29 June 2007

Erpen for Vanney: Okay, Maybe.

Let's start with the basic disclaimer. I distrust any trade that may approach any move I've made in Championship Manager. And yes, I signed Greg Vanney for the 2006 season. So this move has one immediate demerit against it.

That being said, my initial reaction of "This is stupid" is probably overstating the case. Why? It seems clear that Erpen didn't have a future at DC as a Senior International. So if you can get something for him, rather than getting nothing for him, that's probably a good thing.

Is Greg Vanney an upgrade? I think so. He certainly brings experience and leadership to the team, and he might be able to understand Tom Soehn (himself a defender) quicker, and therefore be able to translate Soehn's desires to reality on the field faster. United certainly needs people who can figure out what needs to be done defensively, and Vanney brings that.

My major problem with this trade is that it doesn't address the big issue I've had with this team... say it with me now: Depth. Yes, Erpen for Vanney may be an upgrade, but it doesn't make us any deeper at the position. Last night we saw a backline that featured a converted wing player (Gros), central midfielder (Simms) and the inexperienced Devon McTavish. Erpen was the only regular starter we had, and that doesn't change with the arrival of Greg Vanney.

So can this move make sense? Goff speculates it's part of a MLS Cup run. Okay, maybe. I'll offer this though: I imagine United thinks they have potential transfer targets from South America defensively, they know who they are, and one of them is probably on the younger side. If so, this move can make a great deal of sense. Of course, that's pie in the sky speculation...

UPDATE: Offside: DCU pretty much says the same thing, and said it before me.

UPDATE 2: Independently, The 3Ps are also pretty much on the "Explain this by doing something else" line of reasoning. That now makes it the conventional wisdom.

UPDATE 3: Okay, the pieces are starting to fill in, and they match what everyone was pretty much guessing at. There are other options. They seem to be defensive in nature.

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Know Your Beat Writers

Adam Spangler sits down with Steve Goff to know the man who knows the team. Good, far reaching interview with tons of history and insight. And there's also this:

Yeah. They will always be #1, no matter what time of year. But for us to quadruple the blog #’s for the Washington Wizards, to quadruple the blog #’s for the Capitals. We’re quadrupling the #’s for the Nationals.
The Post's Washington Nationals beat writer Barry Svrluga has gotten the reputation from places like Poynter's Medianews as a hardworking sports journalist for covering the Nats in both blog and print form. Perhaps credit will also come to his deserving compatriots as well.

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Debriefing for Match 12.12: Colorado Rapids

D.C. United 4 : 1 Colorado Rapids

Six Word Novel Recap

"Jesus Loves You." We love Christian.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "The Rapids may have felt confident after beating United 2-1 in a season opener before a sellout crowd at their new stadium and a national television audience. And then Colorado scored last night's first goal in the 19th minute...United finally got a break a half hour into the game when the Rapids' Greg Vanney was called for a hand ball in the box. Gomez took the penalty kick — normally a job for Moreno — and buried the shot past Senegalese goalie Bouna Coundoul for his fourth goal of the year."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "...following a half-hour lightning delay, he [Addlery] set up Fred's maiden goal to help United to a 4-1 victory before 14,982 at RFK Stadium."

[NOTE: Denver/Colorado Media tended to use the AP Reports. ]

MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "A strange play unraveled in the 33rd minute after Simms, who by now had switched spots with McTavish to take up the right back position, sent a cross into the Rapids box. Emilio beat Vanney to the delivery and the veteran left back fell to the turf, then seemingly contorted his body to poke at the ball from a prone position, first with his hand, then his right foot. Addlery was first to the loose ball and looked to have wasted a great chance when a slapped his shot just wide of the left post, but when referee Alex Prus reached the scene he pointed to the penalty spot, having blown for a handball on Vanney."
QuarterVolley, I-66: "It’s nice to see Fred finally tally one in the goal column, and Addlery too, who did well in holding the ball, and whose header to give United the lead along with his later assist on Fred’s goal earned him Player of The Game as announced by the stadium. On the flip side of things, Clyde Simms doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the back. Hopefully Bryan Namoff’s ready to go for the next match."
Six Yards North, QJA: "Why doesn't Emilio have any kind of influence on the pitch? No commanding presence, no intimidation. He kind of sneaks into the fold until he's in the box with a ball at his feet. He must be a god at hide and seek." [NOTE: Interesting... Hadn't thought about it like that. Then again, it doesn't seem to be a bad thing. I think we need to watch for this.]
The Edgell Supporters: "Perkins looked quite acrobatic in goal even on the one that went in. He had an outstanding game. Moose is a scrapper and a hustler, which equalized his giveaways."
The Offside: Colorado Rapids, Clint: "If anything good can come from this game, maybe it will be the realization that Clavijo isn’t exactly the greatest coach available for this team."

Photo Sets: Off Wing Opinion, Kate McGovern

ALSO (As noted)

The Good

  1. Rebound: Last night, I was poking around some numbers regarding United's records when scoring the first goal (4-0-0) and conceding the first goal (1-4-1), after Oscar had asked "What team isn't dependent on the first goal?" in a comment on the match briefing. Well, every team is helped by scoring the first goal, but it looked like United was more dependent than most on scoring the first goal to get a win. Last night I was a bit surprised, but pleased, to see them come back. Something for the macroscopic analysis later.
  2. Midfield Up: Gomez, Fred, Moose, Addlery, and Emilio all contributed solid work in this game, even after going down a goal. The ball movement, the pressure, it was all there. Gomez should get some credit here, as he clearly wasn't sure what he had at the start of the match, but grew much more comfortable as the game went on in dishing the ball around.
  3. Defensive Adjustment, Part Deux: This is the second match (LA was the first) where Tom Soehn has made a change in game to solidify a shaky backline when dealing with people in uncomfortable positions. I wish he didn't need 15 minutes to figure out that Simms was having a difficult time in the center back role, but I'd rather he figure it out then hope it will get better. I like that.
  4. Fred: Aside from one awkward pass, the second half was the best soccer I've seen from him this season. He was nicely over the pitch. And hey, when you score a goal like that, I don't mind you taking the yellow even for a moment of evangelism with your "JESUS LOVES YOU". If that's how you want to celebrate, fine by me. It's your moment to do with what you want, even if I wouldn't necessarily agree with the sentiment. Anything other than fascist salutes is fine by me.
  5. Troy Perkins: A couple of decent stops, and the goal was almost impossible for him to have any decent position on. A good performance. Stop showing the Guadalajara clip, okay? It's over. If he had been letting in softies over the course of the season, I could understand it, but really, this has been dealt with and is only a clip for lazy commentary at this point.
  6. Officiating: Alex Prus was remarkably collected for this match. I think perhaps he should not have given Colorado a few advantage calls and called plays back for kicks, but it wasn't like Colorado was unduly harmed. Vanney's handball on replay was clear, and worth of the penalty, but I had no idea it had occurred in real time. Special points for allowing play to continue and then going back to book players (Gros and Wasson were both booked in this manner). That's the way it should be done.

The Bad

  1. Mike Petke's Leg: Just a quick word of sympathy for a guy who I've been a fan of even after he left. He's tough, a class individual, and seeing him go down didn't make me pleased even as I knew it might make things easier for us. Get well, Wanker.
  2. Defense, Defense, Defense: Even after Tom Soehn's adjustment, United's defense wasn't overpowering the Colorado attack so much as the Colorado attack was incoherent in extending (or retaking) the lead. There was a lot of space out there. While Erpen was blamed by the goal, it ignores the fact that Simms was having problems up until that point, and Simms was marking the man behind Erpen. Would I be looking over my shoulder at that point? I might be. Doesn't excuse it, but there you go. McTavish was not particularly strong, but he had cover and help most of the time which helped hide the problems he had coming out to close attackers (How Goff is rating McTavish higher than Moose is something I don't understand, but Moose has been getting jobbed in the ratings all season).
  3. ESPN: Oh, we'll talk about this, either today or early next week. I have no problem with emphasizing story lines during games, but at least those stories should be about the players on the pitch, not on other sports on another channel. This is the second game that's featured a pointless phone call in the second half. Ridiculous. When actually trying to call the game, they were decent, but CALL THE DAMN GAME, DON'T DISCUSS THE NBA DRAFT OR WHO WENT TO GEORGETOWN WHEN. For fuck's sake people, all you're saying is "We don't care about the product on the field, or even the sport in general." And I know you do, because otherwise you wouldn't have taken that great shot a BigSoccer (where I occasionally post) as being "where all the real geniuses are." But it's sad when that comment is the highlight of your analysis.

