United: From Fair to Middling
Friday, July 15, 2005
At the midway point of the MLS season, D.C. United isn't much different than it was last year: a .500 record, fickle scoring efficiency, a revolving lineup and a promising teenager aching for playing time.
The biggest difference, however, is a shift in expectation.
Last year, coming off four losing seasons, United's goal was to return to respectability. However, winning the league title with a torrid three months of soccer fueled the promise of a fast start this season. It didn't happen and, with a 6-6-4 record and a fifth-place standing in the six-team Eastern Conference, United's fans are beginning to express disappointment and concern.
Here's a breakdown of United's first-half successes and failures:
· Biggest Surprise: Bobby Boswell. Undrafted rookies aren't supposed to replace departed all-stars and play every minute of every match, but that's exactly what the soft-spoken Boswell has done following team captain Ryan Nelsen's offseason departure to England. Boswell's inexperience has been exposed at times, but he has largely held his ground in the strategic center of a three-man backline. He also chipped in a dramatic late-game goal to beat Chicago last month.
· Biggest Disappointment: Alecko Eskandarian. What has happened to United's emerging striker? He led the team in goals a year ago and was named the MLS Cup most valuable player, launching himself into U.S. national team contention and becoming a favorite to win the 2005 MLS scoring title. But knee and quadriceps injuries hampered him early in the season, and when scoring opportunities did emerge, he failed -- 12 appearances, 661 minutes, 0 goals, 1 assist. The latest setback is post-concussion syndrome.
· Turning Point?: The 4-3 victory over Chicago, followed by a 2-0 win over New England in mid-June, demonstrated United's big-game potential. In the first match, D.C. came back from a two-goal deficit and won on Boswell's goal. In the second, against the previously undefeated Revolution, United scored two early goals, got strong goalkeeping and displayed game-long intensity in front of a rabid home crowd. Whether the club can replicate that latter formula regularly over the next three months remains to be seen.
· Draft Results: United selected midfielder Nick Van Sicklen in the second round and defender Tim Merritt in the fourth. It grabbed forward Matt Nickell, goalkeeper Andrew Terris (later waived) and midfielder Shawn Kuykendall in the supplemental draft. When Nickell entered late Saturday against Kansas City, it marked the first time any of the five had appeared in a regular season match. Kuykendall has shown the most promise in reserve games and could play soon.