To set the stage for those who may be new to United and didn’t actually experience the grueling pain of United’s fall from grace, let me give you a bit of background for this article.
Of course by 2000, United had been to the first four MLS Cups, winning the first two, were robbed of the third, and then restored to their rightful place in the universe by winning the fourth in 1999. However, DC had steadily been chipped away by 2000, by losing players like Arce, Harkes, and Sanneh among others to the salary cap, and had been stripped of depth in the expansion drafts for Chicago and Miami. Also, Rongen had taken over the team after the Bruce had left for the National team and won a Cup, but was far from having the stamp of approval from the fans.
Still in 2000, United returned virtually the entire starting team from the the Cup winning side of the year before, and most of them literally played for their respective National teams. The only change was losing Rocket Roy as delayed penance for Albright’s demands to be placed with United. So, with United’s track record and the dead set certainty of the fans that another MLS Cup was our birthright, nobody was really concerned about the 2000 season.
But, United started the season with a debacle against the Galaxy at home, and things never really got any better despite expectations that things would turn around at any time. By the time this article was written, United had lurched to 4-12-5 record and was coming off a horrendous 3-0 loss to the Mutiny on July Fourth.
So, here it is from 7-7-2000
The State of United
How can a team go from Champions to chumps in less than a year? That is the question every United fan is trying to figure out. Some believe it’s the coach, others that we’ve lost too many players over the years, or the league is out to get us, or that our players play too many games for their countries, or that management has lost it’s touch, or that aliens have stolen the real players and replaced them with clumsy zombies that wander the field aimlessly until they find some way to lose.
The truth is far simpler. We have gotten too complacent and taken too much for granted. In years past, we always had healthy rivalries for playing time at nearly every position. Players had to fight constantly to stay on the field. Some defender not pulling their weight? No problem, a guy like Gori, Iroha, Kamler, etc. could step right in. Need a midfielder? How about Marsch, Maessner, or Olsen who could come off the bench, take your job and keep it. Forward not scoring? Sanneh, Wegerle, Rammel, etc. were right there hungry for the chance. We always had a bench that was good enough to keep the field players sharp. Now, all our starters are complacent. They’ve won championships and have proven themselves internationally. Who’s going to force them off the field?
All our starters know that as long as they are healthy, no one on the bench is really good enough to actually replace them. All this leads to guys not having the mental focus needed to win MLS this year. Especially as every team got better and have been gunning for us. We should have woken up when LA pounded us in the first game of the year, instead we kept trotting out lame excuses and just simply couldn’t believe we were actually that bad. We tried to get better each and every game so far this season, but instead would lose concentration and miss open shots, fumble the ball into our own net, and allow a staggering 20 goals from set plays, while we barely score at all!
This problem cuts two ways as well. Not only are the starters complacent but the bench gets complacent too. They know that they aren’t really ready yet so they can afford to make mistakes here and there when they do take the field and won’t really get punished them by the coaching staff. This compounds the problem as significant injuries and call-ups almost guarantee losses. Conversely, they also know that no matter what they do positively, they won’t get to play when any given starter returns. Suppose Marco and Jaime are in Bolivia for a while and Convey and Wood combine for 8 goals as we win 2 games. Who will start when they get back? What’s the incentive to really perform?
We need to find or develop better bench players and do it soon. It doesn’t take a lot of guys, maybe one quality forward, midfielder and defender, and if we have to trade someone or cut someone so be it. Not only will this bring a little more competition to the team, but it will shake things up too. It sends a message that you might be forced to move your family to another city if you don’t perform. That would certainly get some people to concentrate for 90 minutes. A little fear is a healthy thing for ridding complacency. This team is very young, aside from Agoos and Arce no one else is 30 and most are less than 26. They need guys to push them or they won’t ever get themselves back to the elite in MLS.
So that was then, but looking at DC’s roster now in 2007, I wonder who exactly United has that will push any starting defender into worrying about actually spending real time on the bench? Or how about Gomez or Moreno? Do they have any reason to fear for their place in the lineup? United has salary cap space left, and it just might be time to go get some solid pros who will at least make some starters focus a little harder on keeping their jobs.