D.C. United had one of the worst seasons in the history of MLS in 2013, which makes their turnaround in 2014 all the more surprising. After their 1-0 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday, United sit in a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference with a two games-in-hand over Houston and New York Red Bulls.
How have United turned it around in 2014? Well, it’s complicated.
For starters, United are actually taking less chances per game in 2014 than their anemic offense in 2013, but they are converting a higher percentage of those chances.
United took 8.88 chances per game in 2013, but averaged a league-worst 0.65 goals per game. Meanwhile, in 2014, United are taking 8.22 chances per game, but are scoring 1.44 goals per game.
United are more than doubling their goals per game, and have also cut their goals allowed per game as well.
On the defensive side, United allowed 1.74 goals per game in 2013, but have cut that down to 1.22 in 2014.
Squawka.com assigns a score to a team’s offensive, defensive and possession efforts to come up with an overall score. United’s possession is down, but their offensive and defensive efforts have been so much better, it’s compensating for the lack of possession and chances.
United’s defense has been the driving force behind this turnaround in 2014. It only took completely redoing their back line adding in Jeff Parke, Bobby Boswell, Cristian and Sean Franklin.
Boswell and Parke have already outscored all of United’s defenders but one from 2013 in just nine games so far this season. Boswell (259) and Parke (254) trail only Dejan Jakovic (390) in overall Squawka score from 2013.
United have also benefited from taking advantage of set pieces in 2014. They have scored four so far in 2014, just one fewer than 2013.
Before the season, United made a decision to get a older and added Fabian Espindola, Eddie Johnson and Davy Arnaud. After the season began, they traded for Chris Rolfe. Out with the youngsters that struggled and in with a older, more experienced attacking force.
Rolfe and Espindola in particular have impressed so far this season. Both have added to the attack in a major way.
Rolfe, despite not playing in the teams first three games while he was with Chicago, has amassed a 103 Squawka score while with United. Here was his heat map from the game against Philly:
As you can see, Rolfe got the only goal of the game despite it being his only trek into the box. That’s just been part of United’s game this year, not creating a ton of chances, but converting when they do.
Espindola, meanwhile, hasn’t had nearly the overall impact on his Squawka score, at just 78, but he leads the team in goals with four. He’s also led the team in chances created by a wide margin. He’s created 22, and the next closest was Nick DeLeon with eight. Here was Espindola’s heat map against Philadelphia as he helped in the buildup to the goal:
Will United be able to sustain this? Only time will tell, but it looks like Ben Olsen and his men have vastly improved from 2013.