Man of the Match

Hmmmm... Fred, Perkins, or Addlery, but I'm giving to Troy Perkins, who faced a game that did not play to his strengths but kept United in it.

Karma Bank

We lose one karma since Colorado gifted us a penalty, but that second half after the rain delay was some nice, classy soccer which earns us one back. No change, +1 for the season.

Final Thoughts

Addlery is quoted on a wire story as saying "Salt Lake was just a bump in the road. We lost, picked ourselves up, dusted off and moved on." My wife points out that it was a bump that blew out a tire. They're both right. I'm glad the players have moved on, and while I thought Tom Soehn was naive in not making them break down the RSL game, especially when we were down a goal, perhaps he is right and I was wrong (shocking, that a head coach might know his team better than a blogger. Of course, if I was a real blogger, I never would have admitted having this wrong thought in the first place, and let the illusion of competence continue.) Still, I don't think that this means Kansas City and Dallas will just roll over when we come to town. There's plenty to work on. We're not there yet.

As for the proposed Vanney-Erpen deal that Goff broke the news of, well, maybe we'll comment on that today, but the short version for me is this: Straight up, even with Colorado taking some of Greg Vanney's salary, I don't like the deal. It doesn't add depth, we lose some recovery speed but gain some experience. I don't think it truly addresses our issues on the back line. If there's more to the deal (or other deals are planned) I might change my mind, but right now it doesn't feel to me like a good idea.

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28 June 2007

First Impressions - DC United 4 : 1 Colorado Rapids

I know, I know. Four goals. Party time, right? Not really. Take Tom Soehn's comments from last week to heart: You can't let the lows get you too low, but you can't let the highs get you too high. United scored three goals in the final twenty minutes to win this game, but equalized thanks to a penalty that I don't think most MLS refs would have seen, and therefore given. This game at 1-1 was much different than if we had not gotten the penalty. So there's some fortune in there. The backline was a makeshift product that wasn't quite ready (the team was not ready to lose Namoff). While Wynalda singled out Erpen, Clyde Simms had intense difficulty when he started at left back, and Devon McTavish didn't commit many obvious gaffes (aside from a heart stopping moment where he nearly created Colorado's service for them) but also wasn't particularly effective in shutting down his flank.

All I'm saying is that the 4-1 scoreline, to my mind, hides a lot of faults. It also demonstrated some great developments. Fred gets on the board. Addlery is a raw talent, but there is talent there (he needs to refine his passing, but his runs were confident. While he needs to learn about Gomez, Gomez will also learn about Nick.) Moose had a very good game, Gros was decent, Christian worked well with both, and Emilio got another goal. Those are all good things. However, this defense is not there yet, and really hasn't been most of the season. We weren't as bad as the RSL game indicated, but we shouldn't expect this result in our next two matches (on the road against KC and Dallas).

All right, now that I've done my intellectual soccer critic and responsible blogger duty, let me say one more thing. That last 20 minutes was a lot of fun. Not as much fun as Olsen's hat trick, but again it was the kind of thing that reminds me how rewarding this team can be. Gotta love it.

Now I'm watching The Gringos take on Argentina. 1-1 (thanks rain delay for allowing me to catch EJ's penalty.) Not bad. Second half about 8 minutes in. At least we're not getting embarrassed. And if the scoreline holds... well, I'll be kinda stunned. In a good way. Nice to see Benny starting.

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Match Briefing for 12.12: Colorado Rapids

Match #: 12.12

Colorado Rapids
15pts, 13GF, 17GA, -4 GD
4th place Western Conference
8th place (tie-Crew) MLS

Six Word Novel Preview: International Absences, National TV, Local Pressure.


Radio: WMET 1160AM

Previous Meeting: Match 12.01 - Rapids 2 : 1 DC United (Debrief / First Impressions)

The Stakes: United says they're embarrassed and ready to rebound from a shocking loss at Salt Lake. Then again, they said they're weren't taking Salt Lake lightly. While United will be missing three critical players to Copa America (Moreno - BOL; Boswell, Olsen - USA) the most critical absence may be Bryan Namoff missing the game to the hamstring injury. This makes this game the biggest test of United's depth this season.

For Colorado, a hot start has faded. Whispers about Fernando Clavijo's job security are probably premature, as I seriously doubt that Colorado likes the idea of firing a coach in the middle of their first year at a new stadium. Colorado also is facing absences, with Herculez Gomez and Kyle Beckerman both absent. However, the team wasn't exactly clicking with them in the line-up. Colorado will leave happy with a draw (taking 4 of 6 points from United). United should be looking to even the series.

Previews from the DCUniverse: QuarterVolley, Poplar Point Perpective, Six Yards NorthThe Edgell Supporters
Previews from the Rapidity:

Previews Updated as we notice them

Expectations: If you're a pessimist, you've convinced yourself that United is going to drop points here. I personally do take the team at their word, and expect full spoils. While I'm nervous about the absences, I think Colorado is hurt far more than United is. In response, Colorado will probably play hack and slash football against Emilio and Gomez, and I expect to see a lot of Route One football from Colorado's distribution. United can counter with Moose (and I hope they do). The Namoff absence worries me, as we're now in the "two-down" scenario that I thought would make issues apparent. However, Conor Casey has yet to impress me as a forward, making me wonder who Terry Cooke will find for his crosses.

What to look for?
  • If Fred and Moose are consistently positive with the ball, then Colorado's will need to bunker. If they don't seem to find the ball, then it could be a long night.
  • Moreno was usually the one to check back to the ball, but if Kpene is his replacement I can see Kpene staying higher near the box and Emilio dropping back to take the ball, lay it off, and make a run to the post.
  • Colorado will want to slow this game down, and I'm not sure United will be able to break out of it.
  • I hate the fact that this team is so dependent on the first goal. But, well, that's the facts of life.

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Los Gringos

Over at Off Wing Opinion, Eric McErlain had an interesting, and perhaps telling, post Gold-Cup screen capture. While he draws a parallel to the Houston 1836-Houston Dynamo situation when wondering about whether to take offense, I find the notion that he advances of reclaiming the word "Gringo" quite appealing. Putting aside the potential pejorative connotations (and, before I get people saying "there's never any negative connotation" to the word, just listen to how it is pronounced occasionally. Some people can make the word "respect" a racial epithet), the word on a simply interpretive level is reserved for foreigners, not even necessarily Yanks. It's not that the word is offensive, it's that even in the most benign usage, the word is being incorrectly used given that the USA was playing on home soil. Or is it?

There is a somewhat romantic notion to the idea of the USA Team always being the Gringos, of being foreigners even in our own country. While we trumpet how far soccer has come in the United States, the Gold Cup final saw US fans easily outnumbered. I do not put the blame for this on CONCACAF, USSF, the organizing committee, or the people of Chicago. It is simply a fact that the US supporters may have the individual pound-for-pound passion, there are simply more fans of Mexico in most urban areas than the United States. What's more, don't expect the USA to have majority US fans in any of the top 10 population centers in the next decade. It's not happening.

