31 May 2007

Summers in Winter?

Since we're talking about DC soccer institutions, let's turn out attention to the soccer bar. At least through the 2002 World Cup, Summers in Arlington was The Place to catch the games. Now, the North Arlington All Stars says it ain't all that anymore:

Consider this the beginning of an informal campaign against Summers. The short version of my adventure in trying to get into Summers to watch the match was that they were not showing the DCU match, they were showing, in fact, NO SOCCER that night and there was a $10 cover for people to come in to watch some bullshit Ultimate Fighting Championship. huh?

I can think of many people (including a few at this blog) who have said something along the lines of "Summers, eh? Haven't been there in awhile." Part of this is that there are now several soccer friendly establishments around the area, but part of it feels like Summers own doing. The food was never exceptional, the service was average at best, and at times the sheer indifference to getting your game on the TV was infuriating. Now, the fact that they may not have HDNet and so couldn't show the United game is one thing, but you do get the sense that the times have somehow passed Summers by...

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Jaime Should Start

Is there a more charged subject to talk about than Jaime Moreno? Probably not. Just mentioning that he's potentially more effective as a substitute has the feel of somehow being sacrilegious. I mean, it's true. At this point, I think most of us know it is true. He can go the full 90 only by conserving his energy, and that means not running down balls that younger players go after. In short, we're giving up on chances if we play him all game. And yet... even thinking that he shouldn't start makes me feel somehow ungrateful, petulant, and pathetic. He wants to start and play every game. With his performance at the Bolivia-Ireland friendly making people wonder if he'll be called up for Copa America, you can still see that in his heart he knows he has a lot left to offer. And for now, he should start pretty much every game.

Not every game. United in June will play five matches, and Copa America begins June 26. If Jamie is called up, he'll only be available to DC for the first three games of June, each spaced about a week apart. He should have them. He's earned it. Yes, we all wondered about the attack that functioned better in Houston while he was away, but the fact is that Moreno brings just as much or more to the table right now than Addlery, Fred, Emilio, or even Kpene in the forward role. Yes, he gets winded, but Soehn is willing to take Moreno out somewhere between 60 and 70 minutes, and let him play if it makes him happy.

Becuase here's the thing: If Moreno is called to Bolivia and comes back after Copa America, he's coming back right in the midst of United's heaviest section of the season. Between July 22 and August 25, United will play nine games between MLS and Superliga competitions (not even mentioning a potential US Open Cup match in early August). For five weeks, United will be playing a match a little more frequently than once every four days. In this league, that's a lot.

When that time comes, Moreno and all players are pretty much all going to see their minutes regulated. It is a perfect transition time to establish the idea of Moreno as starter varied with Moreno as super-sub. For all the worrying about how to approach the matter, scheduling has given United the perfect opportunity to make it happen. Even Moreno will have to look at this time and admit perhaps he shouldn't be up-top every game. Even a game off wouldn't be enough simply because this stretch is so compact for so long. The transition I think we're pretty much agreed has to happen will happen.

Until then, let Jaime play. If ever a player has earned the right, he had. Take him out early sometimes, or whatever, but keep him happy. Sounds fair to me. How about to you?

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30 May 2007

The Supporter Shield Pace Report after May 2007

Last year we tried to separate ourselves from the horse race a bit to present a team's progress in a context seperate from their competition. To do this, the we employ the theoretical notion of a "pace team" which will win enough points at a constant rate to win the supporter's shield. Last year we set the pace a 2 points per game, which might seem a bit excessive but no team that averaged 2 points a game has failed to win the Supporter's Shield, while New England averaged 1.84 ppg in 2005 and finished second to San Jose. Still, this year I've lowered the pace to 1.9 ppg, which would mean 57 points overall. Somewhere between 55 and 57 points is probably a safe enough number to achieve this year in order to win the Shield, so I'm happy with that.

What I like about the pace concept is that it allowed you to view the impact of stretches of games over the season to understand how early games might affect you later. DC's three straight losses put them six points off of the pace team, and the three consecutive wins have only closed that gap to three points (remember, you're earning three points per game while most days the Pace team is earning two.) It also shows treats the future as unwritten, allowing us to say, for instance, that at this moment, RSL is in bad shape (10 points off of pace) but Houston is in just as bad a shape (oops, had 9 GP for HOU instead of 8. Corrected now). LA may look dire with only 5 points, but with all the games in hand they still have time to right the ship, and so they're above RSL, Houston, Toronto, and Columbus, in terms of competitiveness for the Shield, and even with Chicago.

New York is certainly doing well, 2 points ahead of the pace team, but Kansas City and New England are also in good shape, both even or ahead of the pace. History indicates that if any team can hold their current form for the rest of the season, they'll win the shield. So New England and Kansas City don't really need to worry about New York, they just need to keep doing what they're doing and the odds are that the other two will falter.

If you want to play around, I've put the source data here, and comparison to the pace team should populate as you fill in game results (if you just wanted to track your team only, for instance). The graph below summarizes every team in the league, but probably shouldn't be used for the purposes of saying which team is ahead in the standings, only how close (or how far) teams are from winning the Supporter's Shield (click on the picture for a larger, more readable view):

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29 May 2007

The Fascinating Thing about Small Sample Sizes

Remember nineteen days ago when we showed how Tom Soehn's progress, based on game results, in the first five games was not great, but identical to Bruce Arena's debut season? Well, thanks to the most recent games, he's now the second most successful DC United head coach based as of the seventh game of the season. Yeah. And if it holds, Soehn's 1.43 points-per-game would be behind Rongren's debut season of 1999 (1.88ppg with SO=Draw) and Arena's 1996 debut season (1.55ppg with SO=Draw).

And soon... I'll get a pace graph up.

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The Freezer for 29 May 2007

The US Soccer Fragility Index, known as the Freezer, is the anti-power poll. Here we rank the most feeble, the most tenuous, and the overall weakest things in US Soccer. It's the second most feared list in US Soccer behind the Alexi Lalas "Dial-A-Cliche."

After a week off, the Freezer debuts at its new time-slot (Tuesdays after Gray's Anatomy). There was a lot of movement over the past two weeks. Two get off the list entirely, and one and a half make their debuts. Lots of change in the overall rankings as well. Plus, I've indicated a few things that aren't in the freezer, but are on the watch list...

