30 September 2007

Moreno called up for Bolivia's Qualifiers

According to a Reuters article, Jaime Moreno has been called up to the Bolivian Nats to prepare for an away qualifier in Montevideo against Uruguay on the 13th and a home qualifier against Colombia on the 17th. Given that he wouldn't have time to acclimate to the altitude, and that 30 players have been called up for these two games, I wouldn't expect him to play in the second game in La Paz, Bolivia. I think he would have to be released five days prior to the match, at the latest, meaning he'd miss the 10/13 home match against Chicago. Links to the articles in spanish here.



Ricardo Clark's season is over. He may even get suspended for a few games into the season next year. Keep in mind that Andy Herron got a 6 game suspension for his deliberate elbow into Jay Heaps' face at the beginning of the season.

Keep watching mlsnet.com for the highlights from the FCD/HOU match. The nastiness comes right before the final whistle.


29 September 2007

First Impressions - DC United 4 : 1 Toronto FC

Popular Soccer Cliche #2 - "A tale of two halves." I hate the phrase. It seems like such an excuse for lazy writing. All games are two halved, and inevitably things change at half time. Of course the players and coaches adjust tactics, strategy, and personnel. Of course two halves will be different, as players fatigue at different rates and temperatures change.

That being said, I give everyone a pass to use this cliche for this match. United was a tentative, discombobulated offense, occasionally flickering into life, but usually seeming out of sorts. The second half with the additions of Olsen and Moreno saw United suddenly become the dominating force we dream of. That is what we want to see, the unfairly highly standard by which this team is judged. Of course, we know it is possible.

This should illustrate a key point. For all the discussion about United's depth this year, it is perhaps true to say that while we can play without any of the major XI for a game or so, once you remove them things are difficult. We can lose Moreno here, Olsen there, Gomez somewhere else, but missing all three is something this team can't handle. What I'm saying is that while we have reserves and substitutes who can play well when incorporated with the other starting XI, we don't have a starting XI on the bench. Of course, no team does, but I think it is something to keep in mind.

Still, United did what they had to do for this match. Three points, and assert domination heading into the last three games of the season. 53 points in 27 games played is tremendous. Emilio with 20 goals is tremendous. Moreno extending the all-time scoring lead is tremendous. But still we haven't won anything. Yet it feels like we're on the right track. Stunning.

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28 September 2007

3 points; 2 red cards; 1-0

LA Galaxy earned 3 points last night in Kansas City and only needed a two man advantage to do so. I think the look on Landon Donovan's face at the end of the game was a bit of shock ("OMG - we won!") mixed with a bit of "I can't believe you guys pulled it off, in spite of me."

I'd like to propose a new entry into the American lexicon. Let's say you are having a horrible day at work but then you finally get to leave work and when you get home you find that your live-in girlfriend has moved out and taken the dog. You think to yourself, "Man, what a Vagenas!" You know, because of all the bad things happening to you, repeatedly.

The best part of the game for me was the discussion of the USWNT v Brazil match where all three ESPN commentators (Tommy, Dave and Eric) let loose on Greg Ryan. Every single second of their analysis was dead-on correct. If Greg Ryan is fired before the Bronze Medal match it won't be fast enough and even if he is fired eventually, I'm still making up some "Fire Greg Ryan" shirts just so that everyone knows exactly how I feel and in case he somehow gets a job in the new WUSA league. I'm so pissed about the Hope Solo situation. And my wife makes a GREAT point that I hadn't gotten to... you know, on account of the overwhelming anger. Who is the keeper for the Bronze Medal match? You can't go with Scurry again, can you? But if you go with Hope, then isn't that an embarrassing admission by Ryan that he F-ed up by starting Scurry in the Brazil match?

Now, all of that said, I must admit I haven't watched the second half yet, so there may be more to this that just a goalkeeper controversy. But before the game even started and before I knew that the final was 4-0 against, I heard that Solo was getting benched and I thought: "bad idea". Whether Solo might have done better, or if the US would've done better offensively without the distraction of a controversy overhead we'll never know. But I think it was the wrong decision. If anyone reads any good analysis out there on the interwebs, let me know in the comments.

