31 October 2007

Match Briefing - Semi Final vs Chicago Fire, Home Leg

You would think that the United blogs wouldn't go collectively silent just before the biggest game of the season. Part of it is a hectic work schedule for many of us, here and elsewhere. After the tentative, timid formation and play in Chicago, many of us would rather bury that game deep in our memory, and any thought of tomorrow's game chances that fate/luck/whatever will not look favorably on us.

What's going on? I'm lucky to work with a fellow United fan and friend, we sit next to each other and the rest of the office calls our space the "DC United Corner". This has been pretty much the sum total conversation about Thursday's game.
"You gonna come in on Friday?"
"Yeah, I got a client meeting in the morning."
"Moreno looked ok in practice."
"Read that earlier too."
Moreno is fired up about the game, its playoff time, do-or-die, and now I'm looking forward to bouncing in the stadium tomorrow night. At RFK, we can make a difference, we've done so before.
On to the game preview. The Goffster sends word that Moreno is looking healthy and Emilio should be starting. There inclusion in the starting lineup will make a huge difference, and Soehn will have to formulate a game plan that is 180 degrees away from the previous game. I won't say that scoring the first goal is key, because that's a cliche and we all know it already. I want to see the team come out guns blazing, pinning Chicago in their half, and peppering their goal with shot after shot. In midfield, Carroll should sit, Clyde Simms has been more consistent and effective. The back line is still a big question, which is perplexing at this point in the season. Rolfe and Barret are speedy front runners, and I'm not confident about a Vanney-Mctavish pairing after last week. Should Boswell play, if so who sits? I have no idea.

What to Look For

  • Who start in Central Defense, will it be Vanney-Boswell, Boswell-McTavish, or McTavish-Vanney? Either Vanney or Boswell will have to do a better job organizing the defense, and make sure players cover for each other.
  • Blanco should relish playing the villain, trying to draw free kicks and fouls. If DC could get him booked earlier, life would be easier.
  • Quick, and accurate one touch passes can break down Chicago. We called out Fred last week, but everyone from the Midfield forward needs to pass accurately and not give the ball away.
  • Shots and more shots on goal, none of this walk-it-into-the-goalmouth business.

Other Previews (more added as we see them)

  • The Offside: "As for tactics, the situation is equally obvious: attack or die."
  • Center Holds It: "Dang me, I wish I could take back/modify my call on this one."
  • Soccer By Ives: "I really like Chicago's chances but the more I hear about what's going on in DC's camp the more I get the sense that they are ready to come out blazing"
  • Washington Post, Steven Goff: " United, MLS's top goal producer during the regular season, needs all the offensive options it can muster."
  • Washington Post, Steven Goff: "'We are a seasoned team, we had the best record for a reason and I think our guys are eager to show that again in front of our home crowd,' Coach Tom Soehn said."
  • dcsundevil: "Forget the past. All United needs to do is play it's own game."
  • ESPN Soccernet, Ives: "D.C. coach Tom Soehn doesn't read too much into the playoff history between the teams."

30 October 2007

New, Updated & Completely Refurbished Links

Hudsonia: Thats right, the Ray Hudson now has his own blog. Well it isn't written by him (at least I don't think so) but it is all his best clips and quotes from his announcing gig. It is a hilarious blog to read through (can't listen at work) and the best part is that there is new material every week. I am amazed at some of the sentences phrases he manages to put together. On behalf of DC United fans everywhere we salute whoever took on this endeavor and would like to submit some the best quotes we have compiled over the years.

Unofficial MLS Club Champion: I am glad to see that somebody is following the unofficial Major League Soccer champion. The DCenters already links to the guys that follow the unofficial world champion, it is good to be able to link to the MLS version. For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, unofficial championships basically postulate that the champion must defend their title every game. In MLS, the first champion was San Jose, by virtue of beating DC United in the first game of the league on April 6, 1996. The current champion is Chicago. I am really hoping for the unofficial MLS championship to come back to DC United until the 08 season.

US Soccer History: The best site for all the US Soccer history you can take. Think there wasn't a lot out there? Think again.

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26 October 2007

Debriefing for Match 11.33: At Chicago Fire

Chicago 1 - 0 DC United

Six Word Novel Recap

One goal down, need healthy forwards.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

DCist, Graham Hough-Cornwllt: "Neither team created much in the second half, even as United picked up more and more possession and began to push deeper into Fire territory."
The Washington Post, Steven Goff: "The result was, by no means, crippling to United, but it does mean that the four-time champions will need to win the finale of the two-game, total-goals series next Thursday at RFK Stadium"
The Examiner, Criag Stouffer: "Playing with a steady wind at their backs in the first half, the Fire set the tone from the opening kick, pressuring a United team that appeared nervous and hesitant without Emilio and Moreno."
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "Playing a ridiculously conservative 4-5-1 line up, DC United left themselves open for the Fire to score a painfully easy goal early in the match. Chicago goalie Matt Pickens launched what should have been an easily controllable ball miles up field. Instead United’s young defenseman Devon McTavish allowed the ball to drop and bounce right in front of DC’s penalty area."
MLSNet.com, Tom Hilton:" Rolfe's goal, his first career postseason tally, gave the fourth-seeded Fire -- the last team to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs -- the advantage over the Supporters' Shield winners heading into next Thursday's second leg at RFK Stadium in the nation's capital. "
SoccerAmerica Daily: " Emilio believes he'll be back to 100 percent fitness for the second leg next Thursday at RFK Stadium. The series will be decided on total goals."
ChicagoSports, Luis Arroyave: " Jeff Carroll earned a yellow card in the 22nd minute for taking Blanco down from behind, but the Mexican striker wouldn't bite."
Soccer By Ives: "Should DC United be worried? Well, if they can't win by a goal at RFK Stadium in a decisive game they shouldn't advance anyway. I find it hard to believe DC's confidence will disappear after a close result."
Center Holds It:
"Call ‘keeper Troy Perkins DC’s man of the match. His defense left him for dead on the goal, but he saved two other dead-certain goals at least, most notably his brave challenge when Calen Carr broke through late."
The Offside - DC UNited: "Say what you want about Burch’s ball-watching, or Vanney’s vertical jump issues, but neither of them cost us the game. The death sentence was the 4-5-1, a combination of every possible nightmare for United: no attacking options, unfamiliar roles, conceding the initiative, relying on mistake-free defense."
dcsundevil: "In my opinion, Fred needs to work on his passing accuracy. Four of five times tonight I saw him make a soft, slow pass behind his target. These weren't passes in the air, they were on the ground. Most of United's passes were to the spot that the target player used to be."

The Good
  1. Only one goal down: It'll be hard for me to find much of a silver lining to this result, although given that a tie would have been an acceptable result, I'm fully confident that the team is capable of winning the second game.
  2. Playing Time for Moreno, Luciano: I'm glad both of our forwards weren't so injured that they had to be held out of the game altogether. Moreno looked a bit hesitant at times, but also had some good moves around Chicago players. Hopefully both used this match to shake of some rust and won't play so tentatively next Thursday..
  3. Blanco and the Ref: To say Blanco falls down faster than an epileptic during a laser show would be no small exaggeration. The referees didn't buy most of his acting and pouting. I'm not saying overall that the refs did a good or bad job ...
  4. Tracking back on D: Both Fred and Gomez came back to help defend and try to jump start any offense.

The Bad

  1. Defense: "Awkward looking is an overstatement of the display." D wrote that last week and its no less true today. Soehn seems to change the defensive line every single game, which can't help the defenders establish any understanding of how to play together. Contrast this with how well Chicago's line moved to keep Gomez offside.
  2. Fred: dcsundevil calls him out for his passing, but he was off his game throughout the first half. Without Moreno and Emilio to generate attacks, I'd expected more out of him but he didn't deliver. Either he's make a bad pass or hold on to the ball too much.
  3. The Starting Formation: th4-5-1 telegraphed exactly how DC expected to play from the outset, and I don't see how it particularly suited any of the players. Kpene isn't strong enough on the ball, or pressured defenders enough, to be the sole forward. Gomez didn't support him enough with runs on or off the ball either.
  4. Brian Carrol: Had a noticeably awful game, caught ball watching a number of times.

Man of the Match

None assigned. A tip of the hat to Perkins for his two saves, and a wag of my finger to the rest of team.

Karma Bank

+1 for the season entering the game. +0.5 for two arguable handballs in the box that didn't go our way. +0.5 for further injuries to Moreno and Emilio on a rainy field. +1 change overall, +2 for the season.

