Arriving home after D.C. United's first fixture of the season, I had intended to tap out a post about the joys of watching a team that was relevant again. But my daughter had to be put to bed after being wound up at the match and then work obligations intensified and the post did not get written.
And then United traveled to play New England for its second fixture and reality set in a little bit.
I'll say this: at no point during this season will I regret having renewed (and expanded) our season tickets with the club. The opening game against the Crew was fantastic and my daughter's enthusiasm for attending matches -- even if they are all scheduled as evening games this season (?) -- has grown. The club, in addition to bringing Charlie Davies into the squad, has made an honest and earnest attempt to demonstrate their appreciation for season ticket holders by giving us friendlies with the likes of Ajax and Everton and weaving the Barcelona-ManU friendly at FedEx into the package this year. I would have been over the moon had things been left with only Davies and the club from Amsterdam, but toss in Everton and the clash of the giants (or the giants' reserves) and I am now proselytizing on the team's behalf to anyone within ear shot.
I do not, however, expect the team to be very good or terribly competitive.
There are some uncanny similarities between the current state of D.C. United and Charlton Athletic. Both clubs live off of proud histories and have, of late, seen both their support and relevance in their respective communities wane. At points, the very existence of both has been in peril (ably demonstrated by the Revs supporters clever "Baltimore United" taunt last Saturday). And both have turned their fortunes over to inexperienced club legends to placate what remains of a dissatisfied fan base.
As with D.C. United under Ben Olsen, the early returns for Charlton under Chris Powell energized supporters. The decision to jettison Phil Parkinson (paralleled by the decision to not secure a more experienced coach to take the reins in DC) looked to have been made at the right time. Those who sagely counseled that triumphalism was misplaced, that nothing had fundamentally changed (and, if anything, had gotten worse) were shouted down by the pollyannas in the crowd (including myself) who fervently believed that salvation was at hand.
Following Charlton's pathetic loss to Rochdale today was further confirmation of the delusions attendant to fans that have to believe that their hero's can do anything -- even right a ship that is clearly sinking into the abyss.
I don't have any ties to Chris Powell. Never met him and only have been able to see him play sparsely. But that doesn't matter. I've loved what I have been able to see. Loved everything that I've ever read about him. Chris Powell is an athlete worth admiring.
For many D.C. United supporters, Ben Olsen fills a similar role. Ben Olsen is, fundamentally, D.C. United. The club and the player are interchangeable.
Yet, for both Powell and Olsen, the chances that their reputations will be harmed by tackling frontline management jobs with the clubs with which they are identified are extremely high.
On Saturday against New England, United was an awful team to watch. Although there were a few bright spots, the team, as a whole, seemed listless and incompetent. And in the places where coaching and practice would seem to make a significant difference -- dead ball situations -- United looked particularly bad.
If I'm honest, I expect a lot more games like that 2-1 loss than I do like the 3-1 opener. I expect that there will be more effort and commitment in subsequent games, but I'm not sure that it will have much of an impact on the outcome of matches.
The salient question now is how Powell and Olsen are going to be perceived at the end of their respective seasons. Continued poor results are likely. How much more additional slack are these gaffers cut because of what they achieved in the uniforms of these teams?
At least in Charlton, the answer seems to be "not much."