28 November 2006

The Long and Short Version on Freddy at ManU

Is Freddy Adu necessarily doomed to failure if he signs at Manchester United? No, I don't think so. But does it offer Freddy the best path to his own personal success and maturation? Probably not. If Freddy signs up with ManU he's almost certainly not yet first XI material. Which means he might see the occasional FA Cup game, but I strongly doubt we'd see him starting in Premiership games in his first season. Or his second, for that matter. And Freddy, when he's not playing, gets grumpy. I have no problem with "grumpy": a player that isn't grumpy because he can't crack into the starting line-up is a player way too easily satiated. Additionally, we've all heard from players that training is one thing, but the best way to really sharpen yourself is minutes in actual matches. It is possible, I think, that Freddy could prove us all wrong. I just don't find it likely. For two or three years, Freddy will be gaining experience as a reservist, and his skills will develop accordingly.

Now comes word that the DC United camp has issued their views on Freddy at Manchester United. Piotr Nowak is quoted as saying "I think he should go to PSV (Eindhoven) or Ajax or somewhere where they have a tradition of raising young players. " Now, before I congratulate Piotr on offering wise and sage advice, it is worth at least considering the fact that we have no evidence that a team like PSV or Ajax is interested in Adu. Manchester United, if we take them at face value, is interested in looking at Freddy (although we have no idea if they are willing to offer him a deal.) In short, it may not really be an option for Freddy to go to Netherlands (where, I must admit, all that I've seen is beautiful looking soccer.)

In case you're wondering about it, DCU comments are not just confined to the coach. Technical Director Dave Kasper is quoted as saying "Does Freddy want to have to go to Watford on a rainy Wednesday where he'll have 6ft 4in goons on his back all night?" A valid question.

I need to pause here and admit that this is exactly was Alexi Lalas was saying when I linked to his quote yesterday. As I wrote yesterday, I thought he was right, even if he annoys the hell out of me. Why Freddy would listen to Alexi Lalas, who has pretty much made a career of being wrong in personnel matters over the last three years, is a mystery to me.

Regardless, let's assume Freddy has two options in about half a year: Stay in MLS with DC United or move to Manchester United. Right now I honestly think he gets more time, more experience, and a better chance to mature by playing in DC than he does in Manchester. Those are the only two feasible options right now, barring some invitation from the Netherlands. You can say that Nowak hasn't helped Freddy mature enough, and perhaps it is true that another coach could have gotten more out of Adu. But that overlooks the fact that half-a-dozen coaches (That number not picked randomly) would probably have bungled Freddy entirely and he would have been a has-been burn-out already. So, right now, I agree that Manchester United isn't Freddy's best option, and the better value for his time right now is staying in DC. That won't be true forever, or perhaps even for much longer, but this really does not feel like the right move, even if it seems like a dream come true.

That being said, part of me would like Freddy to prove me wrong.

Update: Brian Garrison at An American's View endorses the Freddy to Holland concept. Well, sure, but again the idea of Freddy going to the Netherlands is something that exists, right now, only as a theoretical construct -- we have no reason to think they are truly interested in him. It's a thought experiment posed from Piotr Nowak right now, and one I can agree with while at the same time accepting that it seems to have little to do with reality. The only choices we are aware of are MLS or ManU (and even that assumed ManU makes an offer) so those are really the only ones we should concern ourselves with, up and until the point we hear otherwise. That being said, read Brian's article. It's very interesting and raises some interesting theories about next year's DCU starting XI.

27 November 2006

Consider Your Options

HOWDY HONDURAS: DC gets its CONCACAF Champions Cup draw, and it is CD Olimpia. Hope you enjoy the cold kids. No, I don't know much about Honduran football, so feel free to chime in if you have insight. My insight will be limited to "Pack a scarf for the soccerplex."

CARROLL - "OUI, JE SUIS UNE OPTION POUR LA FRANCE": In addition to David Stokes checking out St. Pauli, we catch up with Brian Carroll. After Alemannia Aachen passed on him, it seems that Olympique Marseille might be curious. Can I see Brian doing well here? Yes. Does that make it a sure thing? No. To get into the expansion draft news (covered well by my compatriots here) this does make the selection of Rod Dyachenko over Clyde Simms a little more providential.

And yes, I took a week off there for some nice Thanksgiving time. And to deal with that cold that was annoying the hell out of me. I still have that sort of residual runny nose which hangs around like your socially awkward friend from the drama group. Bah. But I had some thoughts in the time off, which I want to share. Including the thought that even though I may agree with this sentiment, the person voicing it has pretty much annoys me to no end. Who was it that said "No cause is so noble it won't attract fuggheads?"

22 November 2006

David Stokes might be a girl

David Stokes' road trip through Europe continues with a trial at St. Pauli after his trial with Rot-Weiss Erfurt ended prematurely due to a management change. Does his contract expire this year? If not, do we get an allocation if he transfers? Inquiring minds want to know.

21 November 2006

DC Waives Strikers

Metcalf, Nickell & Ssejjemba were all waived by DC United today. Frankly, I expected that Metcalf and Ssejjemba would be gone. Nickell suprises me, but it isn't very suprising even at that even though he did show some decent stand up skills in his time off the bench.

Why now you ask?

Well apparently there was a waiver draft today as well. I can find no information on it at all. But I am sure that all the teams to a waiver on the waiver draft. They can pick these players up at anytime, so the draft is only for really quirky situations.

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20 November 2006

What do you do with a player like Rimando?

I can't seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what's worse, I can't seem to stop saying things - anything and everything I think and feel.  I must be a blogger. Nothing.

Allow me to clarify. Right now, Rimando has very little trade value, having been exposed and passed over in the expansion draft. Steve Goff seems to think you might get a 2nd round SuperDraft pick for him. That's not a whole lot for a player that could, and perhaps should, be a regular starter for half of the teams in this league.