For years we've always hoped that we'll have majority US crowds at international matches, and sometimes we come pretty close. Still, I can't remember a match in a major city with our southern neighbors where the USA had about 80% support. And we should accept that, and move on. The US team, and the US fans, are los gringos no matter where we play. We are modern gypsies, traveling from town to town, never totally accepted. It's a romantic notion. I've never like the "Stars-and-stripes" for the US team nickname. In soccer, stars are earned for championships and we don't have a World Cup under our belt that I've noticed. But embracing Los Gringos? Yes, I can get behind that. If we are not at home when we are home, then the rest of the world should be our home as well. It's still an unreached ideal, but one I find intriguing.

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Re- Mediate

DOMENIC MEDIATE RETURNS: Goff reports that United has signed Domenic Mediate, primarily as a signing to provide depth. I'm relieved that Domenic gets another shot at United. He was decent in his performances last year, and had his leg broken in the service of this team. His dismissal felt wrong to me when it happened, so I'm glad he gets another shot. Welcome back sir. Better luck for this go around, and I'm glad that thUgo is suspended for this match.

PERKINS - WE WEREN'T READY FOR RSL: In The Examiner, Brian Straus finds an interesting quote from our starting Keeper:

"Just watching people warm up, you knew it was going to be a long night," he [Troy Perkins] said. "We weren't focused on what we were going to do. You see so many different things when you're watching the game. It's frustrating. You're sitting there kicking the bench. You want to get up and go, and you can't."
When you think about it, and I have, that's a pretty damning quote. If you can tell that the team isn't focused in warmups, then one has to ask why the hell not? Especially given all the lip service to "not overlooking Salt Lake." It didn't sink in. Must we have one lesson per year on this topic? Or perhaps can we remember our history lessons and carry them over.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH, AGAIN: In The Post's preview for tonight, Goff is noting that Namoff may not play because of a hamstring issue. Boswell is, of course, a Copa America callup.

EXPERT NO MORE: No Expert Opinion for tonight's match, since this is the second go round between DC and Colorado. However, I invite you to relive the opinion of Dr. Hunter Thompson when he came in to preview the season opener. And since we're not transcribing our interview tapes, maybe we'll put together a decent preview for this match.

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27 June 2007

Overdue morning coffee shots

I'm in one of those "have to get work done to maintain gainful employment" scenarios at the moment, but maybe things will free up later, since there is stuff I want to talk about.

GOODBYE ROBOT DEFENDER: John Wilson has been released, something Goff has been saying would happen for awhile. It is a shame that his legacy will forever be the 2006 Real Salt Lake game where opinion has crystallized that he and Abby gave the game to RSL (I still don't believe that.) Still, there were times when he brought his abilities to the field well, and we shouldn't forget that. I remember being impressed with Wilson in this match, and I prefer to remember the good times. Good luck sir. However, I would like to see the rumored Domenic Mediate given another chance. There may be better options, but I felt for him when he was cut.

UNITED WILL FACE ISLANDERS: Or, more accurately, the United Reserves will take on the Harrisburg City Islanders in the US Open Cup Third Round.

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26 June 2007

Jaime Moreno, Bolivia, International, Equalizer

He may not get on the scoresheet, but Jaime Moreno created the goal for Bolivia that tied their match with Venezuela at 1-1. It'll probably go down as an own-goal, but he set it up with some nice moves at the corner of the box. It does the heart good to see that.

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The Freezer for 26 June 2007

The US Soccer Fragility Index, known as the Freezer, is the anti-power poll. Each week, Oscar, Kinney, and D have a frank discussion over email to 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 101 Excuses for Any Occasion, by Hugo Sanchez.

This week in the Freezer, we welcome our third member to meet the ignoble fate of Absolute Zero. We also clear up some items on the watchlist, and one lucky team escapes the gravitational pull. At least, we think so. We took them out once before, but they weren't ready yet. Don't make us look foolish (or, at least, don't make us look more foolish) this time.

Note: The Freezer is a collaborative effort of the DCenters. D just gets to post it. We all wrote the thing.

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Jaime Moreno, International, Bolivia

Yeah, this is cool.

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Quick note

I'm working on the Freezer with Kinny and Oscar. I'm still upset about Saturday. I would like see Domenic Mediate back. I'm a sap. Interesting comments the past few days, but I can't imagine I can just post something and say "Open Thread". Seems like a cop-out to me. Sure, others can do that, but it just doesn't sit right with me. I feel like I should say something. Hmmmm.. how about this? I think he's wrong, but it's a decent argument. I disagree with the idea that Boz has taken the edge off his game. I do agree that consistency is a problem. It's not that he coasts every game, or even a majority of them. But there were a few games, back in the start of the season, and most recently against Salt Lake where it seemed that way. But I thought he had very good games against Houston, New York (yes, even with the card) and New England. It's a consistency thing, something that I would have expected more of a problem in the first two seasons than now, but that's how I see it.

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25 June 2007

In All Probability, the USA will Get Murdered in Copa America. Good.

By now, we've seen the Copa America rosters, and comparing the USA with, say Argentina is certainly a humbling experience. Hell, Columbia and Paraguay's squads both boast several names that even my impaired knowledge recognizes. If we finish third and manage to get out of the group stage, it will be an accomplishment.

So why am I strangely pleased with this outcome. Partially because I'm immature, and it gives me a chance to put the USA back into a familiar context. But also, given that we're going to play our kids, this is the perfect way to get their heads right in four years. The World Cup Finals are a difficult endeavor, played in a different country at an elite level. It is not easy. And perhaps the most recent memories of international competition among the 2006 World Cup players were of qualification (fairly easy in comparison), a Gold Cup win, and a successful 2002 campaign. Compare that to the 2002 squad, who all too easily might recall the debacle of 1998.

Look, I don't want the US humiliated, and I don't want to have the confidence of these young players destroyed, but there is something to be said for the teachable moment. Some of these players are going to be on the World Cup squad in three years. And when that time comes, there will be the memory of the 2007 Copa America to remind them just how big a challenge it is they're facing. And then they can tell themselves "Hey, I don't want to feel outclassed again. I need to take this very seriously, I can't be complacent. But I'm better, wiser, savvier than I was three years ago. And I have some motivation for revenge." That seems like a good thing indeed, and perhaps something we wouldn't have if we took our "A" squad from today down there. Doesn't seem like a bad thing to me at all.

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Sideline and Locker Room Views

With MLS and Copa Oro action over the weekend, you may have missed an interesting story that developed on the West Coast. Andrea Canales documents her incident in the locker rooms here and here. I'll let her words speak for themselves, but I find this story interesting. Perhaps it's just that this entire story seems so 1990s...

Here's the simple take from my end. If the Locker Rooms are open to be open to the media, then it's all the media. Manhandling a credentialed reporter out of a locker room is something clubs should not tolerate. Now, I'm not convinced that locker rooms need to be open to the media anyway, but if they are, then it should be everyone.

What I think is that this story will ultimately be more notable for being the exception rather than the norm. But I could be wrong.