Final Thoughts

The second half of this game is next Thursday, and United usually plays much better at home. I'm not buying into the Chicago-has-our-number curse, but if we lose next week like we did two years ago, I may be converted. I fully expext Chicago to completely bunker, for Blanco to spend as much time on his back as on feet, and Rolfe/Barret to expose our lack of speed at the back. In what could be our final game of the year - Soehn has to have his team play less cautiously, look to score early goals, test Chicago with shots from distance, and most importantly, solidify a back line that looks worryingly fragile.

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First Impressions - Chicago Fire 1 : 0 D.C. United

In the middle of the country, where I am, it is a cold and dreary looking night. I felt alone in the bar where I sat. Around me people played Buzztime trivia and gazed half-heartedly at the Red Sox-Rockies game. They were kind enough to put the game on the TV closest to my table, and for a moment I was glad. Until I saw that we had no Emilio, and no Moreno. Kpene can not be held responsible for 40 minutes of few chances... our midfield simply didn't know how to play the ball in. A cross? A play up the middle? Denied the comfortable views of Moreno and Emilio, they were confounded. It wasn't that Chicago stopped the United attack, but that the United attack never found a way to coalesce. We needed them in the game just to have a way to figure out what to do.

As for the goal, I believe a certain blog pointed out that one thing we get from Bobby Boswell is a good defensive presence in the air. Tonight feels like we payed for not having that presence, as Vanney was flat out beat on the header that put Rolfe in alone on goal. If this game is frustrating, it is because we saw all of the things that we've seen all season in one game. Vanney slow and out-played in the middle. Burch getting the ball taken from him while hesitating over the ball. McTavish a shade too loose in his marking. Gomez vanishing at the start (although he did find a way to assert himself later). Carroll meandering around the field. All the things that annoyed us at one point or another were there tonight, but the real problem was that I never felt like we were trying to come out with a lead. Maybe Tom Soehn had a good tactical plan he felt he could execute, but when you bench the best attacker in the league this season, and the all-time greatest goal scorer, you have to wonder if that doesn't send some sort of message. To me, it certainly spelled doom, but I knew I was tending toward the overly dramatic. Still, when the rain came, it seemed like a test of mojo. We win in the rain, but we lose to Chicago, which mojo is stronger? Sadly, we know now.

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25 October 2007

The Joy and Sorrow of Thursday Night Soccer

So, for various reasons, I'm on business travel this week and next week, which means I will not be at RFK for the second leg of our series against Chicago. There's an outside chance I may make it to the first leg, which would be nice, provided I can make the trip to Chicago in time from my hotel. This annoys me, but c'est la vie. The schedule makers chose to put United on National television, where I don't think they've fared particularly well since the 2004 home opener (does someone have stats on ESPN games and records?). Whatever. At least, out here in the middle of the country, I can at least see this game without the use of MLSLive.TV. That's something. I can see the game. And I packed a jersey in my bag. These things matter.

The middle part of the country is much different than the East Coast. You may think Boston, DC, and New York are different, and you're right, but there's a fundamental city/suburb/rural balance that is similar in all cities along I-95. No such situation. From Dallas to Houston to Detroit to Tulsa, there are small pockets of urban city and vast, gridded expanses of suburb. It's different. It's like MD-355, but instead on one line of strip malls, it extends outward into two dimensions. After a while, the sameness starts to get to you, and you feel like just kicking someone for fun. This may explain the choice of defensive tactics for the Fire.

But I am glad DC is facing Chicago tonight. If you must have disturbing issues from your past, immersion therapy is a legitimate option for getting over them, and that's what I hope to see. BDR is content with a grinding game tonight, and so am I, provided that we grind out a goal. Coming back to DC at nil-nil might be a bit too much of a 2005 parallel for me. If anyone must spit on CJ Brown, please do it tonight. Just do it after we've got one in the net.

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23 October 2007

5 Questions I Would Ask If I Were Connected in a Major Media Way

To Victor MacFarlane: The new posting on Poplar Point says "Unfortunately, the way in which the RFEI was drafted precluded the team from responding directly. We are not a qualified respondent." Precisely why is D.C. United not a qualified respondent? Would any of Victor MacFarlane's affiliated companies be considered a qualified respondent, or is it simply that the structures of the bid make it so that you feel that you do not wish to respond?

To Abby Wambach: Why do you think that Greg Ryan was not retained as coach of the US Women's National Team? Do you wish he had been retained? Is being nice more important than winning?

To Marc Fisher: Since it looks like the United deal at Poplar Point is dead in the water, do you think that the RFEI's criteria for proposals is a good way to handle the development at Poplar Point?

To Tom Soehn: If offered a choice between "possession soccer" and "counter-attacking soccer," which term would more adequately describe your intended game plan for the away leg against Chicago?

To Piotr Nowak: Who do you want to see advance in the playoffs, Chicago or DC?

Best goals compilation

Scaryice over at Climbing the Ladder has made compilations of the best ten goals for each team. Enjoy his selection for DC United.

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22 October 2007

Debriefing for Match 11.30: Columbus Crew

D.C. United 2 : 3 Columbus Crew

Six Word Novel Recap

Not with a bang - a whimper.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, The Bog Man: "With little at stake in its regular season finale last night, D.C. United's grand plan was to avoid injury and build momentum before the MLS playoffs start this week. United failed miserably on both counts. "
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Argentine star Guillermo Barros Schelotto found Robbie Rogers with a pass, and the former Maryland standout tapped the ball through the legs of United goalie Troy Perkins, who had run out to the edge of his box in an attempt to stop the Crew striker. Brian Carroll was also at fault on the goal, having allowed Rogers to get past him."
UnitedMania, Jimmy LaRoue: "Gomez, though, took advantage of a Crew handball in the box to convert a penalty, cutting the lead to 3-2 in the third minute of stoppage time. That was it for a depleted, and disappointed United, lamenting the loss of two of its playmakers, and for losing its end-of-season momentum going into the playoffs."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "The visitors ran out in a 3-5-2 formation that seemed to confound the Black-and-Red at times..."

The Good
  1. Kpene: For all the talk about him not scoring, the real problem with his play was the way he was allowing himself to get manhandled in many of his recent performances. Quite simply, he just wasn't strong on the ball, and he wasn't strong off the ball, which means he was... well, quite weak actually. No, he didn't finish, but we saw more toughness from him, and better holding abilities, plus the ability to turn around a few players. His best performance in the second half of the season.
  2. Ben Olsen: Tired Ben Olsen and Rested Ben Olsen will still run around. They'll both throw themselves at players with abandon. They'll both yell at people, and recently Ben Olsen seems to be borrowing a few pages from How to Attract the Attention of Your Midfielder When You're Along on the Wing by Bobby Convey. Here's the difference between tired Ben Olsen and rested Ben Olsen -- Rested Ben Olsen has so much more energy it spills over into the other players, and clear across the field, making players like Fred even more dangerous. That's a good thing.
  3. Fight all the Way: I do credit United for pushing the entire match, and even having some very good chances against Hesmer. They put a goal on the scoreboard late to make it interesting. And credit should also go to the Crew, who played an entertaining game. Some times your team sucks, some times their team is really good, and in some moments in this game both were true.

The Bad

  1. The Pain:Moreno getting hurt is problematic. Emilio getting hurt could be downright disastrous. Both of them carrying knocks into a playoff match on Thursday night (i.e. Short Rest) does not make me feel good about executing an attacking strategy on the road. More on that later.
  2. Recovery Speed: Let me say something heretical: We missed Facundo Erpen last night. No one on United's defense the last few years has been better at getting back when an opposing player has been sent through than Erpen was. The point is not that we should get Erpen back, but rather that letting players come through on balls like that is a problem. Yes, Carroll is the one who was obviously seen as the guy getting beat on the first goal, but it didn't help that Boswell was pulled far from the center of the field to a Columbus player who ultimately ended his run on the wrong side of the touchline. We didn't have a good shape, and had nothing to bail us out.
  3. Blog Fatigue: I'm not innocent on this, considering there was no debrief for Chicago, but the season seems to have taken its toll on United related bloggers. Few words written, even in anger, about the result on Saturday. Hey, I can understand that, time to refocus on the playoffs... sort of like the team. Okay, that's perhaps a bit of an aggrandizement. Okay, more than a bit.

Man of the Match

None assigned. We lost.

Karma Bank

+1 for the season entering the match. Not a whole lot of karma transactions in this one. Referee Terry Vaughn called a decent game, with few things that would make me upset. I'm going to say -1 for playing an ugly game on a night honoring the '97 team, and +1 for the unfortunate injuries to both Moreno and Emilio. That's no change for the game, +1 for the season, meaning we're owed one decent break in the playoffs.

