October 21, 2020

D.C. United GAME 6 ANALYSIS: United scoring woes resemble those of club’s worst seasons

“It could be worse,” is often the tag line of the defeated, the thing someone says at the end of a bad day at work, a rough commute home, or upon finding out that someone stole your last cookie.

It might have been stated by one or two folks leaving RFK Stadium Saturday night, after D.C. United lost to the New York Red Bulls, 2-0. There aren’t many things worse than losing to your arch-rival, and United is winless against New York in two tries now this season (0-1-1, no goals scored).

But, United does have 4 points this season, though; they are 1-4-1, so in literal terms – yes, it could be worse. Heck, United went without a win at all in the first six matches of the 2003 season – though it should be noted that with four draws and two losses, that 2003 team had as many points after six matches as the current version does.

In fact, 2003 was the only season United failed to win a game in the first six. Of late, the early season hasn’t treated DC very well. The club hasn’t won as many as three of its first six matches in any season since 2006 (3-1-2). An anomaly there is 2009, when United went 2-1-3 in the first six, good for 9 points. Nine points would have United tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference this season. United are 6-14-4 over the last four years in the first six league matches of the season.

What is unprecedented, however, is the lack of goal production from United to start 2013. The two goals scored in six matches are the lowest number United has ever had at this point in any season – this is United’s 18th campaign as one of Major League Soccer’s charter clubs. The closest marks of futility to this year’s team were in 2010, when United, like this season, were shutout four times in the first six matches. However that year, United also scored twice in a pair of games to bank four goals after 540 minutes. United also only scored four goals in the first six matches of 2003, being shutout three times, scoring a single goal twice, and netting 2 in the season opener.

To put the numbers in perspective, consider in 1997 (which admittedly, is a completely different generation of MLS), United scored 16 goals in the first six matches, including five in a game twice. From 1997-2001, United scored at least 10 goals in the first six matches every year. United hasn’t scored five in a league match since 2006, a 5-1 home win over the Columbus Crew. The club record for goals in a game is six, done twice – most recently in 2004, also the last time United won MLS Cup.

Thinking about that stat of 16 goals in six games from 1997 (not including an added goal in the standings for a shootout win over Los Angeles), this United club is on pace to score 11 goals for the whole 2013 season.

It’s not been often that United have dealt with such a scoring drought. Early in MLS, goals seemed easy to find for DC, and tallying three or four per game was far from rare. Not surprisingly, United were also the league’s best club, winning MLS Cup in 1996, 1997, and 1999, while losing the 1998 final.

When the club’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2002 and United finished dead last in the league with 32 points (it was 10 teams then), United suffered its worst barren run. In a seven-game stretch from July 6 to August 10, United scored one goal – that coming in a 3-1 loss at home to Columbus on July 13. United were shutout in the other six games, earning points from three scoreless draws (at Chicago twice; home to Kansas City). United went scoreless in five consecutive matches from July 20 to August 10. The drought ended on August 17, when United managed a 2-2 tie at San Jose.

United finished that 2002 season 9-14-5, barely averaging more than a goal per game (31 goals in 28 matches, 1.11 per game). Bobby Convey and Ali Curtis tied for the club lead with five goals each. With a 34-game schedule now, this year’s club would need to score 36 goals in the final 28 games to match that 1.11 clip. Lionard Pajoy and Rafael’s one goal each lead the club now. Carlos Ruiz, now with United, led MLS in goals in 2002 with 24 while playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The 2010 season offers the only other examples of United scoring as few as two goals in a six-match period. The first came from April 17 to May 22, when United were shutout five times, and scored twice in a 2-1 win vs. Kansas City on May 5 (the only time in the run where the club earned any points). Later in 2010, United managed just two goals over seven matches – from June 26 to August 7. The club went 0-5-2 during that span.

That 2010 team also finished dead last in MLS, with 22 points from 30 matches (6-20-4), and only 21 goals scored. Like 2002, it only took five goals to win top honors on the team in 2010 – with Andy Najar and Danny Allsopp sharing the lead. United were shutout 17 times in 2010, as opposed to 12 times in 2002. San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski led the league with 18 goals, while Dwayne De Rosario, the currently United midfielder then with Toronto FC, was third with 15.

Even though it’s early, there’s only one team in the league right now with fewer points than United, the Seattle Sounders, who have yet to win (0-3-2), and like United, have only scored twice. The Chicago Fire are also 1-4-1 and have four points.

Is it time to panic? With 28 matches left, maybe not. Is it time for changes? It has to be, but what can United do? Lionard Pajoy has started all six matches, played 514 minutes (meaning he’s only missed 26) and has one goal and just two shots on goal. Ruiz, acquired during the offseason, hasn’t played more than 26 minutes in any match this year and has yet to start. Ruiz does have four shots on goal in 79 minutes. Rafael scored on his debut vs. Columbus, but his long-range strike in that match is still his only shot on goal in 180 minutes over three appearances (all starts). Reserve Casey Townsend, 23, played for the Richmond Kickers (where he is on loan) over the weekend, and scored twice in a 4-1 win over Charleston.

While that is putting everything on the forwards, and there are more factors to the scoring issues than that, any team must have someone dangerous up front to contend. United has shown so far not to have such a danger. It may be that the answer lies outside the organization via trade, etc. But whatever happens, history has shown that United can’t continue down this path of meager offense. The moral of the story is, both years United have had such historic scoring droughts, they’ve finished as the worst team in the league. Which is no surprise really, bad teams often can’t score and teams that can’t score often are bad teams.

But it would have been difficult prior to the season to envision United finishing dead last in the league in 2013, especially off a successful season and playoff run last year. Something has to be done soon in order to change United’s path before it is too late.

Ed Morgans is a Contributor to District Sports Page, covering D.C. United. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @edmorgans.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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