How United fits into D.C.'s sporting renaissance
With D.C. United, and Washington area sports in general,enjoying a renaissance of sorts over the last six months, Black-and-RedPresident Kevin Payne doesn’t want fans to forget how we got here.
“The Washington Capitals became a good team because they werefirst a very poor team and they got a lot of high draft picks,” Payne explainedon a recent edition of the Capital Soccer Show. “The Washington Nationals right now have Bryce Harper andStephen Strasburg because they were a very poor team for a couple of years andnow they have the tools to become a very good team. We are no different.”
Though United’s turnaround is somewhat similar to their Washingtoncounterparts, there are some major differences in how Payne and his frontoffice have rebuilt D.C.’s roster.
When the Capitals finished next-to-last in the EasternConference in 2003-2004, they were rewarded with Alex Ovechkin. Hailed as the sport’s next superstar,Ovechkin had already drawn comparisons to Mario Lemieux and was an obviouschoice for Washington’s first overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft. The Nationals enjoyed similar luck whenback-to-back last place campaigns in 2008 and 2009 netted them StephenStrasburg and Bryce Harper. Bothwere among the most highly touted prospects in Major League Baseball history.
Even the Redskins, who like United last made the playoffs in 2007 (07-08 season), seem to have found their version of an 'overnight cure' by drafting Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Black-and-Red haven’t been so fortunate. Since 2009, the year after D.C.’scurrent playoff-drought started, United hasn’t drafted higher than third in thefirst round. Because theSuperDraft is just one way – and by far the least predictable manner - ofadding talent in MLS, there hasn’t been a home-run pick to reverse the club’sfortunes in one fell swoop.
There have, however, been a bunch of hits.
With consecutive first-round selections in 2009, D.C. hit with both Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius. Pontius’ impact has been obvious but Wallace was equallyvaluable. The defender served asthe trade-bait that brought Dax McCarty to Washington, which eventually lead toDwayne De Rosario’s arrival in the nation’s capital. After the worst season in club history in 2010, United hitagain with third-overall choice Perry Kitchen. Drafting seventh this past spring, D.C. ignored conventionalthinking and draft pundits by taking a risk on midfielder Nick DeLeon. The gamble paid off.
“The last two years we’ve been very lucky in getting the guywe wanted in the draft,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said recently. “Perry and Nick have both been bigimpact players and are going to be the future of this team.”
So United faithful should enjoy being included inWashington’s current sporting renaissance. Just remember the different – and some would argue morerewarding path – to how we got here.