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Debriefing for Match 12.11: At Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake 2 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

The lows can't be too low.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "...defenseless against newly acquired rookie Robbie Findley, United did little right until the final desperate moments and fell to previously winless Real, 2-1, Saturday night before 16,319 at Rice-Eccles Stadium."
The Salt Lake Tribune, Tony Pizza: "Real Salt Lake took advantage of two goals from its newest player and won its first game of the 2007 season, defeating D.C. United 2-1 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "
DesertNews, James Edward: "
Five minutes into the second half, Findley scored on another breakaway, the product of an outstanding give-and-go with Alecko Eskandarian. After Findley received Eskandarian's return pass in the midfield, there wasn't a D.C. defender within 15 yards, which made for an easy finish."
QuarterVolley, I-66: "Real looked the more determined team, and United looked like they were a team that was going to lose by a goal."
AYL Soccer, Scott Stucki: " As the match unfolded, you would have thought that Real Salt Lake rather than DC United were one of the hotter teams in the league. RSL controlled play and made United look ordinary. "
The Edgell Supporters: "We went in against the worst team in the MLS and got beaten soundly. We were not interested in playing. Nolly didn't get help from the defense and the defense didn't get help from him. Gomez was invisible. The offense was not clicking in the final third and the defense was not clicking in their own third."
BlackDogRed: "This is not about losing to a clown team, this is about United's personality. If United is pissed off about losing alone they're oblivious to a bigger and fatal problem. Even if United had tied (or even won, a possibility against that clown team), it's the lack of effort, the lack of intensity and urgency, the assumption of superiority that, if continued, dooms United to mediocrity...Boswell's regressing, terribly. How about chasing breaker down and taking him out for pro-yellow rather than waiving arms over head for a bad offside call, eh? Better yet, don't let clown behind you in first place. Talk about a premature cult. Erpen's not the backline's biggest problem."
RSL Malcontent, Donk: "Atiba Harris should have been playing d-mid instead of forward for his whole career. He looked great and he played very much in control and saved us quite a few times by disrupting DC's offense. " (Note: Actually, didn't Bobby Boswell suggest this a few months ago in his website? I think he did...)
Soccer Insider, Steve Goff: "United lacked intensity until it was too late. It failed to maintain possession, never found a rhythm and yielded far too many opportunities to a club that was dead last in the league in scoring.

The Good

  1. Emilio gets a goal: Hooray.
  2. Jay Nolly gets a start: Look, I know he didn't have the command of Troy Perkins in the box. But remember he is the second string keeper: If he were the first string keeper he'd be starting. This seemed as good a game as any to give him some starting minutes. When there were rumors about Perkins going to Copa America, DCU must have realized that they needed to refresh their reserve keeper a bit. I like this call, and I can't fault him on either goal.

The Bad

  1. Radio: Listening on the radio is not the same as watching the game. I had thought I could get FSC matches via MLSLive, and I was wrong. And nothing against Tony Limarzi, but you really can't evaluate the game the same way as you can watching it, either live or on TV. So my bad on this one, and next time I'll truck out to Kitty O'Shea's.
  2. Dyachenko: The forward thing just isn't working with him, probably because it limits one of his better skills (the ability to move with the ball.) I don't think I heard his name more than once or twice before he went out.
  3. Defensive Positioning: Looking at the highlights, our defense is nowhere to be seen on key positions. Part of this comes from what sounds like DCU playing a very high line, on turf where the ball is inclined to get past players. Maybe it isn't taking RSL for granted, but it does seem perhaps a bit arrogant, no?
  4. We lost to !@#!@#ing RSL: Look, all the dispassionate analysis in the world doesn't change this fact. We got beat by a bad team. Again. And it really, really sucks.

Man of the Match

N/A. We lost. Hell, I should probably strip someone of a MotM honor they won.

Karma Bank

Tough to evaluate anything. No Change, +1 for the season.

Final Thoughts

Bill Urban has a nice poke at me for taking DCU out of the Freezer, playing on the natural insecurities of a fan nicely. The fact is, I had thought I had prepared myself for this possible outcome. I noted that it could happen. I knew that it was in the cards. And then when it happened, it still hurt. Gah. Not sure what I can add to that. I hate this result. I just wish I had a good enough night's sleep for me to have put it behind me. I haven't yet. I keep having nightmares of getting a ball with my back to goal and hearing Atiba Harris behind me. Even the win in the Gold Cup hasn't removed the feeling of spiteful depression that has settled in. Club over country has its risks.

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24 June 2007

First Impressions - USA 2 : 1 Mexico

In a way, this is how it should be.

I've never really come to terms with the idea as the US as a soccer power, even in the limited landscape of CONCACAF. The team I grew up rooting for was always the underdog, odd and scrappy, never quite the team to match up with Costa Rica, let alone Mexico. And so the idea that the United States should be favorites to win the Copa Oro, even on "our" soil, never really felt like a comfortable concept. If it wasn't comfortable to me, why should it for players and coaches?

And so the United States grits out a win in the Gold Cup final. Did they look like the superior team for the entire game? Hardly. But they did enough that the result was not unfair, and had DMB iced his final shot then the final minutes would have been less tense.

The US was always the young, immature program that had to struggle though when I grew up. They are not yet the giants we might think they are. However, there is a term for a coming of age, for a difficult transition from stage to another. Adolescence. And that is what this seemed to be to me: The first recognitions of perhaps a new maturity that faces the US National Team, at least in CONCACAF. We are no longer precocious, we are not yet giants. We are growing. That's good enough. And adolescence is an awkward, sometimes fumbling stage in life. Would I have started the team Bradley did? Nope, I was screaming when I saw the line-up, seeing Dempsey up top and Benny F. on the left. But they came through it okay. That's enough for me. And, in a strange way, just as satisfying.

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First Impressions - Real Salt Lake 2 : 1 DC United

Here's the thing. Sometimes you know what you should believe. You know that Real Salt Lake is capable of beating you, since they did it in the past. You know you are capable of losing to some bad teams, which you've done this year. So the mantras and phrases of "not taking it lightly" and "play our game, not down to theirs" get repeated and insisted. You know they must be true, and yet... and yet after all that mental conditioning, you're betrayed by the fact that somehow it just refused to sink in.

United was outplayed by Real Salt Lake, who brought strong intensity if not clinical execution to this match. This was clear in the opening twenty minutes, where RSL had manufactured multiple chances against surprise starter Jay Nolly. And while I have not yet seen the game, the fact that Tony Limarzi's calls were often along the lines of "Namoff looks for Olsen but can't find him... and here comes Real Salt Lake the other-way" lets you know that our passing was not sharp, a problem that plagued us early in the year.

Did I believe RSL was due for a turnaround? Yeah, I did. I just was hoping it wasn't against us. This sucks. Now, at the same time, I'm not going to panic from this one result. But this is a disappointment. A huge one. And while you might wonder about starting Nolly (and his control wasn't nearly as good as Perkins) you have to feel like much of the problems were elsewhere. Like say, the defense. And the ability to manage frustration. And the ability to link together out of your own third.

So, hats off (bags off) to RSL for their first win of the season, and we'll need to have a nice talking to before Colorado on Thursday.

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22 June 2007

Pulled Me Up Up Up Up Up: Boswell/Olsen to US National Team

I saw what purported to be a complete list of the Copa America roster (although it only listed two keepers) but it jibes with Steve Goff's reports that Ben Olsen and Bobby Boswell have been called to the National team. So Bolivia takes a forward, and the USA take a midfielder and a center back. Okay, that's all within the tolerances of a team with depth. Multiple losses in one third would have hurt, this we can struggle through. We keep Perkins, but it might not surprise me to learn that he's the emergency third keeper in case of injury (the role Guzan is serving right now.) Once US Soccer posts the roster, we'll get a link up.

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The Experts' Opinion on Real Salt Lake

This season The DCenters are providing a series of Expert Opinions each occasion DC United faces a team for the first time. Last Year, there was considerable kerfluffle between DC and Real Salt Lake when Piotr Nowak yelled at Atiba Harris "Send him to hospital!" No one was quite sure what he meant, but thanks to a tape recently handed to us by WTTG-FOX 5 in DC, we now know exactly what Piotr was doing. Let's roll the tape...

Okay people, patient is a 3 year old professional soccer team, admitted by a strange polish man. Symptoms include zero win count, a -9 goal differential through 11 games, and an outrageous number of fines by the league. Differential diagnosis... wait, didn't all of you quit or get fired?

Nah, there's some contrived reason we're all back together again. Cuddy explains it in the season premier.

Well, while we're waiting for that retcon to come through, do you want to offer an opinion or do want to continue writing Firefly slash fiction? This team is in bad shape. I mean, if it were up to me, I'd just let them die, but apparently some people have a notion that you come to the hospital to get better.

