It is not debatable that MLS’ signature team has taken hits to its aura in the last two years. An ongoing stadium crisis which sees DC United caught in a political football and in the crossfire of a local newspaper whose hypocrisy seems to be never ending. Add to that the Red and Black’s poor performances in continental competition (where DCU previously distinguished itself in a way other MLS teams had not) and continued struggles in MLS.
Additionally, the club for the first time perhaps in its history had flamed out in the international transfer market last year and ended up using the MLS Superdraft and the re-acquisition of Christian Gomez from within MLS to upgrade the team for 2009. This is particularly significant because in the past, United had a stronger scouting network which lent itself to better international signings than any other MLS club. DC United was a destination for many a foreign player, while the rest of MLS was either a stopping point or simply laughed at. In other words, DCU had a reputation beyond that of the rest of the league outside the US and Canada.
United was fortunate to win a controversial 2008 US Open Cup Final against Charleston, and benefited in that tournament as they did in this one from US Soccer’s bizarre, closed door selection policy for choosing Open Cup venues.
But when United suffered defeat on its home ground Wednesday Night, you couldn’t help but think the Red and Black which made this league what it is today, is perhaps now just another MLS team.
Seattle and Houston are the new darlings of MLS, and the new symbols of the league’s success. Both clubs have shown a competitiveness and quality that elevate them to the top of the pack in North American club football. The perch that was established by DCU beginning in 1996 and right through a Supporters Shield win in 2007 has been taken up by other clubs.
While United had struggled between 2000-2003, those teams were rebuilding and largely gutted by the MLS Salary Cap. For the first time in league history, the Red and Black are struggling thanks to moves they have made when on an equal playing field with the rest of MLS.
Perhaps Tom Soehn is over his head as the manager of United. I’ll withhold judgment on this issue until after the MLS Regular Season concludes. But United has lost its mojo and beginning tonight with a trip to Frisco to play FC Dallas, the club needs to regain its footing.
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