Right now, teams are assessing their options, planning their acquisitions, making their plans. Teams with defecits at keeper are probably figuring ways of upgrading at that position that do not involve trading much value. There are always USL keepers to look at, potential draft picks, or if you're FC Dallas, more international acquisitions to waste.

However, by about Week 5 in the MLS season, at least some of those plans will be thwarted. There are multiple teams then that could be looking to stay comptetive by acquiring a decent keeper after an injury or a failed hope. Those teams include: FC Toronto, LA, Houston, Columbus, and Kansas City. Rimando could be much more attractive then for those teams, and DC would likely get more for Rimando than they would get now. Additionally, having Rimando would allow DC to make sure that Perkins is pushed in camp, which I think is a good thing. So right now, I say hold onto Rimando, and allow the market to come around to increase his value. It takes patience and some nerves, but I think it would payoff and allow DC the added luxury of a few games to diagnose their own areas for upgrade in 2007.

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United Abroad, and the Abroad coming to United

Logan's Revenge has preliminary groupings for the MLS/FMF league, while being careful to state that they are not "set in stone." DC United will be in group B, with our old friends the Chicago Fire, and new friends Club America and Moreila. According to Not Doug Logan, the preliminary list of teams were those that could "draw a crowd" so MLS Cup Champion Houston is passed over in favor of that MLS powerhouse the LA Galaxy. Classy. So DC may once again find themselves in Azteca. Yup, no bad memories there, none at all.

Remember that this is not the same thing as the CONCACAF Champions Cup, so there'll be a lot of international competition against North American opponents next year. Makes you wonder if we'll even need to schedule a friendly against a Euro-team.

17 November 2006

Toronto Takes Dyachenko

Mo skipped both Simms and Rimando and took United's 3rd round 2006 draft pick Rod Dyachenko. Rod showed some stuff in a couple of reserve games and was eventually added brought in to some regular season games. He showed flashes of brillance in his time with United, but never left his mark on the game. I know that I personally like to see young players develop and grow and was hoping that Rod could flourish in an understudy roll to Christian. Alas, it is not to be poor Yorick.

Dyachenko is from Vancouver so Toronto drafting him makes sense, but only if you are semi-illiterate and/or lazy because its Vancouver, Washington in the good ole USA. I really, really, really hope that Toronto made a mistake and thought he was a Canuck. There is no proof that this is what happend, but I can still pretend. The funniest thing is that even if this were true it still might not be the biggest mistake of the draft. Either way, if I was Kevin Payne I would offer Toronto United's 2nd round pick for him and see if they bite.

EDIT: Oscar M beat me too the punch. His analysis is below. I am going to keep my post up because it is the offseason and we are going to need a multitude of views to keep this site busy.

Who is packing his bags for Toronto?

Via the always cheerful Kali, come the results of today's expansion draft. Toronto drafted Rod Dyachenko, who played 298 minutes in 9 appearance this season for United, mostly off the bench. As the season wore on he became Peter's go-to option to try to bring an offensive spark to United play late in a game. Although he came close on a number of occasion, he was never able to register a goal in a United jersey in his rookie year.

What does this mean for United? Its our first midfield loss, at least thats how the DCU webpage has him listed. Mattias Donnet and Clyde Simms should be around next season for United, although the former has to come to new terms with the club. The loss of Simms would have been more crushing, if Brian Carroll indeed will be playing in Germany next year. I expect the team to try to shore up the midfield via the draft, since in theory Freddy will be leaving for greener pastures sometime in 2007.

16 November 2006

Poplar Point Passes Through Congress

Say what you will about politics (and we, as you might note, conspicously don't in this blog)... at least the lame duck session is good for something, as the Federal Land Swap bill passes. It still needs Bush's signature (although we don't have any reason to doubt it will happen) but at least the first major hurdle has been overcome. There is a place for the stadium, and we can get at it.

Now, before I buy my own "Stadium '09" jersey, let's review the list of other things that might have to be dealt with before we have an SSS of our own: DC Ownership sale, transportation upgrades, stadium financing issues, AWC zoning requirements, local development regulations, Ward 8 outreach gurantees... So check off the first item of the critical path, but there's more a-comin'.

UPDATE: "Passage of the Land Transfer Bill is an important step toward D.C. United staying in the District and making a major investment in the DC community" -- Kevin Payne in the DC United Press Release on the Land Swap Passage.

Note: A previous version of this article misidentified the appropriate DC Ward as Ward 9. See comments. The DCenters regrets the error. D has, as previously mentioned, a cold. As such, his fingers are clumsy when typing, even moreso than usual. This correction should be read in a cloudy voice and interrupted frequently by coughing. God I hate this weather. Okay, back to listening to "Fascination Street"

Root for the Home Teams

To tide you through November, you may as well follow the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament. In Division I, you've got a set of local (MD/DC/VA) teams to cheer for, especially if you're from a D3 school like I am (and so have no preexisting loyalties). Consider defending champion and fifth seeded Maryland, who takes on Notre Dame on 18 November. Not working for you? Well there's always The University (Of Virginia) which has a few DC United links, and is taking on California on 18 November as well. Of course, if you're a fan of the Cinderella story, there's Old Dominion, which upset North Carolina to take on fellow long-short story UC Santa Barbara. Finally, 15th seeded Towson (that's near Baltimore) takes on Justin Moose's alma-mater Wake Forest.

In Division III, all you've got is Johns Hopkins taking on Western New England, so I'm definately rooting for the Baltimore team there. I also hope Case Western advances far enough for Johns Hopkins to beat them.

