cup victors hold the record for fewest wins in a season. Their three wins in 34 games lowers the league’s bar.

[MORE: Houston’s 2-1 win puts Dynamo in playoffs.]

How D.C. got here has been discussed all season, but on the day they made history, it’s worth remembering: They not only made least year’s Eastern Conference final but had plenty of reasons to think it wasn’t a fluke. Players like Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon and Chris Korb could possibly improve. The defense and attack stood to be healthier, and Ben Olsen would have a valuable year of experience under his still unworn coaching belt.

None of that happened. The youngsters didn’t make progress. Health issues persisted. Olsen struggled to motivate his team or find solutions, and none of the team’s holes were filled. They failed to find a number nine. Perry Kitchen went without a consistent partner in midfield. The defense was still bad. The league’s second worst defense was complemented by the league’s worst attack, the type of perfectly inept storm that’s necessary to set records.

Despite all those failures, the biggest mystery of the season will be the team’s U.S. Open Cup run. Perhaps it says something about the stature and format of the tournament that a team of United’s quality can claim the trophy, but with that honor, the team will be in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League, likely costing a teams like New York, Kansas City, Portland or Real Salt Lake a spot.

It sparks a debate as to how the U.S.’s Champions League spots should be alloted, but it also shows United has some quality that never came out in the regular season. How could a team that claimed a must-win game at Real Salt Lake only summon that performance three times (at most) in their league season?

Those three wins:

  • D.C. United won their second game of the season, claiming a 1-0 victory over visiting Real Salt Lake. United ends the year as one of the few teams that can say their season would have been better had they played RSL more often.
  • On June 22, D.C. claimed another 1-0 win at home, this time over San Jose.  By season’s end, the Earthquakes would reclaim some of their 2012 Supporters’ Shield form, making this another head-scratching result.
  • D.C.’s final win of the year came over visiting Montréal on Aug. 3, a 3-1 explosion that gave United their third win of the season against playoff-caliver opposition. Against Toronto and Chivas USA, D.C. would finish the season 0-3-1.

After a season like this, there are two natural questions: Who’s at fault, and how do you move forward?

source: AP
Ben Olsen just completed his third full season with D.C. United after assuming the head coach’s role in the middle of the 2010 campaign. Despite a season that set a record for fewest regular season wins, Olsen is likely to return to D.C. United for the 2014 season. (Photo: AP Photo.)

The fault largely has to rest with the players, none of whom played to their potential. As much as you’d like to say that’s a coaching issue (and certainly, motivation was a huge problem), there are plenty of players that find a way to transcend their circumstances and perform. Between injury, age, immaturity, regression, or other inexplicable factors, no D.C. players stepped forward this season. Few of their starters had above-average seasons, let alone put themselves in the conversation for a Best XI spot.

Coaching was to a key culprit, too, and if it wasn’t for Ben Olsen’s unique position at D.C. United, he’d surely be gone. Yet, as bad as the 36-year-old boss’s results have been, he’s also considered to have shouldered an undo amount of blame for a front office that misread the situation. Rather than see last year’s team for what it was — a good team with some key, potentially debilitating flaws — they made the mistake of assuming past performance leads to future results.

While assuming the best (while ignoring the worst) is common, good front offices always examine the contributing factors. United’s front office failed to do so, with the likes of Carlos Ruiz, John Thorrington, James Riley and Rafael failing to provide the winter solutions the squad needed. By the time Luis Silva, Conor Doyle, and Jared Jeffrey were brought in, D.C. was already looking toward 2014.

Thankfully, that mid-season injection gives D.C.  a path forward. Add those three to Hamid, DeLeon, and Kitchen, and D.C. has a decent young core, one that gives them clear targets for those precious cap resources. They need better talent in defense and a reliable striking option – acquisitions that may require finding homes for other big salaries. The road back to respectability, however, does not need to be a long one.

If that’s a silver lining, it’s an incredibly thin one, one’s that’s unlikely to distract from the frustration of a long and unexpectedly dour 2013 regular season. The U.S. Open Cup triumph has helped fans deal with the trauma, but as of today, that trauma lives on in the record books. D.C. United’s three-win season will now be synonymous with MLS futility … until the next D.C. United comes along.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye to the LA Galaxy

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has bid adieu to Major League Soccer, thanking the LA Galaxy for “making me feel alive again.”

The Swedish superstar averaged nearly a goal per game with the Galaxy, and was rumored to be in line for another two years at the club.