Final Thoughts

When this game became meaningless, it was hard not to lose focus even as a fan. But more and more I'm upset that Tom Soehn didn't fully transfer this game to the reserves. That's what we wanted, and that's what we didn't get and may end up paying for.

So now we look to the playoffs, and we'll have Chicago on successive Thursday nights. Again, I don't believe the last game of the season has jack to do with momentum. The away game in Chicago is the real momentum builder game, and that could be a tough game. Even if Emilio and Moreno play, in all likelihood neither will be 100% fit. Which is a problem, since it might encourage negative road soccer. It was getting away from negative road soccer that inspired this team when they went out and won against New England in the final third of the season, and truly sparked something for this team. Even a scoreless draw on the road will have some people talking about how United still can't score against Chicago in the playoffs.

We invent curses, to some degree. And then we ignore the counter-factual evidence. There was a time when "Only Chicago beats United in MLS knockout competitions" which was true until New England did it last year. And United will never win against Chicago in the playoffs, until they do. There will be a playoff match that features United defeating Chicago, although it may not be this year. Do I think we're a more talented team than the Fire? Yes, but I also think the Fire may be playing better soccer right now than we are. That can be reversed, but it will be difficult. I imagine some people may well pick the Fire as the odds-on choice for first round upset winners (A buck says Luis Bueno will make that choice.)

What's interesting is that considering late season results balanced against the entire year, there's no team that I feel is the odds on favorite to take the cup this year. Everyone has problems, or difficult paths. Honestly, with Kansas City shifting over the West's bracket, perhaps Chivas has the inside track.

All of that changes if United can make a statement in Chicago. Which they must do. Even if they manage to squeak by Chicago 1-0, I won't feel good facing New England or New York in the Conference Finals. This team has had enough time to regroup, and they've taken it. All of it. There is no more time left.

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20 October 2007

First Impressions - D.C. United 2 : 3 Columbus Crew


So I come back from a week on the road to find out that Kevin Payne has had a small stroke, but is apparently recovered, to see that United's unbeaten streak is over, and to see the stadium situation has gone utterly charlie foxtrot. I mean, what the hell people? Can't you do this crap when I'm around to devote time to it? Bah...

We finish at 55 points, a Supporter's Shield to our credit (though potentially only won on a tiebreaker depending on results later tonight), and a team looking at the playoffs with another kind of streak: 0 for October. Add to that injuries to our two starting forwards, a somewhat fatigued Ben Olsen, a definitely fatigued Namoff...and yet...

Yet I don't think this is a point to panic. United was more creative than I recall, especially facing a team that wanted to bunker. The finishing wasn't there, but this team wasn't a team that looked desperate for a clue. They had ideas. Their defensive form wasn't excellent, but it wasn't as bad as the three goals suggest in the score line. They are out-of-sync, yes, but not out-of-gas.

It is somewhat fashionable for United fans recently to expect that worst. And certainly there is enough for you to look for along those lines. But part of me never buys the momentum theory (you can see what I wrote last year along those lines.) If there is to be momentum, let it come in the away leg of the playoffs. Winning against Columbus wasn't going to give this team confidence, not the way the '04 team took something form going up 2-nil on Metro in the Meadowlands. That's where momentum comes in. And you can see it one game, as you could in 2004. The moment where potential energy converts to kinetic. Where gravity is scorned, and static friction becomes fiction. I can feel that potential in this team right now. It isn't inevitable, but it is a possibility, and it makes the coming playoff games intriguing.

Rereading these previous paragraphs, it reads more like a Final Thoughts of a Debrief than a First Impression, so let me add this: Gomez had a good game, and Olsen proved once again that he is the heart of this team right now. McTavish and Namoff were both exposed again. As much as Boswell's positioning can be troublesome, he is easily the best defender in the air this team has, and that's a skill we need. Kpene had a decent game, let's not forget he is in his first year. I much prefer seeing him up top than Dyachenko. I still feel that we know Dyachenko's highest potential, but I think Kpene can get so much better. Mediate was a non-factor, which is not a good thing.

Part of me feels that Tom Soehn wasn't gunning for this game, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I mean, yes, keep the starters healthy, but we really didn't manage that, did we? Why put Olsen in, as good as he is, when you know he may get hurt and you can use him next week. Why not start Dyachenko at midfield, Jeff Carroll, Justin Moose, and Nicholas Addlery? It seemed like an awkward compromise between resting people and still trying to get a result. I'd have preferred that we just concede the game outright to the reserves. But we didn't. Instead we were neither one thing nor the other. And I would expect a team like that to be out of sorts for 40 minutes or so. Which we certainly were.

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19 October 2007

Emilio unoffically wins Budweiser Golden Boot

Now that the Red Bulls and JPA's regular season has ended, the only thing to keep Emilio from winning the Golden Boot is for something totally crazy to happen like Eddie Johnson or Taylor Twellman scoring 6 goals this weekend or for Maykal Galindo scoring 9 goals. If any of those guys can do that, well, they deserve the award.

I should have made myself a cheat sheet while watching the RBNY v LAG match last night. (Yes, I watched the whole thing until 1am.) It was all so confusing about what I wanted to happen. I wanted NY to win, which I usually don't. I didn't want JPA to score (OMG - how many chances did he have?) and usually I don't care. I was rooting for Joe Cannon to come up huge, which he did, but usually I enjoy seeing the LA defense melt down and put Cannon in some horrible situations. It was very stressful.

18 October 2007

MVP vs Newcomer of the Year

Luciano Emilio is up for two overall awards this year in addition to leading in the race for the Budweiser Golden Boot award. There has been some internal discussion amongst the DCenters about whether Luchi is more likely to win the Honda Most Valuable Player award or the MLS Newcomer of the Year award (or both!).

Here are some of the arguments, excerpted from e-mails.

The discussion began when I heard Rob Stone make a comment on Thursday Night Soccer a few weeks ago about Emilio v JPA for league MVP. Paraphrasing, he said that JPA would win the award because of the high quality of players on DCU versus the players on RBNY [snigger]. Essentially JPA stands head and shoulders above his teammates whereas Emilio is just another amazing player from DCU. At first I was confused, because I didn't think that had much to do with it, so I consulted with the DCenters.

D first answered with,
"Personally, I prefer [Ben] Olsen for MVP. If quality of support determines MVP, then Maurice Edu (Toronto FC) should be in the running."
and then Kinney chimed in with,
"It is a common argument among MVP voters. Do you vote for the best player, or do you vote for the player "most valuable" to their team. Take away Emilio and put in a decent striker DC United is still doing pretty well, take away JPA and what happens to the Metros? This is the type of thinking that leads to [Amado] Guevara being voted over [Jaime] Moreno, but without it [Michael] Jordan would have been MVP [in the NBA] for basically every year in the 90's instead of just four of them. This is especially the case in baseball or college football where the disparity is so huge; you usually don't see too many issues in leagues with parity. For example, looking at the history of MLS MVPs, the top scorer or point getter (MLS used to count points like hockey) has never lost out to another striker. This year might be the first. I think that is why Ives on his blog put Emilio as MVP but JPA as best newcomer."
Oscar responds thusly,
"It's an interesting dichotomy - I can see how a player could have one value to his team (Emilio) and have a different perceived value in the rest of the league. That is, while he might not be the MVP as a player for DC, drop him on any number of other teams, assuming he replicates his performance, and he'd be an MVP shoe-in, no problem.

I hate the Guevara/JPA MVP argument because in those cases, it's usually one player making a crappy team noticeably less crappy. If NY was #1 in the east, then you might convince me, but when they're losing to TFC..."
D finally decided we should define what to be the MVP actually means,
"Personally, I would evaluate the MVP of the league as "who had the most value to the league" instead of to the team. To me, Emilio's goal scoring has been more interesting and valuable on a league wide basis (since goals are highlights, and he's provided a ton of them). That also allows us, if we want to, to say Olsen is more valuable to the team, but perhaps less to the league."
Oscar then pointed out that D's definition could lead us down ridiculous paths,
"Umm, then you could argue that Sir David Beckham should be the MVP this year. It could work if you were crazy and insane, but it could be done."
Of course, no one is nominating Becks as league MVP. But also, no one is denying that his value to league is huge. RFK was sold out. The Meadowlands were at or near capacity. But what about longer term? As soon as the Galaxy left DC, attendance moved back to normal levels. But in the next few years, as more international players like Emilio, Fred, JPA, Denilson, C. Blanco, G.B. Schelotto, Beckham, etc) make their mark in the league and increase the overall level of play, isn't there an argument about these players having the biggest impact on the league, of being the "most valuable" to the league?

