30 October 2006

Not so fast: Why Mike Wise is Premature to Write Nowak's Obit

Mike Wise, as has been noted here and elsewhere, basically wrote an article saying that Nowak's days should be numbered with DC United. I think he's jumping the gun, and perhaps wrong on multiple points. First, if I can summarize this fairly, Wise has essentially two arguments:

  1. United is not getting up for big games.
  2. Nowak is too rigid and inflexible to manage the team successfullly.

Let's take the first point. Wise writes:

[Gomez] potentially saved third-year coach Peter Nowak from two straight first-round exits at home. For the most decorated MLS franchise in the 10-year-old league's history, those are grounds for termination. You can't explain away two first-round-and-outs to a club that has won four titles, including the 2004 MLS championship team coached by Nowak, back when United showed up in seminal games.
There may be some truth to that... but there haven't been two consecutive out in the first round matches. To some degree, Nowak may still be living off of lowered expectations from the Rongren/Hudson years of playoff futility, but DC isn't out of it yet. They won, and their first game in New Jersey was a game where I personally felt that DC was up for the significance of the occasion. The problem is that they rested once they felt secure. Going into the Conference Final's one-and-done scenario, that won't be a problem unless United somehow goes up two-nil.

Wise continues:

...his players, who all like and respect him, don't get up for big games like they once did for Nowak. Dating back to last year, they have gotten blown out or outplayed in some key matches, none worse than their 4-0 playoff loss to Chicago at RFK.
Correct, but one paragraph before, Wise admitted
Nowak coached the MLS all-stars to a victory over Chelsea of the English Premier League and coached United to a breathtaking 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in Seattle, a riveting match that really brought out everything Nowak's no-guts-no-glory approach has been about with United.

If we can summarize, here are the games that have had some large meaning that Nowak has coached since he came here:

  1. 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinal (4-nil over NYRB).
  2. 2004 Eastern Conference Final (3-3 PK victory over the Revs).
  3. 2004 MLS Cup (3-2 over Kansas City).
  4. 2005 Friendly against Chelsea (2-1 defeat)
  5. 2005 Conference Semifinal against Chicago (4-0 defeat)
  6. 2006 Friendlies against Real Madrid and Celtic (a draw and a win).
  7. 2006 All Star Game (win over Chelsea 1-0).
  8. 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinal (2-1 win).
When we throw out the first three results as Wise requests, it does make 2005 look bad. But 2006, even with a cheap win against the Red Bulls, is not over yet. The biggest game of the year is still to come against New England. Of the "big games" (in terms of prestige) we've had since 2004, and I count international friendlies since Wise mentions them, DC is 2-2-1. That's not entirely a record of utter futility. Throw in 2004 and he's 5-2-1.

Still, it seems not to be Wise's major argument, the familiar chestnut that Nowak is too old-world, too rigid, and too stubborn to carry his team onward:

What kills Nowak's chances are the same character traits that will eventually lead to his departure in Washington: his inflexibility and inability to change strategies and preparation. His intolerance for fatigue. He refused to give Jaime Moreno and other worn-down United players a needed rest earlier this season. By the time some of his beat-up and beleaguered players got some time off, they were already physically shot.

As you know, I have some sympathy with this argument while still saying "I don't think the full record is written yet." I think Nowak, as time has gone on, has shown more and more flexibility. But you know my feelings on that. The one issue that I think Wise nails is Nowak's intolerance of fatigue. The idea that any problem can be solved by fitness sessions and running the team ragged. I think while Nowak has learned positional flexibility and adaptability, he still struggles with player management and fatigue related issues. That's a legitimate criticsm, and with international play looming next year, it will be a bigger issue. Still, Wise assumes that Nowak will just never learn to manage such things. I feel like he might. And I'd be willing to give him the chance.

Wise writes "Nowak's contract expires in December, and management has not exactly been knocking down his door to begin extension talks." However, Washington Post-mate Steve Goff already explained this to my satisfaction:

Contract talks have been delayed, Payne explained, because the club's operating rights are in the process of being sold by Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz to a local investment group, believed to be led by former Duke basketball player Brian Davis.

That strikes me as a very legitimate thing to say, and something that Washington Nationals fans no doubt will find familiar. You don't saddle new ownership with people they aren't comfortable with. As for Nowak choosing to go somewhere else, that is his prerogative, but Wise summarized his feelings neatly:

The force of Nowak's gruff personality has pried everything he can possibly wring from United in three years. If his players find a way to pull another championship out of their physically shot legs, he will have accomplished a minor miracle. Either way, it is time to go another direction next season.

Only if you believe that Nowak won't have new ideas for next season, and if you want to treat soccer coaches like hockey coaches. I remain unconvinced that Nowak is another Ron Wilson for DC. But Wise, a man who covered hockey for many years, no doubt views this sport through a similar filter. And if somehow DC does get its act together next Sunday, then perhaps Wise should rethink.

Debriefing for Match 11.33.2: New York Red Bulls


DC United Advances on Aggregate Goals 2-1 to Eastern Conference Final

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, Jon Siegel: "The Red Bulls, despite playing without injured star Youri Djorkaeff, were aggressors from the beginning but didn't even the series until the 70th minute on Amado Guevara's free kick from just outside the penalty box on the right side. The Red Bulls captain made a perfect feed to Josmer Altidore in front of the goal, and the forward spun a header past goalie Troy Perkins (four saves) and into the lower left corner. "
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Instead, after playing poorly and then falling behind, United had to rely on Christian Gomez's goal in the 86th minute to salvage a 1-1 tie before a relieved audience of 21,455."
The Washington Post, Mike Wise: "But that was before the worst team in the MLS playoffs -- New York was 9-12-12 coming in -- made United look pedestrian in its efforts to get to the next round. That was before Nowak's club came up woefully short in a match they badly needed at home. That was before Nowak was incredibly fortunate to have Gomez's sure right foot send his limping-to-the-backstretch club to the next round...The force of Nowak's gruff personality has pried everything he can possibly wring from United in three years. If his players find a way to pull another championship out of their physically shot legs, he will have accomplished a minor miracle. Either way, it is time to go another direction next season." (Did Wise just pen a "Nowak Out!" article? Wow... We'll need to talk about that.)
The Star-Ledger, Frank Giase: "Despite playing their best game of the season and dominating play against the league's best team, the Red Bulls failed to capitalize on a number of scoring opportunities, especially in the first half, and one mistake at the end proved fatal. "
The Herald News, Ives Garlarcep: "The Red Bulls control did not result in goals as D.C. goalkeeper and recently named MLS goalkeeper of the year Troy Perkins put together a commanding performance, making three key saves in the first 25 minutes, including the deflection of a goal-bound header from Schopp. Altidore also came close in the 61st minute, but had his shot hit the left post."
MLSNet, Dylan Butler: "'We showed we are the better team at home and we were the better team here,' Kovalenko said. 'But it doesn't mean anything because they're going on; they're going to the conference finals and we're going home.'" (Dema, you were the better team in the second leg, but I still think we outplayed you up in Jersey. Let's not get too rose tinted now.)
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "D.C. will play host to New England next Sunday in a reprise of the dramatic 2004 Eastern Conference final that is widely considered one of the most thrilling matches in MLS history, with a berth in the MLS Cup Final on the line. But given tonight's disappointing outing, even Peter Nowak admitted that his squad hardly deserves to be favored against the Revolution."
Mid-Atlantic Soccer Report, Ian Penderleith: "...despite its mediocre showing on the night, DC is just two wins away from a fifth MLS championship. Nowak paid tribute to the "fantastic" home support, which noisily urged his team on despite its severe shortcomings."
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "I will tell you one thing, if we play like that on Sunday, the Revolution will knock us on our ass. They will destroy us worse that the beating we took from PUMAS last year. "
BlackDogRed: "...without Perkins in the air and Boswell in the middle and Gomez making something out of seemingly nothing, that would have been one embarassingly craptacular crash."
The Fisch Fry: "The immediate future of American soccer, though, is Jozy Altidore."

The Good

  1. Troy Perkins and the Outer Limits: When it comes to patrolling his box, Troy Perkins shows that he controls vertical, and he controls the horizontal. His disciplined regulation of his territory once again proves critical to stabilizing a shaky United defense. Special mention to Olsen and Boswell for also being decent in winning (or holding) the ball for united.
  2. Donnet and a Difference: Mattias Donnet has not shown that he can start for the team. But for the first time I felt that he made a palpable difference when entering the game.
  3. The MVP: Yes, he deserves it, considering the amount of energy that NYRB put into marking him out of the game. The thing is, while he didn't get the ball, he didn't give up despite having two or three bodies on him at all time. Good perserverence. Sadly, we must wait until November 9 to see if he gets it. At least he won one award already (and UNANIMOUSLY!)
  4. J. Altidore: Let me give some credit to the Red Bulls. In the 2006 BASAs, Jozy Altidore only got on one ballot for Young Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. In both cases, it was the ballot from this blog, and I think that, despite the limited number of games, you can see why I felt like he deserved a mention. Kid is flat out dangerous, and he proved it tonight.

