It’s the oldest of sports clichés, but 2018 really was the proverbial tale of two seasons for D.C. United.
The first half of the season featured a seemingly never-ending road trip while the team’s new home, Audi Field, was under construction. At midseason, United had played just three home games – all at temporary venues – and was in last place.
But in July, everything changed. Audi Field finally opened and on the night the club christened its new home, it also marked the debut of the most high-profile signing in team history, Wayne Rooney.
Rooney’s introduction, combined with the team’s extended run of home matches to close the season, was transformative. The veteran striker scored 12 goals in 20 games, forming a deadly partnership with Luciano Acosta and helping United to a huge turnaround that culminated in a playoff berth.
Though United was eliminated in the knockout round at the hands of Columbus, optimism surrounding the club is at a level that hasn’t been experienced in several years.
With expectations so high, what can United do for an encore in 2019?
How did D.C. United perform in 2018?
2018 finish: Fourth in the Eastern Conference (14-11-9), lost to Columbus in knockout round of playoffs.
Unsurprisingly, United struggled in the first half of the season before rebounding with a long stretch of games at newly-opened Audi Field to close the season. Ben Olsen’s side was 1-9-7 on the road in 2018, but 13-2-2 at home.
D.C. United's key offseason losses
Nick DeLeon has joined Toronto FC after serving DCU well for seven seasons. Darren Mattocks had a career year at forward in his first season with the club, but Rooney’s arrival pushed him to the bench and the Jamaican has departed, leaving United thin at striker.
Kofi Opare has also left after becoming a valuable backup and spot-starter at center back. Meanwhile, Yamil Asad’s status is still up in the air after the Argentine was a key member of the team’s attack while on loan in 2018. United wants to bring him back, but there have been complications in talks with Asad's parent club Velez Sarsfield.
Ian Harkes had a promising rookie campaign in 2017 but fell out of the picture last season and has joined Scottish side Dundee United.
D.C. United's key offseason additions
Big things are expected from United’s two offseason arrivals from Argentina, both of whom are joining on season-long loans. Lucas Rodríguez is a highly regarded attacking midfielder with recent experience with Argentina’s U-20 side. Leonardo Jara, meanwhile, joins after developing into a starter for Argentine power Boca Juniors, and is expected to fill United’s need at right back.
United landed Chris McCann after he was waved by Atlanta United. The Irishman will provide depth at left back and left midfield. Quincy Amarikwa is expected to sign as a free agent to back up Wayne Rooney, but his deal has yet to be made official.
Forward Antonio Bustamante and defender Donovan Pines have signed as homegrown players. The club has especially high hopes for Pines, a 6-foot-5 center back who could factor in as a starter sooner rather than later.
First-round draft pick Akeem Ward is expected to provide depth at the fullback position, an area where United is not especially deep.
Full D.C. United roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Earl Edwards Jr., Bill Hamid, Chris Seitz
Defenders: Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, Oniel Fisher, Donovan Pines, Chris McCann, Akeem Ward, Joseph Mora, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Jalen Robinson, Leonardo Jara
Midfielders: Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Ulises Segura, Zoltan Stieber, Lucas Rodriguez
Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Antonio Bustamante
D.C. United's projected starting lineup
Olsen switched to a formation that used two defensive midfielders midway through 2018, and that shift paid immediate dividends for United. Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno formed an effective partnership at defensive midfield, though highly rated youngster Chris Durkin will continue to see his share of minutes.
At the back, the team has been looking for an upgrade on Frederic Brillant to partner with Steve Birnbaum at center back. With such an option yet to materialize, the Frenchman is set to keep his starting job for at least the start of the season.
Acquiring Jara will allow United to deploy Paul Arriola further up the field as a right winger, but the U.S. international has shown he is also able to fill in as an attacking right back. Rodriguez is expected to start, but will be pushed by Zoltan Stieber and Ulises Segura, who has also been deployed as a makeshift striker in preseason as the team looks for backup options for Rooney.
D.C. United's national TV coverage
- D.C. United vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, March 3, at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Orlando City vs. D.C. United - Sunday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. Los Angeles FC - Saturday, April 6 at 3 p.m. ET on Fox
- D.C. United vs. New York City FC - Sunday, April 21 at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Minnesota United vs. D.C. United - Sunday, April 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. Sporting Kansas City - Sunday, May 12 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. New England Revolution - Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
- FC Cincinnati vs. D.C. United - Thursday, July 18 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Atlanta United vs. D.C. United - Sunday, July 21 at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
- D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union - Sunday, August 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy - Sunday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls - Wednesday, August 21 at 8 p.m. ET on UniMas
- Portland Timbers vs. D.C. United - Sunday, September 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1