Two points here.
  1. I'll answer my own question by saying, "of course". And that's why the league created the MLS Newcomer of the Year award. These players aren't rookies but their instantaneous value to the league has to be acknowledged.
  2. Emilio, should he win the Golden Boot award, should be seen as the first player of his kind to come to the league and dominate it. Even if he is edged tonight by JPA against LAG, he's been leading the stat category for the whole season, and I think that other teams in the league have had to scramble to go out to sign internationals of their own. That's where Emilio's value to the league lies. Not only has he scored 20 goals this season, not only has he been named player of the week three times this season, but I consider him one of the first internationals to make other teams sit up and say, "hey - DCU might be on to something here."
Please add your own thoughts in the comments.

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17 October 2007


My apologies to everyone out there. Right now I'm on business travel, and out of the loop (and the beltway). But, let me address a few things. First, BigKris asks:

Hey, D, you planning to go back and address that redicuolous "this is a rebuilding year" statement you made in the spring?
Yes, yes I am. A lesser blogger would try and weasel his way out of it. He would say things like "remember where we were at the time" or some such. I could say that I was actually right, and that we were rebuilding, it just happened a lot faster than I expected.

But those are dodges, and transparently so. The fact is, I was wrong. WRONG. W-R-O-N-G. This was not a rebuilding year. It was a modify the tools and take a shot year. Where I erred was in thinking that a determination as to what kind of year this was had to be made by game 10 or 15 or so. The fact is, once we saw how the season was shaping up (and we didn't really know until about game 18-20), then United had to make a choice. Once you start paying bonuses to SIs and the like, you're committed to a course. There was no Steve Guppy type player released at midseason this year. And there didn't need to be. United knew what they were about. I didn't. And... I'm glad.

Now, a quick word on stadium and relocations. If D.C. United moves to Maryland, then they move to Maryland. Would I feel squeamish about them continuing to be known as "D.C." United? Yes. Would I still support the team? Yup. Would I go to as many games? Provided they are Metro accessible, then yes. United must do what makes fiscal sense, and while I long for geographical purity, I long for a team more. Let them do what they must.

Again, my apologies for being slightly out of it. Hopefully once I get back, I can put my nose to the grindstone for everyone once again.

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14 October 2007

What is Ours, Again

With Colorado edging Chivas USA 1-2 this Sunday, it is now official: D.C. United becomes the first team in MLS History to successfully defend the Supporter's Shield. Yes, Kinney is right - we look for things to be first at. If there was a record for goals scored by defenders in odd-numbered years, we'd want United to set it. But this... this is important. This is taking on all comers, in a tough conference, and winning it. This is the result of a season where 29 of 30 games mattered. This is sweet, and it is ever thus.

It may feel like backing into a title given that we just experienced a lack-luster scoreless draw, but I prefer to think of it as a reward of all the games earlier in the season that we won. We will now compete in at least two international tournaments, the Champion's Cup and the Superliga, thanks to this finish. And, yes, now we can rest people.

For the story on how it went down, UnitedMania gets a snarky jump:

Omar Cummings scored in the 90th minute to give the Rapids the unlikely victory in front of dozens of spectators in Los Angeles. What made this result so improbable was that Chivas USA had not lost all season long at the Home Depot Center. What also made this unthinkable was that Colorado had former United defender Brandon Prideaux sent off early in the second half giving Chivas USA the man advantage.
It feels good personally, but I imagine it also feels good for a team. 2007 will not be devoid of major silverware after several disappointing cup exits, and the MLS Double is still in play. It is now clear that we should give next week's game to the reserves, get everyone healthy and rested, and drive to finish this at RFK in a month's time.

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13 October 2007

First Impressions - DC United 0 : 0 Chicago Fire

I had expected United to rebound nicely with an long week off, but it didn't happen. They weren't as tired as they were against Kansas City. That was the most fatigued United had looked all season. No, they looked uninspired. There was little creativity. Tom Soehn had moved the team into a 3-5-2 in the second half, and they just seemed lost in the final third of the field. It reminded me of... well, itreminded me of the end of the 2006 season. Not a happy feeling.

What's strange is that I have no idea who's in good form right now. Christian Gomez had a fairly decent run in midfield, and Clyde Simms had fully rebounded from some subpar play in Guadalajara by aggressively marking Blanco. My entire "McTavish/Vanney, or Boswell/McTavish, but not Boswell/Vanney" theory took a huge hit tonight, as Devon seemed to have difficulty shutting down runners and Vanney couldn't clear a ball with his head. Burch had a better game defensively, but teams have learned not to let him have any space when he goes forward. There were at least two times when he tried to serve up a ball only to see his marker deflect it back at him.

If there was a bright spot, it was Troy Perkins, who was called on multiple times. In addition to some fantastic saves, I was most impressed by his decision making. He had some tough choices on whether to leave his line, or stay back, to play the ball with his feet or smother it... and he was correct 100% of the time. One of his best games of the season, if not career.

Overall though, this was not an inspiring game. United's magic number is three (pending the Chivas game on Sunday) which means the match against Columbus could mean everything in terms of the Supporter's Shield. Which means I'm probably going to watch their win against New England. That Champions Cup spot is still not assured. The interesting question is what to do with Vanney, Carroll, and Namoff, all of whom would be suspended for the first playoff match if they picked up a yellow in the final game of the season. While yellows reset for the playoffs, a suspension in the final game of the season applies to the first match of the playoffs. My choice would be, if possible, to give Namoff the week off. He needs the rest, but with Gros not feeling well you wonder what the options are.

And, I don't agree with resting most of the starters for the playoffs unless Chivas loses Sunday. We have a one game chance to ensure Champion's Cup play next year. I want that.

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11 October 2007

Poplar Pointless?

Yesterday, United released a letter to Mayor Fenty stating that they've begun talking with other jurisdictions for alternative stadium sites. They maintain they still prefer Poplar Point, but it seems the District's foot dragging, and opening up the land for competitive development has forced the team to consider all options as well.

“However, given the uncertainty around the [request for expressions of interest], the unhurried pace of the negotiations with the federal government on the land transfer, and the fact that our current situation is not financially feasible, we have begun discussions with surrounding jurisdictions about alternative stadium sites,” MacFarlane and Payne wrote.

The Sports Curmudgeon, not coincidentally I imagine, wonders why its so hard for United to get a stadium given its success relative to other local teams. He offers a very succinct explanation.
Meanwhile, there is a team in DC that averages over 20,000 fans per game and who plays in the same fetid sewer of a stadium that the Nationals play in and who wants to build its own stadium in the city and is willing to pay the lion's share of the construction costs. That would be DC United in MLS in case you don't know who plays where in the DC area. And somehow those same politicians who found a way to spend $600-700M of the public's money on a stadium for the Nats cannot find a way to dedicate the parcel of land that would accommodate this soccer-only facility for DC United.
For many, many fans, the team leaving the District for the suburbs would be disastrous. Given the rent, and minimal, if any, revenue from tickets and concession, staying at RFK is not a viable long term option. If a local stadium can't get done, the team's owners would have to seriously consider moving to another city altogether. Personally, I'd like them to stay nearby than leave altogether.

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10 October 2007

The Sour Smell of Success

If United doesn't win another game, they'd finish at 54 points over 30 games, a pretty dandy 1.8 points per game. If we modify historical records to count shootouts as draws, that would make it the best D.C. United finish since the 1999 United side. If D.C. United wins out, they'll have 60 points over 30 games, a remarkable 2.0 points-per-game mark. That would be the highest of any DC United team in history, and would put them in a tie for third in MLS History with the 2005 Quakes. And perhaps, possibly, that should be worrying.

If we look at MLS Regular Season points per game (modified as above to account for the shoot-out), there's something shocking. Your top 5 historically have a grand total of 0 MLS Cups. Those teams are the 1998 LA Galaxy (2.19 ppg), the 2001 Miami Fusion (2.04 ppg), the 2005 Quakes (2.0 ppg), the 2001 Fire (1.96 ppg) and the 1996 Mutiny (1.91 ppg). Is there something about the regular season, and really tearing it up that makes playoff success difficult? I don't think so, I'm inclined to put it down to random chance. But if it keeps happening? Hmmmm...

