Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
The exhausted bodies crumbled to the turf one-by-one after Jair Marrufo's final whistle Wednesday night, the instant when hope was extinguished and reality set in. There will be no MLS postseason for D.C. United yet again.
After its historically poor 2010 campaign, D.C. improved to the point where it was in the hunt for not only a playoff spot, but the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference until the final month of the season.
Although that hardly lessens the level of disappointment of going 0-4-1 down the stretch and coming up short in an effort to reach the postseason for a fourth consecutive season, the immediate reaction after being eliminated remained surprisingly optimistic for the Black-and-Red.
"We said at the beginning that this is a year to really find out who we are," said D.C. coach Ben Olsen, who will wrap up his first full year at the helm Saturday against Sporting Kansas City. "What young guys we have, what guys we can rely on, and this is a process. It's tough to sit here and talk about that because of the disappointment, but I still think there's a lot to this team."
In many ways, Olsen is right. As much as its roster screamed potential, D.C. was a fatally flawed team in 2011 and perhaps wasn't ready just yet to take the leap to the upper echelon of MLS teams.
"We have been haunted by similar things throughout the year," Olsen said. "Balls whipped in; we have probably given up more crosses than any team in the league. We have recurring themes that I need to sort out."
That crossing theme was evident Wednesday night, when Kenny Cooper was able to get prime position in between centerbacks Ethan White and Brandon McDonald a bit too easily to finish off a cross to give Portland an early lead.
Even after a valiant comeback effort yielded an equalizer and plenty of chances for a go-ahead goal, United's season effectively ended with the 1-1 draw despite having another match remaining this weekend.
"We're still disappointed we didn't meet our ultimate goal of making the playoffs, but hard work and determination is always a good foundation," versatile rookie Perry Kitchen said. "I think we have the guys and tools to get there next year."
Between Kitchen, White, Andy Najar, Bill Hamid and the recuperating Chris Pontius, there are a number of up-and-coming players to build around. That same group helped turn a 6-20-4 team that scored just 21 goals a year ago into a 9-12-12 side that simply ran out of steam during the last few weeks.
"We did it with a young team, and for us to come together like this and almost make it, comparing ourselves to where we were in the previous year, we've got to take those positives and work with that and next year make ourselves a title-competing team," Hamid said.
The positives are what United will take going forward, but looking back, there were a number of times this season when it was clear that this D.C. team wasn't quite ready for the limelight.
Its four home wins were tied for the fewest in MLS with San Jose and New England, and while almost every team can reflect on a season and point to missed opportunities, it seemed like United's squandered chances in 2011 were left on the table in spectacular fashion.
Whether it was becoming the Revolution's first road victim back in July; the usually-steady Dwayne De Rosario's failure to convert a stoppage-time penalty kick that would've snapped a 2-2 draw with Chivas USA in September; conceding two goals in stoppage time after just taking the lead to lose at home to Chicago a week ago; or missing a handful of clear chances as time elapsed against Portland on Wednesday, United ultimately caughed up too many points that they should have secured.
"It's another learning opportunity for a lot of us," De Rosario said. "It's frustrating. It's been a long year."
Like all teams, D.C. faces a number of crucial offseason decisions. Aside from deciding whom to leave unprotected for the expansion and re-entry drafts, no decision may be as critical as electing whether to exercise its option to buy on-loan Charlie Davies' contract outright from Sochaux or go in a different direction.
Not committing the money it would take to keep Davies would open up options elsewhere, but it would also deplete the team's already-thin front-line options.
And then there's De Rosario. The club reportedly has an option on his contract for next season, but after his consistent, high-level performance following his trade to the nation's capital, it could be worth locking up the MVP candidate for the long haul and perhaps providing him with the Designated Player label he's been seeking for years.
Regardless, with the young nucleus and prolific players in place and perhaps an adjustment or two up top and in the back, D.C. could find itself snapping its playoff drought in 2012. At least that's the mindset at RFK Stadium after the latest setback for the once-proud franchise.
"A couple additions, get healthy next year, and I think we are going to be a tough team to beat," Olsen said.
Boskovic’s contract lasts until this summer. Let’s give him the opportunity to regain form, and then make a judgement call. I’d rather have DeRo up top with Bosko in the center, than try to find another DP and/or MLS quality striker.
4 seasons is hardly a brief renaissance (including Tommy’s 2007 team as largely built by Nowak).
Drop Davies, spend big money on a short term contract for DeRo, buy a young forward and another veteran defender, don’t protect Simms.
Davies wasn’t good enough to keep a starting role and did not show improvement during the entire season, which was expected when he was signed. he is not worth the money to buy. I would still support another loan deal for him to continue to improve over another season but he showed his a$$ this season and ben is too smart to keep him around.
i’ll explain, at the end of the season during clutch time davies was underperforming and lost his starting spot. Then he publicly complained about it, making it about himself at the most important time of the season. Your play earns the right to speak out otherwise you support your coach and your team during that time in the season. sewing disunity at the apex of the playoff race was selfish and awful, and his play doesn’t do him any favors. Davies was DCU’s problem child. Case and point, DeRo complained about Simms heart before the most important game of the season and what did Olsen do? He benched simms in that game. DeRo had proven himself for the team and earned the right to call someone out. also his complaint was for the team, not himself. bye bye davies.
Go DCU! Make the right decisions in the off season. judging by ben’s handling of dax, DeRo and others, I don’t think this will be a problem
How many times can a name be misspelled in one paragraph.
DaviEs. WolfF. At least you spelled Olsen right…