The Bad

  1. When did we flip on the "Suck" switch?: Apparently (and I haven't watched the game broadcast yet) Eric Wynalda was calling out Facundo Erpen. Sadly (or fortunately), from my seats I couldn't see much of the problem, but I can say that what I saw wasn't particulary encouraging. Ditto for Josh Gros. Moreno was having problems with his touch as well. Freddy's passing must have put onrunning attackers at angles reminiscent of an HP Lovecraft expository sequence. God we looked bad. There is some complaint about the offsides, but I'm inclined to let that pass, since DC was clearly offside two or three times, but far more often when I was looking down the line with the AR, I thought we were within one step of being on.
  2. Mean what you say: While DC's players intellectual understand the mindset they need to be in, and they can mouth the words perfectly, you get the sense that it doesn't show up in our play. They didn't look tired tonight, they looked careless. Tired I could maybe understand (and use as a club against Nowak) but careless? There's no excuse for that. If I could find a way to drop some F-bombs in context here, I would be. I just want to yell at them everytime I hear a Crash Davis interview from someone on the team. Play like it, don't just say it. Maybe this town is getting to you.

Man of the Match

Your co-men Men of the Match, including both legs, are Christian Gomez and Troy Perkins.

Final Thoughts

This was no way to soothe anyone's nerves heading into New England. You hear people promising a "Battle" or a "War" next weekend... Let's not forget that Little Big Horn was a battle, it just wasn't a particularly two-sided one. I don't want a battle. I don't want a war. I want my team to go out and play 90 minutes of soccer that tells me they are trying to win, trying to execute, and have their heads in the game. Good god.

29 October 2006

First Impressions - DC United 1 : 1 NYRB (DC United Advances to Conf. Final)

Okay, I now admit that everyone that was right last week to worry about this team. The opening 45 minutes of this game were pathetic. All this season, DC has known the exact right thing to say to the press. Olsen this morning was quoted as saying "we'll play like it's a tie game, and we need to get ahead." Yet instead they piddled, twiddled, and resolved in a way that would make Congress envious of their capacity to do nothing while seeming to do something. Erpen and Gros had some ridiculously bad touches on the ball. Jamie was mostly invisible. Eskandarian couldn't put a shot through the defense's legs. And yet...

Yet, Christian Gomez equalizes, and we go through to the next round. We don't deserve it, but we're through.

There are good signs, but they were more plentiful last week. New England isn't going to give us the same favors that the Red Bulls bestowed upon our defense, sending ball after ball over the crossbar. Apparently instead of punishing us for some defensive sloppiness, they were overcome with sympathy and wanted to get Perkins the goal kick as soon as possible.

New England is a challenge. A bigger challenge than they were in 2004. I hope our team is good enough to put up a fight.

Also, I'm not sure, but I damn sure though half the team was offside on the goal we scored. That being said, the ARs were inconsistent all night, and usually to United's disadvantage, so I'll take it as karma.

28 October 2006

Congratulations New England

Well, one team is through, now let's make sure that the Revs have to travel. Congratulations to New England, disposing of Chicago on Penalties. Worth it for listening to Greg Lalas after they went off air whooping like a five year old.

27 October 2006


About a year ago, I had this idea that there should be a charity 5 on 5 basketball game between the Washington Nationals and DC United at RFK. Sort of a challenge to win the stadium, if you will. Thanks to the Sports Bog, it is now clear why this never happened -- United would own the court. I mean, they're pretty much one George Clinton look alike from the And-1 Mix Tape Tour.

Then Freddy Adu appeared. Boz showed Freddy the old ball, explaining it dated "from when you were born, 22 years ago."

"Oooh hoo hoo, look at the rock," Freddy said, dribbling between his legs. "I like this [new] one better. This is a better grip." He felt the same way after the water test; "see, my hands are like glue, dog," he said. "I don't know about you, my hands are like glue. I'm a baller, what can I say?"

("Ask him what happened when we played one-on-one," Esky later said. "The first play, I elbowed him in the head and he didn't want to play any more. I won, 1-0.")

In case you're wondering, yes, Troy Perkins = The Professor (and Eskandarian = 1/2 Man, 1/2 Amazing).

Five Phrases to Retire from Soccer Writing

I've used 'em, and I am ashamed:

  1. "They need to finish their chances." True, but about as informative as "You don't want that souffle to collapse" or "The problem in Iraq is all the killing."
  2. "How can you leave him unmarked?" The problem with saying this is when it is used in the run of play against a defense with a zonal marking system. It always implies that a back missed his assignment, but the truth is usually that the fault was with a winger or defensive midfielder. The issue is frequently not that the defense left someone unmarked, but that the defense got beat once or twice. Consider a four man back line with zonal marking facing a winger coming down the flank. The winger beats his defender and sends a cross to the back post which is headed home. It may seem as though the goal scorer was unmarked, but what actually happened was that the back line suddenly had to contain a player running parallel to the goal line. One centerback shifts to contain the winger, the other to mark the near post run. The far outside back now contains a winger from the other side who makes a run towards the heart of the defense. Now, the far outside back is covering a defensive lapse from a defensive midfielder, and the outside wing player of the defending team is most likely out of position, leaving a space on the far post. The problem with "How can you leave him unmarked?" is that it implies that the goal is the fault of the defense, and not hustle by three or four players, most of whom will never touch the ball from the attacking team.
  3. "They need to score first and put the pressure on the other team." Is there any team with a losing record after scoring the first goal? Answer: No, although RSL tried. This is only slightly less informative than "You'll want to score more goals than the opposition. It also ignores the perhaps more informative truth: You don't want to be the team that allows the first goal. On average, teams that surrendered the first goal had a lower winning percentage compared to .500 than teams scoring the first goal had a greater winning percentage than .500. Individually, this was true for 7 of the 12 teams. It's not conclusive stastically, but it is interesting.
  4. "Player X may seem to be out of the game for 89 minutes, but one minute he'll get free and punish you." Said typically about strikers that like to conserve energy. The problem is that it is false, or else we'd have a bunch of players over the age of 30 with 20 goals or more.
  5. "These are some of the best fans in the league" Again, a statement which is true no matter what team's fans you mention. The best fans in the league do not belong to any one team, but can find themselves in the Barra, the Legion, in Section 8 Chicago, the Nest, the Quiet Side of RFK, and even in the remnants of the Empire Supporters' Club. They are all the best fans. What's more important than getting the best fans to your game is getting the good fans to your game, and that's less television friendly or interesting than the supporters. Now, I happen to think that if you treat the supporters well, the good fans see it and are more likely to come out to take part in the atmosphere. But every team has some of the best fans in the league. (Note: I am not talking about Rob Stone's comments relating to Section 8 Chicago on last weekend's ABC broadcast. His comments about "How happy it made him" to see the smoke were gold. That's good stuff there. Even if you disagree about the quality of Clint Dempsey's backheel.)

More and more

A few DC United and DC related resouces. DC Soccer says they're here to provide a portal for DC related soccer info, and we dig that. The place looks a little rough, but if it can deliver on what those links promise, it'll rock. The Offside is a blog we've been reading for far too long, and we're thrilled that they've added a DCU specific sub-blog, so they're also on the list of stuff on the right. Dig it, and gorge yourself

Maintain Your Composure, Sunday is Coming

RIMANDO OUT 2 WEEKS: The big news, such as it is, is that DC United backup keeper (and former starting keeper) Nick Rimando is injured after walking his dog. Rumors that his dog is named "Hristo" have not been confirmed. This is one of those injuries that will either be catastrophic or of no impact, with no middle ground. If Perkins goes down (or is taken out?) then things will get very dicey for DC United. If he remains healthy, it is unlikely that Rimando would have seen any time. So while we wish Nick to get healthy, I will also say that I hope the team has no cause to miss you at all.

JURGEN FOR NATS: Our inbox is getting multiple emails that cite the AP story saying that Jurgen Klinnsman is in talks with Sunil Gulati to take on the US National Team job. Honestly, I'm not sure that Jurgen can help the USA program a whole lot, but I like it since it means that there is no need to DCU to find a new coach.