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Benny & Clyde

Vous avez lu l'histoire du diable?
Comment il joué, comment il a gagné?
Ca vous a plus hein vous en démandez encore
et bien, ecoutez l'histoire... de Benny et Clyde.

Alors voila Clyde et le milieu vétéran:
Il a une barbe et son surnom c'est Olsen.
a eux deux ils forment le gang unie
leurs noms Clyde, Christian, Fred et Benny.

Benny & Clyde.
Benny & Clyde.

Chaque fois qu'un taureau est battu
ou une chèvre ou un magicien est dupée
Pour les commentateurs, ce ne fait pas un mystère.
C'est signé Clyde Simms et Benny Olsen

Benny & Clyde
Benny & Clyde

(okay, this may now be my record for lowest percentage joke ever.)

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27 September 2007

The Best Show NOT on TV

Bob wrote a post on the best soccer show on TV today which I still haven't seen, but am looking forward to watching. That reminded me of the best soccer show NOT on TV today. It is called, brace yourselves folks "David Beckham's Soccer USA." Before you indignatly exclaim that I have lost my marbles, hear me out. First, this is not the David Beckham's Soccer USA shown on FSC and linked to on basically every MLSnet.com page. That show is a) on TV, and b) horrible. I lost a lot, and I mean a lot, of respect for FSC for airing that travshamocracy of a show instead of the very well done show that you can see on Five.

Please don't start checking the 700 section of your cable channels for Five, it is a British channel that we don't get here in the states. Basically the British version of DBSUSA (an acronym that I just made up) is all that you could want in a soccer highlights show. It is hilariously funny, mostly because of "international TV personality" Tim Lovejoy, and it shows all of the goals from the past week. They have hilarious bits like "How to Speak American Commentator" and slightly irritating bits like the de rigueur interview with Mr. Beckham. It is nice to see how MLS is viewed in England, but it is also a breath of fresh air for somebody on TV to make fun of MLS in a lighthearted manner instead of the "greatest thing since Pele" vs. "already a failure" argument that we get in the states.

The show used to be an hour long, but it was recently cut down to half an hour. Somehow I think that MLS' best highlight show is probably England's worst, but I still love it. By now you are trying to figure out if I recently moved to London, the answer is no. I merely harness the power of the youtubes. Kinsellagem has been posting all of the shows up on youtube for us Americans (and Canadians). I watched one around week 5 and then immediately went back and watched the past shows it was so good. I have embedded the last episode for your viewing pleasure; it really is a great show.

Week 10: Part 1

Week 10: Part 2

Week 10: Part 3

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Debriefing for Match 12.D.01: CD Guadalajara

D.C. United 2 : 1 CD Guadalajara

DC United leads 2-1 on aggregate after first leg.