The Adu Evaluation

Reader TC sent us an email link to this Ian Penderleith article in the Guardian's blog: Is Freddy Adu any good? The thing with Penderleith is that while you might disagree with him, and I certainly don't in this piece, you always get the sense that he has used reason and thought in his comments. So he's always worth reading.

And if Reader TC is wondering: Our rule is that we don't identify emailers by name unless they want us to, so I thought I'd try and give you some credit without necessarily selling out your identity. Take a bow in the comments if you want people to know.

Under the Weather

Thank goodness Kinney is back, because I seem to have contracted a pretty nasty cold/flu thing that is pretty much kicking my ass right now. Regardless, the big news upcoming is the expansion draft, and Kinney has neatly stated that DC's two big targets are Rimando and Simms. It's interesting because at the mock draft over at US National Soccer players, J Hutcherson forsees no DC players being lost at all, while Marc Connoly goes with nick Rimando. My hunch is that Rimando is the best of the keepers on that list, and especially fit for a team that may need a keeper with good reaction skills given that their defense may be a bit leaky. So I would imagine that DC loses Nicky, which is a shame but he deserves to be a starter somewhere, and it ain't happening next year unless Troy Perkins sprains his ankle feeding his cats.

14 November 2006

Toronto FC Expansion Draft

The expansion Toronto FC will get its pick of these players this Friday. Teams were allowed to protect 11 of their 28 players and can only lose one player. Here is the unprotected list for DC United.

Carroll, Jeff
Deroux, Stephen
Donnet, Matias
Dyachenko, Rod
McIntosh, Ryan (GK)
McTavish, Devon
Mediate, Domenic
Metcalf, Andy
Moose, Justin
Nickell, Matthew
Prideaux, Brandon
Rimando, Nick (GK)
Simms, Clyde
Ssejjemba, Robert
Stokes, David
Walker, Jamil
Wilson, John

If I was Mo I would take Simms. The loss of Simms could be devastating to United's midfield and defensive cohesion if Alemannia Aachen also decides to sign Brian Carroll who is currently on trial there. Maybe Kevin Payne worked something out with Mo, possibly they have agreed that Toronto is after Rimando. I can hope, can't I?

13 November 2006

Why New England Deserved to Lose

They're cheap.

And not in a Moneyball way either. Well they are good at finding cheap talent, but that is a good thing. The problem is that they are cheap on the other stuff too. DC United usually tries to go the extra mile for their players, staff, and fans. The Revs save money by not finishing the race and deserve to end up just short because of it.

Maybe this is Gulati and his economist attitude. (Sidenote: I really like economists and on the whole would trust them with my team. Its just sometimes they forget to internalize hard to quantify variables.) Or maybe Kraft just dotes on his Pats and could care less about the Revs. Whatever the reason, they skimp where other teams don't and it shows.

The Revs had the second worst attendance after Kansas City this year. They have a negative growth rate from 1996, and have had significant drops in 03' and 04' when they were playing well. This is with free parking this year. This isn't a problem with the New England fans, its a problem with the New England front office. They need to get out into the community and sell their team. Even if they have to take suggestions from DCU fans.

I truly think that the Houston front office can do more with a championship than the people over at New England. What other teams have won championships in their first year? DC United and Chicago. Hopefully Houston fans (who looked great in Dallas) will be on their way to continued support like those two teams have had over the years. New England on the other hand has already started comparisons to the Buffalo Bills, and every league needs a team like that.

In the middle of bashing thier team, let me just take the time right here to say major kudos to the Midnight Riders (I love the Allman Brothers too). They do not have a front office that goes the extra mile, but have carved out a nice place for themselves and seem to be nothing but class. I was really encouraged to see their traveling support in the Eastern Conference playoffs (they even got there on time).

The number of minutes the Revs went scoreless in their first three MLS cups. It's boring. It's effective, so I won't bitch that much. But I am happy when ugly soccer doesn't win (unless it is my United playing "not so pretty today"). In this vein, Jay Heaps deserved to miss the last PK as well because he is the embodiment of this philosophy.

Somebody needs to tell the Revs front office that the Concacaf Champions Cup matters. I think they didn't get the memo. In my mind the utter contempt the Revs have for any competition outside the MLS Cup is one of the main reasons why they don't deserve to win. Especially when winning gets you a birth in one of those competitions.


Also, next year they probably won't have Dempsey. Which us United fans can't really harp on too much. But also might be missing Joseph as well. Possibly Twellman too, but he will probably just get a raise. In short, New England really doesn't deserve a championship because they are not willing to shell out to even compete on equal terms in a tournament of champions.

Houston: A Fitting Champion

I know it comes with a big asterisk, but it pleases me that the Houston Dynamo becomes the third team in MLS history to win the MLS Cup in their first year of existence. First, it definately draws a line between this team and San Jose, allowing San Jose to keep their history while letting Houston begin their own tradition of excellence. Second, unlike our champions from one year ago, this team is one MLS can accept as a legitimate representative of top quality american soccer. Finally, it may be immature, but it's nice to see Jay Heaps be the goat (and I say this knowing our prospective owner may be a Duke alum).

As for the game, an entertaining opening fifteen minutes faded into a humdrum affair for the next one hundred ten minutes or so. Yet the ending of that game was truly stunning. This was not the greatest MLS game ever played, but it may well be the greatest finish to an MLS Cup (yes, even more so than Eddie Pope's header in extra time.) When Twellman scored, I didn't think for a moment that Houston would be able to counter in the time they had remaining. I, and most of the New England back line, was wrong. Ching's goal was stunning, and the penalties that decided the match full of tension. I know that most penalty shoot-outs feel like a cheap way to decide a game, but this time, for me, it felt right.