[ MORE: Columbus acquires Nagbe ]

Perhaps those reports, and maybe AC Milan’s struggles to score goals, have made more suitors come forward. Time will tell.

The Galaxy said the decision was a “mutual parting of ways” and thanked the player for his work both on and off the pitch.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“We would like to thank Zlatan for his contributions to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy President Chris Klein. “Since his arrival in 2018, Zlatan has positively influenced the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We are grateful for his work ethic and passion. We thank Zlatan for his professionalism and immeasurable impact on the Los Angeles community and the soccer community in North America as a whole.”

Zlatan’s full thoughts, below, were a bit more Zlatanny.

Klein will have his hands full in replacing Ibrahimovic, who scored 52 times in 53 matches, but the Galaxy have always managed to bring in big names.

Getting a star playmaker is even more important as El Trafico rivals LAFC have rewritten the MLS record book and snared plenty of attention in California and across the league.

Columbus acquires Nagbe from Atlanta for $1M in allocation

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Darlington Nagbe is headed for a reunion with old boss Caleb Porter.

Columbus has sent over $1 million in allocation money to Atlanta United in order to claim the influential midfielder.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

Porter coached Nagbe at the University of Akron and the Portland Timbers, and has 25 USMNT caps but has turned down Gregg Berhalter’s requests for service.

Nagbe made 46 appearances across all competitions for the Five Stripes this season, scoring twice with five assists. He has 313 matches played between Portland and Atlanta.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Darlington Nagbe is a proven winner and the type of player who can be a difference-maker in our team,” Crew SC president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “In addition to his skill set, we believe that Darlington is someone whose character and values fit well within our organization. As we stated heading into this offseason, we continue to look both domestically and internationally for players that will make our team better, and we believe Darlington is an important part of those efforts.”

It’s a bold statement from Columbus, who had a reputation for getting the most of its talent under Berhalter but faded under Porter after a hot start. The Crew began 2019 with a 4-1-1 record but lost 13 of its next 15 matches.

Of course, being MLS, the Crew then only lost 2 of their final 13 matches. Shoulder shrug emoji.

NYCFC teen agrees move to Borussia Monchengladbach

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New York City FC’s impressive academy has earned one of the bigger transfer market payoffs in MLS Homegrown history, and will join the current Bundesliga leaders after next season.

Joe Scally, 16, is headed to Borussia Monchengladbach on a $2 million transfer with a sell-on clause, and will spend the 2020 MLS season with his boyhood club. Scally has played in the Open Cup, but has not debuted in an MLS match.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

The $2 million figure is on the edge of Top 30 for departing MLS players, according to Transfermarkt, just behind Cyle Larin’s move from Orlando City to Besiktas.

Scally appeared 11 times for the U.S. U-17 national team, going 90 minutes in all three matches and assisting on the lone American goal at the World Cup in Brazil.

From Borussia.de:

“Joe Scally is a top American talent who we have been following for a long time. We see a lot of potential in Joe and we are looking forward to him joining up with us in January 2021. Until then, we will work together with New York City FC to prepare him for his move to Germany,” said Borussia’s sporting director, Max Eberl.

Not sure just how long they could’ve been following a 16-year-old, but we digress.

Scally will join U-17 teammates Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) and Maximilian Dietz (Freiburg) on the books at a Bundesliga club. Recent U-17 call-ups Pablo Soares (Gladbach) and Noah Jones (RB Leipzig) are also with clubs in Germany’s top flight.

Last month, NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna told me that Scally was the perfect example of a young player trusting a club’s preference of changing his position.

“The perfect example is Joe Scally on the U-17 World Cup team. He came to us from a club in Long Island as an athletic box-to-box midfielder. He was very strong, but we saw him as an outside back. The lesson that we now we share that with our players, don’t get upset if you move to a position, but Joe Scally understood, never complained, he played wherever he was told to do, and now he’s a right back now, 16 years old going to the World Cup after being in our academy for two and a half years.”

Looks like it’s worked out.

Spanish court to decide fate of Spanish league game in USA

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish court will decide whether the Spanish league will be allowed to play the Villarreal-Atletico Madrid game in the United States next month.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

A court hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Madrid to hear arguments from the league and the Spanish soccer federation, which is against taking the regular-season match abroad.

The league has called for an injunction to force the federation to give its approval. It accuses the local soccer body of unfair competition.

The league also needs the approval of UEFA and American soccer bodies to be able to play the match, which is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Miami.

The commercial court hearing the case is expected to issue a ruling within the next few days.

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