"Wait until next year" is about to become the mantra for 9 clubs as the MLS playoffs will be kicking off soon. It will leave those clubs behind, along with two more after the play-in round between the 4 & 5 seeds from the East and West, respectively. DC United, despite their US Open Cup victory, are the first of these nine to consider life after the season. With their lack of success this season, much of the discussion following their Open Cup win has been about how good they can be next year, regardless of what they did this season. This seems like a good question, but I decided to open it up a bit. How good have teams been following a season with a bottom-3 finish in the table?
One thing that easily catches one's eye is that there are some repeats on here, which brings sustainability into question, but that's a question for another day. What is important to me now is how massive 8 points is when you are talking about a table that is rich in parity. Bottom dwellers tended to perform about 8 points better in the tables the following season. Right now, 8 points separates the Chicago Fire from being out of the playoffs with a bottom-three finish in the Eastern Conference and a second-place finish. 8 points means a lot!
While 8 points isn't enough to completely change the fortunes DCU this off-season, it's reasonable to expect a better-than-8-point improvement, due to some obvious roster turnover, health being restored to key figures in their best XI, and some added cap flexibility. You can point back to the 2009 New York Red Bulls or even the 2010 Philadelphia Union who both made substantial changes to put them in the playoff picture.
Bottom line: if you think that D.C. United will be terrible next year because they were terrible this year, then you are wrong and getting ahead of yourself.