At midpoint of MLS campaign, D.C. United struggling on, off the field

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If wins and losses were the only issues confronting D.C. United, 2010 might not seem so bleak for MLS's most decorated club. After all, something as common as a three-game winning streak would thrust the club into the playoff chase.

But the organization's problems run much deeper than a league-low 12 points from a 3-11-3 record, its 2-6-1 home mark and its measly 12 goals.

Home attendance for regular season matches is down 7.1 percent to 14,949, which is threatening the club's all-time low of 15,262 in the inaugural 1996 campaign. While most other MLS teams have moved into new stadiums (and, consequently, boosted game-day revenue), the promise of a new stadium in the Washington area remains unfulfilled, leaving United at antiquated RFK Stadium.

Team owner Will Chang, based in San Francisco, has yet to add local investors, an element necessary, he said, to navigate the area's unique political and business waters in pursuit of a stadium plan.

In essence, precious little has gone right lately for United.

"It's been a tough couple of years for us," said United President Kevin Payne, whose four-time MLS Cup champions are in danger of missing the postseason for the third consecutive year.

Compounding the disappointment was the collapse of stadium plans, first in the District and then in Prince George's County. In each case, an agreement appeared imminent.

Once MLS's model team -- numerous trophies from domestic competitions, participation in international events, steady attendance and a roster of elite players -- United is like RFK itself: a crumbling institution. The previous two seasons, United was in the playoff race until the final weekend. This year, barring an immediate resurgence, the club will be out of contention by Labor Day and match the worst three-year stretch since United missed the postseason from 2000 to 2002.

"When you have a year like this, it affects everything in your world," Payne said. "It affects every single person who works here, it affects our fans, it affects Will, it affects me. It's wearing. It's emotionally very difficult. We are not really accustomed to this. But we are going to fix it. We are not giving up on this year. People may laugh at that; I don't really care."

United has shown glimpses of hope: 2-3-2 in its past seven league matches; four straight victories in the U.S. Open Cup to reach the semifinals for the third consecutive year; triumphs over AC Milan, English club Portsmouth and El Salvador's national team in international friendlies.

"We're not out of this," General Manager Dave Kasper said. "There are 13 league games to play. We just need to put it all together."

While injuries have decimated the roster -- sidelining several regulars for long periods, or in some cases, for the entire season -- the quality of play has been bland and an abundance of what first-year coach Curt Onalfo called "youthful mistakes" in defending has cost the team several games.

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