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08 October 2007

Debriefing for Match 11.28: At Kansas City Wizards

Kansas City Wizards 1 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Draw makes it simple: Win out.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, The Bog Man: "Two starting midfielders were forced to miss the final leg of this trip because of injuries. Several players and members of the coaching staff were weakened by stomach ailments. And after a half, United trailed a Kansas City Wizards team that had not lost when leading at halftime."
The Kansas City Star, Bob Luder: "As United defender Bryan Namoff met him to challenge, Johnson stopped with the ball on the right side, near the top of the D.C. penalty box. He held the ball for what seemed like at least five seconds before centering a sharp pass to Sealy streaking in just outside the box. Sealy struck the ball with his right foot and sent a shot just inside the left post, cleanly beating goalkeeper Troy Perkins."
The Examiner, Criag Stouffer: "That held until the 56th minute, when Marc Burch found Gomez at the top of the Wizards' box. Gomez turned quickly and got off a shot before defender Tyson Wahl could close him down. His shot sailed past diving keeper Kevin Hartman and inside the left post for the equalizer."
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "United now has a five point lead over New England, Houston and Chivas USA with only two league games remaining, both at home to Chicago and Columbus. However, Chivas USA now has an opportunity to run the table and win the Supporters Shield with 4 games remaining, provided United doesn't get maximum points from their last two matches."
MLSNet.com, Bob Rusert:" A midfield battle formed again as it had midway through the first half but the impassioned play did not. "
Booked for Dissent / Screaming Eagles Podcast, Dave Lifton: "...the dullest game of the season..."
Down the By Line, M: "As for the game itself, it wasn't the greatest performance from the Wizards, but it was enough to get part of the job done. The Wizards came out slow early, and DC almost made them pay a few times, but El Gato, Kevin Hartman, proved tonight why he was brought in to take Bo's place. Bo doesn't make all the saves that Hartman made tonight, and the Wizards likely lose this match if Bo is in net." [Note: I hold a special place in my heart for bloggers devoted to a single MLS team that use one letter for their name.]
QuarterVolley, I-66: "Well then, that was amazingly crappy wasn’t it? We didn’t necessarily look bad 44 minutes in. I felt we looked okay, but not bad. I mean, that was until Bryan Namoff had a tremendous brain fart and, with Clyde Simms 10 yards from him calling for a square ball, decided to send an errant pass back into the attacking third, sparking the Wizards counter which made the score 1-0 through Malik “I usually can’t even score on sitters in front of United’s net” Sealy of all people."
BlackDogRed, BDR: "The absence of Fred and Gros and the ankle knack of Jaime Moreno meant a middle defense of Bobby Boswell and Greg Vanney (with McTavish moved to midfield). United can win with Boswell and McTavish or Vanney and McTavish, but United cannot win silver with a back line centered with Boswell and Vanney. That the two sucked so badly on a field ten yards narrower than normal speaks as much to their disorganization as their combined lack of speed."
Fifty-Fifty Ball, Guy Franzen: "'The Kansas City Wizards prepared for tonight’s regular-season home finale by canvassing the city Thursday with thousands of free tickets for schoolchildren.' Unfortunately the doubling of the Cauldron's size, with the fifty tickets that they were able to give away to kids[the announced attendance was 14,353and I have no idea how many were given away] , was not enough to put the Wizards over the top. "

The Good
  1. Get Set and Go: In the recent matches against Toronto and Real Chivas, United was sluggish out of the gate. This marks the first game in a bit where United came out firing, dictating play and pushing the game around. It wasn't even United at their best, but the mentality was correct.
  2. Hide Your Weakness: No Fred and Gros was problematic, since that's a lot of our midfield gone, but Tom Soehn's modified box midfield was a pragmatic solution whose advantages I didn't understand. With Simms and the rest of the team ailing from food poisoning, the formation was a steadying influence. At first, I didn't understand why United would want to slow this game down, but now that we see the full story, it makes sense as a choice. My first reaction was wrong -- Soehn did the right thing. Try and put this game in a vice and squeeze, hoping Kansas City cracks first. It would have worked had any of our opening chances gone in the net.
  3. Troy Perkins, Traffic and Weather on the 8s: As much as it has been said before, I still can't get enough of the way Perkins patrols the box in the air. United does let people get down the flanks and send in crosses too often, but Perkins mitigates that risk nicely.
  4. Christian Gomez: Saves the point with the near post goal and plays credibly as a forward for the first time I can recall where we've tried that particular experiment. Of course, it helps that he was playing as a forward who was checking back into midfield a lot, so it wasn't too much of a difference, but he still didn't come back too often or too far, which is what you might expect.

The Bad

  1. Defense: Awkward looking is an overstatement of the display. We've written before about the Boswell/Vanney pairing (most notably in this post) and how it doesn't work. Today, we had all of that plus a Bryan Namoff is still not right. If we had true defensive depth, I'd say Namoff is a major candidate to get a game off. He's taken a few knocks, and needs some good rest for a bit. Clyde Simms and Brian Carroll helped steady the midfield, but didn't really augment the back third that much. Boswell was slow, Vanney was slow, and Burch was caught out too often.
  2. Ben Olsen: He just didn't have enough on Friday night. I'm totally willing to give him a pass for this game, but we do have to acknowledge that for most of the second half he found real difficulty getting into space.
  3. TV Production: I'm going to take a guess on this, since I don't actually know these things, but it seems like Comcast was getting their feed from Kansas City's regular broadcast crew, and augmenting it with one sideline camera. Usually, even on the road, the game looks better than that. Dave Johnson remains one of the better home announcers, and he seems to genuinely like Thomas Rongren, but I feel that Rongren is, shall I say, a bit too much of a homer. Perhaps the penalty should have been given to Emilio when he was hauled down in the box, but there's no way Gomez deserved a penalty. The replay showed clearly that Gomez had a fistful of his marker's shorts in his hand, and I'm pretty sure that when they both got up from the turf, Gomez said "Machine Wash Warm, Tumble Dry Low".
  4. Emilio: Now that I've complained about the TV production, let me say that the shots of Ryan Pore delivering double forearms to Emilio's chest told a great story. Teams are really collapsing on him, hacking him, pushing him, and while he was getting some of that attention, I'm sure he'll be getting more. Especially as he plays better than average defenses in the playoffs, or if not talented defenses, he'll be playing against backs with no scruples (rhymes with Bay Peeps).

Man of the Match

None assigned. Game too ugly to give a MotM award for.

Karma Bank

+1 for the season entering the game. +1 for Emilio not getting a borderline penalty, +1 for some good attacking soccer in the first half, -1 for some cynical fouls that didn't get cards, -1 for some ugly play on our half of the field. No change overall, +1 for the season.

Final Thoughts

At first, I was on-board with the "no excuses for that ugly a game" mentality, but over the weekend I changed my mind. There were some damn good excuses. The problem with excuses is that too often they are wallpapering over more fundamental problems. While Burch has been a revelation at left back, it is primarily for his non-defensive responsibilities. Namoff is not playing as well as he was earlier this season, neither Boswell nor Vanney seems capable of utterly marking someone out of a game, and I like Devon MacTavish just fine but wouldn't want to rely on him to be the focal point of a backline. I get the sense that the pieces to a really good defense are there, but I don't know how they fit together. I'm not sure Tom Soehn does either, which is fine for right now, but come playoff time you need to know who your Best XI are, and use them.

Otherwise, I think the excuses hold water. Tired, Sick, travel-weary: Those all explain much for the game we saw. But they can only explain that one game. The Chicago game still matters heavily for the Supporter's Shield, and I have every expectation we'll try and go for it. However, even if the Shield is in doubt, I would not be surprised to see Soehn sacrifice the Columbus game to the reserves. Home field is only a point away right now, and we could have it well in the bag by then, and I could see Soehn making the decision that getting everyone fresh and ready for the playoffs is a legitimate choice. While I wouldn't like it, I wouldn't call him an idiot either. Many of you have made your thoughts clear - If the Cup Final is at RFK, it needs to be a home game. I still disagree, but that's a matter of opinion, not soccer fact or lore or absolute truth.

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05 October 2007

First Impressions - Kansas City Wizards 1 : 1 D.C. United

If you want me to talk about the result, well, as I said, it would only be a small surprise to drop points in this match. A 1-1 draw seemed appropriate at the end of the day, for while United generated their share of chances, they also gave up several when speed overtook the backs. And yet, for all the chances that both teams had, there was something fundamentally ugly about this game. Not the play, but rather the speed and the angles and the passing... it was all a bit dull and uninteresting. Moreno may not have been effective at all times, but his insertion into the end of the match certainly made the play at times a little more aesthetically pleasing. Otherwise this was the dullest and ugliest game I've seen all season. That takes two teams to create, and both did it.