WE LET YOU HAVE THE LAST WORD: Bill Urban dropped by to respond to our article where we responded to his article. Since that article had dropped down the page a but, I wanted to make sure you got a chance to see what he said. Also, Bill correctly points out that The DCenters doesn't have an editor and should probably get one. Of course, being a gentleman, he doesn't come right out and say that, but it is true. Yes, I meant to write Twellman. Passed right over it in proofreading as well. Sigh. Maybe I should be listening to this more.

25 October 2006

Talent. Not Talon. Talent.

Okay, before we talk about anything serious, go read The Far Post. Really. There's nothing in this post more important than you reading their writings for today. Trust me.

Back already? Okay, then I'll get on to what this is about.

Commenter BigKris raises an excellent point:

interesting question re: does Boz and Troy winning hurt Gomito's chances. My guess is no, but I DO think that having Boz, Troy, and Christian on his team hurts Nowak's chances at Coach of the Year -- the argument being, "with all those great players, you SHOULD win a lot."
Kris, I agree with you on all factors. It won't hurt Gomez's chances. I'll also go out on a limb and say that Piotr Nowak will not win Coach of the Year on October 31. It will go to Bob Bradley. About 50% of the reason for Piotr not winning will be the end of regular season record (although if you put together our record in any other order, he wins hands-down). The other 50% is exactly the mindset Kris describes by saying "with all those great players, you SHOULD win a lot."

Now, it's an interesting question to me on whether there is any truth to that. On one side, you have Bruce Arena saying (paraphrase) "DC United is an average team that has Moreno and Gomez." On the other side, "DC is stocked with talent!" The awards for Perkins and Boswell suggest the latter opinion holds more weight, but if so... is it really true?

Now, I'm not a professional scout, but my feeling is that DC United is really not that much more talented than other good MLS teams, even with Moreno and Gomez. Are Jamie and Christain great talents? No question, but if we're listing very good midfield/forward pairings you can add on "Dempsey/Olsen", "DeRosario/Ching", and pick any two of "O'Brien/Cooper/Ruiz/Mulrooney" from other teams. Would I take Moreno/Gomez over any of them? Yup, but it's not like there's nobody else out there in their tier of play on this. As for Boswell, and Perkins, and Gros, etc... Are they really that naturally talented? Or have they been, to borrow a phrase, "Coached Up" to play their position better in a system that makes full advantage of their skills? If the latter, it's an interesting irony, because it would mean Piotr Nowak (and Tommy Soehn, and Mark Simpson) are doing the right thing, and then not getting the credit for it, since it will be viewed as talent, not skill or system.

This would be sad if I thought getting Coach of the Year meant all that much to Piotr. It probably doesn't. In fact, I doubt the actual Cups mean all that much to Piotr. I think he just likes the feeling of beating another team, regardless of the stakes.

And speaking of awards, if you're curious, the DCenters BASA ballot was pretty much as homer-iffic as one can be, with the exception of Forward of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Young Player ofthe Year. Seriously. We submitted a best XI with Perkins, Boswell, Moreno, Olsen, Gomez, and six Gomez clones. (Not that scaryice let us get away with it, but we tried).

Improve MLS the Easy Way... Be What You Are

It seems to me that there's a lot of talk on ways to "fix" or "improve" MLS. My Very Brain and An American's View... Are having a good discussion regarding the playoffs, single tables, etc... , (you can kind of catch up on it here and here). Good conversations. But I want to return to one of my constant points: Many problems with MLS can be fixed without significant changes to competition.

We all know that unlike most sports leagues, MLS is a single-entity structure. The league owns all of the teams, all of the contracts. Within the single-entity structure, the Investor/Operators of teams (Checketts over at RSL, Robert Kraft at New England, Lamar Hunt's teams, AEG's teams, the Red Bulls ownership in New York) have some say on running various operations for their teams, such as scouting, front office operations, and in some cases, website design. Profits are shared across teams, as are expenses.

This approach has significant advantages. It should create a nice efficient system whereby I/O's can use individual teams as laboratories, with risk spread across the entire league. Managing player salaries, a significant cost-source, is much easier. MLS has certain legal protections as well. NFL and NBA teams have to deal with free agency since in order to avoid various anti-trust rules, since to ban it would be an anti-competitive act between teams (it helps to think of teams as individual businesses competing against one another). MLS has no such problem, and is legally exempt from worries about anti-trust behavior since there are not mini-businesses competing against each other, but one business (MLS) with, in essence, competing departments. There could be pitfalls down the road, but right now the system still makes sense.

The problem to me is that MLS, for whatever reason, gives too much leeway to each I/O, and doesn't take advantage of the single-entity structure. In essence, MLS has the opportunity to try out strategies of operations within each team laboratory. Then MLS can evaluate those strategies and implement them across the league. Case in point: Website design. We have the standard MLS template pages, and we have two teams that have deviated from that consistent branding to try out their own look and feel. Typically, MLS website design is handled centrally by a team of professionals, and I'm told that supporting both the typical website and the custom ones is a real pain. After a few years, we should have some data indicating which approach has been more successful. If custom team websites are more effective, then all MLS teams should have them. If not, then the Revs and the Rapids should get with the MLS template in the interests of efficiency. It seems simple, but instead this odd gap in branding occurs.

I've heard in discussions that while there are meetings of various departments across teams once a year, where stories of success and failure are swapped, there is no real systemic implementation of best practices across MLS teams. In part, this may be because MLS wants I/Os to feel as if they "run their teams" but the effect is to neglect the advantages that single-entity structure opens for all teams. In terms of operations that have nothing to do with competitive performance on the field (Marketing, Sales, Branding, Financial Organization, Payroll Operations, etc...) the best practices of each teams should be identified, harvested from across the league, and implemented league wide. That might take away from the I/O's feelings of power and control over their own team, but ultimately should result in better performance. You can still allow I/Os to adjust practices for regional situations (% of non-English speaking populations, for instance), or to propose their own pilot programs. But those programs should be evaluated. If they work, that success should stretch across MLS. If they fail, then the team should get back with the standard.

I being this up because you can see how different teams can be. DC's Kyle Sheldon, and FC Dallas's Evan Mitz, are both apparently willing to work with blogs to help MLS. (In fact, a person I trust e-mailed me regarding Evan's offer to state "Evan is one of the good guys." Good to know. So if you're not buying your MLS Cup Tickets from the Eagles or the Barra, get them from Evan.) I've also seen comments, gotten e-mails, and read BigSoccer discussions about the way "Internet Journalists" (read: self-aggrandizing smartasses with computers) are treated somewhat poorly by some teams. I'd like to think that working with writers such as myself helps teams profitability, but what do I know? But that's the point. If teams that have fan-friendly (and blogger-friendly) front offices are more profitable (and I doubt we have enough data to determine that yet, but still, you can apply the same logic to "relations with Supporter's Groups"), then with a single entity structure there is no excuse for all teams not to behave that way.

So, in short, my proposal for MLS is this: Be a single business, and act like it. Get Standard Operating Procedures that are successful in some areas, and implement them league-wide. Don't just have a convention at the end of the year to discuss how things go. Take people from a team that's doing something right and get them to travel to other team's where improvement is needed. You can do all of that without changing a single rule of competition. The only thing, that I can see, stopping you is that you're worried about infringing on I/O turf. Well, if an I/O has a choice between a private fiefdom and profitability, I imagine most are willing to choose the cash.

24 October 2006

2 of 4 ain't bad

Bobby Boswell named MLS Defender of the Year, today. Congrats to Bozilla on the award, he certainly put together quite a solid season this year. This is kind of ironic considering that last year, he set a record for own goals scored in a season. Remind you of any other defender we picked up in the draft?

Meanwhile Eski loses out on Comeback Player to Richard Mulrooney. What started as a promising comeback season for Headgear was hampered by injuries, which limited his playing time.

What does this mean for Christian Gomez? Will it hurt his chances at the league MVP award to have United snag the Goalkeeper and Defender awards? Of course, here at DCenters we don't think it should. If Gomez doesn't win league MVP, it'll be more of a snub than 2004 when Metroturd Gueavara won the award over Jaime.

23 October 2006

Use As Much Media as You Can (Both Ways?)

MLS Cup Tickets, and Using the Non-traditional Media

A few points which may seem unconnected, but hang together in my mind. First, an interesting e-mail we got over the weekend from the FC Dallas Front Office:

My name is Evan Mitz and I read your site on a daily basis. Currently I work in FC Dallas' front office and we are hosting MLS Cup November 12th. Will you post MLS Cup ticketing information on your site?