I'll say this though: Anyone that thought Clint Dempsey looked fine to play was wrong. After the initial rush of coming onto the pitch, Dempsey seemed to fade quickly. Arena and Wynalda both made a big deal about him seeming to be fine in training, which just goes to show the relationship between training and an actual game. The fact that Noonan, Heaps, and Joseph were all higher on the PK list than Dempsey (who shot 6th in the Eastern Conference Final, if I recall correctly) says that his ankle was not 100%.

Regardless, congratulations to Houston, a worth champion and fitting compatriot for international play.

10 November 2006

MLS News

First off let me apologize for being MIA for a month. I was really busy and even though I managed to keep up with DC United, I didn't have enough time to post (and D usually beat me to it anyways). I am hoping to get a couple of posts out that I have backlogged, but for now here is a little recap of what is going on around the league.

As we all know, MLS likes to wait for big events to announce even bigger plans. Its a publicity thing. We are coming up to the biggest event of the MLS season and both the rumor mill and actual news stories about Major League Soccer's direction are coming out fast and furious.

Here is an updated rundown so far:

The Don gives his state of the league address.

The Don had a chat yesterday at MLSnet.

Not Doug Logan has his best and shortest post of the year. Saint Louis.

365 Soccer announces an MLS Youth Development initiative.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will be the home of the Colorado Rapids.

And if you didn't catch Stienberg's Bog about Boz, its a great one.

Red Bulls executive says the US has no tradition.

09 November 2006

Mount Vernon Playa

Damn Straight.

Judging the Case Against Piotr Nowak

As we've noted, the blame for the DC late season has coalesced around Piotr Nowak. In this post, we'll take a look at the history of the case against Piotr Nowak, attempt to summarize its key points, weigh their validity, and then render my person feelings on the matter. If you're worried about the length of this post, skip to the last sentence.

The Backstory

Let's take a look at the history of the "Piotr Out" school of thought, which I have monitored and responded to for about the past month. On 18 October, Bill Urban gave voice to a rough outline of the case against Nowak. Urban wrote that Piotr's "stubborn refusal to change the system" had "morphed the conference semifinal...into a sort of referendum on the reign of Peter." Unfortunately, the results of that semi-final were ambiguous as a referendum on Piotr Nowak. United advanced despite being outplayed for much of the second leg by the Red Bulls.

After advancing past the Red Bulls, the Washington Post's Mike Wise brought the case against Nowak to our hometown newspaper on 30 October. The case is similar to the one Urban first described, Wise cites "[Nowak's] inflexibility and inability to change strategies and preparation. His intolerance for fatigue." Wise then becomes the first to say definitively what was only theoretically posited in the media previously: "it is time to go another direction next season."

After DC United's exit against the New England Revolution, it seemed that the "Nowak Out" movement passed from the status of "provacative school of thought" to "media conventional wisdom." On 6 November, Ives Galarcep savaged Nowak at ESPN. Galarcep, to some degree, moved the script to a broader indictment of Nowak as a coach:

"the winner was determined as much by the men working the sidelines as the players on the field...D.C. did not do enough to add depth to an attack that always was thin once you got past the likes of Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez....There was a confidence to the way the Revs moved the ball around, never a sense that the team needed to get the ball to certain players. D.C. did not boast this same fluidity."

At his blog, Galarcep wrote, "I think D.C. is in for some serious changes next year. Peter Nowak is gone, I just have a feeling." Galarcep clarified: "the point of the column wasn't to say that Peter Nowak should not be retained as DC head coach, it was simply to state that he did a bad job on Sunday." Galarcep may have passed no judgement on whether DC should retain Nowak or not, but he certainly made his feelings on Nowak's in-game tactical ability clear. In his ESPN column, Galarcep wasn't simply writing about Nowak in one game, but he had broadened his scope to the entire season: "The mistakes that doomed D.C. to failure weren't limited to Sunday. Some were made when you would have least expected it, months ago when D.C. looked unbeatable." In short, Nowak (and to some extent the Front Office) had botched the season. This is not an indictment of one game, but a criticism of job performance over an entire year.

The synthesis of the main charges really appeared the next day. Andrea Canales synthesized the Urban/Wise and Galarcep cases for a DC collapse into a handy numbered list with a few twists of its own which I paraphrase thusly: DC was tired, They didn't add attacking options, they were in denial about their losing streak, Piotr Nowak is too much a hard-ass, and the fans didn't demand accountability. On 8 November, Steve Davis at ESPN recapped everything nicely:

"Nowak's failure to loosen his tight grip exacerbated the team's issues...Nowak's inflexible ways contributed to the good ship United running aground. But the absence of a firebrand forward...was also a prime factor. Nowak seemed to be swimming in denial...What was effective in a loose locker room, one in need of some professionalism, may not work as the roster rounds into a more polished and learned bunch."

However, Davis stops short of calling for Nowak's ouster, and instead finishes with "Nowak has done so many positive things at D.C. -- including a league title in his first year in charge -- that he deserves another year to get it right."

Evaluating the Main Charges

If we can look at all of this, plus the various chatter, reasoned arguments, and random invectives we see on the message boards, it comes down to complaints about the following:

  1. Nowak is too stubborn and inflexible.
  2. Nowak wore out his players.
  3. DC needed to add attacking options.
  4. Nowak was outclassed against Steve Nicol.
Now, these charges have varying degrees of merit and importance, but let's look at each of them.

Nowak is Stubborn and Inflexible: There is truth that Nowak is one stubborn SOB. He believes in a systematic approach to soccer, and you have to have quite a record for being able to improvise for Nowak to feel comfortable with free play on the field. That being said, Nowak is not completley rigid. He does allow for Gomez, Moreno, and even Erpen to take some liberties in the play. Nowak stresses a system, but over the past three years he's allowed more room for individual judgement within that system. If this argument is to be completley damning, you must believe that the Nowak of 2004 is the Nowak of 2005 is the Nowak of 2006 and will be the Nowak of 2007. My sense is that Nowak does learn, does adjust, and does modify. Perhaps not as radically as some wish, or as much as might be effective, but he does do it.