It should be said that fatigue is most definitely a factor. This team was tired. You could see it given how frequently the defense was a step slow to react. You could see it in Ben Olsen, who gives you everything he has. He just didn't have very much after about 40 minutes. I think even Emilio was a step slower tonight. We were a tired team. Kansas City was a team playing without two key players. The field was narrow, and the broadcast had the watered-down, faded colors of a 1980s TV movie. Add those things together, and you get a game that never really involved me at any level. Or maybe I'm just tired. Does anyone want to speak in defense of this match? I'm happy United didn't lose, but I'm more happy I'm don't have to watch any more of it.

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Final Introductions

On the way to Kansas C.
Tell me who I'm supposed to be...

- Luna, Speedbumps

Ultimately, tonight's game against Kansas City is the last game to establish anything about this team's character before the post-season begins. The final match against Columbus could well see most of the starters on the bench. If United loses against Kansas City tonight, neither a win nor a loss nor a draw against Chicago will mean very much in terms of figuring out where this team is. Certainly, you'd think games at home should be expectations for wins, but I look at the Chicago game as a place where United is likely to drop points.

No, the Kansas City game is an important one for United for a few reasons. First, Kansas City is the current Round One playoff opponent for United, making this game a nice preview for that. Second, United is coming off of an international loss. They're saying all the right things about it not being part of their mindset, but they said all the right things after the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Third, Kansas City is missing Conrad and Arnaud, which should severely limit Kansas City's options to shut the game down. This game is now firmly in the "United should take three points" column, and therefore becomes an interesting test of how United handles expectations on short rest from International play. Still, the difference between "should" and "did" is a large one. If United drew, or even lost, would I be stunned? Perhaps a little, but on the surprise scale of 0 to 10 (where 10 was the 4-nil drubbing Chicago gave us in 2005, and 0 was watching Mathis get a yellow in his first match with RSL) it would be around a 2.

The traditional media has three different questions about this match. The Express asks "Can United rebound from international disappointment?" (Answer: Yes, they can.) The Times is wondering "Can Emilio break the United scoring record?" (Answer: 3 goals in 3 games? I'd say the odds are 3-1). The Post finishes by wondering if United will win out. (Answer from the article courtesy of Mr. Namoff: "'"There's three games left, and we want nine points,' Namoff said. 'That's all there is to it.'")

Now, there are some interesting historical things that I'd like to talk about. Here's a quick question: how have the teams with the most impressive regular season performances in MLS History faired in the playoffs? Not just talking about Supporter's Shield teams, I mean the teams that racked up point after point. You can probably determine the fate of two of them pretty quickly, but what about the rest? I hope to check back in on that later.

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04 October 2007

Soon it will be all settled up.

I have been in touch with Mr. Fish. He, as a gentleman, has promised to make good on his debts. I offered to handle the financial and logistics arrangement, and he declined. Instead, he shall do it himself, and per our prior arrangements, proof of his forfeit shall be made in the manner proscribed. I salute his honor.


This is a reminder to set your TiVos or, god forbid, your VCRs (how quaint) for tomorrow's UEFA Champions League Highlights show.

UEFA Champions League Highlights
ESPN2, 2pm - 3pm.

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Thursday Coffee Pours Some Sugar On You

A SPECIAL THANK YOU: I read each and every comment we get at this site. I may not always respond, simply because I'm really more interested in what you have to say than what I have to say (I've usually already said what I had to). Still, I want to say thanks to each and every comment we've had recently. Your thoughts on what it feels like to fall from the Copa Sudamericana, the excuses we might use, and the debate on the USWNT, have been conducted with intelligence and decorum not usually associated with TEH INTERNETS. You may disagree with me, or with each other, but you're pretty good about keeping things civil. My thanks. And for those of you that took issue with me saying "United bunkered" -- you're probably right. It was more of an emotional sense I had of the tactics then a reflection of the field. You are correct: United didn't bunker by choice, they bunkered because they couldn't pass the ball through the middle third.

POPLAR POINT AND POWER: Four, count 'em, four Poplar Point related articles in the Post. First, Marc Fisher notes Marion Barry's support of the plan, and if anything is slightly bemused. Second, Marc Fisher notes that some soccer team is still at RFK. And, for the life of him, he can't understand some of the venom he sees. Now, we can't be accused of any such thing, as we have consistently preached co-existance with our red and white RFKin. I like baseball. No, I think Fisher confuses attacks against him with attacks against other sports. Marc writes " I don't think it is disrespectful of United or its fans to note that RFK has not worked out as a venue." No Marc, and in fact, we agree with you. We want a different venue. In case you're wondering, it's comments like this one that are disrespectful of United and its fans: "...a soccer stadium is used far less frequently than a baseball stadium and draws much smaller crowds, so it might make more sense for it to be further away from the center." Used less frequently? Sure. Much smaller crowds? You're having a laugh. We draw crowds that are comparable to, if not exceeding Nats crowds, most nights. I could even defend you if you had said "smaller on aggregate" or "slight smaller on average" or something like that, but you had to go for the trivial and insulting column. That's why we're annoyed with you.

PRAISES FOR V-MAC: However, read these two articles. One is on a separate development that Mr. MacFarlane is developing, and the optimism that comes with it. The second article, despite a somewhat disappointing lede, turns into a glowing article on Victor himself. Key graf:

...MacFarlane has set himself apart from his rivals because he has built winning projects in challenging urban areas that others never thought to enter. As one of the few African Americans to control such a large amount of institutional capital, MacFarlane made his reputation and fortune by helping to revitalize poor, long-neglected black neighborhoods.

Surely this kind of track record is exactly what is needed for Poplar Point and the Anacostia neighborhood. This is a man who has results, who has done it. Is the District willing to sacrifice success in this project simply because they might want $20-$30M in additional development on a bid? Is it worth that kind of risk? I ask you, Mayor Fenty.

MARCO GETS A ROCKET, YEAH, FOR HIS OPPONENT (BUT IT'S NOT ROY LASSITER): I'm not sure what this means at all. Other than he'll play ball after ball, but they'll all look the same. And DeRoux spends some quality time on PG. Oh, and congrats to Looocheee, who gets Player of the Month and takes it from Troy Perkins.

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The Raw Fisher Comments: Thematic Variations

Comments on the Raw Fisher blogs throughout the ages...

27 November 1858:

Mr. Fisher, you are most correct disparage the trivial demands of the supporters of this so-called Republican Party. America has had a chance to hear their demands from Mr. Fremont; and America, in Her wisdom, has rejected them. They are not a major political party, nor shall they ever become one. We already have a model political party in the Democrats, who needs more?
-FlippedMyWhig, 6:19PM

13 January 1947:
Marc, I'm so tired of these folks from India and their constant whining and disparaging of colonial rule. Why do they insist on putting other forms of government down? I was predisposed to like India, but now I will never, ever go there because of their attitude.
-WhatHoIndia?, 8:42 AM
28 September 1958:

Marc, these Buddy Holly fans are incredible! Do they really think all their yelling about their rock and their roll means anything??? I like all forms of music, but their attitude and behavior at concerts is disgraceful. They seem to think that their music is the be all and end all, and can't understand why we don't want it shoved down our throats. Give me wholesome, family entertainment like the concert I saw three years ago with Charles Mingus and Max Roach.
-RavingOut, 6:12 PM
28 August 1968:
Marc, I understand some of the objections that these young people have to our political process, but nominating a pig for president is simply ridiculous. It shows a lot of disrespect to fans of other political parties, and it isn't that clever. In fact, it's boring. And their constant complaining about Vietnam is just annoying. I have no sympathy for them anymore, and if they're so tired of the political process, then we don't need them. I hope they have fun voting in Canada.
-DInouye, 12:14 PM
1 November 1971:
Marc: Some people are just ungrateful. For Washingtonians to swarm the baseball field and commit acts of vandalism is disgraceful to our community. I used to like baseball, but seeing these hooligans put up obscene signs and commit acts of theft is horrible. I guess I'll just stick to football. At least head coach George Allen knows how to treat people with respect.
-TheShortAndLongOfIt, 9:00 AM

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03 October 2007

The Last Thing in Pandora's Box Is Also One of the World's Ills

There's something about crashing out of this tournament in particular that puts me in a more philosophical frame of mind. So I'm scrapping the debrief from the agenda (unless someone is really itching for it.) If you need something along those lines, go ahead and read the Bog Man's gamer. Your must-read is actually us, for once, as Oscar them all down for convenient use. For reference, I am Numbers 3,6, and 10. Also, my apologies to everyone for the lack of an audio feed via DCUnited.Com. We had asked the team about it, were told it would happen, and then it didn't happen. It's possible it was just technical difficulties or something, and maybe we'll know more later. Okay, there's the standard news stuff.