Why are you so mean to this team? I admire them and their fans for perservering despite the pain. Why can't you understand that?

You just like them because they're hopeless. I suppose that's why you're wearing that ridiculously impractical outfit. Now, does anyone actually want to try, I dunno, here's a crazy thought, coming up with a diagnosis?

It could be cancer. No team should be underperforming like that unless their system has been compromised. Those Freddy Adu quotes could be strongly indicative of a locker room cancer. Explains the on-field communication issues as well.

Sure, it could be cancer, if this team hadn't blazed a new path on Trail of Suck for the last three years. Symptoms predate the exposure to Adu. It's not cancer.

We should do a full cardio workup. Perhaps this teams lacks heart. Explains the communication, explains the lack of goal scoring, and the inability to close games out.

Team just got a fresh infusion of heart from Eskandarian and Kreis, and I don't see evidence of full rejection. A heart problem doesn't explain the lack of composure. It's not cardio.

What about Lupus?

It's NOT Lupus. It's never Lupus. When will you get tired of that running joke? What do we know about the environment?

Foreman and I broke into the Rice-Eccles stadium. The surface is disgusting, but the support system is there and the atmosphere is still tolerable, although with all these problems the fans may turn on them.

So it's not environmental, not cardio, not cancer, not Lupus. Anyone want to guess something it might be?

Maybe it's neurological. It would explain all of the symptoms, the entire team is getting faulty instruction from the front office and the ownership. Add to that the crossed signals, high tension from the stadium situation, and the long period of illness in the patient history. It's all there.

Oooohhhh, a brain disorder. Sexy. Not as sexy as what Cameron's trying to be, but still sexy. But we can't just remove the brain.

Anyways, they've already done a coach transplant, which prompted many of the salary dumps we're seeing and the excessive fines.

New systems take time to implement. The team is still flushing the detritus of Ellinger's Disease out of its system.

Sounds good. Stop all treatment, give them time to get it through their system, and see if it turns around.

But if we do that, they may not have a chance this weekend.

No, you may not have a chance with them this weekend is what you're saying. Let 'em get worse, then they'll get better. Once we see improvement, we can start treatment with several cc's of additional salary or a designated player. Or they'll die, and we can autopsy the team and figure out which of you screwed up. It's a win-win.

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Quick US/DC Thought

Anyone else think that the US team is playing like the 06' United early in the season? Get a goal or two early, don't press the game, end up hanging on and bunkering for dear life. Is this Nowak's influence or are the finishers just not there for the US?

The Thursday Night Soccer Reviews

Last night was a night I had anticipated heavily, but by the time it was over I felt annoyed that I ever cared about this game. Why? Well...

USA 2 : 1 CAN: Setting aside Canada's disallowed goal (which I don't understand, and if I were a Canadian fan I would feel completely embittered about the entire thing) the US has some glaring problems. In the opening 20 minutes they showed good skill in carving through the Canadian midfield, but never manufactured a great chance off of it. The half chances were all weakly taken shots whose energy had pretty much expired by the time Pat Onstad took them into his arms. If I had to say one thing, it is that the US misses, and has not replaced, Brian McBride. Eddie Pope was pretty much done in 2006 for international play, Claudio Reyna (Ghana game aside) will be replaced by someone, I have no doubt, but Taylor Twellman and Brian Ching do not seem to provide the same ability to take advantage of small chances that McBride did. For all the other International retirements you can see that in four years we could be okay, but not McBride. That's worrisome.

Oh, and Frankie, um... DID YOU SEE LAST YEAR'S WORLD CUP? When the opposing team's talented midfielder head-butts you, YOU FALL DOWN WITH A COLLAPSED LUNG! You don't slap him in the face. Goodness, have we learned nothing?

Let me be honest. Had Canada's goal (and it was a goal) been allowed to stand, they would have found a way to win that game. The USA does not inspire confidence. But... (see part 3).

HOU 4 : 0 CHV: This is usually a focus on ESPN covering the game, so let's start there. It was a decent job from the crew, whose energy was slightly higher than last week. The down moment came when a "30 at 30" update split the screen for a crucial red card decision (one that looks a bit light, but I can't fault the center ref for making it.) Chivas looked out of sorts, and Houston looked dangerous on set pieces but still didn't overwhelm me, despite the score line. Acceptable match, and perhaps the audience enjoyed all the goals. I dunno.

MEX 1 : 0 GDP: The difference between Mexico and the United States right now is that while both teams have been unconvincing, Mexico at least look to be getting better. Not sure I can say that about the US. That being said, Guadeloupe seemed to play them well. There was a concerted effort to not allow Mexico easy chances, and to play defensively in the opening half. I wonder if Guadeloupe actually feared getting a goal before half time, on the theory that it just might wake El Tri up. Probably not, but it felt that way. Still, once they went down a goal, they managed to actually try and press to equalize the game. And the last half hour was fairly enjoyable considering what I had been seeing most of the night. Yet here we are, with the US and Mexico in the final, and neither team really looking like a powerhouse at any point. There should be insecurity on both sides.

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21 June 2007

Copa America will test United's Depth

I have the sinking sensation that I didn't give Copa America's impact on the season much thought when thinking about how the team would do this season. Let's be frank, national team call ups were the furthest thing from my mind based on the poor start to the season. But lo and behold, May and June came and we have a team that's playing the way we wanted them to in March and April. So, now were on the cusp of losing up to 5 players for the next 2 matches at least. What can we expect?

Goalkeepers: Troy Perkins
Troy is the player we can least afford to lose, primarily because his backups are completely unkown quantities. Well, OK, Jay Nolly played in some MLS games last year, but we also put four or five goals past him as well. Color me unimpressed, and nervous, about our backup keepers.

Defenders: Bobby Boswell and Brian Namoff
Just when the defense had started to click and shut down opponents, we could lose our most veteran player and last year's defender of the year. Namoff has, as usual, put together another solid season, while Boswell and Erpen have partnered very well in the center. McTavish did well enough last week, but was still pretty raw. Who do we have to play in Namoff's position? John Wilson & Mike Burch?

The depth in defense is still lacking, and while we seem to be adding forwards like we're playing Super Mario Strikers, there's seemingly no movement to add a defender. We're not advocating adding a body for the sake of having another "D" in the player list, but the front office has been relatively on this. Add to this, the concern of playing in the Super Liga, Copa Sudamericana and it's enough to keep you up at night.

Midfielders: Ben Olsen
Olsen has been on fire during United's unbeaten run. Loosing his presence and leadership on and off the field would surely affect the club. I think Moose and Simms are capable options on game day. Plus, I can't really analyze Ben's loss without bias. I wore an Olsen USA Jersey in Germany last year, so I'm glad he might play in Venezuela. He's definitely earned the call up.

Forwards: Jaime Moreno
Number 99 has already missed two games, and I think we can safely conclude that our offense is playing as well - dare I say it - or better than it was when he was here. Emilio and Fred have started clicking, and Kpene has brought an extra dynamism and hustle when he's been on the field. If Moreno and Bolivia do well in this tournament, it could refocus him, which would be great. But will he also hold up to the rigors and demands of the international game?


We Admire Our Peers

The Edgell Supporters have taken the notion of Supporters' Groups establishing cup competitions (Atlantic Cup, Rocky Mtn. Cup) to its logical conclusion: Cups established by individuals fans. They give you the Ben Cup. Needless to say, I approve of this. Yes, even though I'm currently facing the prospect of showing up on Lot 8 in a Red Bull jersey.

Since joining The Offside, Max J. is blogging up a storm. He writes on the impact of Troy Perkins possibly going to Copa America. He is correct on all marks.

I want to write a post on the concept of writing about soccer, and what it all means, but it seems pretty self-involved and lame at the moment, so I'll pass until I get my thoughts in order. Just so you know, sometimes I do take time to think about things before I write them.

