D.C. United ended a miserable season Sunday with a 5-2 defeat to FC Cincinnati at Audi Field.
With the most goals conceded (71) in one year.
And with no playoff berth for the third consecutive season in a league that hands them out like leaflets.
“Thank God the season’s over,” Coach Wayne Rooney said. “I think it’s a relief for all of us.”
So now what?
“It’s a big offseason for us,” said Rooney, the former English superstar — and ex-D.C. striker — who took over the club in late July. “If we’re going to compete, if we’re going to be successful, there will have to be big changes and quite a few of them.”
Rooney was the third man in charge this year, following Hernán Losada’s abrupt firing after six games and Chad Ashton’s interim position for several months.
Rooney and the front office will attempt to revive a club that allowed at least three goals 12 times and had the worst goal differential since 2013. It had just six shutouts and was blanked 16 times.
“We need a restart,” said captain Steven Birnbaum, who was part of the last D.C. squad that won a playoff game (in 2015). “It wasn’t good enough today. It hasn’t been good enough all year. Pretty much par for the course.”
It was over quickly Sunday. Cincinnati scored twice in the first eight minutes en route to a 4-1 halftime lead before an announced sellout of 19,325.
Brazilian forward Brenner bagged a first-half hat trick and Brandon Vázquez had a goal and three assists for Cincinnati (12-9-13), which clinched its first playoff berth after finishing last in the league in each of its first three years.
Both D.C. goals came on terrific strikes — by Ravel Morrison and homegrown attacker Kristian Fletcher, 17, the 2021 Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year from Landon School who turned pro this summer and started for the first time Sunday. Otherwise, it was another forgettable outing.
“The goals we conceded — incredible, really. Not just at the professional level — at any level,” Rooney said. “Poor defending, poor decision-making, sloppy.”
Rooney’s postgame message to the players?
“I hope you’re fit when you come back for preseason,” he said. “We can’t afford to waste time getting them fit. … If they do the work, they will be ready to go straight into football. If they don’t, it will be difficult for them.”
The list of roster needs is long. Rooney said he will spend much of the offseason at home in England and scout players in Europe. He is likely to have one slot available for a high-end designated player, assuming midfielder Victor Palsson’s contract no longer counts against MLS’s three-DP limit.
“I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here,” Rooney said. “It’s my job to push the owners [to sign players], and if we want to be successful, if we want to develop as a team and a club, we have to make sure we make the right decisions. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it needs it.”
Here’s what else to know about United’s loss:
Bill Hamid, United’s first homegrown signing who spent most of his 13 years as the starter, was honored at halftime as he and the club prepare to go their separate ways.
Hamid, who turns 32 next month, will be a free agent this offseason. He had hand surgery in late June and, after coming off the injury list, chose not to train with the team. A family illness and the birth of his first child also factored into his absence.
Forward Ola Kamara, who will turn 33 on Saturday, is also expected to depart when his $1.5 million contract expires. He had 35 goals in 85 appearances since arriving in late 2019.
Ochoa talks continue
Among United’s major offseason tasks is signing goalkeeper David Ochoa, a summer acquisition from Real Salt Lake whose contract expires this winter. Ochoa, 21, would enter next season as the undisputed starter.
“We obviously want him to stay here, but we also have to be, like any club, looking and aware of what players become available,” Rooney said.
It’s unclear whether Rafael Romo (13 starts) and Jon Kempin (two) will return. One goalkeeping slot will be filled by Luis Zamudio, 24, whose contract is being upgraded after one season with second-division Loudoun United.
Fountas probe unresolved
MLS’s investigation of allegations that United all-star Taxi Fountas directed a racial slur at a Miami player Sept. 18 remains unresolved. Fountas has remained eligible to play, but because the Greek forward is upset about what he has called false accusations, Rooney allowed him to remain with his family in Greece.
“It’s frustrating,” Rooney said. “We’re respecting the league in trying to come to a conclusion on the matter. … It’s strange that it’s taken this long.”
Dave Johnson, United’s first and only play-by-play announcer, called his final game over 27 seasons for the local TV broadcast, which will no longer exist starting next season. Under a 10-year contract, Apple TV will carry all MLS matches, using a variety of announcers.
Johnson, 58, was emotional before the match as he engaged staff, media members and fans. He could end up working for Apple TV or joining United for radio or digital programming.