Nowak wore out the team: BlackDogRed has a great line using Josh Gros as the standard of Nowak's desired work ethic: "By the standards of how Nowak seems to rate his players, if grit and determination and indefatigable hustle rank highest, it's easy to understand why Nowak loves Gros." Yet not every player can be Josh Gros, or should be. To be honest, I think this is the most damaging part of Nowak's coaching style -- the Fitness Above All Else theory of coaching. He barely gave lip service to Moreno getting rest weeks after it was clear Moreno was running down (and after the same thing happened in 2005). His players may joke about it (and they do) but Nowak is more than happy to send his players on punishing fitness sessions in the high DC summer heat. It ran his team down, and looms as a major problem next season when DC will be facing CONCACAF Champions Cup competitions, the new MLS/Mexican Champions League, the US Open Cup, and the MLS Season fixture congestion. There needs to be more rotation among the players and more willingness to give a break, and this is the area where Nowak has been the most inflexible, and the most in need of change.

DC Needed Attacking Options: True, and as Moreno gets older this gets more true every day. Yes, Nowak has input with the Front Office on this. At the same time, if decent attacking options were lying around for the right price, why didn't Columbus pick one up? Donnet (from the midfield) and Ssejjemba (from up-top) were both attempts to remedy the situation, but neither proved effective in 2006. So be it. Finding quality strikers for an MLS team is a difficult matter, and there are no sure things in the transfer market or the SuperDraft. Hell, Houston could use another attacking option, but they're in the MLS Cup. Ditto with Colorado, Chivas, RSL, Chicago, and other teams not named "New England". DC's need was no greater than any of these teams, and did not call for an overpriced, panicked signing.

Nowak was outclassed by Steve Nicol: The Donnett for Freddy substitution was a problem that grew worse with Gomez and Eskandarian going down. That it was the first substitution made Nowak's mistake apparent. Admittedly, he had his reasons for countering Khano Smith, but it is clear that later events proved him wrong. That being said, Nicol hardly outcoached DC. It is clear that DC was ready to play New England, and played them well. They created scoring chances. They broke down the New England backline and moved well through the midfield. They limited New England to, by my count, only three risky moments in front of Perkins. I can't support the idea that Nicol had Nowak beat tactically, since the run of play in both halves argues against that notion.

Final Thoughts

I can agree with many of the criticisms: Nowak and his system need to tweak and change. The difference between me and others is that I believe that Nowak has demonstrated some ability to adapt in the past, and I believe will continue to do so in the future. That may just be a judgement call, but it is mine to make.

The reason I've held off on this post is that my first reaction when the season ended was to support Nowak unequivocally. That may just be because I despise much of the soccer group-think once it develops (and one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place). So in examining Coach Nowak, I wanted to be sure that I was doing this as rationally and coldly as possible. There are two reasons to change coaches (by either firing or "not agreeing to terms" with them.) First, you can fire the coach for being inept and unable to create success, or if the coach has lost the team's respect or attention. In this situation, what is needed is a change, and almost any change will do. But as I wrote before, this season is a success. Perhaps not a thundering one, as complete as we might have desired, but positive nonetheless. While people may say that the team doesn't respond to Nowak as much as they did in 2004, they still, in my view, respond to him and he has not lost them. You can not look to change Nowak on those grounds.

You might also change coaches if you think you can get better results with someone else. Economists might refer to this as the marginal cost of keeping a coach, and examples abound in sports (the most recent I can think of was Tony Dungy's ouster from the Tampa Bay Bucs for Gruden). If using this standard, we have to consider the likely coaching option. The general consensus, which I agree with, is that Tommy Soehn would move into the head coaching duties. So the question I ask myself "Is Soehn likely to achieve better results in 2007 than Nowak?" The answer is that I have no reason to think Soehn's methods (and the team's response to those methods) in his first year would differ significantly from Nowak. There is no marginal gain.

Finally, some commenters (Ives again comes to mind) say that Nowak should want to move on, that there is nothing left for him in DC. I can understand Nowak moving to a European option if the right one comes up, but given the unique challenges of next year (a shot to redeem the Pumas loss, and a performance in the first ever Champions League) I think there's plenty to keep Nowak interested and challenged. Not to mention proving the critics wrong. A childish reason, sure, but everyone says Nowak is a comeptitor, so why not tuck a grudge away and prove them wrong?

The short message? I hope Kevin Payne will retain Piotr Nowak as coach for 2007.

On that Freddy / ManU thing

Quick take: There's a difference between "training with" and "on trial with." I have no doubt that Steve Goff's story is 100% accurate in what he wrote: "Those familiar with the arrangement stressed that it is not a tryout and Adu will return to Washington upon its completion." See, but it has been interpreted as "Freddy on trial with ManU" which ManU can deny.

So what do I expect? Unless this media attention has destroyed it, Freddy will travel to England and train with Manchester United for a week or two. Then he'll come back to the US. ManU will not make a transfer move with Freddy while he's there.

But, that being said, it's ridiculous to think they won't be looking at him, perhaps with ideas for the future. Nothing immediate, and nothing major, but they'd be stupid not to look at everyone that trains with them. I still would be surprised if, in a year, they made a move for him, but I've been surprised before.

08 November 2006

Know Where You Stand. Or Bounce. And Sing.

Okay, in the aftermath after United's playoff exit, the chorus saying that Nowak should not return keeps getting louder. I've made my own decision on the matter, and as soon as I get a post written that accurately summarizes my view of the way things are, and is fair enough to the people that don't agree with me, I'll post it. That hasn't happened yet.

