DC United held their ribbon-cutting event to officially let everybody know that Audi Field is ready for its first MLS game. United's nice new home opens on Saturday when they host Vancouver, and with it the club sets new expectations. Those start immediately, with DC United needing to turn their back-loaded home schedule into points.
Once again, the unbalanced schedule creates a slight opening for the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. DC might have only won twice this season, but they've also only played 14 games. The teams between them and the final playoff spot have played 18 or 19. If DC can quickly turn Audi Field into a fortress, things change for them this season.
No doubt that this could all end in tears and recriminations this season. DC is now opening a new stadium and debuting new designated player Wayne Rooney. That combo either improves things or raises more questions for a struggling team.
"There is a way for them to fit together," DC coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com's Ian Quillen. "There’s also a way for them not to fit together," With the games starting to roll in more frequently, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for everyone to get minutes. Darren's (Mattocks) had a very good season, and he’s posed a lot of threats to other teams. His speed, his playmaking ability right now is very high. So that’s one option. The other option is those guys sharing some minutes at the No. 9 within the same structure we’re in. Wayne’s pretty versatile. He’s more versatile than Darren."
It was Mattocks getting the equalizer and the point in United's last game, a 2-2 draw at the LA Galaxy last Wednesday. It was the capper on a ridiculous schedule. DC played twice at home, using the Maryland SoccerPlex and Navy Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. So in real terms, they've spent the entirety of 2018 on the road to one extent or the other.
“We have travelled more than anyone in the league and it’s been a long four months," Olsen said following the draw in LA. "The guys have done a good job dealing with it. It’s not only been the away games, but the bye weeks as well. Because the season is back heavy with a lot of games, the rhythm of the season has been a little fractured which has posed problems. We’ve gotten on with it and we’ve been able to grab some points here and there in some tough buildings against some difficult teams. Now the job is pretty simple, we have to start getting three points. We have a nice new building to break in and hopefully we can reward our fans with some wins down the stretch to push us into the playoffs."
SI.com's Grant Wahl looks at the importance of set pieces at the World Cup. The NY Times' David Gendelman explains why soccer players and fans put their hands on their heads when the ball doesn't find the back of the net. World Soccer's Tim Vickery on this World Cup for the CONMEBOL teams.
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Photo courtesy of DC United