I will provide your readers with priority seating for this huge event. They can reach me directly at 214 705 6752 or emitz@fcdallas.net .

I appreciate your support and insight for soccer.

Now, I of course did my due diligence, and verified that this individual does work for FC Dallas, and at that email address. And I'm happy to provide you with a go-to source for your MLS Cup ticketing needs, if you have the time and cash to make it down to Dallas. Even better, if you take Evan up on his offer, let us know how it goes. We're curious. And thanks, Evan, for thinking we might even be able to help you on this. We sincerely hope this helps your commission.

What's interesting here is that it follows a week after the Bobby Boswell/Cosmo situation. Many bloggers, The DCenters included, received requests from DC United Communications Coordinator Kyle Sheldon to help hype the Boswell "Bachelor of the Year" campaign. Of course, I was happy to do so. Now we're (and I'm sure we're not the only blog to get this email) getting requests to help ticket sales for MLS Cup (so let it not be said that I did not do my part for MLS). I'm wondering if this is just the beginning... Is there a bigger push to use the blogosphere to help support the game? And, if so, will there be some reciprocation? As you know, the DCenters has not asked for Press Credentials, but other bloggers may (indeed, RSL Blog and the SE Podcast both have them, and I know that the DC FO has been very cooperative with this blog in the past, and listeners to the SE Podcast heard how Doug Hicks stepped up to support Dave at RFK North). I'm wondering if across MLS, the Front Offices are willing not only to use bloggers, but to work with them. It's possible.

But in the mean time, if you want your MLS Cup tickets, Evan's willing to step up and be the man, so let us know how that goes. And if you're a blog writer, and you're being approached about helping MLS drum up some business, let us know if they're willing to help you out in return. I imagine it will vary from team to team, so I'm curious who the good guys will turn out to be.

(Update 245PM: Yup, at least one other blog got the same email we did... Not sure if it is a strategy yet, but it is interesting. Also, Joanna emailed in to say "Don't forget the SE's and BB's trips." Well noted.)

Dan on Board (With Cheese)

Over at the DC Sports Bog, Dan Steinberg recaps the trip home from the Meadowlands, and issues a challenge:

I'm officially calling out Caps fans to show up for United's home half of the opening round of the playoffs this Sunday evening. The Skins have a bye and the Caps are off. No excuses. I'll even invite you to the Barra and the Eagles' tailgates. You United and Caps people seem to have a lot in common: you think the Washington Post undercovers your team, you occasionally read my blog, you like alcohol, you don't like teams from New York. This is a natural love connection. This especially means you, Goat and Sam Horn Guy.

Seems fair enough to us. Of course, this guy has already jumped on board (and we are appreciative), but maybe this guy should take the message to heart (Ted, I'll even buy you a ticket, and an SE tailgate pass)

Sorry DCist

You may have noticed that DCist is not showing up in game debriefings. This is not their fault, but rather the fault of a firewall/webfilter which seems to block their site from where I am right now. I apologize guys, I still read you when I can, it isn't personal. I see you're still writing about DCU, and I do appreciate it.

Debriefing for Match 11.33.1: At New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls 0 : 1 DC United

(DC leads 1-0 on aggregate after the first leg.)

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steven Goff: "Red Bulls Coach Bruce Arena had talked all week about the importance of disrupting United's Latin connection, but as the match wandered toward a scoreless tie, Gomez and Moreno broke down his club's resistance."
The New York Times, John Eligon: "On paper, Saturday’s game was even. United had 14 shots (five on goal) to the Red Bulls’ 13 (three on goal). United’s Perkins had four saves, the Red Bulls’ Conway had three. But one statistic suggested that United was the aggressor. It was called for offside eight times, while the Red Bulls had no offside calls against them."
The Star-Ledger, Frank Giase: "The result leaves the Red Bulls with the difficult task of coming from behind in the total-goals series next Sunday in Washington, where they are 0-2-1 this year -- including a 3-1 loss in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals -- and 0-3 in playoff games in their history. "
NY/NJ Soccer, Yari Trejos: "'I think you have to give Gomez and Moreno a lot of credit on the play. I think they are the only two players in the league that can pull that off,' said Arena.
Pull it off they did and with that combination, the game was decided. "
MLSNet, Dylan Butler: "The Red Bulls' best chances came from combination work between Todd Dunivant and Dema Kovalenko on the left side. Kovalenko's quick restart found Dunivant, who crossed to Markus Schopp at the far post. But Schopp's header -- when he was completely unmarked and with the entire goal at his mercy -- went high and wide of the net in the 21st minute." (Also read Mr. Butler's piece on fans at RFK North here.)
An American's View, Brian Garrison: "I saw the original line-up go out there and play as they did in April, May and June. I saw United get the scrappy, 1-0 victory that they used all through the 14 game unbeaten streak to collect points as they marched up the MLS ladder. "
The Far Post: "Christian Gomez probably won’t be named league MVP, because people will say he has too much help from United’s talented squad. But, he is the most technical player in the league. The other two MVP candidates would have missed that goal. Cunningham wouldn’t have made the pass to Jaime and De Rosario would have launched it over the cross bar."

The Good

  1. Aim and Fire: Here's the thing. Everyone who saw the game must admire the way Christian Gomez touched that ball over Conway into the net. Everyone admires Moreno's sneaky through ball. However, here's a thought experiment... Without Olsen, Eskandarian, and Adu taking some shots from distance, is there enough space behind that line for Gomez to go through alone? I don't know, but I wonder. DC's willingness to put the ball on net from the top of the box made the Red Bull defenders play a relatively higher line than they might otherwise have been in. Bruce Arena can talk about Gomez and Moreno all he wants, and certainly they deserve a ton of credit, but what made me happy was the commitment DC showed all game to getting a ball in the net as a resulpossessionsession, not content to try and manufacture the perfect chance. This isn't conclusive proof, but it does lead credence to the "Esky is valuable even if he doesn't find the net" theory.
  2. Troy Perkins is the 2006 MLS Keeper of the Year: Honestly, a phenomenal game from Troy. At first, he was great just for controlling his box, and doing what he's done all year. Then a great save at the death to preserve the win. Troy is a worth recipient, and proved it in this game. It's nice to see that award become something other than a fruitcake mailed back and forth between Onstad and Canon.
  3. Play to Win: I'm a bit surprised by some of the negative reactions to this game in the comments. When this game was still tied in the 70th minute, I asked myself if I was happy with the effort. After all, the first leg of last year's Fire match was very disappointing, despite being a draw. The difference was that through 70 minutes, I honestly felt like Piotr wasn't trying to play for the draw from the tenth minute onward. We seemed to be creating chances, putting together attacks, making things happen. I have no problem trying to preserve a draw (or a win) with ten minutes left in a match, but it is a problem when you enter that mindset right after the half. This was much better. Not perfect, but clearly a team performing with a better attitude than I remember.

The Bad

  1. Clearence Sale: Yes, DC's backline was better organized, but while that was better, they also had difficulty clearing the ball. I'm not talking about trying to pass out of the back to create a fpossessionsession, I'm referring just to clearing the ball to relieve pressure. DC was not particularly adept at it, repeatedly sending balls that were easily retrieved by RBNY attackers.
  2. Outworked on the Wing: It wasn't just Adu that got beat defensively, but also Josh Gros, who I think had one of his worst games to date. It surprised me, but perhaps it can be attributed to his suspension problems.

Man of the Match

You're thinking Christian Gomez. I'm thinking Troy Perkins. And then, well, I'm thinking that no MotM should be awarded until after the second leg. Which is the position I'm taking now... this isn't over yet.

Final Thoughts

Again, I think I view this game much more positively than the first round of commenters from Saturday. DCU seemed to be doing things differently, and better, than the last five games of the season. It wasn't perfect, but I would have been worried if it was. That there is still room to improve is a good thing in this case, since it shows progress but doesn't invite complacency.

There's also a strange feeling having won the Supporter's Shield... That shockingly, these games don't matter except to the fact that it is a step towards MLS Cup '06. I'm not taking much joy in just winning a playoff game. I wouldn't even be thrilled to win this series. It would be nice, but the fact is that playoff wins have no validation for this season right now. If we had finished second in the conference, perhaps this would mean more as a way of saying "Yes, and we even made progress in the post season." Yet right now, the only victory that can enhance the season takes place in Dallas. That's why you're not hearing any trash talking out of me about these games. Because right now they feel necessary, part of a mission, but not an end to themselves. If we lose a game now, it doesn't change how I feel about the season. Yet the reverse is true: Even winning these games doesn't change how I feel about the season. Maybe that changes after next week, but in a strange way I think it may have taken the pressure of DC United. They are a success already. Which means, strangely, that the top seed is playing with, as the cliche goes, house money. I need to think about that more, but it is a strange situation. Normally the top team is viewed as having all of the pressure on them, but that's not necessarily the case here. Hm. Let me think about it.