In the meantime, some excellent responses to the Canales article we talked about earlier. Read the comments, all of them, as I think they articulate a good response. Yes, I am too much in love with contrarian arguments, and I think the people who say Canales is wrong have the better of the argument. Brian Garrison also offers his thoughts, and they are well worth reading. In short - there's a difference between blind support and a supporter's job, and booing bad play isn't where that line is drawn. The argument that DC would have played better with a more hostile reaction is neatly disposed of between our commenters and Mr. Garrison. Nicely handled.

And in case you are wondering, yes, the media (particularly ESPN's writers... did Nowak grope Wynalda when I wasn't looking or something?) have settled on calling for Nowak to go down. Do I agree? I hope to answer that question today or tomorrow, depending on how much focus I can bring to bear on writing that post.

You are part of the problem.

In terms of provacative soccer writing, this may be one of the greatest pieces of all times. Andrea Canales, who I have great respect for as a writer, says that while you can blame age, the players, Nowak, and the Front Office for DC's late season collapse, you should add one more item to that list - The Fans. Key graf:

...there’s a part of me that continues to wonder if the United fans could have done more to wake the team up. After all, if your kid is going to be late to school in the morning, you don’t sing encouraging lullabies. Drag the covers off the bed instead, and do it because you really care.

A few boos might have removed the blinders. Not just for the intensely loyal fans, but also for the players themselves.

Now, she's not saying the fans (specifically the supporters' clubs) are the reason, just that they might play into the equation. It's a fascinating argument. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction is to invoke words like "loyalty" and "passion" and dismiss the argument, but it is so measured and carefully constructed that I find it... well, I find it a bit persuasive. Is it disloyal to boo and catcall bad play, which we certainly saw some of at RFK?

Of course, the other part of this is that I'm naturally enamored with non-obvious arguments that would tend to get people's dander up, so who knows?

Anyways, yesterday was a long workday for me, so I didn't get to write all that I wanted to. It was also election day. In case you're wondering, a film crew documented my personal polling experience, which I present to you below:

07 November 2006

This One Hurt

I just realized that the loss to New England this year seems to hurt more than the loss to Chicago. Maybe it's because we were so thoroughly slapped around in 2005 that the entire experience shell-shocked you into numbness, then you were able to quickly put it behind you. But this one lingers with the most dangerous of emotions, the "what might have been" wistfulness. I like that in my music choices, I hate it in my soccer.

Anyways, I do plan to write about Nowak sometime soon. I've settled things in my head, and my thanks to all the commenters who've been doing their part to get views out. We're going to be mature and reasoned about this, and that's cool with me. I dig that.

06 November 2006

Open Season: We're Hunting Nowaks

Apparently the flood gates are open. In addition to The Washington Post's Mike Wise calling for Nowak to depart, the Big Soccer "Fire Nowak" thread, now the Voice of the Conventional Wisdom of American Soccer, Ives Galarcep, lays into Nowak at ESPN. Also, on Ives' blog (Ives has a blog? Why did no one tell me this?) we see him state that he doesn't think Nowak will be back.

Now, without getting into the question of whether or not Piotr Nowak should come back, I find it fascinating that blame has coalesced around one individual. Right now, the sense I am getting is that soccer fans want to see someone go down for the last part of DC's season, and they've decided it should be Nowak. Even if Piotr gets another contract, you get the feeling that the fans and soccer press will want him on a short leash. I'm not sure if that's right or not, but it is definately the mood out there. As for me...

Well, look, right now I'm too depressed to think clearly about this matter, and I know it. I'm not saying I'm overly emotional about my team, but I think my wife considered confiscating my shoelaces before today started. And, as such, I realize that there is no way I can think clearly about this right now. Give me a day or two.

Debriefing for Match 11.34: New England Revolution

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "There was harsh irony in D.C. United's 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution in the MLS Eastern Conference final yesterday at RFK Stadium: The club that sleep-walked the latter part of its season away played its finest match in months." (Wow, does that lede sound familiar? Okay, no one seriously thinks that Steve Goff would plagarize from me, but I'm sure you all wonder if I might steal from Steve. The answer is "yes, but not in this one case." According to Google News, this was posted around Midnight-1AM, which puts me in the clear. Whew. Just a case of the natural reaction occurring in more than one place.)
The Boston Herald, Andrew Hush: "Taylor Twellman’s early goal was the difference as the Revolution backed up the early output with a stellar defensive display, featuring an eight-save performance from Matt Reis. "
The Washington Times, Jon Siegel: "New England packed it in and played defense after that. Even though United continually peppered the goal area, the defense, particularly Reis (eight saves), was able to protect the early lead. "
The Boston Globe, Frank Dell'Appa: "'It is still our ultimate goal to win the championship,' Franchino said. 'We are healthy this year and you could see it late in this game. We need the early goal from Taylor because of the way [D.C.] moves the ball and opens you up. We defended with heart and passion and worked hard for the guy next to us and just got the job done.'"
The Examiner, Craig Stouffer: "United responded with a gutsy performance at breakneck speed, posting 10 shots and seven corner kicks in the first half alone. D.C. finished with 18 shots. "
The Boston Globe, Ryan Mink: "[Twellman] was asked several times to describe his goal. Each time it sounded more ordinary, which couldn't be farther from the truth. Twellman doesn't rank goals. Each is as important as any other, he said. But his teammates realized how amazing the shot was."
The Washington Post, Mike Wise: "Those game-winning field goals by [UMD Football Dan] Ennis and [Washington Redskin Nick] Nowak were indeed huge. But in a stunning weekend of Maryland men getting it done with their right foot, no kick resounded louder than Taylor Twellman's."
My [Mike H's] Soccer Blog: "In the end, United might have been the better team of the day, but the match went to the better team of the last two months. "
An American's View...: "The thing that sucked the most was that in the 71st minute, I knew we wouldn't score, thus we were going to lose. I knew because I realized that even though our defenders and midfielders were winning the ball and pushing it forward, no one, I mean no one, was making a run off the ball towards the Revolution goal."
The Far-Post: "Acceptance...I Know You Tried — Luna" (Naturally, as a Luna fan, I disagree with this choice. Personally, this game made me want to reach for "Weird and Woozy" off of Romantica. Althought that could just be the booze.)
"A disappointing end, but not bitterly so. United earned international play next year, and if the last two months were dreary the first four months produced some beautiful soccer - the tie vs Madrid, the drubbing of Celtic, that fifteen game streak. This was a good season - do you think any MLS team except Ningland and Houston right now wouldn't trade? Columbus?" (I tend to agree with this view myself. A correct reaction. This season was a good season, no matter that it ended too soon.)