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Debriefing for Match 12.07: Houston Dynamo

D.C. United 2 : 1 Houston Dynamo

Six Word Novel Recap

Passed a test, not The Test.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Christian Gomez scored a goal and set up another by Ben Olsen as D.C. United beat the MLS champion Houston Dynamo 2-1 at RFK Stadium in front of 18,078. With the win, United (3-3-1, 10 points) extended its unbeaten streak to four games and won its third straight game after a slow start to the season. "
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "After being taken down by Ricardo Clark, Gomez ripped the free kick over Houston's wall and placed it perfectly inside the left post as goalkeeper Pat Onstad reached in vain.
The Houston Chronicle, Brian Straus: "The Dynamo managed their first goal in 275 minutes during Saturday night's match against D.C. United, a highlight-worthy, second-half strike from Dwayne De Rosario...D.C. United was effusive in its praise for its star [Gomez]; the Dynamo (2-5-1) appeared shaken by the defeat and avoided comment. Coach Dominic Kinnear refused to meet the media or open the locker room for a full hour after the game. Someone even stood inside the door to push it closed when a member of the Dynamo staff attempted to enter."
UnitedMania, Jimmy LaRoue: "The Dynamo were not without chances in the first half, but Ching missed on three headers–two of them open looks from eight yards–and Brad Davis’ forceful 25 yard left-footed strike forced Perkins into a two-hand parry over the bar."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "Enjoying more space and time than in previous games, Gomez produced an animated performance that suggested he is recovering from an early-season malaise.
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "...Perkins guessed the right way on De Rosario's penalty kick...the resulting euphoria lasted less than a minute as Richard Mulrooney sent in a cross that Perkins, no doubt still pumped from his save, raced off his line to claim in traffic. The United netminder's clearing punch lacked power and fell straight to Waibel, who passed to De Rosario...cut to his left and steadied himself to blast a low shot past Perkins to give the visitors new life."
Soccer y Futbol, Bernardo Fallas: "D.C., which struggled to start the season, won its third straight. Meanwhile, the Dynamo, bound to lose De Rosario, Ricardo Clark and Brian Ching to Gold Cup duty, are looking hopeless."
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "Troy Perkins stepped up tonight as an MLS Goalkeeper of the Year should step up."
BlackDogRed: "Another tough night defensively. Gros was probably better than I think since Houston ran at him so constantly I remember rarely thinking about Namoff, but he is a liability, especially since he keeps getting beat to and around the endline. Perkins is back in form, but without Houston's inability to finish Brad Davis' sweet crosses United gives up three. It's not fixed."
The Edgell Supporters: "Erpen did not get a goal but he did get a bicycle which almost cost us a penalty. Way to go Facundo. He actually had a very good match and cleared the ball very well. I love you Facundo."
Soccer Insider, Steve Goff: "It's a very good team, but not a great team, and has yet to show championship characteristics. I am curious to see how this team evolves through the summer."

Also: Screaming Eagles Podcast

The Good

  1. Strike First, Strike Again: One of the points made over at the Soccer Show podcast at UnitedMania is that DC United is built to play with a lead. It's one of the points I agree with. (Tangent: The thing about the Soccer Show is that there's so much disagreement among the gang of four that pretty much everything gets said at some point. Which means someone will inevitable be right, and someone will inevitably be idiotic. It's fun.) United has yet to relinquish a lead in a league game all year.
  2. Gomez -- People Who Need People: Lots of talk about Christian Gomez having more space in the field, but not why. Some attribute this simply as a result of a less crowded midfield with the 4-4-2, but that's not it. What gave Gomez space against Houston wasn't so much Gomez being clever on the ball or drawing less attention, but Gomez allowing Olsen and Fred to have more time on the ball. With three potential lanes running through the midfield, suddenly the Mulrooney and the defensive third of Houston couldn't just hack at Gomez to bring him down, because if they did Fred and Olsen were more than capable of taking it to Houston. By Gomez not taking all of the attack playmaking responsibility on himself, he gave himself more options later on. And that's the important take away for me: Gomez finally allowed himself to trust someone other than Moreno.
  3. Perkins Penalty Save: We note it, and we salute it. Sure the goal followed quickly, but last year he didn't save one of them. Congratulations sir.
  4. Kpene Lane is in My Ears and In My Eyes: If you click on BDR's link above, you'll notice a huge "Is it an accident that the attack ran smoother with Kpene instead of Moreno" discussion. If you ask me... well, I'm not sure. But Kpene provides the ability to take the ball with his back to goal and then distribute better than Moreno can. However, the thought earlier in the season was that Emilio would be the person who'd provide this skill. Fascinating, no?

The Bad

  1. Self-Service wings: Houston consistently was pounding crosses into the box from the wing, something I can understand with three in the back, but with four in the back some of that service needs to be shut down. Brian ching had multiple free headers, and while there's room to complain about Ching, of all people, going unmarked in the box, the consistent service upset me more. Gros (primarily) and Namoff (to a lesser extent) were allowing far too much of that. Boswell and Erpen were far from perfect in their marking responsibilities, but the first job is to deny that pass, or at least force the player to make a move and get around you.
  2. Emilio Luciano: Tom Soehn in the SE Podcast talks about how he's not upset with Luciano running cold recently, but I'm a bit curious. Sure, he was robbed by the post in Toronto, as I recall, but he didn't seem to have much of a contribution in this game. Horribly bad? No, but something to think about.
  3. The Josh Gros Handball: He says it was an accident. I hope that's true, because otherwise it was the kind of play that may tactically make sense, but still feels like cheating, and possibly worthy of a straight red. Also on the podcast, listen to Gros talking about how much more thinking he had to do as a left back. He's getting there, but the ability to internalize all of that information and then act on it naturally may take most of a season... if we're lucky. There's a lot of nuance. So good luck to him.
  4. Countered Counter (Substitution Edition): Houston threw everything at United for the final twenty minutes, but United couldn't exploit that. Part of this I think was the order of substitutes. Overall I've been fairly complimentary of Tom Soehn's tactical decisions, and I don't have a problem with the changes he made, but I would have preferred a slightly different order. Simms in the game earlier (say, around the 65th) would have helped bolster the defense which was under assault, and then Dyanchenko followed by Addlery. I keep forgetting that Dyanchenko has decent skills on the ball as well.
  5. Jair Marrufo: Not the worst official we've seen this year, but one of the most frusturating. I have no problems with the penalty given to Houston, or the lack of a penalty when Kpene was bowled over. However, Marrufo is one of those officials who I think allows the score to influence his calls. He prefers not to give a winning team a call in debatable situations, and that upsets me. Call the game consistently. Again, not the worst, but far from the best.

Man of the Match

I was thinking Olsen, but Oscar argued for Perkins. Perkins had some odd moments, and didn't seem in control of himself as usual, so I still can't agree with that. However, based on Gomez understanding the team picture better, and with a classic free kick goal, I think I'll give it to Christian Gomez as a compromise. Special merit awards to Fred, Olsen, and Perkins.

Final Thoughts

After no wins in the first four to unbeatable in the last four (funny how draws support both sides of that argument) you can rest easy. However, even with a .500 record, I agree with something Goff wrote: This team doesn't look like a championship team yet. They do look like a good team, but one that can just as easily lose a game as win one. Could United lose to RSL? Sure, I can see it. Can United beat Red Bull or New England? Yup, could see that as well. United has yet to turn in a single dominating game against teams of any caliber (I still feel the draw against New England featured the longest stretches of quality soccer from DC, but the Houston first half was probably the highest level peak we've seen). United has yet to keep a clean sheet. United scares no one right now, but they aren't going to be taken for granted either.

I wrote a few weeks that the remainder of May's games would tell us if the slide is over. It is over. United is no longer in gawdawful shape (yes, I know, only 8th in the single table... but far better than 13th). But the next two games will tell us if United is a team that is ready to challenge for leadership. LA is struggling, but United will need a result at the Home Depot Center and that may not be easy. Frank Yallop has shown an ability to game-plan for United at home in the past. Then a home game against New York, which is playing some very, very classy soccer. Is this team mediocre, or is it really good? Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel...

