Washington D.C. — The nation’s capital is all about twists and turns.
But, we’re not talking about the political climate in this regard. Instead, we’re talking about soccer in the nation’s capital. D.C. United was written off as “done like dinner” early in the season. The team was so far down the Eastern Conference standings they were fighting to stay out of last place. However, after a big-name signing — let’s forget about the public intoxication for a minute, Wayne Rooney — the tide turned for D.C. United. Ben Olsen was recently rewarded for the turn-around, signing a contract extension. He’ll remain with the club until 2021.
Nevertheless, D.C. United crashed out of the playoffs early. After decisive penalty kicks in the new Audi Field, the Columbus Crew SC advanced further into the playoffs. Meanwhile, D.C. United began to get to work on the off-season. D.C. United finished the season in fourth place with 51 points. The team compiled a record of 14-11-9.
Team MVP: Luciano Acosta
Surprised to not see Wayne Rooney here? Don’t be.
While Rooney led the team in scoring, Luciano Acosta did most of the heavy work. Acosta had 17 assists, leading the team. His assists were second-most in the league, behind Borek Dockal of the Philadelphia Union.
Acosta found his name on the scoresheet, too, with 10 goals. This was his best season in MLS, as he completed his third season with D.C. United. The 24-year-old started 32 out of 33 appearances.
His 10 goals and 17 assists were the highest of his career.
Acosta is essentially Rooney’s right-hand man. He’s also been a big help for offensive-minded players like Paul Arriola, Zoltán Stieber and Darren Mattocks, who is now with FC Cincinnati.
Acosta can certainly improve on those numbers next season. Olsen is going to spend the off-season finding more offensive weapons, but shouldn’t push back Acosta after a career season.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 29, 2018
What went wrong in 2018?
The beginning of the season was a bad defensive memory.
David Ousted featured in goal for the first-half of the season. Ousted started 17 matches, but didn’t record a single shut out. His made 48 saves, but let 32 goals past him. However, it wasn’t just the goalkeeper that couldn’t keep up defensively.
Steve Birnbaum was out-of-sync and Taylor Kemp didn’t quite find his footing. While Birnbaum still remains with the team, Kemp retired following the 2018 season.
However, when Bill Hamid returned for a year-and-a-half long loan on Aug. 8, the team chemistry on defense suddenly flipped.
Hamid recorded five shut outs in 14 appearances. He allowed only 12 goals and made 51 saves, leading the team. Hamid has been with D.C. United since 2010, so he’s a veteran presence and a familiar face. Meanwhile, Ousted only joined the team this past season, after five years with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Since Hamid’s loan will be up after the 2019 season, Olsen needs to figure out what to do with his replacement.
Will he give Ousted another shot? It’s highly unlikely, unless Ousted can prove in training that he’s ready to take on the first-team.
What went right in 2018: Wayne Rooney, Hamid’s return
Hamid’s return was already mentioned, so it’s time to stop avoiding the obvious: Wayne Rooney turned things around in Washington D.C. this summer.
His transfer sparked more talk about the MLS being a “retirement league.” However, Rooney didn’t look slow compared to other young, fast players in MLS. Instead, he scored 12 goals in 20 matches, starting 18 games. Rooney had some help making plays, providing seven assists.
His play did more than just win matches for D.C. United. Rooney’s arrival and immediate impact inspired his fellow teammates. The result was lifting the club out from the bottom of the Western Conference and earning a playoff spot.
Next season, D.C. United has no excuses to start slow — and Rooney won’t let it happen.
How can D.C. United improve for 2019?
It’s simple: come out of the gate with explosion.
D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders were both Cinderella stories in MLS this year. Both clubs had horrible starts to the season and then brought in international players to help shift the tide. Now, with full-seasons with those players, neither team has any excuse to start slow.
Olsen needs to live up to his new contract and get the ball rolling fast. Right now, his roster is primarily defensive. He needs to find a suitable replacement for Darren Mattocks, who was a huge loss was taken by FC Cincinnati in the MLS Expansion Draft.
D.C. United has the tools to be a top team in the Eastern Conference.
No slow starts and no scrambling to finish above the playoff line late in the season. D.C. United has to come out firing on all cylinders in 2019.
Rooney ➡️ Acosta = Goal
Luciano Acosta gives D.C. United a 3-1 lead off a clinical counter attack. pic.twitter.com/Yn9gBUctIt
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 3, 2018