21 October 2006

First Impressions - NYRB 0 : 1 DC UNITED


This series isn't over. Not the way the Red Bulls played, with chances to pull even in the final ten minites. But I'll take this win over a 4-nil win in the long run. It says that DCU still needs to focus, still needs to work to close it out. That's a message I like to see reinforced. But this game also harkens back to the old days, and by the old days I mean June, when DC had a series of 1-nil victories. Those games were tough, hard fought, and DC would manufacture a goal and benefit from a few breaks. That hasn't happened in a long time, so I find it encouraging. It's not a basis for trash talk, but it is a basis to believe that if DC can get by New York, they will have earned some momentum into a Eastern Conference final matchup. A pass out of this series won't be handed to them. That good be a very good thing.

Also, reader Kenn Tomasch, owner of the brilliant kenn.com website (and so much more, even if he is a bit...um, fiery in a Chicago sort of way), passed on this link to the New York Post. Carlos Delgado says "Maybe I should leave New York. Based on my clothing choice, maybe I have a destination in mind." (Note that it's the 2002-2004 series... Nice. That's not a fair weather fan.)

20 October 2006

Where are my pants?

Since other, more reputable undergound websites may not pay attention and give us our due, I will do my best. Here's what others are saying about the playoffs, and I'll leave space in case Kinney or Oscar want to drop in with a predition, and as I see more thoughts, I'll try and update them here:

DC United (E1) v. New York Red Bulls (E4)
The Offside: DC United
My Very Brain: DC United
Quarter Volley: DC United (At least, the first leg)
An American's View: DC United (Again, the first leg)
The DCenters - D: DC United... If there is one team we can play well enough to beat, it should be this one.
The DCenters - Kinney:
The DCenters - Oscar

New England Revolution (E2) v. Chicago Fire (E3)
The Offside: Chicago Fire
My Very Brain: New England
The DCenters - D: Chicago Fire... It could be a close affair, and I feel the most uneasy about tihs pick. In fact, I'm picking against my gut here, since I want to say New England, but they have disappointed me so often when I've watched them that I feel like I can't give it to them despite the talent they have.
The DCenters - Kinney:
The DCenters - Oscar:

FC Dallas (W1) v. Colorado Rapids (W4)
The Offside: FC Dallas
My Very Brain: FC Dallas
The DCenters - D: FC Dallas...I wouldn't be surprised to see Kenny Cooper falter a bit, but Carlos Ruiz can carry this team by himself against the Rapids.
The DCenters - Kinney:
The DCenters - Oscar:

Houston Dynamo (W2) v. CD Chivas USA (W3)
The Offside: Houston Dynamo
My Very Brain: Houston Dynamo
The DCenters - D: Houston Dynamo... Chivas' Bradley is a legitimate coach of the year candidate, and Bornstein is a lock for RoY, but the overall talent on Houston is much deeper.
The DCenters - Kinney:
The DCenters - Oscar:

Behind the Scenes at the DCenters

Hey kids, we're still here, working on a few things. Finalizing our BASA ballot, trying to resolve a tie in the DCenters End of Year Awards (here was the 2005 edition), Working on playoff related stuff (listening to a bunch of music to find the right pregame choice that expresses our ambivalence, a combination of bluster and fear, and that has something to do with New York... It's difficult, I tell ya) It's all coming together, though.

18 October 2006

Yes... but No(wak)...


A few interesting things out there for DC United reading: First, Steve Goff indicates that Piotr Nowak thinks that Alecko Eskandarian may be ready to start (did you follow that? Of course you did.)

More interesting is Bill Urban's look at the playoff series as a bellweather for the career of one person in particular over at MASN:

Nowak clearly rates his abilities at getting the best out of his players above all else and ahead of more mundane personal concerns like tactics and his system of play. His characteristic stubborn refusal to change the system or his tactics as United's season ended with an extended run of poor results, the implicit assumption that he and his players could "turn it on" when necessary, has morphed the conference semifinal tie against the Red Bulls into a sort of referendum on the reign of Peter as a result.

Read the entire thing. You may disagree here and there, but I'll bet you also nod your head knowingly on more than one occasion.

Here's my feeling. Yes, I would have liked to see more from the four man backline over the last five months. I thought it showed promised in the first few games. However, injuries to people like John Wilson made that more difficult to sustain. I certainly would not advocate it now since there's enough confusion in the back line that changing the system seems like it would hurt more than help.

Urban is right: Nowak is stubborn. We've written about it here, others have written about it -- It is a source of strength and weakness. But I don't think Nowak has been as inflexible as either of the two previous seasons. In my mind, he's shown much more adaptability over the course of this year than any previous. Urban, in proposing a 4-5-1, asks "Why not play Moreno by himself?" He then promptly answers the question himself a paragraph later: "It must be noted that Moreno's creaking joints and waning stamina have had an adverse effect on United's attack." The days of Jamie holding a ball while the wingers moved up are past... right now he's not fast or strong enough to keep posession in order to buy time for a 4-5-1 to be effective.

The other issue is that Jamie just won't shoot the damn ball, and to have your one forward be a player that won't try and put the ball in the net is ridiculous (although mitigated slightly by the recently more adventerous Christian Gomez.) No, Jamie will be best when defenders have another attacking threat to worry about, and that means United needs two effective forwards. Adu and Dyachenko have not managed to show that yet (although Adu helps on counters). The fact is we need Esky back... if only because he gives opposing backlines something to take seriously in their marking schemes. Which brings us full circle to the first link posted here. This could be the spark DC needs, even if Esky doesn't tally a goal or an assist, he may create more space for others. And he'll take shots, which means defenses have to close him down quickly, allowing others more opportunity.

As for Urban... I think he's too quick to ignore the fact that Nowak has experimented with multiple forms a 3-5-2, a 4-4-3, and a 3-5-2/4-4-2 hyrbrid. He's been willing to try different players this year (McTavish, Metcalf, Wilson, Mediate, and others who have all battled injuries but saw some starting time.) In other words, I think Urban's column was more appropriate exactly one year ago today than now. It still has a place, but I think he's ignored the progress that has been made. Nowak understands that he was somewhat to blame for the 2005 debacle, and as a result has adjusted. Has he adjusted enough? Well, I don't know. But give him some credit.

17 October 2006

We're going to New York, and then New England, and Then Dallas... YAAARRRGGGHHHHH!

From the DC Sports Bog at the United Awards Ceremony:

Nowak gave a fiery speech at the end of the event, during which he summed up the season and the team's mindset entering the playoffs, and in which he addressed his players, who were sitting in the first three rows in their natty pin-striped suits and black and red ties that made them look borderline mobster.

Nowak's words:

Some of us will be back, some of us maybe not, but in the next four weeks we will do everything in our power to bring you trophy, to bring the passion back....Soccer is a game you can win, you can tie, you can lose. The choice is ours. But you guys deserve more than anything to be in Dallas and to raise the trophy again....I can assure you is going to be completely different team Saturday in New York, and we're going to go there, and we're going to beat them at home again!!!

It all sounded vaguely of Howard Dean. But you've gottalove the confidence.

Well? I like it. I'd like it more if I had any idea where that confidence was coming from right now.

16 October 2006

Debriefing for Match 11.32: Chicago Fire


Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "United has won just one of its last six home matches and, in the past nine days at RFK, suffered glaring defensive breakdowns en route to losses to potential Eastern Conference title-game opponents."
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "'The soccer gods maybe are not on our side right now,' Nowak said. "
Chicago Tribune, Luis Arroyave: "Any fear of the Fire entering the postseason with a three-game losing streak was put to rest Sunday with a 3-2 win at D.C. United to close the regular season."
Mid-Atlantic Soccer Report, Ian Penderleith: "In between breaking down DC's game, Chicago also played some decent soccer, and Matt Pickens had a solid game in goal, particularly in the second half when United looked like they might actually want to take part in a competitive contest. "
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "If this were a true pre-season match, I wouldn't be too worried about our form for the coming season."
BlackDogRed: "I don't for a second buy the game-didn't-mean anything argument. United played to win, Chicago played to win: Chicago won...I'm finding myself already thinking about what needs to be done to be better next year."

