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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At 22 October, 2007 10:45, Anonymous I-66 said...

I am guilty of bowing to the fatigue as well. Part of it is concern, part is exhaustion. Working my way back into the groove...

At 22 October, 2007 11:33, Anonymous bdr said...

Sorry you didn't like the clip!

Missing from the discussion is the ramifications of Gros' absence.

Yes, I know. Call it a theory of kovalenkology.

At 22 October, 2007 11:39, Blogger Sean said...

Typo note: The Washington Post article is Goffer, not Bog Man.

Funny what you said about Ben Olsen. I went to a "Meet the Referees" thing after the game. One question was, "How did you see the game change in the second half?"

Terry Vaughn, without missing a beat:

"Ben Olsen came into the game."

Even the ref noticed the passion and energy he brings to the pitch. It's a great thing.

At 22 October, 2007 14:28, Anonymous Karl said...

I have theory- Ben Olsen has two speeds: full throttle and dead.

At 22 October, 2007 15:45, Blogger JCM said...

While not technically late as I often don't post until Monday after weekend games, I definitely have felt the fatigue you mentioned. So, my review is up and I am suitably chastened.


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