It helps that the players are, to the man, incredibly nice around kids and fans -- and that the fans are overwhelmingly respectful of the players at the event. Today was no exception. We sat for about fifteen minutes in the locker room watching Kurt Morsink, Brandon McDonald, and Emiliano Dudar interact with everyone who wanted a moment of their time. Their appreciation for supporters is disarming, and, not coincidentally, makes it difficult to maintain critical thoughts about a player's (Morsink's) contribution to the squad.
Of course, the player that went to Fred-like levels to entertain my daughter and get a smile out of a four-year old clearly not enjoying the stifling heat on the ground was Danny Cruz. Probably the guy that I've grown to dislike the most on the team and he was incredible; it may have been miserable for the fans who showed up, but it was much, much worse for the players and yet none of them seemed put out by the obligation to entertain supporters.
The "Meet the Team" day is a credit to the club and, for me, will keep bringing us back to RFK year after year.
The club is probably disappointed that in spite of all the things it has done to enrich the season ticket holder's experience ("Meet the Team" day, Chalk Talks, PSG friendly, etc.) attendance has fallen by something like 10% (not including the last home game against Montreal, which drew 18,000+).
The product on the field alone should be enough to get people out to games. Through 18 matches this season, DC United sits atop the Eastern Conference with Sporting Kansas City with 33 points. The club is behind San Jose (37 points, 19 games) and Real Salt Lake (36 points, 20 games), but this only distracts from how ridiculously good Ben Olsen's squad has been over the first four months of this season:
- 10 wins out of 18 games works out to a 56% winning percentage. You would have to go back to 1999 to find a version of United that won with such frequency. Because, prior to the 2000 season, the MLS required every regular season game to be won or lost, if you adjust winning percentages to remove shootout wins (6 in 1999 and 7 in 1998), this D.C. United team is running at the best clip in the club's history.
- With 10 wins by the end of June, Olsen's team already has more wins than the club managed total in six of the prior sixteen seasons (37.5%). One more win and they'll have tied the season's total for wins in nine of the prior sixteen seasons (56.3%).
- Through 18 games, D.C. United is averaging 1.83 points per match, slightly better than the 1.81 points per match accumulated by the 1998 squad and tied with the per game totals of the 2007 squad -- the best in the club's history.
What's more, D.C. United is experiencing this success in a league packed with talent. Because of a fluke in scheduling this weekend, I got to see the majority of three MLS league games -- Seattle Sounders-Colorado Rapids on Saturday night, Los Angeles Galaxy-Chicago Fire this afternoon, and New York Red Bulls-New England Revolution this evening. These are all pretty good teams. The addition of Montreal may have diluted last year's talent a bit, but this seems to have been more than made up by the addition of new blood into the league. And D.C. United is thriving in this environment.
There were a lot of lines today and it was a miserable day to be standing in a lot of lines outdoors. A common refrain in those lines was surprise at how there was a lot of doubt surrounding Bennie's appointment as gaffer and how, while questions remained, it was impossible to deny the results. I am very much in this camp as well. I cannot believe that they are as good as the table says they are, yet watching DeRosario, Boskovic, Najar, and DeLeon play the ball around the midfield with competent players (including an ascendant Chris Pontius) both in front and behind them, it is hard to conclude that any of this is an illusion.