The Good

  1. Christan Gomez, MLS MVP: He deserves it. The brace against Chicago was nice to see, and he's playing quite well.
  2. The Vision of Freddy Adu: Honestly, he's seeing the field very well now. In addition to the two assists, there were multiple passes that were barely interrupted by Chicago players. Those passes saw Freddy picking out a player making a clever run some twenty yards away, and his decisions were quick and correct. Very nice.
  3. Chance and Chance: DC was taking shots at the net! Hooray! Ah, that was nice to see.

The Bad

  1. Moving Forward from the Back: You probably heard Wynalda note that DC was having difficulty moving out of the defensive third. It should be noted that this is not a new problem, it's one that DC has had all year (see "The Bad: Casual Day"). It's just now teams are in form and exploiting the situation. I don't expect this to become easier at this point.
  2. Organization: The backline was disorganized. How much can be attributed to having not played together in several games, or to Nick Rimando's orders, is debatable. That being said, it is not only Rimando's responsibility to organize the field, but in a three man line some of the responsibility belongs to Boswell. I didn't see a great deal of him playing an active role in setting up the marking, and that's an area he can, and should, improve upon.
  3. Depression: DC can not afford to become despondant entering the playoffs, and listening to the post-game interviews over at the SE Podcase, I'm getting a bit concerned that the losses are starting to overwhelm DC's psyche. If you expect to lose, you may well not be disappointed.

Man of the Match

I'm going to award a special MotM to Christain Gomez, despite the loss. He earned it.

Final Thoughts

This game didn't have to mean anything, but it did. By playing most of the starters, including Moreno for the full 90, Nowak set out to send a message that a win would set things right with the team. If he had rested the starters, then no one could read anything from this game, but instead he gambled for a potential morale boost. That gamble failed. It wasn't the choice I would have made, or that I was advocating for, but I'm not the coach.

However, if there is one thing I take from this, it is a simple fact: Nowak (and the team as a whole, to the extent it takes some personality from the coach) hates the idea of losing. That's a good thing almost always, but here I'm afraid it may have been a mistake. I would have deemphasized this game heading into the playoffs, then used the opening round as the full and entire judgement as to United's current form. You can build momentum in the playoffs, and I'm a bit worried that the potential for creating a run of good form will be diluted even if DC does take a victory over the Red Bulls out of the first round. Of course, that presupposes a win, which is not certain by any means.

Well, let's get ready for playoff week. It should be [nail-baiting] fun.

14 October 2006

Hello New York, Let's Meet in a Week.

Courtesy of two penalties awarded, both of which were legitimate as far as I could tell, the New York Red Bulls have advanced to the MLS playoffs. Which means in a week, DC will be in New York to start the MLS Cup Campaign. Let's be clear: this is not a walk in the park. The Red Bulls have picked up their play, and most of these guys are playing for their careers since the feeling is that Bruce Arena may well clean house in the off-season. The only exception to the rule is Youri Djorkaeff, and that doesn't help DC either, since it is the last few games of his career, and his workrate in the opening 45 minutes against Kansas City was impressive for a man his age. If he keeps that up, NYRB will prove to be a formidable first round opponent. In depth analysis? Oh yes, we'll need to have that. (Note: The game's not over yet, but a 3-1 NYRB lead seems pretty good.)

Update: Okay, may have spoken too soon. Kansas City has pulled one back in the 84th. This has been an entertaining game.

Another Update: Sunday's game is officially meaningless for everyone, as New England takes out the Crew 1-0 to secure the second seed in the post season. All seeds are set, only the playoffs matter.

13 October 2006

Preview of Match 11.32: Chicago Fire

Match #: 11.32

Opponent: Chicago Fire

DC United, 15-6-10, 55 pts, 1st in East Conference, 1st in MLS
Chicago Fire, 12-11-8, 44 pts, 3rd in East Conference, 5th in MLS


Previous Meeting: Chicago Fire 1 : 0 DC United

Suggested Pregame Music: No New Tale to Tell, Love & Rockets

The Stakes: Chicago is looking for "home-field" in their opening playoff battle against New England, and will need a result to make that a possibility. DC is attempting to balance "rest" against "momentum", and D is firmly endorsing the idea of rest. Even if you were to win this game, is that really a whole lot of momentum? Meh.

Things I'd like to see: Eskandarian to take a few shots. Moreno and Adu to get less than 45 minutes. Gomez to get less than 70 minutes. Donnet to integrate fully into the system. Nobody to get hurt.

Previews from the DCUniverse: DC Sundevil

Previews from the Chicago Fire Folk: Eh.

Expected Yield: 0.5 points (D)

D's Location: Sofa.

Oscar and Kinney's Location: Oscar might be at the game. Kinney should be home eating chicken soup.

Last Words: Preseason

12 October 2006

We All Know What Mark Twain Said About Statistics

There has been, in the US Soccer Blogosphere, very little comment on a fairly interesting piece by Mark Zeigler in the San Diego Union-Tribune which says that MLS announced attendance figures are pretty much bunk. There are several interesting things in this piece. First of all, pretty much every team is involved with the possible exception of Chivas USA. The average tune of inflation between tickets distributed and the announced attendance is about 8%, and DC United falls right at that mark. Chicago seems to be one of the worst offenders in this regard. The numbers are for the 2005 season.

Now, first of all, I have no problem with tickets being distributed for free. While I pay for my seats, I do it because I want to be at the game. If someone else can get into the game for free, more power to them.

I also don't have a problem with MLS and their teams massaging the numbers as they see fit. First, as Zeigler noted in a seperate article months before, this sort of thing is not uncommon. I have no doubt that the announced number comes from somewhere and includes some dubious counting (such as comps), but I do have a problem if MLS has no idea where the number comes from. That speaks to an organization having little control of its data, and MLS should have very precise knowledge of how many tickets were sold, comped, vouchered, etc... and be able to, if nothing else, internally understand that data. If they can't do that, and put out an explanation as to how they get their announced attendence figure, it makes me concerned about not just the validity of those statistics, but the validity of their internal data and financial controls. I'm not saying MLS needs to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, but if I'm in a growing league that is in some intense competition for the marginal entertainment dollar, I damn well want to know everything about how the crowds are created. What worries me is the idea that MLS might not know, that they just got an answer and have been going with it. That worries me. Especially since the more I/Os we have are just going to place more strain on the single-entity structure, so establishing these standards so that, if nothing else, a defined truth can be discovered, if only within MLS Headquarters, becomes a necessity.

Last Chance...

Working on some other posts, but a reminder that today is your last chance to stand up and be heard:

11 October 2006

There is Stuff Other Than the Big Sexy...

There are a few items I want to talk about. The sale of DC United is one, but I think that'll hold off until it actually happens (the rumor mill is here... and even with Steve Goff saying its for real, I don't want to address it quite yet.) The other issue is MLS Attendance Figures, and their veracity (or lack thereof). I think there's a lot of silence on this issue, myself included. Let me be clear that my silence is not one of "I want this story to go away because it disrupts my world-view" but rather one of me trying to figure out what I really want to say on the matter. That I want to write something is not in doubt. The question is... what?

Also, this is more I-66's metier, but that USWNT-Iceland game was great fun to watch. Wow. I'll let someone else recap it, but let me say that, if anything, the Women's National Team is somewhat more cohesive since the departure of Mia Hamm than it was with her. Yes, Abby scored both goals, but the workrate of everyone (other than Hope Solo, who had nothing to do except save a PK, which is a damn difficult thing to do to a keeper) was pretty impressive.

So, until we get to all of that, join with Secondhand Sun, RSL Blog, Quarter Volley, and the DCenters, and do your part to make America Beautiful:

Action Required: Boswell- Now More Than Ever...

Am I amused by the Boswell Cosmo story? Yes. But this thing only has upside for DC, and for MLS. Accordingly, I call on everyone to check out the videos (get those page counts up here and here) of Boswell. Vote for Boswell (before the deadline of, um... tomorrow. Yeah.)

Have you already done your part for American Democracy? Proudly display your allegiance with our sticker below:

Misc. America

BABY GOT CENTER BACK: Let's start with the happy news. MLS has announced (!) that Bobby Boswell is up for Bachelor of the Year in Cosmopolitan. This certainly pushed past Matt Nickell's appearence in Washingtonian as one of DC's sexiest people. Seriously, this is the team of the Sexy right now. Yes, this is major news. Even the Washington Times feels obligated to run with this one. Kali has apparently found the Facebook support organization for Boz.

Of course, the DCenters fully endorses Mr. Boswell's campaign to be certified as America's Supreme Hotness. We'd say something about giving a stump speech, but, well, this isn't Wonkette.