Here's the thing about cup events. The losses are profound, terminal, striking. You may try and say live-and-learn, but there's no game next week, or month, to apply the lessons to. Cup events bring out the emotions in a way that league games simply do not.

If I can draw an analogy, the match last night was like being in the final months of a doomed relationship, provided the emotional impacts are compressed into 90 minutes. Nick Hornsby, by the way, has ruined this kind of writing for most of us, simply because he did it so well in Fever Pitch. But that ultimately was a fulfilling story, this was the opposite. I knew we couldn't play for a 0-0 draw, yet Tom Soehn and the team made a judgment that not surrendering a goal to Chivas was infinitely more important than putting pressure on Chivas. I knew this, I had the warning signs, and yet I still chose to believe. It's like knowing that the woman you are dating was a lesbian for three years before you dated her, but somehow convincing yourself that it didn't matter. And I clung to that belief, denying more own analysis and instincts and observations, even as Chivas continued to apply pressure and out players tired and found themselves straddling the ball, unsure how to untangle themselves and ultimately surrendering. I didn't want to believe my own thoughts, or facts, I wanted to believe that somehow it would be all right.

Part of me understood that for at least 100 minutes of this 180 minute encounter, Chivas had done more to earn advancement. But I didn't want to care about that either. Even after Chivas scored, I clung to the idea that somehow, despite the situation, we could come through. Soccer can do that, you know that teams get goals counter to the run of play, and you start looking for it, even expecting it, demanding it from a game that says "Sure, it can happen, but you'd be a fool to rely upon it." At this time, all your friends know the relationship is doomed, but you still think that there might be one last second moment where it will all be reversed and you can celebrate and laugh and say "So much for you, logic and analysis!" I wanted, needed, United to equalize, even in an event that I told myself I didn't care about. And it's true when I wrote that, intellectually there was nothing for me in this tournament. Even emotionally, until the starting whistle at RFK a week ago, I was fully invested in the Supporter's Shield and MLS Cup runs. But Copa Sudamericana was a pretty girl that turned my head around, and lust sometimes overwhelms. And even after it became apparent it would end badly, hope is a treacherous force.

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02 October 2007

The Official DCenters Post-Chivas Sudamericana Excuses List

Here at DCenters, we like to make our reader's lives easy at every chance we get, particularly after elimination from an international tournament for the second year in a row. Below, pleased to be finding a pre-compiled list of excuses to help rationalize the loss internally, or if you find debating it with other fans.
  1. The ref was crap. (Tradition requires us to post this regardless of facts).
  2. The coach has mush for brains (Traditon also requires us to include this).
  3. I knew bunkering for 90 minutes wouldn't work. (The I-was-never-emotionally-invested excuse)
  4. Their goal keeper had the game of his career against us. (For perpetual optimists)
  5. This team is crap, they never had a real chance. (For perpetual pessimists)
  6. This tournament is mostly meaningless for us, winning it doesn't qualify us for another tournament. (Our-trophy-is-full enough, aka the anti-metrostars excuse).
  7. We were without two starters, Burch and Fred, MLS rosters aren't built for international tournaments (For use by the team depth critics)
  8. (Player X) shouldn't have started the game, he always plays like crap. (For those that know there's still a diamond in the rough sitting on our bench)
  9. I heard someone tampered with the teams food prior to the match (Especially for conspiracy theorists).
  10. This tournament was a distraction, now we can concentrate on the SS and MLS Cup (Tournament, what tournament?)
  11. We need a star (pick one: goalkeeper/defender/midfielder/forward) on this team to be competitive. (aka, the Lalas Paradox)
  12. We'd have won if we'd hosted the second leg at home. (i-believe-in-home-field-advantage)
  13. The American player relies on athleticism not skill. Somehow this explains (something) (What Latin players, I don't see no Latin players)
  14. An American team has never won against a Mexican team in Mexico. (Its been pre-ordained - one can not go against the will of god).

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First Impressions - CD Guadalajara 1 : 0 D.C. United

D.C United 2 : 2 CD Guadalajara (AGGREGATE)
D.C United 0 : 1 CD Guadalajara (AWAY GOALS)

For a time, I thought that it could work. That the strategy of playing a strong, defensive shape and locking down the game might see us through. I didn't think it was possible entering the match. I thought United needed one more goal to ice the game. Still, for sixty minutes United surrendered only a few chances even while they wore out the sod on the their side of the pitch.

It didn't last. After a series of misplayed balls in our defensive third, a volley beat Perkins. Shifting to a 3-5-2 gave United a chance to actually attack, and of course be vulnerable in the back. But it doesn't matter. If you're down 1-0 or 2-0 in this situation, it didn't matter because only one goal would mean you wouldn't lose after 90 minutes. Time to go for it.

And even then, it almost worked. Almost. Carroll denied wide of the post. Olsen hammers a shot right at the keeper (following some beautiful team passing that was absent for about 85 minutes). We had chances. We just had to finish one of them.

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Radio Feed for Sudamericana Match

Got an email from the folks at United. There will be an audio feed of tonight's match available from DCUnited.Com, but it isn't clear yet whether you'll need to have paid for the MLSNet Audio Live package. So have those credit cards ready. As I recall, the fee is fairly small, and just in case, you might want to fork over the cash if you aren't heading out to a Fox Sports in Espanol equipped locale. At least half of our crew will be out tonight, so if you see them, say hello.

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Sympathy for the Devon

AWAY IN MEXICO: We'll start with what isn't the must-read of the day. Okay, the news angle today is primarily about tonight's match against Chivas Guadalajara. John Haydon in the Times uses the one sentence paragraph to make the historical significance clear: "In fact, no American club has won in Mexico." And The Bog Man apparently had a long conversation with The Goffather to explain how the away-goals rule works:

American club tournament's quarterfinals; the MLS club would also advance by scoring at least twice in a one-goal loss. A 2-1 defeat would yield overtime and possibly penalty kicks.

Good. That's pretty clear. There is a lot talk about possible fatigue. Given that I'm exhausted just by thinking of staying up that late, I can imagine it has to be worse for people that actually, you know, play the game. Still, as I've written before, Marc Burch has been a hidden catalyst for success and excellence with United, and I think his absence could prove more disruptive in the long run.

DEVON MCTAVISH - HE'S A NICE GUY: Your must read article of the day comes from The Winchester Star's profile of Devon McTavish slash game recap against Toronto slash wider view of MLS Life. This is just a wonderful article to take a bit of time to read, as it takes a lot of space, but uses it to get at a lot of things for an audience that may not be as in the weeds as we are here.

"We have a joke that he’s [McTavish's] like, the perfect guy," Boswell said. "(Teammates) always give me a lot of crap about not introducing him to some of the girls in the city.

"I say that none of them are good enough for him."

Boswell as protective father figure? Huh. Anyways, the story is all the more interesting because you get the sense that Devon is actually a pretty shy guy in some ways, which makes this profile stand out.

AND WHERE WOULD WE GO THEN: Soccer America looks dangerously beyond tonight to ask what happens if DC wins (if I believed in karma, articles like this would count heavily on the negative side of the ledger):

United spokesman Doug Hicks says Arsenal would host the home leg next week and United would host two weeks later, probably Oct. 23 or 24. That would necessitate United playing a midweek Copa Sudamericana game at RFK and traveling for its playoff opener, but the alternative would be a long plane flight to Buenos Aires...

Aresenal de Sarandí eh? Anyone good ever played for that club? Hey, that sixth name in the midfield seems familiar...

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When Emilio one-timed the crossbar-rebound of Gomez's free kick into the back of the net on Saturday night, I almost killed myself celebrating that goal. Those steps in section 471 are steep! But also part of my celebration, which I forgot to mention in yesterday's debrief, was that I was screaming, "GOAL OF THE WEEK!" "GOAL OF THE WEEK!" Currently Emilio's goal is in second place, 39% to 43% to C. Blanco's free kick from distance. Get on mlsnet.com and vote for Emilio.

Also, I just noticed that Fred has been named Player of the Week,
"after scoring one goal and adding an assist in United's 4-1 weekend victory over Toronto FC."
Nice. Fred's goal was actually the game winner. Fred's designation as PotW this week marks the 7th time this season a DC United player has been so been named.