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26 May 2007

First Impressions - DC United 2 : 1 Houston Dynamo

I like wins. I'd like wins I didn't have to worry so much about. I'd prefer wins where we didn't give up penalties. But I like wins, especially when we go out and get the first goal, and then grab another goal on top of it. Houston may well be the most unlucky team in the league right now, since they can certainly generate changes, especially from the wing, but couldn't put anything in the goal until de Rosario managed a goal in the seventy-third minute.

The good thing is that United kept DeRo mostly anonymous for the first 70 minutes of the game. The bad thing is that Houston was buzzing towards the end, and United couldn't make the most of the countering opportunities to put the game out of reach. The extremely bad thing was the number of set pieces United gave to Houston, pretty much making a Houston goal inevitable at some point.

Still, while I think the result slightly flatters United, it wasn't an unreasonable one. United needed to get wins like this, and they got it. Great. That's the challenge at the start of the day. They met it. However, if they give the same number of chances away in their next home game, things will be different. There is still plenty to work on, and another chance to improve the game when United travels to LA. That's the next challenge, and one that will have to be watched very closely.

Man of the Match? I'm leaning to Ben Olsen right now, who buzzed around the field quite a bit. Gomez also deserves credit for fully integrating both Olsen and Fred into the attack. Defense was better, but not perfect. And Kpene made gave United quite a bit as a target, even if he didn't tally. Debrief later, either tomorrow or Monday.

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25 May 2007

An Expert View on the Houston Dynamo

Thanks to our partnership with the RAND Corporation's Temporal Mechanics and Necromancy Division, we are bringing a series of expert opinions to help educate you on teams other than D.C. United when we first face them this season. Today, with Houston in town, we thought we'd go directly to the source. The ultimate source on Houston, namely former senator, general, and governor of the Republic and State of Texas, Mr. Sam Houston. General Houston, welcome to the DCenters.

A-ha! Damn straight. Full of vim and vigor, I am, yessir indeed. You got a glass of something? I could use a drink. Several drinks. Just leave the bottle, that's a good kid. Now, let's get down the business...

I thought you gave up drinking.

That's the version of me in 1840 after I remarried. This is the big one you got, the original, the showstoppa, the Sam Houston of 1836 Of course, everyone seems keen on forgetting 1836, but that's what you got. Large and in charge Sam. Hell, I've been shot more times than 50 cent -- several times in the war of 1812 and once a congressman tried to ice me. But you can't kill me, I'm too intense to die. I'm notorious.

I see. Well, what do you think of the Houston Dynamo, the soccer team that now plays in the city named for you?

Pah! Not a spot of spit and vinegar in any one of them. That Canadian, the one that does that silly Pinnochio dance after each goal? Pathetic. Heck, I made my name by clipping the strings of Canadians like that. Brian Ching? He's the reason I opposed the westward expansion of the Texas Republic - I didn't want Hawaiians messing around with our great state. Bryan Mullan is really the only one of them that shows me any heart. Paul Dagleish? Please, his favorite movie is "Goal - The Dream Begins!" Quoth this Raven to these infants: "Nevermore!" I'm not paying to see the sequels to that piece of crap.

You're certainly quite... opinionated. Isn't there anything about Texas soccer you like?

Damn straight there is. You know at the Convention of 1833, I was representin' Nacadoches? Must have done some good, 'cuz that's where my homeboy Deuce is from. Deuce, get your skinny ass in here.

'Wassup, all. Comin' to y'all direct from the Cottage. Premier style, homes. We gonna kick dis Sam?

We need someone to lay down some phat beats first!

I gots y'all covered. G-Dub in the Hizzy, spinnin' the trax!

All right, now check this!
All you fake Houstoners who rhyme atrocious,
listen to master, straight outta Nacadoches.
You know its illy the way I flow this
beat that I know you'll want to poach this
flow but you can't, so you and try and dis'
all form a team name that's communist
you try to hit the mark but I know you'll miss
'cause I made the map recognize Texas.

Take it Deuce.

My story is large, my rhymes iz ample
I have talent Mulrooney wishes he could sample
When I'm fly on the wing your backs I'll trample
How do I do it? Here's an example:
In the UK they know I'm fly--
I put Liverpool down kept Fulham high
And you know DeRo wishes he could try
to do what I do, and that ain't a lie.
The orange is from Texas, that's what they say
But I think they're still stuck in San Jose
and they won't break out at RFK
they put tears of the face of Dommie K.
Break it down G-Dub!

It's the Amen Break y'all, so gimme an Amen!

Amen Brother!

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Coffee and Soccer

QUICK UPDATES WHILE I WORK ON OTHER THINGS: QuarterVolley has moved! And Steinberg gets a few comments from Esky.

TRUTH=RATINGS: One faithful reader emailed me about the loss of the freezer this week. The truth is, I missed the TNS game a week ago, and with two ESPN related items on the Freezer didn't feel it was fair to make adjustments. Plus I think I want to move the Freezer to Tuesdays anyways. So that's why it is on a Memorial Day break.

Last night's TNS matchup was a good one for ESPN. I know the game was a blowout, I know Giants Stadium was empty (a fact painfully emphasized when ESPN focused in the supporter's, then did a slow pan back to show the seats around them.) Doesn't matter. The Fire played a good enough game that the scoreline is a bit misleading, though New York certainly deserved the win. It wasn't, however, the kind of domination that 3-0 would suggest. Wynalda and Stone were pretty decent in the booth, especially Wynalda who constrained himself to targeted observations which he didn't repeat incessantly or obscure with telestrator doodlings. Calling out New York should not be misinterpreted as attacking the few RBNY supporters that were there, but instead a shot at the marketing department of the team. It's the kind of thing that lends credence to the "Wynalda Unchained!" line of thought. So a good night of soccer and coverage. I like it.

There may or may not be an expert interview later today, but there should be a match preview before the game starts.

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24 May 2007

Wii are the biggest threat to the growth of soccer

I'd like to share a crazy, hair-brained opinion on what I think may be the biggest threat to the continued development of US Soccer: The Wii.

Video games are important to the context of modern soccer, and to sports in America. Many a US based fan played the FIFA or Winning Eleven series and got a taste of the broader world of soccer. Hell, I wouldn't know for the first thing about Huddersfield if it weren't for FIFA '02. Video games are intrinsic to US youth culture, and to many of us adults.

The Wii vs. PS3 battle that played out last year demonstrated that the was a huge desire for the experience of full immersion. When confronted with a choice between a better looking game or one that allowed for a participatory user experience, the market went for the new experience. Games that had felt like third person games suddenly felt more first person. Boxing and tennis do not have a great deal of traction in this country, but they in the forefront of the Wii Sports package with Baseball and Golf. The Madden football series now supports Wii control, and certainly once can imagine that pretty much every game executive wants to see Wii type play in their games.

The problem is that this interface works very well for games that deal with the hands, but not the feet or the head. And that's where soccer faces a problem. It's a game where the hands and arms are verboten, thus removing most of the technology that the Wii exploits.

That's not to say it is impossible. I recall hooking up a Dance-Dance revolution pad to a FIFA '03 game on my PS2, but the experience was more of a gimmick. Soccer is rendered in most games as a third person experience, from the point of view of the TV camera. It's not even an attached point of view like you get when you play from just over the quarterback's shoulder in an NFL game. That can change, but can you see a technology that allows for the feeling that you're actually in a soccer game? One of the advantages of the existing Wii controllers is that they are versatile across a number of activities, from swinging a bat, punching an opponent, and shooting an alien. But you'd need something different for soccer.

