Bill Hamid wasted no time suppressing D.C. United’s 2013 campaign. By the time the goalkeeper made it to the locker room Sunday — following Loss No. 24 — he had already moved on.
“This season has now been forgotten in my brain,” Hamid said after the 2-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo. “I’m sure every single one of us are in the same boat. It’s now in the past. Just thinking about this is depressing.”
Although the D.C. players will be eager to look past 2013, history won’t be so kind. By many barometers, United this past season stood apart as the worst team in Major League Soccer’s 18-year history.
At 3-24-7, United became the first MLS club to win fewer than four games. Their 0.65 goals per game average is the lowest the league has seen. The minus-37 goal differential tied for the all-time worst.
United even had the misfortune of scoring on themselves so often that “own goal” appeared in the box score more frequently (four times) than any D.C. attacker (a trio of players led the team with three goals).
A year after United finished with the league’s third-best record and advanced to the Eastern Conference final, the four-time MLS Cup champions’ comprehensive letdown was staggering.
“You never go into a season thinking you are going to win three games,” said fifth-year veteran Chris Pontius, the team’s longest-tenured player. “You’ve got to learn from the mistakes that were made. The whole club does. Every player does. You can’t just let this be a waste of a season.”
For all of United’s struggles, there are silver linings to be found. The team won four U.S. Open Cup matches against MLS opposition — including the final earlier this month at Real Salt Lake — to claim an unlikely trophy.
With that triumph comes passage to the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League, and the extra cash for player acquisition MLS gives its representatives in the continental competition.
The early-season exit from the playoff conversation also allowed the team to undergo a summer youth movement, in which United added and developed pieces for the future including promising midfielders Luis Silva, Jared Jeffrey and Collin Martin.
“We’ve been preparing for next year for three months,” coach Ben Olsen said. “We’ve known we have been in this situation we are, that we wouldn’t be in the postseason, for a long time. We understand what we need. We understand how we want to go forward and the type of players I need.”
While the 36-year-old Olsen, a club icon and 2012 Coach of the Year finalist with one season left on his contract, is a seemingly safe bet to return, the fate of captain Dwayne De Rosario is up in the air.
Acquired midway through 2011, that year’s league MVP had notched 20 goals and 19 assists in 44 games with United entering this season. But De Rosario compiled just three goals and two assists in 24 matches this year, making it implausible for the 35-year-old to return without a substantial cut from his $600,000 base salary.
Regarding his fate, De Rosario expressed enthusiasm about participating in the Champions League before adding, “Of course I like it here. I think the future definitely looks bright for things to come.”
Going into the offseason, the club has a slew of mechanisms to improve its roster. In addition to boasting the top pick in the college draft and the re-entry draft (a limited form of free agency), United also have the first crack at acquiring U.S. national team veterans and former MLS players coming to the league from abroad.
So where is the front office seeking improvement?
“Goals would help,” Olsen said. “Guys that can provide the last pass would help, and getting more athletic and getting better on set pieces, better service on set pieces, shore up our back line even more — you name it, we can get better at it.”