They finished the 2013 season on opposite ends of the Eastern Conference, but on Saturday night, Atlantic Cup rivals D.C. United and New York Red Bulls started the 2014 on campaign on equally disappointing footing. Opening at home against the Columbus Crew, Ben Olsen’s made-over team was handed an embarrassing 3-0 defeat, while on the opposite coast, New York fell 4-1 in Vancouver.
After an offseason reclamation project that left only three of Saturday’s starters as holdovers from the 2013 squad, D.C. United fell behind early when Bobby Boswell was beaten to an early cross from former Galaxy winger Héctor Jímenez. Nine minutes later, Federico Higuaín had his first goal of the night, sending head coach Greg Berhalter into halftime with a two-goal lead in his debut. After Higuaín completed the scoring in second half stoppage time, D.C.’s rebuilding project was handed an early, one-sided setback.
New York was handed similar disappointment in British Columbia, but sparing veterans Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave exposure to BC Place’s turf, the Red Bulls had already handcuffed themselves before the opening kickoff. In the 34th minute, after a handball call against Richard Eckersley, Vancouver’s Kenny Miller opened the scoring, with subsequent scores from Sebastian Fernández, Miller, and newly acquired Designated Player Pablo Morales putting the Red Bulls down four before stoppage time. Bradley Wright-Phillips’s 91st minute goal provided little consolation for a Supporters’ Shield winner that was blown out in game one.
For New York, there isn’t much to draw from the result, considering the limitations they carried across the continent. Given the makeup of their veteran team, a trip to BC Place was always going to put them at a huge disadvantage. If anything, Saturday’s game in Vancouver showed us the Whitecaps are may have a greater potential than many had given them credit for, with the focus they maintained from their first preseason under Carl Robinson translating into a dominant day one.
The bottom lines for D.C. are more troubling. United, coming off a historically bad season (three wins), made a series of moves, bringing in veteran stabilizers with the hope new, veteran blood could help put 2013 behind them. Perhaps Dave Kaspar did acquire some low-ceiling solutions, but if the alternative is enduring another psychologically crushing campaign, it may be worth it to embrace Sean Franklin, Davy Arnaud, Fabian Espindola, and Boswell.
Saturday’s result hints the scenario it might not be either-or scenario. Though there’s a danger of looking too critically at one 90-minute span, the Columbus result showed what D.C.’s capable of – in a bad way.
Perhaps the highs of the 2014 season will mean more than three regular season wins, but after losing their home opener 3-0, D.C. seems just as capable of reproducing 2013’s low.