Perhaps the most alarming aspect of D.C. United‘s hard-luck start to the MLS season is that the club has had a logistically easy path for almost three months.
Seven of 11 matches were at home and none beyond the Eastern Seaboard or outside the country. The four trips consisted of two Amtrak rides to New York, a one-hour flight to Boston and a 90-minute journey to Atlanta. No weekday games have cluttered the calendar.
As for the competition, only four opponents had a winning record last year.
United’s breezy route is now over. Seven of the next nine matches are on the road, beginning Saturday in Vancouver and continuing Wednesday in Orlando.
To reach British Columbia, United flew commercial to Toronto and connected. A delay at Reagan National Airport on Thursday threatened to disrupt connections, but the group made the second flight.
After the match against the Whitecaps at BC Place, the delegation will bus to Seattle and fly to Orlando.
All in all, it’s not exactly the Acela quiet car pointed toward Penn Station.
In full, United will put on 5,890 miles and be away for a week. Upon returning home, the squad will have two days to prepare for the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy on June 3.
Flying charter would ease the discomfort of transcontinental travel. MLS, though, has antiquated guidelines in promoting competitive balance: Four charters per team per year, including the playoffs.
The rule doesn’t make much sense anymore because every team now has major benefactors. United, though, has been a frugal operation while financial losses mounted playing at outdated RFK Stadium, and the team has rarely, if ever, flown charter. (The organization’s outlook will change next year when Audi Field opens.)
The road trips couldn’t treat United (3-6-2) much worse than the home stay: a 2-4-1 record at RFK with five scoreless performances. Just as D.C. appeared to be getting its act together, the three-game homestand preceding this heavy stretch resulted in three shutout defeats.
And it all occurred without the stress of travel. Compare MLS’s scheduling of United to that of the New England Revolution, which has already played at Colorado, Dallas, Portland, Chicago and Columbus. All were separate trips.
“A lot of away games now — maybe that will be good for us,” United midfielder Lloyd Sam said.
United didn’t fared well on the road the past two-plus years — 6-18-12 — but then capped a three-game swing last month with a 2-2 draw at New England and 3-1 victory at Atlanta. D.C. hadn’t scored three away goals in league play since late 2014.
Coach Ben Olsen is seeking to stabilize his team as injured regulars return and the front office pursues help via signings and trades during the summer transfer window.
“It’s not for lack of effort and want,” he said of the spring rut. “We’ll get some guys back. Everyone, including the staff, takes a little more responsibility to be at their best, and we’ll go give it a run in Vancouver and Orlando and L.A. and see where this thing goes.”
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko (hamstring) is expected back soon. Defender Sean Franklin (hamstring) is close behind. Midfielder-defender Nick DeLeon (hernia surgery) and midfielder Rob Vincent (blood clot) have longer timetables.
Meanwhile, United is believed to be in the market for help in deep-lying central midfield and on the flanks.
United started slowly last year as well before trading for Sam and Patrick Mullins, fully integrating playmaker Luciano Acosta and becoming a cohesive attacking unit.
Despite retaining most of last year’s roster, United has regressed.
“Watching from afar, people are playing scared and not taking risks,” said Nyarko, who has rejoined regular workouts. “It’s hurting us, but I know the quality of the players we have. It’s basically the same team as last year, but the lack of confidence can hit anyone.
“We can get this back up and change things.”
United notes: MLS fined forward Jose Guillermo Ortiz an undisclosed amount for simulation/embellishment in the 77th minute against Chicago. . . . Matias Laba, Vancouver’s starting defensive midfielder, will serve a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
D.C. United at Vancouver Whitecaps
Where: BC Place.
When: Saturday at 7 p.m.
TV: NewsChannel 8.
Records: United 3-6-2, 11 points; Whitecaps 5-5-1, 16 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; Ds Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp; MFs Lloyd Sam, Jared Jeffrey, Luciano Acosta, Ian Harkes, Lamar Neagle; F Patrick Mullins.
Vancouver probable starters: GK David Ousted; Ds Jordan Harvey, Tim Parker, Kendall Waston, Sheanon Williams; MFs Russell Teibert, Christian Bolaños, Tony Tchani, Andrew Jacobson, Cristian Techera; F Fredy Montero.