Emilio (3), Olsen (2), Addlery (1), Fred (1)

Update: GotW designations, by team
DC United: 7
KC Wizards: 4 (Johnson, Sealy)
Chivas USA: 4 (Razov, Galindo)
RBNY: 3 (JPA, Altidore)
Houston Dynamo: 3 (DeRo, Davis, Holden)
RSL: 1 (Cunningham)
LA Galaxy: 1 (Donovan)
FC Dallas: 1 (Toja)
New England Revolution: 1 (Twellman)
Columbus Crew: 1 (Schelotto)

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01 October 2007

Debriefing for Match 12.27: Toronto FC

D.C. United 4 : 1 Toronto FC

Six Word Novel Recap

Five quality goals; only four enjoyable.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, The Bog Man: "After being greeted with enthusiastic ovations from an announced crowd of 25,174 [coming on as subs in 2nd half], Moreno and Olsen immediately created a dangerous chance, with Olsen heading Moreno's cross back in front of the goal to Christian Gomez. The latter's bicycle kick fizzled, but it was a sign of things to come... United received some bad news in the closing moments when Fred limped off the field with a groin strain. He will accompany the team to Mexico but said he was not sure whether he would be able to play."
The Examiner, Criag Stouffer: "Luciano Emilio became the league's first 20-goal scorer in five years and D.C. United extended its unbeaten streak to 11 matches with a 4-1 victory over Toronto FC on Saturday night."
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "United was just warming up to their dismantling of the hideously poor Toronto defense however. In the 67th minute, Clyde Simms slid a perfect through ball to Jaime Moreno sneaking in behind Tyrone Marshall, and heading dead on goal with only the keeper to beat, no one makes it look easier than La Bomba who easily notched his 112th goal slipping the shot almost carelessly under the Toronto keeper..."
MLSNet.com, Charles Boehm:"United finally responded with a set of chances around the half-hour mark. First holding midfielder Clyde Simms -- apparently still wearing his shooting boots after hitting the game-winning goal on Wednesday -- cracked a long-distance effort that beat Stamatopoulos but skimmed off the top of the crossbar. Then Marc Burch lifted one of his trademark left-footed crosses to the far post, where Guy-Roland Kpene got his head to the delivery but drove it straight down into the turf instead of on goal."
BlackDogRed, BDR: "As exhilirating as that 2nd half was, it shouldn't have been necessary. Maybe those 45 minutes won't negatively affect Olsen and Moreno this Tuesday night in Guadalajara, but the plan was clearly to give them both the night off, and when the starting eleven farted the first half away, Soehn had no choice: dropping points against an expansion team at home is beyond inexcusable. But beautiful goals, three of them, Burch's and Fred's and Emilio's (Moreno 's was nice, but not stunningly beautiful), and the proper response, in the 2nd half, by a superior team with championship ambitions against an undermanned and overwhelmed expansion team."
DCist.com, Matt Bourque: "After five minutes revving their engines, D.C. United poured on four goals in 19 minutes. Twenty subsequent minutes of possession soccer sealed the win. It was as if Toronto's ragtag band of rebels mounted an attack upon the imposing imperial fortress before United's fully armed and operational battle station systematically obliterated its invaders."
Mistake By The Lake
The first twenty minutes of the game at RFK showed TFC in rare form. Yes, in recent games, Toronto has had stretches of good play, (1st half against the Crew, many moments in Dallas) but this seemed to be a level above recent top gear. The passes were crisp from the back, the midfielders were moving forward with confidence, there just seemed to be opportunities in the air. And sure enough...... Carl Robinson hit a beautiful free kick and scored his second goal of the season."

The Good
  1. Section 471: Arriving at the RFK box office at 6:45pm to purchase 3 tickets doesn't usually put you in the 400 sections. It has taken me until now and some reading around to the other DC United blogs to figure out why this was. I guess the crowd was a bit larger on Saturday evening because the game was only being shown on HDNet. (And maybe Summer's was only showing UFC - who knows.) Section 471 started good and got great. Not only were all 4 goals (all 5 actually) scored in our end, but we had an outcrop of The Screaming Eagles in our section and more attractive women than my single friend could shake his $7 beer at. People were singing and clapping and the mood was energetic. Especially after Fred's goal when I fell up the stairs twice doing some crazy celebration sprinting thing.
  2. The Goals: Let's face it, those were some quality finishes. BDR doesn't think so, but Moreno's goal, for me, was classic Moreno: beat the trap, settle the ball and don't rush anything. Wait for the keeper to commit in some way and then confidently finish it. mistake by the lake thinks Jaime was "way" offsides and I can't tell by looking at the highlights package, but it may be that the lowest defender kept Jaime on. But I think that "way" offsides is too harsh. Emilio's goal was especially sweet because those are the type of balls that can easily be sent into section 471 (see: Jaqua, Nate).
  3. Marc Burch: He says, "All the guys have been telling me to shoot, and it felt good to finally get up there and hit one." He really cracked it, and that was great to see. But he played well the whole game and was dangerous from the left side with that left foot of his. I called him out last week after Chicago, so he must have read my post and taken my advice to heart. I'll take full credit, thanks.
  4. TFC fans: The expansion club's supporters are the gem of the league and to see (we actually heard them first; we were in the ramp to the 400 level and they were marching into the stadium from lot 8) such a large contingent traveling with them was impressive. They eventually settled in somewhere near section 430 with a huge Canadian flag. They certainly enjoyed Carl Robinson's goal. It seemed that everyone of them had a scarf and a jersey. Full credit to you people and to the TFC blogger in the comments section of the First Impressions entry for this match, who seems like a very nice person. Oh look, it is stillkicking. He's all over this recap today!
  5. Predictions: Looking over the DCU blogs, a lot of people were predicting stuff. And there were a lot of good predictions.
    1. JCM @ Poplar Point Perspective says, “Predictions: DC United 3:0 Toronto FC [correct goal differential], Chivas USA 2:2 Chicago Fire [correct], New England Revolution 2:1 Colorado Rapids [correct goal differential]"
    2. edgell supporter @ The Edgell Supporters says, "1. We are the better team and we show it [check], 2. Fred and Emilio get back into the swing of things [check], 3. The new, non-infield grass is down [the pitch did not seem to be a factor] and 4. Burch from distance [check]

The Bad

  1. The First Half: Moreno, Olsen, Carroll and Namoff (injury) were all on the bench to start the game and it showed, even though Emilio, Fred, and Gomez are three of our biggest threats and playmakers. It seemed like United was trying to force things through the middle too much and doing it sloppily. TFC's midfield was able to bunch up in the middle third and intercept passes or accept giveaways leading to many promising counterattacks.
  2. Set piece goal: Coach Soehn says, "You can't get beat keeper side and Troy [Perkins] knows that and we addressed that and we have to make sure that doesn't happen again, because that has been twice now. I guarantee that won't happen a third time." Even I'm a little scared now. I love Perkins as a keeper and he had a great match overall, but I think giving up this goal, especially to a sluggish Toronto side is not good. The distance from goal of that free kick was such that there should have been enough time to react to it, but at the same time, there was a lot of movement on that ball, so I tend to think that Perkins did about as well as he could.
  3. Guy-Roland Kpene: I like this kid. He seems like a hard worker and he has speed. (One of) His first assist(s) came early in the season when United was still struggling and ever since then I've held a special place for him, rooted for him and wanted to see him get minutes and play well. Maybe part of it is just my bias towards anyone in a black and red kit. But against Toronto he seemed to be either a cause of or a symptom of the poor first half for DC and when he was subbed for Jaime at half time, all I could muster was a "meh". It will be interesting to see if he gets any more minutes this season outside of the reserves as the games become more important. I'd love to see him stay with United but he's gonna need to improve in order to earn more minutes.

Man of the Match

Clyde Simms again, I think. Merit Awards to Olsen and Moreno for the 2nd half spark, Burch for the tally and Perkins for some big stops.

Karma Bank

+1 for the season entering the game. I can't see any karma points accrued or burned in this one. Leave your thoughts on this in the comments.

Final Thoughts

Giving three points to a visiting Toronto squad would have been bad. It certainly wouldn't have killed us in the SS or playoff race, but it would have been one of those losses that a quality team like United just doesn't give. At halftime, I was nervous. Usually I feel confident that we can at least equalize if not pull out three points, but in this one I saw little in the first half that would give me my usual confidence. If we hadn't gone down 1-0 with poor 1st half play, Moreno and Olsen may have rested the entire night; who knows. Maybe Gomez would have woken up in the second half; who knows. But when you have veterans like them, it nice to see them do exactly what you need them to do: provide a spark and score a goal. This was one of the most exciting and enjoyable matches I have been to and I was so proud of my team. Vamos.

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