Custom interface devices can bridge that gap, as the guitar hero franchise shows. But they're expensive, and place one more obstacle in the way on the immersive video game soccer experience. I'm trying to imagine an interface that would give the feel of actually playing a soccer game, and given the requirements of being able to kick a ball and head something to the back of the net, it's a bit difficult to see a simple solution (even granting player movement to the traditional control stick method.) In fact, if I were FIFA or US Soccer I'd be working on some sort of solution for this right now.

I bring this up because I often see bloggers, soccer writers, and even sociologists write about keeping youth soccer players in the game. And we love our video games, and Goffblog indicates with the Drew Carey Invitational, and as Eskandarian reported in the (on haitus?) Esky's world. Even when we're not out on the field playing the game, we like to virtually experience it. It helps nurture our love for the game, and sometimes allows us to understand the game better. If soccer can't match that interface while other sports can, I wonder if we can really keep everyone interested?

It's a thought, and one I haven't seen elsewhere...

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BOBB'S NOT OUR UNCLE: Yesterday we linked to the WTOP story in the dismissal of Robert Bobb (henceforth Bob2) from Victor McFarlane's operations. The Post also notes it today, explicitly linking the dismissal to the stadium deal. Nothing major, but a minor development worth noting. The fast movement on this is fascinating, as McFarlane clearly is trying to keep things in line politically. That's a good thing.

THINGS GET TOUGHER: John Haydon on the upcoming stretch of matches, which pose a real test to the "DC United has revived" theory. I agree. Specifically, that New York match may be the most significant game United has played with New York in almost a decade, in terms of what it says about both clubs.

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23 May 2007

DC United Karaoke Night

If you haven't see L. Emilio's rendition of James Blunt's "Beautiful" over at Mr. Boswell's place, it is a must. It has gotten rave reviews from such illuminaries as Dan Steinberg (Bobby's post, not Emilio's singing). But the best comments came from Matt Bourque in the DCist. So good I am kicking myself for not thinking of it.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world will be wondering if some of that Karaoke magic can help Liverpool overcome AC Milan. Which reminds me, I have a game to watch.

This is a Rebuilding Season

On the heels of two consecutive victories and the new invitation to the Copa Sudamericana, it may seem strange to declare that this season is a rebuilding season for D.C. United. At the same time, now is when it should be said, not later in the season when it would appear to be redefining success downwards to suit our egos. So that's the idea I want to bounce off of everyone today, and feel free to have at it.

I know there's a belief out there that you can only plan for one season. Among injuries, international transfers, designated player rules, trades, and the like, it may seem that MLS too much a scenario in-flux to be planned for long-term. That was probably true five years ago. It may have been true three years ago. It is no longer true. With the strategic planning that would go into any designated player signing, with increased salary caps, with increased international competition, thinking only for this season seems like a recipe to buy you a year of success at the expense of three. It could even be worse. Consider Schelotto in Columbus: If that experiment doesn't work, does anyone see a long-term plan taking shape?

I believe that the plans for United are not just for this year, but for the next three to four years. After the 2006 Supporter's Shield campaign, there were several changes. Gone are Nowak, Adu, Rimando, Eskandarian, Prideaux, and Mediate. Arriving are Emilio, Fred, Arguez, Kpene, Addlery, North, Nolly and Casal. That's eight new players coming into a team, of which five have seen significant first team time in the league. That's a lot to integrate in one season. We saw this last year. With pretty much no changes, the 2006 team outperformed the 2005 team, simply because the players were that much more familiar with their roles and expectations. There is no doubt in my mind that the 2006 team, even with its poor finish, was better than the 2005 season.

We now see at least what the plan could be. There is a potential succession in place at forward for Moreno. Arguez can develop safely behind Carroll, Carroll, Olsen, and Simms in the midfield. We've upgraded our wing play and central playmaking with Fred, and with the promise shown by both Casal and Moose. Even the older impact players like Fred (age 27) and Emilio (age 28) offer the potential for multiple peak years.

Still, when combined with a first year head coach, that's a lot to combine. Yes, there are several options with international competition to impress this season, but the fundamental goals of every season are the same: the MLS Cup and the Supporter's Shield.

I think I was fooled by the Olimpia result to some degree, but really what happened is that MLS teams finally met expectations in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Preseason or no, MLS teams should advance by their first round opponents. That the LA Galaxy could not should have been a bigger embarrassment than it was. That is the simple standard from now on. But I was caught up in the sense that something special had occurred, when in reality it was something we should have expected. As a result, I banished my previous thoughts that this might be a rebuilding year. The poor start to the season was a surprise, but Kansas City and, yes, Columbus are higher levels of competition than Olimpia.

This is not to say that winning is impossible this season. It isn't. Parity in MLS may not be as close as some would like, but it does exist to some degree. United should be able to make the playoffs, and not making the playoffs does represent failure. Certainly, once that happens, anything could happen. We're not out of the competition for any silverware, but we shouldn't be expecting it either.

Judging this season by additions to the trophy case is naive. If we win nothing this season, in the Sudamericana, US Open Cup, Reserve League, MLS Cup, Supporter's Shield, or Superliga, then I don't think you can evaluate this season as a loss. Instead, ask yourself if you see the path clear for DC United to consistently challenge for the trophies in 2008, 2009, and 2010. If you do, then this season is a success.

Still, right now, the large concern must be defensive depth. I know that's a subject we've been harping on for some time, but now I think I might understand why no moves were made. If I'm right, I'm guessing United just doesn't feel like the right addition is out there at the moment, but if it became available they would take it. The earlier comments from the Front Office about being satisfied with the backline simply meant that they didn't see a good, affordable option for the upgrade to the depth. Yet the fact that they scouted the player in Poland, and converted to a 4-4-2 with Josh Gros, tell us that they do recognize the problem. What's more, Namoff and Boswell are probably the best bets for national team duty this summer, depleting our backline even more. That could prove problematic this summer. Even a healthy peak performing John Wilson, or Devon McTavish, don't make me feel comfortable with the situation. But perhaps 2007 wasn't the right time to make a move in that area, and the team feels like next year the options will be better. In that case, biding their time might be the right decision, though it could hurt this year.

So let's summarize: DC is not outclassed in its competitions, but I think will be better equipped once the new additions are integrated. If, and I hate to say it, we come away empty handed this year, it doesn't matter if you can see us moving through the next three years with only one or two acquisitions. I think the slogan at Duke (yes, I know...) was "We don't rebuild, we reload." The problem is that reloading in soccer may take an entire year. So be it. I have no problem with that. It's not like we're even writing off the season: We will be competitive, but I feel better about our future than our present. And if I can feel that way, and we can still compete (which we can) then in some ways, we are very lucky fans indeed.

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The Wandering Armenian

The morning cup of coffee updates:

IF ONLY THERE WAS SOME SHOW THAT COMBINED CELEBRITIES AND DANCING. YOU COULD CALL IT... CELEBRITY DANCE OFF, OR SOMETHING: Yes, Dan Steinberg does have the must read of the week. Look, Washington Post Live has been kinda, well, dull for most of its life so far. Even Troy Perkins wasn't moved much beyond the "Well, we gotta play hard and bring the effort every game in which we're playing, and that requires basics and playing hard and effort..." type of interview. And Troy's an interesting guy. But this? This I will tune in for.

