Over the winter, D.C. United addressed pitiful scoring production by acquiring two accomplished forwards. The club also recognized the need for several returning support players to invigorate an attack that posted just two more goals than MLS’s individual scoring champion last year.
Through two matches, this season looks a lot like last season: ample possession with few genuine opportunities and a scarcity of goals. Five months after setting a league record for lowest scoring average (0.65 per game), United is neither hitting the target (no goals) nor finding it (three shots on goal).
Winless in 14 consecutive regular season matches — four shy of the league mark — D.C. (0-2-0) will seek a breakthrough on all fronts Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Fire (0-1-2) at RFK Stadium.
United made strides during a 1-0 loss at Toronto last weekend, moving the ball well at times on a battered field and hoarding possession at a 63 percent clip. Within 20 yards of the net, though, United remained ineffectual.
“Rhythm, patterns, ideas, relationships in the final third,” Coach Ben Olsen said. To the suggestion that his comment sounded like the title of a college course, he said: “It could be a book about love, a romantic comedy.”
United’s goal-scoring has been darkly comedic for some time. In 37 regular season matches since clinching a 2012 playoff berth, United has struck 23 times and suffered 18 shutouts. During the 14-game winless rut, the club has scored nine goals and posted multiple goals only once.
The Toronto game brought promise but United lacked a killer pass at prime moments in the first half. A swift counterattacking team, Toronto was content absorbing pressure and embarking on long forays. After Jermain Defoe’s 60th-minute goal, the hosts dropped more bodies into their end and United hardly threatened.
“There were probably three or four plays where, if we are a little sharper in the final third, they turn into real chances, not just half chances,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “Chances will turn into goals for us — I know that.”
With seven new starters, Olsen has been cautioning against expecting symphonic performances early in the season. (Midfielder Chris Pontius’s prolonged recovery from offseason hamstring injury has compounded the process.) But Olsen also hoped, in the absence of elegant play, the team would find ways to score through individual excellence, set pieces or happenstance.
“I’m confident we are working on the right things to get to where we need to be,” he said. “I like our spirit. But we’ve got to get a win – it’s pretty simple.”
Aside from failing to link passes close to goal, United has hesitated in shooting from distance.
“We had people in good opportunities to shoot from outside the box,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said of the Toronto match. “What that will do is force defenders to step out and, in turn, you can play the ball in behind them. We definitely need to shoot more.”
There are also questions about the fundamental structure of the attack: From a central midfield spot, is Luis Silva capable of beating opponents on the dribble? DeLeon and Arnaud are capable of running at defenders, but can they cross reliably? Will new acquisitions Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola become an effective frontline partnership?
With four of the next five matches at home, United needs to see results.
“It’s going to come,” Silva said. “This Chicago game has to be a win and we should be able to score some goals. We’ve got the players. We just have to stay positive. It’s just been two games.”
United notes: Bloodied in a head-on-head collision last week, Arnaud was cleared to play after undergoing a CT scan and other tests. . . . Johnson and goalkeeper Bill Hamid will report to the U.S. national team Sunday in Phoenix ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico. . . . D.C. goalkeeper Joe Willis, defender Jalen Robinson, midfielder Christiano Francois and forward Michael Seaton were loaned to third-division Richmond, which will open the season Saturday at Charleston. All are eligible for recall at any time. Others will report to the Kickers periodically.