After dropping their opening two games, DC United has turned their young season around, winning two of their last four matches, while taking draws in the two others. This year’s squad more closely resembles the group that finished second in the Eastern Conference in 2012 than last year’s team, which sputtered to only three wins and a last place finish in the conference. Last year, they were easily the worst team in Major League Soccer, with 16 points—10 points behind Chivas USA, the next worst team. The only consolation came as United took home a shock victory in the US Open Cup, beating Real Salt Lake in Utah in the final. In a dramatic reversal, DC now sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
In their most recent game, they traveled to Columbus to face the conference-leading Crew and came away with a tie, which would have been unthinkable a year ago. In the game, Columbus tied the score at the 90 minute mark after the referee failed to call a few potential penalties in United’s favor. It is a mark of how far the team has progressed that they could take a point from the conference’s best team on the road.
This remarkable recovery, however, is far from complete. After all, the team has played only six games of its 34 game marathon season. But, given that a win against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday would match their 2013 total of 3 victories, it is hard not to think that DC has turned in a positive direction. The team had stood by Head Coach Ben Olsen, who had overseen steady improvement since taking over in 2010, until last year’s disastrous campaign threatened to undo all of that work.
Apart from their coach, however, the roster could not look more different. Andrew Dykstra has taken over regular goalkeeping duties from Bill Hamid and, for the most part, has performed well. Long-time fixtures at the club like Dwayne De Rosario departed and, in their place, United acquired defensive-minded veterans such as Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Davy Arnaud. In the hope of scoring more goals, DC signed forward and US International Eddie Johnson, who has struggled, failing to score a goal for his new team. The roster looks different, even unfamiliar to those who have followed DC United, but when familiar looks like a 3-win season, different starts to seem much more appealing.