ALLIANCES: I bring this story to your attention because, well, it is going to take more to decode than I have. I did not know that the DC School Board President was also a consultant for Victor McFarlane until he was removed from that job yesterday:

Bobb was fired from his full-time job as a consultant for D.C. United owner Victor MacFarlane's real estate development firm. MacFarlane spoke with Bobb Tuesday afternoon and told him that his work on the school board had become a distraction and that it was best to part ways.

Now, this is interesting in a strange political machination sort of way. Mayor Fenty is proposing a school takeover by the city, essentially removing the school board from most operating decisions. Bobb had gotten a democratic senator Landrieu from Louisiana to put a hold on that legislation, which required congressional approval. Needless to say, DC self-rule advocates were upset by this. A strange story. McFarlane, by removing Bobb, seems to be trying to align himself closer to Fenty. We know Fenty's constiuency, but what I don't know is "Who are Bobb's allies?" In short, while McFarlane may gain a closer relationship with Fenty, who may he have alienated? Sadly, my knowledge of DC politics does not run that deep.

WAIT A MINUTE HONEY I'M GOING TO ADDLERY IT UP (ADDLERY IT UP! [repeat]): John Haydon in the Times grabs the interview with Nicholas Addlery. Nicholas is certainly leading an interesting life (how many ex Vietnamese league players does MLS have?) And it's clear that attitude is something that must impress the DC scouting staff:

Addlery, who is from the Red Hills area of Kingston, Jamaica, said he gets his inspiration from flamboyant French star Djibril Cisse, who is now playing for Marseille on loan from Liverpool.

"I love his desire: two broken legs and his not giving up after being thrown out of Liverpool," Addlery said. "I like players who are hungry with desire like that."

We like players like that as well. Speaking of which...

ESKY IN SLC: I'll depart from our DC focus for just a few words on the Eskandarian-Cunningham deal that went down yesterday. Most people, including me, at first, read this as once again Mo Johnston fleecing Real Salt Lake. Yet the more I think about it, the more this deal makes sense. If Ellinger were still in charge in Salt Lake, then this deal is a disaster. But Jason Kreis just got a player with Alecko Eskandarian who will bleed, fight, and run until his legs fall off. That's not Jeff Cunningham, and I'm not sure if it is many other players on the team. RSL wasn't going anywhere as a team with Cunningham, so there's really no loss in the deal for Kreis. What he may gain is a player who will inspire that team, who will lead by example when it comes to effort. Alecko may not always be effective, but it is never for lack of trying. And if his presence, combined with Kreis' mentality, lifts that team, then this deal may do a lot of good for RSL. That's a lot of ifs. But at this point in the season, can you really say RSL could possibly be worse?

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22 May 2007

Goff to The DCenters: You Guys Are So Ineffective...

Did you ever watch one of those cheesy made-for-TV comedies (think Family Ties Vacation), where one of the main characters bends over to pick up a briefcase, and a thrown knife embeds itself just above their head while he's stooped over? Then the character walks on, oblivious to the intrigue he's just been involved in? I kind of feel like that now...

Steve Goff gets all the credit in the world for helping but Bryan Namoff's name on the all-star ballot. Yet there's a telling exchange in the comments. One of you kind readers wrote the following:

Wow, all that self-applied back-slapping warms the heart...except that D over at the DCenters (the original United blog) noticed this situation YESTERDAY and quickly urged Namoff fans to take action. But hey, if you feel the need to take credit that badly...

Posted by: What about D? | May 17, 2007 02:23 PM

To whomever you are, thanks for sticking up for us. Not that it mattered to Goff, who casually dismissed us:

And how did that fan initiative on the other site work out for ya? results, baby, it's all about results. ;-)

Posted by: Goff | May 17, 2007 02:33 PM

Insider commenter MattM followed up:

...it's been left behind. You get real news here, and pretty much only opinion there. I've stopped reading it.

True enough. We do opinion first and foremost. Quite simply, we have jobs, and this is our hobby. We don't have Kevin Payne on our buddy list, access to a ton of insiders, and the freedom to go down and cover practices. So we try to do analysis and opinion to the best of our ability. Occasionally we like to bring you the odd interview with someone who probably isn't showing up in the papers, and even more rarely we break news (as we did with the sale of DC United), but opinion and analysis and general fun is what I like to think we do best. I like to think it is fun, and informative, and occasionally educational.

Steve Goff is one of the best beat writers in soccer, and the Soccer Insider is an excellent and informative site. I don't pretend for a moment that we can do what he does. As many of you know, I don't buy into the entire "New Media-Old Media" line of thinking. False dichotomy.

But I also think we provide something special to everyone. It may not be for you, and that's okay. No hard feelings, we're not everyone's cup of tea. Do I know why Goff feels the needs to casually backhand us? Nope. No idea. We're not Goff, but we love what he does (and, by-the-way, to eliminate confusion I've decided that I'll post over there as "This is D" so you don't confuse me with the guy who posts there as "d, dc") and appreciate it. But as for results, I would say this: I think we entertain. I think we educate. I think we amuse. I think we inform. I think we provoke thought and discussion. I think we're willing to look at things in a way no one else does, and share those thoughts with you. Those are results I'm proud of, and while it saddens me that others may not appreciate it, I'm thankful for each and every one of you that does. Thanks to all of you, and again to whomever it was that chirped up over at Soccer Insider.

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Copa Sudamericana draw

Nothing in the English presses yet, but luckily for you readers that I'm bilingual. Erbol reports on the Sudamerican draw today. If I'm understanding the story correctly, we'll be playing Chivas de Guadalajara home and away first during what amounts to be the round of 16. We get to skip the first phase. The First phase begins July 31st, and the final is on December 5th.

The list of Participating Teams by country is:

ArgentinaBoca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes de La Plata
BoliviaJorge Wilstermann and Real Potosí
BrazilSão Paulo FC, Vasco da Gama, Figueirense, Goiás, Corinthians, Cruzeiro, Botafogo, Atlético Paranaense
ColombiaAtlético Nacional, and Millonarios
EcuadorEl Nacional
MexicoPachuca, América, and Chivas Guadalajara
ParaguayLibertad and Tacuary
PeruCoronel Bolognesi and Universitario
VenezuelaZamora FC, and Carabobo FC


...OF THE COLUMBUS CREW: The poor season the Crew are having has claimed its first non-player casualty. Sadly, it is Jeff Bull, an excellent writer and mind who is now leaving The Offside: Columbus Crew. He just couldn't take it anymore. Jeff is one of the better soccer analyst minds out there in our amateur ranks, so It's a Simple Game will certainly be bolstered by his more continual presence. And let's face it, we've all seen games that if it wasn't our team playing in them, they would bore us to tears. It's just that it almost seems like every game Columbus plays is like that.

...OF MEDIA INDIFFERENCE: QuarterVolley with your local Women's Soccer Update. Seriously, this is great to see, and I'm glad someone is putting this out there. I certainly intend to get to a few games of the Majestics and Freedom this year, and I hope you will as well. And I hope that I-66 gets some coverage of the games I don't see.

