“It will take a month at least for this team to be a real team” as quoted by DC United’s coach to the Washington Post. “We’re way behind, further than any team in the league right nowÉ We need more time, no doubt about it” Nope, these quotes weren’t made by Thomas Rongen in Florida this past week, but from Bruce Arena mere days before the teams opening game in March, 1998.
Recently, the disturbing play and lack of experienced players throughout United’s pre-season has had me feeling pretty anxious about the upcoming season until I looked back at some pre-seasons in the past. That ’98 team went on to one of the best records in the history of the league on their way to their second Eastern Conference crown. Things have changed, of course, and teams are stronger now, but it’s nice to have something positive to think about.
At the time, United was coming off a championship season in ’97, but had just lost their second highest scorer in a trade because of the salary cap (Diaz Arce), two starters (three total players) to Miami in the expansion draft, and was without the services of it’s American and Bolivian Nats players due to commitments that kept them out of almost the entire training camp. They even were without the services of Eddie Pope because of a foot injury! Pretty weird, unless you’re into cosmic anomalies.
So what happened to that unprepared United team of old? They went out and pounded expansion Miami on the road and beat KC easily in their home opener, (And that was when Ammann was KC’s goalie, too! Another cosmic coincidence, no doubt.) by integrating their new talent and experienced veterans into a team that won a berth in their third straight MLS Cup.
Even more interesting is that the opening game was the first since the trade of popular forward Raul Diaz Arce. The Hispanic Community was very vocal in their dissatisfaction over that trade. This year, it will be the reaction over the trades of two National team defenders, a GQ goalie, and the best little defender that could in the history of the team. How will the beer drinking patriots and teen-age soccer-boppers react to that?
The victory over KC in the home opener was particularly compelling to note as we won despite not having Moreno, Sanneh, and Eddie Pope. In this year’s home opener we’ll be missing Moreno, Olsen, and possibly Eddie Pope once again.
But that game, the experienced players came up with the goods as if they’d been in camp all along, and some new faces really made a name for themselves. Marco and Harkes controlled the MF completely, while Ben Olsen (replacement for Sanneh) and AJ Wood (just traded to the team in pre-season), Aunger (waiver pick-up in preseason), and Kamler (finally given a shot at starting) were new faces that took advantage of their opportunity.
Hopefully, this year Marco will return to his old self, Conteh and a rejuvenated Arce will make up for the loss of Moreno, SuperBobby will become the next Olsen, Denton will seize his chance to start, and Kamler will continue what he started back in ’98. It won’t be as easy, since KC is the defending champs this time, but it certainly gives you something to look forward to!