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Morning Coffee

Noticed a pattern around this blog the last few months? Yeah, it's true, the first post of the day is typically the "links to stories I find interesting, and maybe a quick reaction" post, and the later posts are more analysis when I have time to really think them out and hopefully correct most of the embarrassing errors from the first draft. It works for me. Hopefully for you to.

STADIUM FINANCING AN ISSUE: David Nakamura in the Post has a must-read article for those trying to track Poplar Point's Progress towards a Soccer Specific Stadium (PPP2SSS?).

City leaders would, however, face tough choices if they sought additional large projects. Examples include a proposed soccer stadium for D.C. United in Southeast and a much-debated central library proposed for downtown at the site of the old convention center.
The problem here is that while I doubt that Council leaders would stop voting for capital improvements, the opening for people to demagogue this into "Library vs. Stadium: Which is better for the good of the people?" is there. That's a tough battle, and one that United could lose even before a plan is presented. Hell, even I'm not sure I could come out for a stadium over a library, even though I imagine the stadium would have more positive economic effects for the city than the library. I like books. I like people having access to books. That's a tough one. Of course, this could also be a negotiating tactic to get more of the infrastructure improvement costs for the stadium picked up by the Ownership/Development group. Thing is, I find it a damned effective one.

UNITED GET SARACHAN FIRED: Look, there are times when I will celebrate a coach getting fired, and times I'll just note it and pass on. This is the latter. Dave never struck me as a coach I could hate. To be honest, he never struck me as much of anything. He was simply the guy on the opposite bench. Robert Wagman says that Dave might have needed to go, but John Guppy should have gone. Over at Climbing the Ladder, ScaryIce disagrees:

I also noticed how he was defended by Stephen Goff on his blog, who immediately posted quotes from a call between the two. It really does remind me of how certain pundits, journalists, and politicians in Washington defend each other regardless of their beliefs. Chris Armas jumped to his defense as well.
I have to say, if I were a Fire fan, I think Dave and John should both be gone, but I don't think this is simply a case of the media protecting someone who was available. I think Dave was actually, from what I can tell, a guy whose players liked him. And the problem certainly in the last game was that he had nothing to work with. Sure, great coaches can still be competitive even missing half their starters, but it's problematic even for them. The fact is I think Dave Sarachan was an average coach, facing above average problems, and was found wanting. The fact that he had so little to work with is an indictment of AEG more than Dave. Which, by the way, is why it's a good thing we have new ownership. At least we know who's really running the ship here, so we can properly direct our outrage. If we had to.

SALT LAKE MEDIA LOWERS EXPECTATIONS FOR RSL: Man, this is just setting us up for disappointment, isn't it? I mean, if I believed in karma and all that. Which I don't. But man...

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20 June 2007

The Exaltation of Juan Pablo Angel

Pop Quiz: Who has more goals this year, Juan Pablo Angel, or the rest of the New York Red Bulls combined? The correct answer is the latter, but I'll forgive you if you thought it was the former. Angel has nine goals for the Red Bulls, and the remainder of the team has fifteen (Mathis with 5, Altidore with 3, and Kovalenko with 2 lead the pack). Yet there has been an emerging trend recently, the idea that Juan Pablo Angel is "tearing the rest of the league up." Let's think about why so much is being made of one player...

That Angel has made a difference is undeniable, and he certainly deserves much credit for providing a great deal of offensive punch for a team that was mediocre in scoring in 2006 (7th in terms of goals scored). Yet one can't help but detect a certain degree of Eurocentric snobbery in some of the praise he is receiving. The idea being advanced by a certain type of soccer commentator is that Angel is simply at a different level than the rest of MLS, and that your typical MLS defender is simply no match for what Angel brings to the field. One example is here, but there are others that you might read, or hear, from various people. These pundits simply believe that most MLS Defenses should just sit down on the pitch with their beverage of choice and appreciate the brilliance of Angel's play, since it is clearly impossible to mark the man given our stumbling, incoherent talent.

Has Angel been brilliant? Certainly he's had great moments, and done exactly what a designated player acquisition is supposed to do: Make an immediate, high level impact for your team. And for many of these commentators, it's an easy choice to make to praise Angel. They'd be uncomfortable making the same noises about Beckham, it would sound too much like they had become the giggling schoolgirls they detest. But Angel is a different story. He comes from West Ham, and that's Academy of Football! Aston Villa. You have to respect a player from that club. To boot, he was rarely more than mediocre there, clearly an indictment of the MLS level of play if a mediocre player can have such an effect here. Angel confirms and conforms to the natural prejudices of such writers, so all credit for the Red Bulls goes to him. It's such a lovely image, it's a shame to spoil it.

The facts that argue against Angel as the savior of New York are simple. The Red Bulls were resurgent even before he suited up to them for the first time. They had a respectable 3-2-2 record before Angel scored his first league goal against Columbus. They were clearly better than they had shown previously. The resurrection of Clint Mathis predates Angel, and while Angel certainly gives Mathis an easier time, Clint had already shown his form was better than we had seen in years.

Since joining the Bulls, it's not as though no team has figured out how to defend Angel either. United denied him service and would quickly deny him space when he did receive the ball, surrendering only a garbage goal after the game had been decided. And while I love United, it's not exactly a defensive line that I'd call "elite" at the moment. So clearly an average defense can hold Angel in check, and even better backlines may present rough going. How will Angel fair against New England, whose backline excels at neutralizing obvious scoring threats?

It also does a disservice to the many other players that are helping New York. We've mentioned Mathis, but credit should also been given to Dema Kovalenko, who fights for that team and provides a spirit they've rarely seen, and to Dave Van Den Berg, who has quietly put together a strong resume as someone who brings vision to the field. Further, the pundits are completely ignoring Bruce Arena. Some of this, no doubt, is because media personalities find Bruce somewhat distressing. He doesn't make their lives easy. Yet Bruce Arena is the one primarily responsible for remaking that team. He has gotten New York to play a game that accentuates their strengths and plays away from their weaknesses. They do have weaknesses, and injury problems in the back have certainly exacerbated them, but what Arena has done this year is remarkable. He knows what problems his team has, and he plays around them. The defense was problematic, but he had gotten New York to defend as a team, even if it means stranding Angel up top. When transitioning from defense to attack, the team never breaks pell-mell, but rather plays a controlled system designed to minimize potential countering opportunities to their opponents. That's Arena, bringing in players to execute his plans and training them well enough to do it. Look at the team's home/away splits (to borrow a baseball term). Arena has that team playing well in the Meadowlands, because he knows what to do to take advantage of the turf and environment. The result is the paltry 4 home goals conceded to date, second best only to Chivas USA, and that's with a below average defense for most games. However, Arena was the scape-goat of 2006, even I was disappointed with his choices, but I can recognize when he deserves credit as well. But giving him credit may be a bit much for his detractors, though much of the success in New York belongs to him.

It's a slightly more complicated story than "Angel dominates MLS," but it's the one I think has more basis in reality. And it certainly will make New York harder for other teams to deal with. Marking Angel out of a game is one challenge, but it is not the entire challenge.

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Espresso Links

Some quick news, because again I'm having thoughts and would like to write posts on those thoughts so I can share them with you in a premature and haphazard way. That's how I roll:

CONGRATULATIONS LUCIANO EMILIO: Luciano Emilio is your MLS Player of the Week, which gives United back-to-back holds on that honor. I'm happy to see him get it, simply because there was always a little wonder about whether he could make transition to MLS after dominating the Hondurans. We thought he could, and then we didn't see much. Nice to see him now getting it on track.

RESERVES DOWNED IN RICHMOND: The Richmond Kickers weren't intimidated by the DC United Reserve team. In fact, they felt comfortable enough to rest some of their own starters, and still took a 3-2 win over United's reserves. Marc Burch saw some time (and picked up a yellow and a goal) while Justin Moose scored the other goal. Jay Nolly and Shawn Crowe split the keeping duties.