...OF THE NEW YORK MINUTE (WEEK, MONTH, QUARTER...): QuarterVolley's take is also excellent on this matter.

Off the record, he added, "we're 11 years behind schedule on playing good soccer, so you know we're not in any hurry."
That's funny.

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...Like that Movie with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn

A bunch of news related links for your morning reading. As Oscar noted, DC United is in the Copa Sudamericana, the site of a great deal of heartbreak in 2005. I pray things are more enjoyable this time around. That being said, with near losses in two matches on foreign soil, I don't want to hear that winning on the road is impossible if it comes down to it. Difficult, yes, but impossible? No. Tom Soehn had already indicated (to a question posed by me actually, heh) that the U.S. Open Cup would be given to the reserves. That's now no longer a choice, but a necessity.

SUNSET: Steve Davis with a succinct, yet poignant, article on Jaime Moreno:

Moreno still has his moments on the field. But he also shrinks for lengthy stretches.

His game certainly lacks the same explosion, and he often lacks the legs to finish movements. He beat a Toronto defender in one early surge Saturday but petered out before directing a solid effort toward goal.

It's something that has certainly been on our, and most DC United's fans radars for about a year and a half now. Dealing with a fading Moreno, who deserves so much glory and respect, is an awkward situation. We frequently invoke phrases like "no player is bigger than the club" when talking about young prodigies, yet the same applies to the greatest of veterans. This season could be the ultimate test for Jaime Moreno. A player that has given great things to this club could be asked to give even more: his own playing time to someone else. It's not a necessity yet, but it could become one. A tall order, but one that if Jaime handles it well, could truly cement his place in the pantheon of DC United.

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21 May 2007

We're in the Copa Sudamericana

Luis Bueno as Sideline Views writes that we'll be playing in the Copa Sudamericana. Theres an AP Wire Story published today confirming the deal, DC United to play in South American club tournament. Seems the invitation is a result of finishing 3rd in the Champions Cup, and the tournament draw is tomorrow (Tuesday) in Buenos Aires. Anyone know when this thing is scheduled, a cursory search on the CSF site yields just this list of teams.

Does United have the roster to make it through a grueling MLS season + playoffs, the Open Cup (we are in it, right?), the Super Liga, and now this tournament - or is it 2005 all over again? I think Soehn, or anyone, would have a hard time excelling in all these tournaments with our current roster. Do we punt on the Open Cup, and send mostly the reserves into that ala Ray Hudson? The pressure is on to add depth to the defense if we want to seriously compete in any of these after the All-Star break.

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Debriefing for Match 12.06: At Toronto FC

Toronto FC 2 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Good, but who have you beaten?

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "United's triumph was not accomplished with the grace and elegance that has been glaringly absent for much of this promising MLS season."
The Toronto Sun, Lance Hornby: "The first Toronto goal came on a broken play in the 44th minute, a shot by Maurice Edu that hit Alecko Eskandarian and kept bouncing until the latter righted himself, found the ball at his feet with no one around and drove in his first of the season."
Toronto Star, Morgan Cambell: "Down a goal seven minutes into the second half, DC's Cristian Gomez took a free kick that hooked in front of the goal and bounced off the back of Toronto defender Kevin Goldthwaite's head and into the net...DC pressed later in the second half striker Luciano – one of two Brazilian standouts DC signed this winter – brushed against Toronto defender Marvell Wynne. Luciano collapsed and grabbed his calf, wincing and writhing, but recovered soon after the referee awarded a penalty kick."
Toronto Star, Morgan Cambell: "'It's a bit of a monkey off my back,' says Eskandarian, who played four seasons with DC. 'I would rather get the three points and the win but I tried to do my part today. It felt good to get the goal but it's bittersweet.'"
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "
DC didn't play their best by any stretch of the imagination, but they managed to survive giving up the first goal of the game for the fifth time in six matches this season with a strong second half comeback."
MLSNet, Mark Polishuk: "TFC weren't looking sharp at the start of the half either. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead on Alecko Eskandarian's strike in the 44th minute, Toronto FC looked overmatched by a resurgent D.C. squad early in the second half."
MLSNet, Mark Polishuk: "After the first half, United trailed 1-0 and were scuffling on offense with only one shot. But United managed seven shots in the second half and controlled the pace of play."
MLSNet, Mark Polishuk (yes, three articles): "But after Moreno's goal, Toronto had a brief offensive flurry in an attempt to tie the game. The best chance came in the 85th minute, when Ronnie O'Brien's hard shot from the right side was stopped by Perkins. Toronto managed two shots in stoppage time, but one was stopped and the other flew over the net.
QuarterVolley, I-66: "DC United took a bland and uninspired 45 minutes of first half soccer culminating in an Alecko Eskandarian goal and a 1-0 deficit and came back looking like a different team in the next 45 minutes to win 2-1. "
The Far Post: "United’s backline continued its Prostitute Method of Defendingtm."
The Edgell Supporters: "Moreno has shown that he should come in to the game after the 60th because that is when he likes to actually start playing."
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "Considering how well Kpene has done in the last few matches, I would like to see him up front with Emilio."
BlackDogRed: "It's entirely possible to overestimate the importance of United's win over Toronto Saturday. It's entirely possible to underestimate the importance of United's win over Toronto Saturday.
Toronto MLS FC: "DC have stolen 6 points this year on highly dubious late penalties awarded by incompetent officials. With all their trophies, DC are truly becoming the Juventus of MLS." (Note: Them's fighting words!)
Mistake by the Lake: "We lost the battle for the central midfield in the second half. Edu and Robinson were scrambling more than creating and too often balls played wide to O’Brien and Welsh lead to them looking awfully isolated."
The Offside: Toronto FC: "How dominated were we for 90% of this game? If I had to say, I’d say 'pretty dominated'. Sure, we lost, and sure, the two goals were unfortunate, but it could have been 10-1 if DC had gotten the bright idea to get into the penalty area at some point in the first half."
FCTO: "Despite the lame D.C. United dive, and our unfortunate loss, TFC supporters proved yet again that we are die-hard fans, and will not relent our encouragement regardless of the environment before us, or the score on the board."

The Good

  1. If It's Broke, Fix it: Is Tom Soehn a better manager than Piotr Nowak? I don't know, but I do know this - Tom is willing to try anything to win a game, and Piotr at times gave you the feeling he'd rather be Correct than Winning. Soehn has definately shown that he's willing to pull the trigger on all sorts of changes in order to get the best he can out of a player. Now, at some point, I think Soehn will manage us right out of a game, but ultimately his decisions will get us more points than they will cost us.
  2. Long Distribution: I mentioned this in the first impressions, but if there's one skill set that United has shown this year, it's the ability to distribute with better results through the air. Emilio got a clear chance in on the keeper after a ridiculous kick from Troy Perkins. United in the final thirty minutes was consistently finding players around the box directly from midfield. It was pretty.
  3. Second Half Purpose: If you're down a goal and in hostile territory, this is how I want my team to respond. United realized they had to create chances, which they did. The goals fell out in the manner that they did, but they created enough chances to earn those goals.
  4. Fred: He crosses, he breaks people down on the dribble, he fights for the ball... When was the last time you actually felt that United might have one of the better wingers in the league? You'd have to go back before Ernie Stewart. Well before, probably.
  5. Midfielder Moreno: Jamie was somewhat invisible up-top, but at least he pulled the trigger on a shot. Moving into the midfield, Jamie was excellent, checking back and defending in depth. Plus, his penalty finish was crisp and superb. While it's nice to outthink and outwit the keeper, it's great to know that Moreno can still put it out of reach even when the keeper guesses right.
  6. Baldomero Toledo: Cries of anguish from TFC fans aside, Baldomero Toledo was an excellent official. I do not feel that he showed favoritism, and TFC was fouling often enough that they deserved every caution they got. You know that when Terry Vaughn gifted us a draw, I still called him out. Toledo, on the other hand, was excellent.

