A DC sports fan knows all about playoff disappointment. In the best case scenario, the first round of the playoffs are where DC seasons go to die. I’ve sat in Nationals Park 2 of the last 3 seasons, and watched the home team implode and crash out of the competition. Today, as I saw Bill Hamid kneel in the center circle, and other United players wander around the field in disbelief, I was as happy as I was sad. I knew that United were the better team, and that if you played this series three more times, DC would win at least 2 of them.
But as I walked to Lot 8 after DC United “lost” 2-1, I couldn’t find it in me to be upset. After sitting though seemingly endless home losses in 2013, containing goals I thought I would never see scored at a professional level against United, this season erased all of those games from my memory.
Coming off of a 3 win season, with more goals scored by “Own Goal” that any United player, I will admit that my expectations were very low. I didn’t even think playoffs were a possibility, and I thought most of the year would be about getting younger players minutes and developing them for when the team would again be relevant. I looked at the offseason acquisitions cynically, thinking, “yeah, you spent money, but it was the league’s salary money, and only got players no other team wanted at their salary.” Strictly speaking, that’s still true, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about what those players added to the team week in, week out.
57 goals for, 37 goals against, which tied them with LA Galaxy for the stingiest defense in the league. Last year, those numbers were 22 and 59. Bobby Boswell, Chris Rolfe, Sean Franklin, Davy Arnaud and Fabian Espindola turned this team into a completely new team, one that could pass the ball around and actually play attacking soccer, and not just “grit” the other team into a 1-0 loss. Luis Silva became what 2 teams hoped he would become, and his absence in the playoffs may have been the determining factor (which I would have never thought I would be typing before this season). Steve Birnbaum did better than any first year player could have ever been expected to do. Bill Hamid continued to get better, becoming the best goalie in the league and ensured that he would be playing in Europe much sooner than later.
Champions League Quarterfinals next Spring, and qualification for the 2015-2016 tournament. A team full of knowledgable veterans, who still have more years of contribution in their legs. Young players like Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp and Luis Silva coming off of their best seasons, and having logically higher expectations of performance in the next season. After last season’s historic disappointment, something drastic needed to happen in DC to bring the fans back to RFK. As Bill Hamid said yesterday, “We brought life back to this club this year. We brought life back to soccer in this city”. You all sure did, Bill. Thank you.