The Good

  1. Play from minute one: I have a feeling that people will see the early goal and assume that United was caught flat footed in the opening minutes before playing with desperation, but it's not true. In minutes one to three, DC had already put together a decent posession that looked threatening. This team came out to play from the first minute, and got beat on a classy finish from Twellman. But that wasn't a wake-up call... United looked alert and hungry even before that moment.
  2. Move it through: The problem with passing was not in the defensive third or the middle third in this game. Aside from one Facundo Erpen misplay, and two or three Boswell headers that went to Shalrie Joseph at midfield, DC was able to move the ball into dangerous areas better than I remember since July. The passing in the final third was occasionally too heavy, and touches weren't perfect, but DC wasn't, for the most part, giving the ball away to counters.
  3. Corner pressure: DC didn't score on any of their corners, but for the first game all season they looked consistently dangerous on corner kicks.
  4. MLS Fandom: A special note that the kids from New England in the Fort had a good representation, with their own sarcastic banners. Well done. I don't know what a travelling Fort would be called. (The Outpost? The Tank? The Beachhead? Meh). And the Barra, Eagles, and la Norte all showed up loud and proud. Actually, it seemed like the entire side of the stadium was standing for the entire game. Good.
  5. Officiating: It seemed fine to me, other than Shalrie Joseph getting away with a few muggings (including a double handed punch to the back of Adu's head). the ARs called the game well, and Stott kept control of the game. Give credit where it is due.

The Bad

  1. Subspicous: Like most people, I am confused by the Adu substitution. Esky went out due to cramping, and I assume Gomez was injured when he came out (For Simms? Huh?) but Adu was having a great game, and even if the game plan was to take him out when Khano came on to the field, you have to adjust and let Adu's threat stay on the field when you're down a goal. That Esky and Gomez came off I can't fault Nowak for, but Adu seems strange, and the fact that DC had no attacking options (No, Dyachenko doesn't count) to come on is a bit troublesome. I guess this means Jamil Walker may need to learn to speak French and put "eh?" at the end of his sentences.
  2. Stadium '09: If you're going to make that announcement at a pregame ceremony of a new stadium (which we have all heard before) don't you think you need to provide a reason why it is different now than every time before? Aside from the potential movement of the land swap bill, why is it more likely now than at any point before?

Man of the Match

Not applicable. But Freddy had a good game, and Facundo rebounded well from last week, and the entire team played all ninety minutes with passion.

Final Thoughts

The offseason is a bit shorter, thanks to the Supporter's Shield. It is still too long. We'll get into all sorts of stuff in the next few weeks (including the "Is Piotr Nowak's time up in DC?" argument) but that's the thing about the off-season... you have time to think about this sort of stuff.

As for me, I'm still bummed about this game. Yes, Mike H. may be right: The Revs may have my soul now. And if they're parading it around like the Stanley Cup, starting with Reis having it for a day, well, they earned it. It certainly felt like it was being ripped from my body as the game went on. But, at the same time, I can still say I am proud of my team, even in defeat. Full credit to the Revs... this is how finals should be played: tight and tense. I guess now all there is left is "Wait until next year." Which, for us, fortunately starts in February and not April.

05 November 2006

First Impressions - DC United 0 : 1 New England Revolution


I don't believe in jinxes, karma, or curses. I do however believe in narrative irony. And so, after three months of DC getting by while playing substandard soccer, it seems natural that they would finally put it all together. And lose on an early goal. This is the kind of loss that drives people to reading existentialist literature. Or, failing that, it drives me to sweet booze.

It was not a repeat of the 2005 Chicago Massacre. No, this was just DC being victimized by the tyrrany of soccer's "the best team won't always win" attitude. Given that DC exploited that same rule enough over its history, it's only natural that the grandfather clock of fate chimed a bit earlier for us once.

I'm sure there's analysis that should be done, and will be done, but if nothing else I'm glad that the team I rooted for at the beginning of the season, the team that won the Supporter's Shield, the team that I was looking for since the all-star break... I'm glad I got to see that team one last time, even in defeat.

PS - Yes, I'm drinking. I may have to call in sick tomorrow.

03 November 2006

It's Not Disrespect

I will have a preview up. It's just been one of those days. Probably tomorrow afternoon, unless one of my cowriters gets to it before I do.

Anyways, the soccer intelligencia have pretty much decided that New England is likely to win this weekend. I get that. If you look at things completley dispassionately, you say that even with the doubtful Clint Dempsey, New England came back from 2-nil against Chicago. You think that the Revs have looked much better over the last two months than United. You think "Man, when will DC ever put it all together."

I get all that. It's not even like people are disrespecting DC United when they say such things. Hell, Steve Goff has to face these guys in the locker room after the game, and even he picked a Houston-New England Cup Final. It's a cold, hard, stark fact -- DC has sucked enough to look like a pattern, and New England has not.

And yet... in the constant battle between my head and my heart, my heart will win. And my heart is what will be screaming on Sunday. I wouldn't bet my house on it, but I would bet my soul.