The Bad

  1. The Penalty: Since the "First Impressions" post, I've looked at that play probably more than any other, and I have to now concede that the howls of indignation have some merit. Not full merit, but a little. From the replays, what I can make out is that Emilio has the ball, and he cuts it back. Before he reaches it, there is some contact with Wynne, and Emilio goes down. As I look at it, it seems clear to me that Wynne does make contact with Emilio, and that the penalty is earned. That being said, I can't explain Emilio's reaction. Was he selling it? Probably. Did he need to? I don't think so, and that's what troubles me. The Penalty was the correct decision, but embellishment on Emilio's part is going to result in fewer calls later in the season, even when they are legitimate. If you'll recall last season, there was a long stretch where United wasn't getting penalty calls, and part of it was, I think, a perhaps subconscious attempt by officials to atone for some earlier soft penalties. And I'd rather have the calls later than earlier.
  2. First Half Urgency: While I love the possession game, sometimes I feel like United feels the main reason they are out there is to string a bunch of passes together in midfield. It isn't like Arsenal, where they're passing to create the perfect goal, but even worse, they're passing just for the sake of passing. Please! If you're on the ball, think of ideas that gain your team something other than seven more seconds in the time of possession column.
  3. BMO Pitch: It's not the hardness or the way your cleats grab it, but it did seem that the pitch accentuated, to a ridiculous degree, any spin that was on the ball. Changes of direction off the bounce were exaggerated to bizarre angles. Ugly looking.
  4. Olsen: After I've given him a lot of credit, in this match he was pretty much invisible. It could have been worse.
  5. Josh Gros: You can complain about ball-watching on the goal United surrendered, but Josh Gros was at fault for not putting Toronto offside. He was looking down the line, and had to know that he was the line as the others had pushed up, but he never made the move. Perhaps that's an instinctive thing that comes as he plays the left back position more often, but it cost us.
  6. The Long Throw: Both Chivas and Toronto have caused DC problems with long throws into the box. DC, on the other hand, doesn't attempt such plays, and may not even have anyone capable of it. It's a weakness, clearly identifiable at this point, and since DC doesn't seem to have anyone to execute it, you wonder how they can train to defend it. Something to keep an eye on.

Man of the Match

Certificate of Merit to Kpene, whom is justifiably lauded in other blogs, and to Erpen, who while other have noted the red card danger he was in, Erpen none-the-less had a pretty good defensive game without any major gaffes. However, Bryan Namoff is the man of the match, as he had an excellent defensive game and was forced into multiple key tackles.

Final Thoughts

Out of the cellar is nice, but do you really believe United is back? Me neither. What's more, United's next few games won't really reassure me either, but could reinforce every doubt I have about this team. Houston is struggling, but the game will be tough, and a win wouldn't really prove all that much. Follow that with a game against struggling Los Angeles. Even if DC rattles off six more straight points, I don't know if I'd believe that this team is elite again. Strangely, the next major test is in June against the Red Bulls. And there's a lot of time for DC to trip up again on the way there.

Still, the fatalism is gone. We may be in for a long, tough season, but that's at least better than a long, catastrophic season. What's more, you can see a lot of pieces. Which is why I want to say something about this year that needs to be said. But that'll be in a post tomorrow. For today, I'm just happy we're above one point-per-game. We're not respectable, but we're no longer an embarrassment.

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Debrief? De-layed

Sorry, swamped at the moment. Will have a debrief up today at some point, just not sure when yet. As most of you figured out, Namoff was the Man of the Match, so rest easy on that concern.

Man, stupid well-paying job interfering with my blogging needs...


19 May 2007

First Impressions - Toronto FC 1 : 2 DC United

Was I nervous? I was nervous before the game, and the phrase "here we go again" may have drifted across my mind when Eskandarian put one by Perkins and Toronto took the lead before half-time. Before this season got underway, I had mentally placed 12 points on DC's side of the ledger when considering Toronto. Over the course of the past week, I have revised that opinion. Getting points out of Toronto is an accomplishment. Perhaps not the same as beating Houston on the road, but significant. They are not default wins. It certainly looked like United might not get anything for a bit there.

Still, United had the edge of the play, and the result was a fair reflection of the run of play. That's not to say Toronto was without fangs. They had their chances, and had the result been 2-1 Toronto I would have felt it was unfortunate, but not a miscarriage of justice. The important thing is that United manufactured chances, and did so with increasing confidence as the day went on. Skeptics will no doubt point to the third penalty in as many games, but this penalty was earned (and I believe the correct call) by United's ability to send diagonal balls through the air, a skill that was lacking early in the season. This team doesn't seem better because of weaker competition, this team is better. Compare this game to the Columbus or Kansas City games, and all sides of the equation were better.

Now that the game is over, and United has won, I can say this: I'm glad Esky got a goal. I know, he's the enemy and all that, but as long as we get the three points, I'm happy to see him give his team some success. I hope it improves his confidence for this year, and now he goes on a tear for Toronto over their next few games.

Full debrief either tomorrow or Monday, where we will talk about: The defense, including Josh Gros failing to step up to put Toronto offside; the Fred mania that will erupt, Namoff and Erpen, and why Moreno may not have had great shots in the run of play, but still earned my respect for the other things he did. The sentimental pick for Man of the Match is Moreno for tying Kreis, but I personally have someone else in mind. Feel free to sound off as well.

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18 May 2007

An Expert View on Toronto FC

This is the first time DC United has ever faced Toronto FC. All this season, each time United faces an opponent for the first time we bring in experts to brief our fans on what to expect. For Toronto FC, we wanted to have someone whose integrity was beyond repute. Just reassigned to the O Division from the Yukon, please welcome Seargent Dudly Do-Right of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Sgt. Do-Right, welcome

It's good to be here citizen! How may I assist you?

Well, we're hoping you can tell us about Toronto FC. In your last match, the defense blocked a lot of hosts, and many people credited Jim Brennan with an excellent game. What's your opinion of what Brennan brings to the game.

He's a tireless worker. Like a good officer, he always gets his man. I'd say he's the workhorse of the team. A powerful horse steadying the defense.

He sounds dreamy!!!

Indeed he is, Nell. Toronto's fans, eh, have every right to have great civic pride in this defender.

Well, Toronto's fans are certainly a major story this season. What is it about Toronto that Americans haven't understood until now?

It isn't just Toronto. All of Canada is behind Toronto FC. Americans never truly appreciated Canada, despite our massive ham export to the United States, eh?

You mean Canadian Bacon?

I meant William Shatner.

