D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, left, moves the ball against Columbus Crew defender Josh Williams (3) during the first half of an MLS soccer game last month. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

D.C. United is quick to remind uneasy supporters that last season didn’t begin much better than this year’s sour start.

Five points through five games in 2012,four this spring. And last year culminated with a trip to MLS’s Eastern Conference finals.

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: Despite returning the core of the squad, United has failed to preserve last fall’s chemistry and play an appealing brand of soccer. No one expected perfection; after all, the early season is littered with ugly performances as teams seek to find their rhythm and continue learning about themselves.

But during the process, United (1-3-1) has scored just two goals and created an alarmingly low number of quality opportunities. Without a central figure in midfield, the club has labored to sustain possession and, in turn, has burdened the backline with undue pressure. It’s an unsettling sign when the goalkeeper is the team’s most valuable player.

“A lot of teams haven’t found their groove yet,” said goalie Bill Hamid, who has posted two shutouts and conceded just five goals. “We’ll get there. We know we are not far.”

The disappointing spring has brought greater urgency to the next two matches, both at home and both against conference rivals: The New York Red Bulls (1-3-2) visit RFK Stadium on Saturday night and the Philadelphia Union is here next weekend.

Coach Ben Olsen said he has not detected any discouragement in the locker room, but “I hope [the players] are a little frustrated; I hope they are a little [ticked] off that we are in the situation we are early. It’s also not something where we need to panic right now.”

Olsen has reason to believe in this group.

United showed positive signs last week at Sporting Kansas City before succumbing to an 89th-minute goal and dropping a 1-0 decision. The possession game was above average in the first half and the defenders remained in solid form.

This weekend, captain Dwayne De Rosario will return from an adductor strain that cost him one match.

United needs an offensive jumpstart. Although D.C. wasn’t the most robust attacking team last year, especially in De Rosario’s injury absence, the club's chemistry and tactics did pose problems for opponents.

“The attack is always the last thing to come,” defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “It’s the hardest thing to do in the game: put the ball in the net. It will come. It takes time.”

Olsen’s greatest disappointment has been his team’s inability to secure points when neither team has played well.

“The league right now is not that good,” he said. “There are a couple of teams that really have their stuff together and everybody else is grinding and fighting and making a play or two that is getting them points. What we are not doing is making that play or two.”

Absences and adaptation have also contributed to United’s slow start.

De Rosario, the club’s most important player, was suspended for the first two matches. Midfielders Nick DeLeon,John Thorrington and Lewis Neal are treating long-term ailments.

Although most of the squad returned from last year, Olsen has had to incorporate newcomers Rafael,Marcos Sanchezand Kyle Porter. Last week he turned to Raphael Augusto, who didn’t join the team until late in the 2012 campaign.

“Right now it’s about creating that rhythm, creating that synergy moving forward and getting the attacking players confident,” De Rosario said. “We defend as a team and we’ve got to get into the mentality we attack as a team as well.”

United could use a jolt: It has scored multiple goals only once in 15 matches dating from last mid-September.

“It’s not a good feeling right now,” midfielder Chris Pontius said, “but one that can turn around with just one game of an explosion of offense.”