02 November 2006

An Expert View on The Revolution

In order to prepare us for the upcoming match with the New England Revolution, The DCenters thought that we should find someone who can explain the Revolution to us. Thanks to a grant from the RAND Coorporation's Temporal Mechanics and Necromancy division, we are able to welcome to the DCenters a man who knows more about the subject than possibly anyone else. Please welcome philosopher, historian, economist, social theorist, and revolutionary par excellence, Dr. Karl Marx. Dr. Marx, welcome to The DCenters

Karl MarxIt is a pleasure to be here with so many citizens of world. Jenny, Friedrich and I were discussing MLS the other day, pleased that so many of your teams have red colored kits. Truly, you are with the people's struggles.

Well, it's good to have an expert on the Revolution with us. After all, you're at least somewhat responsible for the great October Revolution, the German, Hungarian, and Cuban Revolutions, the 1970 Chilean Popular Unity election, and their subsequent counter-revolutions, coups, or associated juntas.

Karl MarxThat is all true. Alexi Lalas wishes he had such influence. Perhaps if he paid attention, he would not let that arch-capitalist Bradley fleece him in the 2005 SuperDraft.

Well then, perhaps you can give us an overview of where the playoffs stand now?

Karl MarxA spectre is haunting MLS -- the spectre of Twellmanism. All the powers of Don Garber have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Eddie Pope and Calen Carr, Mastroeni and Guzan, French Internationals and German rejects.

That's heavy dude... But you still think the revolution will succeed against all of that?

Karl MarxThe Revolution is historically inevitable. Led by men of the people, like Joey Franchino, they shall throw off their chains. Do they not see the signs saying "Free Shalrie?" Do they not know the passion that burns in the imprisoned heart of Clint Dempsey? And this revolution is well led, by a former Red, a man of steel, or at least, a man of Nicol. Yes, it may be bloody at first, thus the disputes and fights we have had. But soon, a worker's paradise will be established.

And yet if it is historically inevitable, how do you explain the failure of the 2005 Revolution?

Karl MarxCounter-revolutionary spies infiltrated at all times. The Superstitous looked to a savior in Landon Donovan, but now we now the full illusion of the Donovan cultists. The Revolution must be successful. In the past, Taylor Twellman did not produce goals, and not for nothing is it said by wise men "from each according to his abilities, to each according to their needs." Twellman must produce, but he also needs good service from Dempsey. Jay Heaps and Parkhurst must mark well, but also be protected by Joey Franchino. It is a sound philosophy and coaching strategy.

Well, that's very good, but don't you think--

What the hell is this!?

My goodness, it's George Washington. Mr. President, welcome to the DCenters.

I heard that there was someone calling himself a more successful revolutionary than me around here. I wanted to see that punk with my own eyes. Then I'm going to beat him like Shalrie Joseph at a nightclub.

Karl MarxWhat? This is juvenile. We don't need this puerile insults. Anyways, the Revolution will succeed. Your capitalists brewers and printers have created Taxachussetts.

That's true. But I live in Virginia, built a Consitiution in Philadelphia and got a city named after me here you little pissant. So don't go trying to pretend you'all that, because you ain't seen jack. DC is for real, yo. And Gomez is my personal M to the V to the P, and that's Mount Vernon Playa! I am here as the Mid-Atlantic Reporter of Pain.

Karl MarxThis is ridiculous. I do not have to put up with such insults-- hey, let go of my beard!

I can not tell a lie: Matt Reis is a twat. Welcome to your own personal Yorktown, bitch. Time for a Size 13 boot up your hemmeroidal ass. And Howe!

Well, things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand. I'll um... ooh, that looked nasty, anyways, we'll see if we can find any more expert opinions before Sunday... Perferably less painful ones.

Ohhhhh... my proletariat is broken... images of past Eastern Conference finals passing across my eyes...

Don't fuck with DC, playahatas! This is my town! Vamos United, and G-Dub out!

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01 November 2006

Act Locally, Think Globally

I'm working on trying to get a preview of this Sunday's game against New England up with the help of someone who can provide some rather unique insight, but a few things I wanted to touch on.

THE OFFICE POLITICS OF PIOTR NOWAK: The discussion of non-coach of the year Piotr Nowak two days ago is very interesting, and I encourage people to read the comments. Some excellent representative points from multiple views are written there. Along those lines, I want to float an idea which may or may not have any validity. We all know that Supporter's can pressure a front office to fire a head coach. But can a head coach use supporters to pressure a front office for a contract extension? I ask this because it seems that in recent post-game interviews over the past month, Piotr Nowak has gone out of his way to comment on the supporters and their contribution to the team. What is more interesting is the way in which he may be impying that support of the team = support of Nowak as head coach. Specifically, read this (emphasis added):

As a coach, you just enjoy seeing this kind of crowd. The moment we know if we haven't been good, or if we are having trouble, the crowd is still fantastic. They are behind me and behind the players.

Now, you can read this as "They are rallying the team for a win" but you can also read this as "The fans support me personally, and I support them." It's an interesting move, though I doubt most supporters think of it that way. They (and we) may sing "We are Nowak's army" but we all know that the team is bigger than one player, one coach, or one anything. I'm just wondering if Nowak is trying to establish, to some degree, a base of support to bolster his coaching position. Maybe not. But then again, maybe so. Of course, I was an English Major, so I'm prone to overreading.

ARE WE NOT PART OF THE WORLD: Slate's photo slide-show of the day is of "Soccer Around the World." What's upsetting is that the only US picture is of Marilyn Monroe tossing out a soccer ball in the 1950s. Couldn't they find something more representative of US soccer today? Are we not still part of the world game, even though NASCAR has higher ratings? Or is this some bit of subtle American Exceptionalism, where we are not part of the world unless a busty blonde is involved?