COPA AMERICA WATCH: Steve Goff reports that United has been informed that defenders Bobby Boswell and Bryan Namoff, midfielder Ben Olsen, and keeper Troy Perkins could all be up for selection to Bob Bradley's Copa America squad. Goff then adds "The feeling around RFK Stadium is that Olsen and Boswell will be selected." All four would be disastrous for the next several games, just Boswell and Olsen (in combination to the already departed Moreno) would be challenging, but doable.

DAVE LIFTON, UNCHAINED: So it's now Around the League in 90 minutes, and it's a 120 minute show (with apparently 30 minutes of commercials is how I suppose the math works). Our Dave Lifton appears around the 1:05:00 mark, and promptly calls the esteemed hosts on a bit of conspiratorial nonsense regarding LA. Excellent. The show is certainly more listenable with a bit more time for analysis, although I could have done without the "look, someone from our message boards that won't support an MLS team... who should she pick?" No reason to make the callers prostitute themselves for a fan. Class will shine through ultimately, and words will matter little. However, that did lead to ridiculous quote from Pete that "Chivas have a great history" in MLS. Pete, Chivas USA does not equal Chivas Guadalajara. For one thing, Chivas Guadalajara can beat DC United occasionally.

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19 June 2007

The Freezer For 19 June 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 Terry Vaughn's list of cautions assessed in major international matches.

This week in the Freezer, UNITED IS FREE! Hoorah! Yes, I'm biased, but finally I felt secure enough to take them out. And perhaps the goodwill was just too much, since I took out two others as well. Meanwhile, the watchlist remains vigilant, and three more enter the freezer, including a league leader.

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Take it to the Streets

I'm not saying I endorse this... No, I take it back. I do endorse this, provided people are smart about it (and I imagine they are.) This is the sort of thing I can get behind. I'm glad it is being noticed now. And if someone were to drop me an email, I might send a request for a few stickers. And perhaps discuss how to compensate someone for their time in getting it to me. I'm just saying here...

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How will it be remembered?

It has always been simple for me, and I think many of you, to separate DC United history by its coaches. It may be overly simplistic, but as a narrative it has resonance. There was the inevitable invincibility of the Arena years (never-mind the pre-Moreno games), the erosion and collapse of the Rongren era (never-mind the one championship), the comical farce of the Hudson era (we remember it as comical primarily because of Hudson himself; the team was, in fact, a nasty bit of work that led MLS in fouls committed and cautions for both 2002 and 2003), the promising but almost Sisyphean efforts of the Nowak era (always one step was needed...). We use this shorthand to demarcate United's history, and we care about history almost, but not quite as much, as the present.

With barely a third of the season under Tom Soehn's belt, we can at least begin to speculate on what, in a sentence, the Tom Soehn United is. Even if we can't do that, we can at least try to speculate on what it could be. Yes, this is all premature, but it is still fun, and that's why I'm doing it even though it is patently ridiculous to do so at this time. It was once thought that newspapers are the first draft of history. So let's take our own shot at it.

If it could work out, I would like the Soehn era to be remembered as one where United was more adaptable, flexible, and unpredictable in terms of what we brought to the field. Soehn's line-ups have changed from week to week, he is fiddling but I doubt he will ever hit on a Best XI and stick with it from week to week a la Nowak. Instead, I would love to see more tactical decisions made in how the team plays and who starts. We've seen this a lot on the wing choices, where we've seen Casal, Moose, Olsen, Gros, and Fred. We've seen more movement up-top with Moreno, Emilio, Kpene, and Addlery. And we've seen changes in the backline.

If there's one thing Soehn may become known for, it's his willingness to experiment, toy with, and generally MacGyver the United lineup from week to week. That's a good thing right now (of course, one man's MacGuyver is another's overmeddling Mad Scientist...) And if I were to make a premature guess as to what we'll remember the Soehn era for, it would be for its adaptability.

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Coffee and Soccer, 19 June 2007

Today is one of those days where I actually have a few things to talk about, and we also have a new edition of The Freezer coming out later. But first, a few links of interest before I start blathering:

RICHMOND, POOR SQUAD: The Richmond Times-Dispatch wonders if United will be playing their first string in today's friendly. Now, nothing against those in Richmond, but I hope not. A few spot moments here and there, perhaps. Kpene should make a showing. Dyachenko. But even Bryan Arguez who gets a mention in the article is, I think, at U-20 World Cup camp. It's not that I really feel like Richmond doesn't deserve our first squad, it's just that now isn't the time I'd like to see them out there. Still, there's plenty for Richmond to look at. Addlery is getting first team minutes, there's Moose, there's even the potential for Mira Mupier. Hey, that'd be enough to interest me in the game.

YOUTH BEING SERVED: Not United related, but Ives Galarcep is running a series on the Red Bulls' Youth Academy. It's something I think we're all interested in. I don't think United will suddenly turn into West Ham from a decade ago, but it's still worth watching. It's something we're trying to understand more about from United's perspective as well.

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18 June 2007

Debriefing for Match 12.10: Chiago Fire

DC United 3 : 1 Chicago Fire

Six Word Novel Recap

If they give it, take it.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "United (5-3-2) extended its unbeaten streak to seven games, but unlike most of the encounters during this fine stretch, D.C. was never seriously challenged in recording its fourth consecutive victory at home."
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Chicago was missing five key players because of injuries and national team duty, including top striker Chris Rolfe, who is out with an ankle injury. United took advantage, taking the lead six minutes into the game by exploiting a major error from Fire goalie Matt Pickens. "
UnitedMania, Jimmy LaRoue: "Chicago goalkeeper Matt Pickens gifted Dyachenko’s first-ever United goal in the 6th minute when he mishandled Fred’s short-hopped cross. The ball fell to Dyachenko, who had no trouble scoring from close-range...Emilio got his first goal of the night in the 25th minute when Christian Gomez played the Brazilian through. With Pickens coming out, Emilion chipped the ball over the Fire goalkeeper from 25 yards to give United a two-goal lead."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "The Argentinean found Emilio with a well-weighted chip over the Fire backline for D.C.'s second score, and it was a Gomez shot that nicked off Pickens' hands and fell to the Brazilian striker for his point-blank finish in the 51st minute. After a barren stretch in May, Emilio's scoring form has risen with the summer temperatures: he's hit three goals in his last two matches."
MLSNet, Jordan Brown:"Monteiro left United defender Facundo Erpen in his dust and placed a perfectly positioned ball past United 'keeper Troy Perkins in the 54th minute to give the Fire some life after falling behind by three goals just three minutes earlier on Emilio's second strike of the game."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "Pickens' goal looked like the business end of a United shooting drill in the 81st minute, as Olsen flew down the right flank and cut inside before laying off to Moose, who cranked a low, knuckling blast that the Fire goalkeeper parried away. Fred immediately smashed the rebound toward goal again, but with Pickens at his mercy his bid skipped wide to the left."
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "The best sign of the night wasn't Emillio's two goals, or Benny's awesome flank play or the play of Gomez...it was that once United reverted back to the bumbling, stumbling defensive unit and allowed the one Fire goal, they went right back to work and shut down every and any attempt the Fire made to truly get back into the match."
The Offside: DC United, Max J: "I am a big Dyachenko fan, but I’m hoping we’ve seen the first and last of Striker Rod. He wasn’t awful but still played generally as expected: serviceable if unspectactular and a bit of an anchor. It seems ridiculous to say we misssed Kpene’s touch in a game where we scored three goals, but I felt it."
BlackDogRed: "He's [Dyachenko] a midfielder with midfielder instincts, so adjustments were expected and I should cut him some slack. It was interesting watching Dyachenko and Emilio figure the other out, especially early: Emilio would receive, back to the goal thirty yards out, and lay off where Moreno would have been and Dyachenko wasn't. Did get better as the game went on, but it's significant that when Addlery came on for Olsen Dyachenko moved back."
The Edgell Supporters: "By the way, everybody hates you HDNet, just sayin."
The Offside: Chicago Fire
: "...unless someone can find a compelling set of reasons otherwise, it surely is time for Dave to collect his things and leave Toyota Park. I know we’re missing players, but this is MLS, not the Premiership. The Fire have only managed one win and one tie since May began. I’m jumping off the fence and onto the fire Dave bandwagon."
ALSO: Kyle G's Photo Gallery (great shot of the Barra at one point), Screaming Eagles Podcast (in which Fred skillfully avoids answering a tough question), QuarterVolley (shares our concern about goals after goals), DCist, ... (more as noted)