UPDATE - Okay, we were blocked the work filter from getting to the polling site, but thanks to an email from DC United, we can safely say GO HERE. And then, go vote.

FREDDY A-DIVE: Yes, he has a point. He doesn't get the same calls that others have gotten. But, um... he also has been known to go down a bit easy, and to NOT SHOOT WITH THE RIGHT FOOT. Still, interesting to see Piotr back Freddy up on this one. Not sure what to make of that, as it is either good for being a supportive coach, or bad since now they're feeding the paranoia about officiating. Somewhere there was an article on the amount of whining in MLS, with Ben Olsen as the third biggest whiner. Harsh? Yes, but I thought the article was fair.

"He ran like a headless cock for the entire evening, trotting to-and-from without effect.": Ouch. That was the review of DC's Robert SSejjemba (do you know I typed that without looking it up?) in his Ugandan National Team Performance. Yes, blogs have a long way to go before we start reviewing plays like that, although I'd like to give it a shot: "Landon Donovan ran around like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage during the world-cup, providing, like the movie, moments of interest that ultimately paled in comparison to the original and meatier performances of La Cages Aux Folles and Zinedine Zidane." Nah, not quite the same. We'll work on it.

SADLY: Like the commenters have already noted, RIP Mooch. You are missed already.

09 October 2006

Debriefing for Match 11.31: New England Revolution


Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "' I'm so tired of him and the way he scores with his head,' United midfielder Ben Olsen said of Twellman."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "It was a truly disjointed night for United, which found an early attacking rhythm but failed to finish its scoring opportunities and got worse defensively as the game progressed."
MLSNet, Charles Beohm: "...two defensive slips led to opportunistic goals from Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman on either side of halftime, handing the Revs three valuable points and dooming D.C. to only its second home loss of the season."
Boston Globe, Frank Dell'Apa: "United controlled most of the midfield play, but was vulnerable in counterattack in the opening half. And the Revolution continued advancing in the second half, a Dorman move on the right wing setting up the deciding goal."
Mid-Atlantic Soccer Report, Ian Penderleith: "It's time for DC United to get its finger out of its nose."
DC Sun Devil: "
Where do I start? In the first half, my girlfriend asked me why the Revolution players were faster than the United players. I didn't have an answer for her."
BlackDogRed: "If either team could finish, the score could have been 7-7."

The Good

  1. DC United- 2006 Supporter's Shield Winners: Yes, this is the same thing as last week. I just wanted to point out that it was nice to see, especially with reps from each of the fan organizations on the field presenting the trophy.
  2. First Half Creativity: DC showed some nice skill in the opening 45 minutes. Passes were generally sharp, and the pressure well sustained. Going into the interval at 1-1
  3. Bryan Namoff - "Once your groin heals, you can run better": Bryan Namoff made four excellent overlapping runs, each of which led to chances for United (including the goal). This is partly because New England wasn't defending their left wing well (see below for a hint on why) but it was nice to see a defender get forward, overlap, and then walk the line. Good stuff.
  4. Clint Dempsey: No, this isn't in the wrong place. Dude is flat out dangerous, and fun to watch, even when he's scoring against us. I hate him in the Revs uniform, but I enjoy watching him play and would love to have had him on our side.

The Bad

  1. Freddy A-Uno: You got two feet there Freddy. If you're going to make the run to the corner of the 18, you need to learn how to shoot with the right foot. Enough with the stuttering to put it on the left every frickin' time.
  2. Speaking of taking it first touch: Again, is anyone aside from Alecko Eskandarian (and perhaps Facundo Erpen) willing to take a shot if they don't have perfect posession of the ball? Yes, Jamie can bend some beautiful shots into the corners when he has three seconds to set it up, but good teams are rarely going to give you that much time. Jamie, Christian, Freddy, Rod... sometimes you must sacrifice accuracy for timing. I know, we blame people so often for "sacrificing accuracy for power"... But the one touch shot doesn't have to be perfect more often than not... it just has to be on-frame and not right at the keeper.
  3. Come Together: Used in the presentation of the Supporter's Shield, the Beatles "Come Together" really doesn't jazz people up for a match. It's more, you know... groove-a-liscous. Also, remind me to tell you my theory about that song at one point.

Man of the Match


Final Thoughts

Again, I'd rather have rested starters than momentum. If we were to have had momentum, it had to start three games ago. Even a win next week does not equal momentum, and I'd rather have a fresh Jamie, Christian, etc... than three points. Of course, you can disagree.

05 October 2006

We're not the only ones who think this is important

My Very Brain found this interview with Brian Carroll who confesses that the CONCACAF berth "is huge", especially in light of how they do things around the world. That's the 2nd DC United player today to question the value of the playoffs. Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can read that into both BC's and Jaime's comments.

What's more important to you as a fan? I think winning the regular season is always a plus, and now that it means a Champions Cup appearance, it is a legitimate stepping stone to greater glory. As long as we have the MLS Cup though, I think that's the trophy that matters the most. Because you get one more star for your badge, and all next season everyone has to refer to you as "defending champion ... ".

Anyone else think the "hydro-therapy session at a local health club" was Jaime's idea? They're going to be doing this every tuesday throughout the playoffs. If only there were more rival blogs to make fun of our team for doing so.

Does anyone else hear the phrase "AO" in an Ed McMahon Voice?

It's the start of the hockey season, so the DCenters would like to remind you that you can always catch up on the local hockey team news. We direct some of your attention (we still want most of it) over to Bleating from a Caps Nut, a DCU friendly individual. Also, check out the owner's blog, Japer's Rink, and the god-daddy of so many sports blogs over at Off-Wing Opinion for an even wider hockey view.

Did I mention that Bobby Boswell and Dale Hunter have the same uniform number? That's kinda cool in my book.

Someday Your Prince Will Leave

I don't think this is the definitive take on the matter, but there's some interesting thoughts being voiced over at DC Sun Devil:

I would have to say that depending on how this season plays out, and depending on how his off season is, we United supporters should really be prepared for Jaime Moreno to possibly hang up the boots before next season.

In the next season seems a bit unlikely for me, but certainly in the next few seasons. No knock on Jamie, but he is getting older. Any club thinking long-term has to be prepared to deal with that situation when it does develop. It's unpleasant, since Jamie Moreno is pretty much equal to Marco Etcheverry in terms of the DC Pantheon at this point, and we hate to even think about the time when he will no longer be here.

Let me say this. The temptation for a club in this situation is to trade Moreno for value in the off-season. John Harkes did this with New England and Columbus. But Jamie has earned enough credit to be consulted on such a situation. I have no problem if, at some point in the future, the staff goes to Jamie and says "Look, we can't play you everyday anymore. However, Colorado and Toronto are willing to. We'd like you to stay, but if you want to start we'll make that deal happen as well." That's fine. I think it may be the classiest move you can make at that point.

There's more on this topic that needs to be said, but it can wait for the off-season. It can also wait for me to get my own thoughts together, since I really don't know what I feel on the matter. Right now, the fact is that Jamie needs (and needed) some rest, and other than that he's ready to go and be a force. That's pretty good for now.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I use this blog posting thing just to write out my own thoughts. Not sure what that means either.

Addendum by Oscar: Normally, I would have added this in its own post, or as a comment to this one. FIFA.com interviewed Moreno and asked him about his plans for the future. I don't get the sense that its imminent.

(He laughs) A lot of people say that I have been here forever and keep bugging me to retire. But I am not ready yet…I'm only 32 you know! I still have the hunger to get up every day and train and play and I still want to be a winner for this club.

04 October 2006

Root for Colorado

While we wait to see who else will be joining United in the playoffs, I suggest you root for Colorado if you need that extra little bit of help in staying interested in the remaining regular season games. A win for the Rapids this weekend over New York would also be a devastating blow to Los Angeles' playoff hopes.

The Chatter Brigades

Steve Goff's chat today is stuffed with goodness. I may disagree with him on some of his opinions, but it's always entertaining. Key points: DC sale soon, interesting USMNT head coach insight, and some great questions and answers... probably one of the best chats he's had in a few months.

And you can sit down with Troy Perkins tomorrow over at ESPN. Sweet. Tell him all is forgiven for the muffed save on opening day against the Red Bulls.

Widen the Net

My thanks to Evan and The Manly Ferry. Evan has indicated that LA Galaxy related topics can be found his Soccer Thoughts and over at James and the Giant Blog, and The Manly Ferry has agreed, in a manly way, to adopt the New England Revolution over at My Very Brain (his announcement is here.) Thank you gentlemen. I've also added Hunt Park Insider for the Crew, letting MLS News and Views serve the MLS community as a whole.

