Dry spells in front of goal will inevitably befall most teams at one point or another. But D.C. United’s scoring woes have grown to such drastic proportions that they have completely overshadowed the positive repercussions from last week’s coaching change, and essentially left the team unable to move forward on other fronts.
United have netted just two goals in their last seven league matches, and with 12 tallies overall, they look likely to smash the MLS record for fewest goals in a season (25 by Toronto FC in 2007) unless a dramatic reversal of fortune can be engineered.
The problem is, finishing isn’t the sort of issue for which solutions are readily engineered.
“This week we’ve incorporated some situational stuff where we’re doing a lot more finishing,” interim head coach Ben Olsen said on Wednesday. “Just getting guys as many looks as possible at the goal helps. But at the end of the day, let’s face it, it’s still about who is going to step up and be that guy for us. You challenge the guys to be the guy to stop this drought. Who’s it going to be?”
Consistent finishing remains the game’s most instinctive, intangible skill – and thus, the hottest commodity – and at the moment, DC are being soundly defeated by the psychological component of goal scoring. United carved out a bevy of inviting opportunities at New England last weekend, but player after player failed to beat Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis or even find the target.
“We need to not be thinking about bad records or what’s going to happen at the end of the year,” midfielder Stephen King said afterwards. “We just need to focus now on preparing for next week’s game and taking every opportunity we can to right things.
"We just need to focus on the next game, getting back to having some joy out there and scoring goals, and celebrating goals. Once we start doing that, I think the whole entire thing will turn around. Right now we’re in a funk, and there’s no conviction that we’re going to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Mindful that the squad has notched more than two goals on only two occasions in league action this season, the Black-and-Red front office certainly made the issue a priority with midseason acquisitions Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez and the continued cultivation of 17-year-old Andy Najar, the team’s leading scorer.
Yet no one on the roster has yet been able to spark the sort of scoring streak that was once commonplace around RFK Stadium, thanks to the exploits of Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez in their heyday. Olsen does not skirt around the hard realities, but he does retain faith in the latent abilities of the players at his disposal.
“Be blunt: Do we have enough quality finishers this year? Obviously not,” he acknowledged. “But we’ve got guys that can be quality finishers, and it’s a streaky position when you don’t have the best of the best. We need to get someone on a roll.
"The beauty of that is, all it takes is one goal to get back on a scoring streak. You can’t over think it. We realize it’s an issue, but we can’t over think it. If we play the way we played this [past] weekend, that’s going to take care of itself, at some point.”