In lieu of the massive amount of World Cup stuff I’ll be reporting on over the next few weeks, I’ll keep these shorter than normal. In fact, I’m only going to make one point this week–albeit a lengthy one–about a key aspect of DC United’s success, and then move directly to the MLS rankings.
1. Hey, this DC United team is pretty good!: After 11 games, the team is off to their best start in history at 7-1-3. They lead the league in goals scored and goals against. They have more weapons sitting on their bench than half the other teams in MLS, and play some of the most enjoyable soccer I’ve seen in the league over the past few years. I’m not ready to crown them the MLS champs or the "best team ever" until they win a trophy or two (the double is certainly a possibility), but they’re pretty darn good. After Peter Nowak’s charges dismantled Columbus 5-1 last Wednesday, I got a chance to ask several players why they think they’re succeeding, and they were pretty insightful:
Brian Carroll: "For a lot of us, this is our third season under this system, under Peter. We know each other well, we’re all good friends, and we all depend on each other. I’m not sure how many other teams can say that; what’s really scary is that I still don’t think we’ve come close to reaching our potential."
Josh Gros: "We’ve got a bunch of guys who will kill themselves every time because you don’t want to feel that you’ve let anybody down. It’s so great to be a part of this; we’re all just having a blast, but we’ve got a ways to go!"
Clyde Simms: "We’ve got a great mix of guys. Some guys are skill players, like Jaime [Moreno] and Christian [Gomez], and some are workhorses, like myself, BC [Brian Carroll], and everybody else. We all know that as long as you work hard, Peter’s going to give you a chance to prove yourself. That’s all any of us asks.”
Alecko Eskandarian: "Familiarity. We’ve all been here for a few years and know each other, our tendencies, things like that. I think the fact that we’ve had so little roster turnover can’t be ignored. A couple of teams are struggling, and when you look at their roster, they’ve got seven, eight, nine new people. It takes time to figure that stuff out."
Nearly all of them to a man also emphasized the fact that there isn’t one single "leader" on the team. They said during the title run in 2004, Ryan Nelsen and Earnie Stewart were the obvious field generals. This year, Ben Olsen and Moreno are at the top, but everybody else also feels a sense of responsibility and are encouraged to make suggestions or comments.
Take this past Wednesday’s game against Columbus. United had outshot the Crew 9-1, completely dominated play, but the scoreline said 1-1 at halftime. The team went into the locker room, and neither Novak nor assistant coach Tom Soehn said anything. They just sat down. After a minute or two of awkward silence, a few of the players spoke up, talked about not getting frustrated, and keep playing hard. Three minutes into the second half, DC scored to go on top 2-1, and the rout was on.
In the press conference after the game, Novak said he didn’t need to say anything because he knew the players, or "guys," as he calls them, know what’s expected from them. He trusts them to work it out, just as they trust him to give them a chance. The team has obviously bought into his system, so now it’s just a matter of winning games. Looks like they’ve figured out how to do that only a third of the way into the season.
MLS Power Rankings
1. DC United: That +14 goal differential through 11 games is quite impressive.
2. FC Dallas: Pretty lousy performance against a Crew team which had been humiliated by DC just three days before.
3. Houston: Still seem to struggle offensively without Brian Ching up top.
4. Kansas City: Trying to hold it together while their three World Cup stars are gone.
5. Columbus: One howler of a show and one heck of a show for the week.
6. Colorado: So…that was ugly on Saturday against Chivas USA.
7. Real Salt Lake: Other than DC, they’re playing as well as anybody else the past several weeks.
8. Chivas USA: They’ve got the offensive firepower, and all the big guns showed up on Saturday.
9. New England: After some of the chances he’s missed recently, it’s pretty obvious why Bruce Arena didn’t take Taylor Twellman to Germany.
10. Chicago: Finally, the road trip is over, and hopefully there will be no place like home.
11. New York: Getting a point on the road with this team is an accomplishment.
12. LA Galaxy: Getting a goal at all from this team is an accomplishment.
One final note. I’ve started a daily blog, My2Cents, which will give my predictions, analysis, and hopefully inject some humor in what looks to be an amazing World Cup. My2Cents is what I used to call my column a few years back, so I’ve decided to resurrect it. Don’t worry, I’ll still be writing this column and do the rankings for this site as well. Looks like it’ll be a busy summer.