That still leaves the following teams without patrons except for their Matchnight representation: CD Chivas USA, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Kansas City Wizards, and Toronto FC. Maybe they're out there, and I'm missing them. And I know that there are a few Fire fans that blog, but they seem to have wider intrests than providing a focus on their team (Footcer and Climbing the Ladder). So C'mon kids. Let's get it together.

Yes, We Get It, You're a Tough Guy, Now Lay Down and Eat Some Soup

The morning news has a few nice stories. John Haydon hears from Brian Carroll that the team is still motiviated. Fine, but I'm still in the "rest the starters" category. And Steve Goff talks to Aleck Eskandarian, who says:

"I've already told the coaches that if I'm still hurt when the playoffs start, I'll play hurt," he said. "After a game, I can't walk. I know I'll pay the price, but I'll play if need be."

Very admirable. But here's the thing. Alecko, when you're hurt, you tend not to play particularly well. So I'd rather have you recovering on the bench than fighting through pain on the field. No one questions your toughness, but I do question what you can contribute in the name of proving your toughness. So take a seat until that knee is better. You're still young, no point in making a pointless statement and risking further injury. Get well kid.

03 October 2006

Call for [Team] Blogs, Again

In the explosion of soccer related blogs over the past year, sadly the team specific blogs have taken a back seat. I know we have commenters, such as Anonymous Rat, who are fans of teams other than DC United. And you are always welcome here, even to dispute and disagree with us. Personally, I love it.

But I do wish there were more team specific blogs. Right now, DC United, Real Salt Lake, and the New York Red Bulls are fairly well represented... but that leaves nine other teams with little coverage. I suppose the Columbus Crew get represented with some stuff from the Hunt Park Insider and MLS News and Views, but c'mon teams! Where's the blatant partisanship? The shameless homerism? The thinly disguised envy? Bring it on! Right now USL Teams have fans that are willing to step up (and very nicely too). If you start a team specific blog, I promise you that the DCenters, if made aware of it, will give you whatever kind of plug we can. Plus we need some inter-blog rivalry to be developed. So get on it. Chicago Fire and LA Galaxy fans, I'm looking your way. Right now, DC United, RSL, and the Red Bulls own you all.

International Relations

Three stories to remind us of the international flavor of soccer. First, DCU reservist forward Robert Ssejjemba, formerly of the USL, has been called up for the Ugandan National Team. Not his first cap, if he plays, but it will be the first time he will have been capped while playing for United.

Second story, the US National Coaching job is apparently narrowed down to five people. No definate word if Mr. Nowak is among the five, but I would think that if two MLS coaches are on the list, he'd probably be one of them. It is an interesting question as to whether Mr. Nowak would be a good choice for the National Team coach, and one I haven't answered for myself yet. There are reasons to think it could go either way.

Finally...Quavas Kirk = Santino Quaranta + Josh Gros? Maybe someday, but right now that's an equation that I think won't pass peer review.

02 October 2006

What Is Ours

Over on the right, you see an image of the MLS Supporter's Shield. For 2006, that trophy enters the walnut panels of the DC United Trophy Case. For most of this year, the Supporter's Shield has been a primary focus of this blog. Back in February, The DCenters was a fan of changing the rules to award a CONCACAF Champions berth to the Supporter's Shield Winner. The DCenters may not have thought that DC was a favorite to win the shield, but we cared enough about the regular season to calibrate our progress against gaining the shield.

And now, it is ours. Strangely, I feel a little deprived. Once the playoffs became a fait accompli, the Supporter's Shield kept me tethered to the season, constantly checking other teams progres to see how much room we had. And we've won it, and the right for international play. Piotr Nowak has decribed is as the second most important trophy he could win this year, and he's right, it does place second to the MLS Cup... but not by much. As commenter RFK 315 wrote:

"...because in most leagues around the world, finishing first in the standings IS the Championship. I'm no Eurosnob, but it is the indication of a dominant season, whereas a hot playoff run can happen to any sorry team"

I agree largely with that sentiment, and I'm happy that for once this accomplishment is rewarded within MLS. It is important, given the unbalanced schedules and conference split, that the MLS Championship go to the MLS Cup Winner. Until we get a single table (see: "Pigs, Flying") it must be so. It also seems strange that the day this honor is cemented is a day we lost, but watching all those games, attending those matches against Kansas City, Chicago, Real Salt Lake, Columbus, Houston, FC Dallas... they all mattered to me. And so the Supporter's Shield matters to me.

Here's where I may get into trouble with fellow fans, and perhaps fellow writers on this site -- By winning the Shield, and earning the right to play internationally next year, the 2006 season for DC United must be recorded as a success, regardless of playoff results. Yes, winning the MLS Cup is still important, but even a first round failure (god-forbid!) can't negate the accomplishments of this team. Now, of course I still want the MLS Cup, and a fifth star. But I could be... content if it didn't happen. Now, I hate to admit that, especially since it is the precise mindset that you can be sure Piotr Nowak wants to discourage among the other players. But I'm not a player, I'm a fan. And I've realized that DC has more than rewarded my support in its performance on the field this season. I won't be happy if we bomb out in the playoffs, and I may use a few choice words in this blog if it happens, but I also won't look on everything that has happened and said in meant nothing.

Now, given that the only thing left to accomplish is the playoffs, let me also say this: Forget momentum - rest the starters. Really. A two game win streak will mean little compared to a healthy and relaxed Moreno, Gomez, Adu, Olsen, Carroll (B.), and Boswell. Go ahead and let Rimando get a start in. Let's hope Esky can work in a few games to get his fitness into shape. Continue working with Donnet. Get Dyachenko some work as a target forward in addition to being a playmaker. It's preseason. That's much more important than even setting the points record for "Best DC United team ever". They're already one of the best, the only thing that matters is where in the top tier they will settle. Only the playoffs can decide that now.

Debriefing for Match 11.30: At Houston Dynamo


Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steven Thomson: "One remarkable series late in the game broke a defensive stalemate and gave the Houston Dynamo a 1-0 victory over D.C. United in front of 20,029 fans at Robertson Stadium on Saturday night."
Houston Chronicle, Bernardo Fallas: "Despite the setback, United, which already had clinched a berth in the Eastern playoffs, secured the Supporters' Shield, symbolic of the best record in the league, because Western leader FC Dallas fell 3-1 to the Columbus Crew."
DC Sundevil: "So United lost, in all honesty, I really couldn't care."
Soccer y Futbol: "The Dynamo no doubt were aided by Peter Nowak's decision to pull out Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez (11 goals each) in the second half.Nowak had hinted he'd do just that ahead of the playoffs, so this could be considered somewhat of a favor as opposed to a bone-headed move by the coach."
BlackDogRed: "I’m going to take my cue about last night’s 1-0 loss to Houston from Peter Nowak. After Ching’s bicycle in the 87th, Nowak grinned wryly. After the game, Nowak was smiling."

The Good

  1. DC United- 2006 Supporter's Shield Winners: Clearly, this will merit its own discussion later, but we've won it. That counts for something. In my book, it counts for a lot.
  2. Better posession: United was playing against a good team, and stringing passes together, allowing them to hold the ball. This is a good thing.
  3. Troy Perkins, Traffic Cop in the Skies: Garth Lagerway made a big deal of it, and he was right. Perkins patrolled the skies well, gathering in otherwise dangerous crosses and punching the ball authoritatively if he couldn't be sure he could grab it in. That DC wasn't victimized on a ball over the top, a weakness they've had often this year, bodes well.

The Bad

  1. No chances: Remember the immoral Ray Hudson's words on posession without penetration? Yeah. DC needed to put the ball on frame, and it was not a good thing that our best shots came from the midfield.
  2. Give it away now: Pass-pass-pass-pass-turnover. Ick.
  3. If it's the goal of the year, it was scored against United: Seriously, while I'm glad that it takes a golazo to beat DC United, why does it seem to happen once a year? All credit to Houston for manufacturing that chance. Garth, if Dave can use "It's in the net" for Houston, Brian Ching's goal certainly merited the mention of various fresh churned dairy products.

Man of the Match

Before the loss, I was seriously considering a MOTM to Namoff or Boswell. Sadly, losses = No Man of the Match (unless there's an extraordinarily amazing effort.) Still, DDR wasn't that much of a factor, was he? And that's something.

Final Thoughts

Internation play, representing MLS. It's nice to know we'll have it next season. As for what happens next? I intend to write my thoughts on that, and I'm sure my fellow DCenters will weigh in as well.