Ah. Well, in the story we linked to earlier, Mo Johnston said he's thinking playoffs for the team. Is that a feasible goal?

Why don't you ask him?

Yes, ask me.

Hokey Smokes Bullwinkle. He said "Mo Johnston"

Oh.... I thought he said "Moose Johnston" And now for my next trick, watch me pull the playoffs out of my hat.

Again? This trick never works.

It worked when I was in New Jersey... And now, I will produce the playoffs out of my hat...

...And Presto!
Hmmm, no doubt about, Esky's got get himself a different hat.

And now for something you'll really enjoy.... A picture of two old friends talking about leg care products...

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Start it up again

Whew, we got game previews to write, and expert to interview, and news to catch up on. All because United has a match in the Great North tomorrow. To be frank, I'm a bit nervous. A loss would pretty much stop any momentum United had heading into the break, and this is a team that needs confidence right now. But we'll get into all of that later...

THE MOST IMPORTANT INTERVIEW IN DC UNITED HISTORY... is probably not at Ben Olsen's Beard right now, but if you want to read me prattling on in response to some questions that the BOB was kind enough not to yawn in the middle of, please go read it. The Beard is a good guy.

UNINTENTIONAL HUMOR UPDATE: "The wily Scot isn’t accepting mediocrity from his club’s expansion team status: He’s thinking about the playoffs." Um, mediocrity and playoff aren't exactly mutually exclusive.

HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT: Charles Boehm on DC preparing for the Wall of Sound in Toronto, and a visit with Alecko:

United's center back says he and the voluble Eskandarian still "talk trash about each other, because that's just how we are," trading long-distance gibes via texts, e-mails and their respective blogs.

READ UP: New blogs added to the blogroll, including several Toronto FC blogs and the JDJ blogs.

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17 May 2007

Watching Toronto

So I caught the Toronto-Houston match last night (you know, Toronto... the team that's now 1 [er, two, see comments] points ahead of DC in the East standings), and in an attempt to provide some information ahead of Saturday's games, a few thoughts:

  • Workrate: Toronto's players run all over the field. It's very impressive. While Mo Johnston may have been catching some flack for not scoring goals, it is clear that it wasn't lack of effort. Every single player was willing to throw themselves into a play. And, overall, they're a pretty fast team. That being said...
  • Organization: The defense, despite the clean sheet, is not particularly well organized. There are seams that can be exploited with well played balls, and their hectic play sometimes puts several players out of position. Strangely, the criticism of United that they try to always go down the middle may play to their advantage, since playing the ball wide for Houston allowed time for more players to get behind the ball and throw themselves in front of shots. If United counters quickly to the goal, even down the middle, they may have better results.
  • Distance: Toronto was able to work some decent possession, and isn't afraid to take some good long shots (Marvell Wynne has a particularly nasty looking shot that Onstad just got a hand to in about the 57th minute yesterday). I expect Perkins will be tested by some of these shots, and his ability to get to them may well have a large impact on the game.
  • Support: First, everything you've heard about the intensity of fervor of Toronto's fans is true. That being said, another phrase used to describe the fans, saying they're "savvy" or "educated" is probably a bit overblown. They're enthusiastic, but sometimes quite optimistically so. Anything that moved the ball towards the goal was cheered on, even if it was neatly taken by the Houston defense and played back to Onstad. These were passes that United fans would have cursed at Gomez if they had seem him play them. Strangely, given how nervous our backline can be at times, it makes me a little more worried, as they could feel pressured into a mistake when the crowd roars despite their being little apparent danger.
  • Esky: You know Esky wants one in this game, if he can start. Fortunately, I hope that means he overpushes himself the way he used to against Reis. And yes, we still love him.


Y Can't We Vote Bryan? We Can... With Arts and Crafts!

UPDATE (1:15PM) : Abort. Abort. Abort. Steve Goff reports that Namoff is on the ballot now. Well done all (and commenters that let me know). I would like to think we played some small part in this, since I think we were the first to notice (before even the hoards on BigSoccer judging by the timestamps) I'd like to think that, but I'd like to think a lot of things.

Okay, so my understanding of things is that the reason that Bryan Namoff's name doesn't appear on the ballot is that DC United didn't nominate him. Hmpf. For shame. But, I think, for those of you that want to reward a hard-working defender, there is still a chance. Sure, it's unlikely he'd be a coaches selection to the all-star game, but perhaps he'd be a Commissioner's selection? Hey, why not? So here's what I propose...

On a strip of paper, in bold letters, write the words "Defender" and "Bryan Namoff". If you want to be cool, decorate the paper as you see fit (sparkles, pictures, crayons, whatever." Then mail this special ballot to the following address:

Major League Soccer
ATTN: Don Garber
420 5th Avenue, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10018

I'll make my ballot this weekend, and post the image on this site. If you make your ballot and send me a picture, I'll post it here for others to admire. If I can get even just 100 or so pictures (and I know at least 100 people read this site) of ballots that we're mailed in, I think we'll have said something. In fact, since you can vote 10 times a day via the web site, feel free to send in ten different arty ballots! If there's enough interest, I'd even throw an arts and crafts party and supply envelopes with the proper postage for everyone.

Look, I'm not saying that Bryan Namoff should be an all-star, but his performance on the pitch certainly merits the option of people giving him a vote. So let's do it. And just sending emails or angry letters probably won't show anyone anything, so let's show our creative sides to get this done.

We can beat these deadites... through science!


16 May 2007

The Freezer For 16 May 2007

Not much change this week. No one crashes out, and two get off the list. We're splitting ESPN up a bit, so they'll take one of the empty slots. Most of the movement this week is internal, although the next few weeks might see some changes.


It's an Honor to be Nominated. And that's pretty much it.

MLS's all-star ballot (complete with "type in the distorted number on the grid" verification system in a most likely futile attempt to defeat the RSL Script Kiddies) has been released. Which United players can you vote for? Glad you asked, here's who is on the ballot:

  • Troy Perkins (GK)
  • Bobby Boswell (D)
  • Facundo Erpen (D)
  • Josh Gros (D)
  • Brian Carrol (M)
  • Fred (M)
  • Christian Gomez (M)
  • Ben Olsen (M)
  • Clyde Simms (M)
  • Luciano Emilio (F)
  • Jamie Moreno (F)
Now, a few notes: First, Bryan Namoff has every right to be on the ballot, especially ahead of Josh Gros as an outside back. Bryan, you're getting shafted. And listing Gros as a defender is also interesting. Clyde Simms may be a great player, but he's had only 54 minutes for the team this year. And Fred has shown potential, but certainly isn't an "all-star" by most evaluations.

Which brings us to this point: I'm not in a hurry to vote for any DC player. If the next few games go well, I can see myself throwing a few votes to Perkins, Boswell, Gomez, Olsen, and Emilio if they produce. But even if we go back to the last all-star game, which was when we really started to slump, I'm not sure that I would vote for most DC players ahead of other players.

Yes, I know it's a popularity contest, but I'd like to reward players whose season means they've earned the right. So would I put Twellman ahead of Moreno? Yup. Craig Waibel ahead of Facu? Yup.

Which is why I'm not casting a ballot... yet. Voting doesn't end until five weeks from now, and I hope in the next five weeks I feel more confident about the seasons of the players that I want to vote for.

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