It was a strange sight on a sun-splashed, if not warmer-than-necessary Saturday afternoon at RFK Stadium, as DC United comically stumbled to its fifth straight defeat to open the 2010 Major League Soccer season, this time in a 2-0 defeat the alleged rival New York Red Bulls.
Of course, it wasn’t strange that United lost. It seems that’s all the club knows how to do in league play anymore. To this point in the season, they’ve now been outscored, 13-2, and one of those goals shouldn’t have counted. But what was clear on Saturday on a number of levels isn’t just that the team is bad; but the fans, having now seen the same movie in league home matches over and over and over again, aren’t interested in going to box office any more, either.
I’ve already gone into detail about United’s failures to open the campaign, and you can read about them here. Interestingly, the line in that post about Rachel Phelps, “Major League,” and United’s now 5-game losing streak has gained new life on the DC United boards in an interesting thread you can read here.
The home opener against New England drew a healthy crowd of 20,664. Not bad at all for any match and certainly more than reasonable for the home opener. United lost the match, 2-0, giving up two second-half goals in fairly rapid succession.
The second home match against Chicago wasn’t attended by quite as many, but there’s few in MLS who would shake a corner flag at 18,407. United lost the match, 2-0, giving up two second-half goals in fairly rapid succession.
Fast forward to Saturday. I have to imagine everyone inside the United offices felt attendance wasn’t going to be an issue, what with the match featuring the aforementioned Red Bulls as opponents, and the game serving as the first half of a doubleheader with the WPS Washington Freedom.
Turns out the third home match against New York drew a sparse gathering of 12,089. United lost the match, 2-0, giving up two second-half goals … yeah, you know the rest. This is the kind of crowd number that for years United fans laughed at when it would occur at Giants Stadium with the MetroStars/Red Bulls hosting United. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and United is using that boot to fire shots high, wide, and off nearby defenders, with no clear threat at goal. The players trudged off, almost unanimously not acknowledging the supporters, and seemingly unfazed as the Red Bulls danced on the RFK grass, looking aloft at their busload of fans in the upper deck, who sang and waved their flag. It was enough to make long-time United fans sick, and it’s apparently enough to keep the casual ones (and more and more of the long-timers) home completely.
You may argue a couple points on the attendance issue. One, the match started at 4 p.m., so some parents were still involved in activities with their kids such as youth sports or whatever, and that dulled the attendance. Or, you might argue that because of the chance of thunderstorms that day, people stayed away – even though there ended up not being a drop of rain to be found throughout. Others will argue that it’s too early in the season to rag on the attendance numbers. I’d go with you on that, and have expressed that opinion in previous seasons, if the numbers for these DCU matches weren’t dropping so quickly.
Simply put, the possible reasons offered above cannot account for attendance falling by more than 40% from the first game to the third. Even on the side of RFK that houses the supporters’ clubs sections; there was a noticeable drop off in people on Saturday.
The players seem to have no answers at all. Unable to build up a synthesized, cohesive attack, then not having the ability to stop opponents on the counter, the three home league matches have played out virtually the same. The club’s response was to re-sign forward Luciano Emilio. Perhaps Scott Garlick, Raul Diaz Arce, and Ben Iroha are somewhere out there, waiting by the phone, too?
Both Emilio and Jaime Moreno made second-half appearances Saturday as substitutes, but neither was effective. It was hard to blame Emilio, a goal poacher who finds himself on a team providing nothing to poach. His touches in the final part of the match were extremely limited, because United didn’t have any players on the field able to get the ball to him. The attack seemed far less dangerous once Moreno replaced Andy Najar on 56 minutes. By the way, Najar is 17 years old; Moreno is 36. Barring an injury to Najar, it’s questionable why he would have been pulled. He’s shown some talent this season, but I’m not sure there’s enough around him to let him grow in this situation.
But even then, questioning head coach Curt Onalfo’s substitutions is like throwing a cup of water on a wildfire. Especially when you consider the roster turnover during the last 16 months. Of the 18 players who appeared in United’s first four league matches (the stats aren’t updated on the team web site through the New York game yet), 14 of them were acquired between the 2009 preseason and now. And that number doesn’t even include 12 players who either didn’t last the 2009 season, never got on the field, or who weren’t brought back. That’s 26 players, or the equivalent of an entire roster!
Yet, here United stand at 0-5, with playoff hopes already swirling around the bowl given that the five losses have all been within the Eastern Conference. The club hasn’t even played tough clubs like Columbus, Los Angeles, Seattle, or defending champions Real Salt Lake yet. And over the last 3 years or so, they’ve traditionally been horrible on the road vs. Western Conference teams.
It comes down to player talent identification and acquisition. And you also have to consider why so many player acquisitions were needed in just over a year, which would signal that the players they acquire don’t gradually improve enough to fill required roles, or they weren’t good enough to start with. Is Emilio the answer? I guess when you look at the players that have been acquired, how things worked out for them, or how they are contributing to the current losing streak, perhaps the answer really is, “Yes.”
And perhaps a large portion of the fan base has figured that out. They aren’t fooled by fancy foreign signings when the team could have achieved the same results (or hey, maybe a point or two) by stashing draft picks and developing young players.
Between a terrible on-field product, the inability of the front office to bring in viable talent, the ongoing failure to even produce optimism about a new stadium somewhere in the area, let alone actually breaking ground in the near future, and the current folly of a damaged main parking lot from winter snow cover that has yet to be fixed (not really United’s fault, to be fair), maybe folks actually have had enough.
Maybe after seeing the movie enough times, they know this one isn’t going to win any awards.