It may be hard to imagine now, but at one time the New York MetroStars and Red Bulls were the underdogs in their rivalry with DC United. While DC won trophies and became a model franchise in MLS, New York rebranded, cycled through high-profile coaches and players, and continuously underachieved considering the wealth and marketplace it was afforded.
Fast-forward to Sunday, where DC United meekly bowed out of the playoffs behind a 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls. The game was progress over the previous 1-0 loss – DC had two shots on target as opposed to the none they had the previous Sunday. However, those two attempts and the few others not on target were mostly harmless. Lacking two starters, the visitors were hamstrung by having to play one primarily second half substitute as a starter and a starting center back out of position. A thin bench offered little else in desperation time, and the team that had led the Eastern Conference most of the season was dispatched in style by the new “it” team in the East, the formerly hapless Red Bulls.
Even the most hardcore DC United fans will admit the club’s glory days are past them, but the real question emanating from the stands at RFK is how far away they are from returning. In the wake of another weak exit from the playoffs, some fans are calling for the head of Black-And-Red legend Ben Olsen. Still others are clamoring for that one creative player, just one, always from Europe or South American and always expensive. Another group decries the lack of player development and calls for the “kids” to get more time in DC instead of Richmond, which serves as DC’s quasi-B team at times.
The truth is much deeper and shows that a quick fix is simply not possible for this team. The deepest root to this problem lies in the much-discussed lack of revenue stream for this team. Playing in a dilapidated RFK stadium owned by the city, the team is unable to woo casual fans through kid friendly amenities, comfortable box seats, and high-speed Wi-Fi like so many other teams do. Instead, the team is forced to play out their years in RFK while planning for the dream, their own soccer-specific stadium, to be built. Optimistically the stadium will be ready by the 2018 season, but that does not assume unexpected delays or hiccups. Black-And-Red fans should pray to their deity of choice that no endangered newt is discovered chillin’ near the abandoned buildings about to be torn down.