It's been a decade since D.C. United started a season with at least four points from their first two league games of the season. In doing so in 2019, United is also the only team in the league that has yet to concede a goal, the first time in club history that the Black-and-Red have started out a season with two consecutive shutouts. But it's not all that surprising, given how well United played, and defended, late last year during their surge to the playoffs.
In their last four regular-season games on 2018, D.C. conceded just one goal, a strike from David Villa in a 3-1 win over New York City FC. That was sandwiched by three shutouts, giving the club from the nation's capital five shutouts in their past six regular-season games. Not too bad for a club that struggled to prevent goals at an alarming rate during the first half of the 2018 season.
"I think it’s a lot of building on last year," United center back Steven Birnbaum told FloFC on Tuesday, about the club's good start to the season. "We had a good thing going towards the end [of 2018]."
The quick start has been helped by the fact that United returned nine of the 11 starters they had at the end of the 2018 season. Leonardo Jara and Lucas Rodriguez have been quickly integrated into the side, picking up quickly how United wanted to operate in the 2019 season.
To start this season, United dominated Atlanta United on the opening weekend in a 2-0 victory. On Sunday, the Black-and-Red went to Yankee Stadium, a place where they had never won before, and got a credible 0-0 draw, which could have been a win on another day. That leaves them tied with the Columbus Crew with four points in the Eastern Conference to start the year.
The quick start has its foundation in 2018, when United ended the season strongly, especially on the defensive end of the field.
"Who we are in possession, who we are out of possession, in some ways we picked up where we left off," head coach Ben Olsen said on Tuesday after the team's practice. "And that’s a good thing. Part of that is the continuity of players, the familiarity of everybody and the relationships have been more ingrained. We still incorporated some new things tactically, in how we’re going about games."
Where it matters most, United had no turnover from the end of last season to the beginning of this season. Many coaches talk about having a strong spine to their team, which includes the positions down the middle of the field. United not only return all of their spine from last year, but return players who were performing well to end 2018, and who has picked their form right back up to start 2019.
"It’s easier to make these tweaks, and add one or two players in when your foundation is good," added Olsen. "Especially up the spine of the team, it’s a familiar group. It’s the central midfielders, Wayne [Rooney] and [Luciano Acosta], and the two center backs. That’s helped with the integration, it helps with some of the tweaks we’ve been doing."