The Good

  1. Punishing Mistakes: We did to Chicago what Kansas City did to us earlier in the year. When one team make a mistake to give you a great goal scoring opportunity, you take it. You then make damn sure you don't promptly surrender the lead. Dyachenko's goal was a complete gift, but United did the right things with it.
  2. Emilio's Chip: I know Lifton thinks that Fred had it covered if it missed the far post. Still, that's a goal that is probably more difficult than it looks. How often have we seen Jaime Moreno, or Christian Gomez, in a similar situation just send it wide, or over the cross bar, or not quite put enough pace on it so a defender can track back and clear it off the line. Sure, both of the aforementioned gentlemen have also converted chances as well, but it always seems to me that chip shots are more likely to come close, and fail, then convert as Emilio did.
  3. Midfield Dominance: Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, and Fred did a lot to maintain possession in this game, and to provide enough space for Gomez to distribute the ball. The plays were smart, simple, and creativity was delivered when it was necessary. United patience in this match was smothering, and beautiful to watch.
  4. Fred in Close Quarters: Really, with two defenders around him, Fred turned on the "Australian Eel" powers and would slip passes, or sometimes his entire body, through close quarters and find someone in space. Very pretty to watch him school the Chicago midfield.
  5. Tim Weyland: Few complaints. Yes, there were some penalties that could have been called, but I don't think anyone expected them to be. Would I have liked to have seen a few more cards? Probably, but that's borderline. He was acceptable as a center ref. To some degree, I think CJ Brown being made Chicago's captain made his life easier, since Brown suddenly had to be an onfield leader and couldn't spend most of his time being a pest to try and draw a yellow.
  6. Moose, Supersub: His vision and pace we saw last week, but this week he complemented both of those by showing he might even have a canon for a foot. If he keeps playing like this when he enters the game late, he will do for this team what Jamil Walker was always supposed to do.

The Bad

  1. Fred in Space: The odd moments for Fred where when he found himself with space or only one defender. He refused to take a defender on until about the 80th minute. His passes were acceptable, but not scintillating. I just wanted a little more from him when fate conspired to give him an opportunity.
  2. Chicago's Starting XI: This isn't a knock against those players, but they were clearly rushed into starting positions without form or even fitness, given how many were dropping off at the end of the game. We all know that this isn't the best Chicago could offer, but what they did offer was decidedly below average.
  3. Behind the Play: In the first hour specifically, there was a lot of chippy play and cheap shots from both sides. Saw Ben Olsen get clobbered with an elbow to the skull. Saw Gros clobber a Fire player with the back of his hand. All while the ball was on the far side of the field. Not sure what was causing that, but it seemed in the final half hour everyone was too tired to continue it.
  4. The one mistake: As with Angel's goal for New York last week, United allowed a team to pull one back late. A complete meltdown, from what I saw, as everyone on United had the wrong momentum and allowed an otherwise impotent Chicago attack a chance in on goal.
  5. Nicholas Adderly: Tremendous potential, but he was caught in some strange positions at times, and I never felt like he was making the runs or checking back the way the team expected. Not really, really bad, but mildly bad.
  6. Dyachenko: I pretty much agree with everyone that says it didn't really work for most of this game with Rod, but that was just this game. I didn't see anything that said it wouldn't work in the future. First team minutes are the best education, so this game helps Rod as a learning experience. It might be great in the future.

Man of the Match

Well, I'm going to give it to Devon McTavish. Was he the best defender out there? No, but I think the most was being asked of Devon. Rod got gifted a goal early, which took all pressure off of him for the rest of the game, but Devon was being asked to audition for a role in a defense that might be lacking two players come Copa America, and it was an audition I think he passed. Certificates of Merit to Olsen, Gomez, Namoff, and definitely Emilio.

Karma Bank

Gifted one or two goals means we should be burning two karma, but the otherwise complete dominance of play had to earn us one. So, all in all, I'd say we burn one karma for Pickens grabbing the ball and then dropping it neatly at Rod's feet. -1 for the game, leaving us +1 for the season.

Final Thoughts

I caught this game on the quiet side with my wife, which is just a pleasant way of spending an evening. Think of it like brewing a pot of tea and doing a crossword on the porch, only instead you're being serenaded by hundreds of fanaticos and watching Ben Olsen yap at anyone who will listen to him. The sounds of summer, pleasant and wistful. Lovely evening.

Defensive depth is an issue we are not done with. Remember that we may not lose one defender to Copa America, but two (Namoff and Boswell), which is kind of odd given how we only have one clean sheet the entire year. Still, McTavish was reassuring, and Gros is starting to come on well as a left back. Erpen got burned on that goal, yes, but he should have had more help, so I'm not even that mad at him. We did what we should do. We also did what we need to do next week: Get an early goal, and kill off RSL. Exact same game plan, although Eskandarian is still, even with the help he has, scarier than Barrett was for Chicago. Also, Rimando can keep a team in a game, or he can commit a strange error and give on up easy. That's the big wildcard for me.
Do I feel good about this season yet? Yeah, for the first time I do. We have now, in back to back games, beaten a good team and a not-so-good team. That's both ends of the spectrum, and I like seeing them together like that. You need to do both, and DC did. Feels good.

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16 June 2007

First Impressions - DC United 3 : 1 Chicago Fire

These are the kind of games I dream of. Games where we get an early lead. Games where we extend that lead. Games that never seem in doubt. Games that, if one were perhaps ungrateful and churlish, you might say it was a bit boring at the end. Fine. I'll take boring.

United was, at least from my perspective, gifted with the early lead when Chicago's Matt Pickens decided to hand the ball to Rod Dyachenko. I'll have to see replays, but it seemed like we were just damn lucky. However, the remainder of the game had nothing to do with luck, as United played efficiently and mercilessly with possession. If the possession wasn't as urgent and forceful as perhaps you would normally want, it didn't need to be because of the early goal. Fred, Emilio, Dyachenko, Gomez, and Olsen all kept solid pressure. The second and third goals would come if they stayed patient, and so they did.

To be fair, it was clear Chicago missed many of their starters. Players never seemed to be on the same page. Gutierrez would have one idea, but Barrett wouldn't make the run that was expected and the ball would trickle out of bounds. Insert new combination of Chicago Midfielder and Forward, and repeat. By the end of the game, they had run themselves out of everything. Too often I've seen United meet incompetence and try to match it. This game they answered their opponent's uncertainty with relentless poise. It was wonderful. Not as exciting as New York last week, but one can admire professionalism and heart in different ways. This game was all about one better team dismantling a worse one. It was an education.

Man of the Match is up in the air for me. Yes, Emilio has the brace. But Gomez and Carroll were both highly effective in this match, and while I need to check the replays of the few defensive breakdowns we had, my sense was that Devon McTavish filled in admirable for Bobby Boswell. I'm kinda leaning towards Devon for MotM, but I can probably be persuaded. And while he's not in contention for Man of the Match, I want again (As I did last week) to direct your attention to Justin Moose, who is quietly asserting himself as the most effective offensive substitution option that Tom Soehn has on the bench. Really.

Good game, good result, and United looks to have absorbed enough of the Fire to have thawed out of the Freezer. Now go out and do it again in Salt Lake.

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