Here’s what we know about the 2014 edition of D.C. United: This is an MLS team. The 2013 squad was only an MLS team in that it played in the league and wore D.C. United uniforms; its results suggested it should be relegated, disbanded and maybe publicly flogged. But the 2014 team is definitely an MLS team that has MLS players and will even beat a few MLS teams. Catch the fever!
Management’s goal this offseason seemed to be to build a non-embarrassing team. It was a project like building the Six Million Dollar Man, except that they’re just trying to build a man who can walk and remember to wear his underwear beneath his pants. D.C. United will maybe not be a good team – let’s not fly too close to the sun here – but it should be a team that will have fans leaving the stadium thinking “that was an MLS-caliber product and claims to the contrary would not form the basis of a successful lawsuit.” They’ve brought in the likes of Davy Arnaud, Jeff Parke, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswel l… these are objectively verifiable MLS players. Prove that they’re not!
This year’s version of D.C. United will also be America’s team: Of the 28 players currently on the roster, 25 are either American or have played extensively in MLS. Two of the remaining three went to college in the United States. The only true import is Christian Fernandez, and no, Christian Fernandez has not already played for D.C. United. You’re thinking of Christian Castillo, Pablo Hernandez, Christian Gomez (version 2) and Gonzalo Martinez. Your brain has lumped them together into a single pile of kinda similar-sounding mediocrity.
I understand the impulse to buy American; United’s recent foreign signings have been the least successful imports this side of Piers Morgan. But I also think it’s defeatist to just bail on your foreign scouting department. You might as well just sign whoever walks by the stadium, or the nieces and nephews of top executives. You’re supposed to be scouring the globe, not scouring the Bethesda-Bowie corridor.
But United should be remarkably competent this year. Admirably mediocre. Maybe even reasonably good. The defense should be good. It’s no longer depending on teenagers to carry the team. I don’t think United will score much, but prove me wrong, guys. Prove me wrong.
I’m going to spend the season trying to enjoy the proficient product on the field and ignoring the fact that the likes of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Defoe and Maurice Edu have gone elsewhere. I’ll appreciate the fact that United is a playoff contender, because in MLS any team not under indictment in The Hague for crimes against soccer is a playoff contender. I’m not going to compare the decent team we have against the good team we might have had with a little more ambition. “Tradition” has always been a watchword for D.C. United; it was stitched on the back of the jerseys last year. Given its recent tradition, maybe this year’s jerseys should say “absence of embarrassment.”
One programming-related note: I’ve enjoyed sullying – some would say “contributing to” – Steven Goff’s blog for the past four years, and I look forward to ruining it some more. But I won’t be able to contribute as much, as I have recently been hired as a writer for “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” coming this April on HBO. I’ll need to channel most of my mocking-others-from-a-safe-distance abilities to that show. I’ll still chip in with posts from time to time, but I’ll no longer be able to recap every D.C. United and U.S. national team game. I have July 20, Chivas USA at United, circled on my calendar as one to definitely skip.