- - Sunday, November 9, 2014

In time, the pervasive narrative of D.C. United’s 2014 campaign will be a positive one. There is plenty to admire about a team that completed the biggest single-season turnaround in MLS history.

But the club’s worst-to-first regular season was of little consolation Saturday. Despite a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls at RFK Stadium, top-seeded United saw its season end in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 3-2 loss in the two-game, total-goals series.

“We’re proud — we are,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “That’s hard to maybe say right now because it does hurt, because we’re thinking about what just happened. We know that we could have done something a lot more special this year.”

After going 3-24-7 in 2013, United went 17-9-8 this season. The club scored 52 times following last season’s 22-goal campaign. A defense that allowed 59 goals a year ago became the league’s stingiest unit in 2014, conceding just 37 times.

Yet that wasn’t the team that showed up for its playoff opener at Red Bull Arena on Nov. 2. Lacking sharpness on the ball and cohesiveness in the back, United built itself a 2-0 deficit that was too much to overcome in the second match.

“That first leg leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth,” midfielder-forward Chris Rolfe said. “We had so much potential and so much that was going right for us all season long. To come out like that in the most important game was really frustrating.”

With the 2015 season just four months away, there won’t be much time to mourn.

The introduction of new clubs New York City FC and Orlando City means United will likely lose a player or two in next month’s expansion draft. On the other hand, the college draft, re-entry draft, trade market and international player pool provide tools to bolster the roster.

But the core of the team figures to remain intact, even if key newcomers Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, Rolfe and Arnaud are on the wrong side of 30.

“You’re always going to have turnover,” coach Ben Olsen said. “But from a core standpoint, this team can be around for several years, for sure. Some guys are going to get older. Some guys are going to retire or move on.

“Those things happen, and we’ll have to replace those [players]. But the core is good. The character is right with this group.”

The CONCACAF Champions League adds another wrinkle to this offseason. After going 4-0-0 in the group stage of the 2014-15 tournament this fall, United enters next spring’s knockout round as the No. 1 seed. By finishing atop the Eastern Conference, the club also earned a spot in the 2015-16 edition, which kicks off in August.

That means United will have an additional 6 to 10 matches heaped onto its 34-game MLS slate in 2015 — an obligation borne out of United’s rediscovered success

“It kind of changes everything,” Boswell said. “You look at teams that play in CONCACAF, it’s a tough thing to do all year.”

United’s winning ways have also invigorated the fan base after that dismal 2013 campaign. Although the club’s attendance average at RFK Stadium was 14,765 during the regular season, United drew 19,717 per game over the final four contests and its playoff match.

“We brought life back to the club,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “We brought life back to the world of soccer in this city because 2013 was a year that a lot of people gave up on us. We knew that and we approached this season with the right mindset. We brought an energy and a buzz back to this city.”

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