Six Word Novel Recap

Down a man, up a goal.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, The Bog Man: "Despite playing a man down for the second half, United held off an unrelenting Chivas attack to emerge with a 2-1 advantage in front of a split crowd of 21,022."
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Last night, Ben Olsen and Clyde Simms scored United's goals in a frenzied game that was made all the more difficult following Marc Burch's ejection for a second caution in the 44th minute. Sergio Santana scored for Chivas in the 61st minute, but United was able to hold on."
The Examiner, Criag Stouffer: "The teams play the return leg Tuesday at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. The winner will face Argentina’s Arsenal in October."
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "Unfortunately, United's Devin McTavish gave Baez way too much room and he was able to measure a lovely cross that found Santana perfectly as he beat Greg Vanney to the near post. Santana's shot gave Perkins no chance and the put the series back in reach for Chivas at 2-1."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "Chivas had taken a stranglehold on possession and United was dropping quite deep to track runners and keep the ball in front of them. But the man advantage kept showing itself on half-clearances from the D.C. defense that fell invitingly for late-arriving Chivas players at the top of the penalty area -- but Perkins was repeatedly let off the hook by shots that flew high of the target...But set pieces offer one of the few areas where a 10-man side can strike back, and a gritty bit of play by Gomez -- maintaining possession in a crowd of red-and-white jerseys some 25 yards from the Chivas goal -- earned his team one such precious opportunity in the 55th minute."
BlackDogRed, BDR: "United was fortunate to win, and would have been fortunate to win even at full strength the entire game. People who wonder where MLS as a whole ranks against other leagues around the world got a good demonstration last night of where MLS currently rates. Chivas, a mid-table Mexican team, was bigger, stronger, more dexterous and heads-up, and was demonstrably quicker and faster than the most skilled team in MLS. The only position where United was superior was goalie, and Troy Perkins, who recovered from a terrible touch early in the game, dropping a ball aimed right at his chest that many Chivas players should have buried, saved United."
An American's View, Brian Garrison: "Chivas had about 4 shots in the first half, but they finished the match with 21, you do the math. Yes Troy Perkins was beat on teh 61st minute goal, but I honestly think it was more of total defensive lapse that allowed teh cross to come through the box, rather than Troy getting caught on the wrong side of the goal mouth."
Soccer Insider, The Bog Man for the Goffather: "The consensus from talking to several players was that United played far from its best soccer, was dominated in possession early in the first half, created several nice chances at the end of the half, and then held on down the stretch, aided a bit by Chivas failing to put away its chances. From my vantage point, Fred's creativity on the left jumpstarted United's spell of dangerous possession in the first half, and Gomez's two runs (one that set up Olsen's right-place right-time bomb, and one that created the free kick) saved the offense."

The Good

  1. We Don't Go to 11, we still get one more: Given an ejection to the defender who was having the best defensive game of the night, a 2-1 result is a fantastic one. Yes, Chivas gets an away goal, and that is mildly hurting, but as I recall we went down to Chivas drawn last time, and also down to Chile with a draw. At least this time we have a slight edge.
  2. Troy Perkins: While none of the saves may have been utterly acrobatic, there were enough that were difficult, and if any had gone through I'm sure certain people would start playing clips of the previous match in Guadalajara. He shut down everything he could reasonable be expected to get at.
  3. Clyde Simms: This marks about the fifth game we've seen him earn the everyday start with his performance. His play in midfield and dropping in was crucial in holding onto the slim lead, and his goal may well prove crucial.
  4. Ben Olsen: Fred and Gomez both figured out the game as it went on, but Ben came out of the blocks strong. Again, the goal was simply just rewards for the effort he was putting out there.
  5. Emilio as sole striker: Really, I don't much like it when he's up-top alone, and United was playing most of the game in a 3-3-2-1 after the red card to Burch, but he did enough to be a pest, and pulled the ball back. United still gave the ball away too often for a team bunkering in to preserve a lead shorthanded, but Emilio really did a lot alone up there to help buy time.
  6. The play of Chivas: For all the complaining, Chivas played a clean game. Yes, they used too much flair too often. Stepovers are nice, but they were more successful just running at players and changing direction. It made for an exciting game. Of course, I prefer boring United blowout wins.
  7. The Gentlemen of Knowledge, Who You Would Expect to Wear Top Hats, Carry Canes, and wear Evening Dress in the Middle of the Day. They don't, of course, but you might think that: Ran into this guy unexpectedly, whom I had never met before. He's much too kind about it in his words. This guy bought me a beer. It is a favor I publicly knowledge, and pledge to return. Truly, is there greater citizenship and brother/sisterhood in any country, in any army, in any municipality, than that of the fan? I think not. Gentlemen, it is a pleasure, let us do it again some time.

The Bad

  1. Handling Speed: Most MLS Teams attack United by playing long balls over the top. Chivas, especially early, was having tremendous success playing nifty weighted through balls for someone to run onto. Namoff was consistently being run at, and the middle of the defense was not much better. If MLS teams have that ability (and fortunately, even most of the good ones don't) then United would not be where they are. The surrendered goal was partially an effect of this, and partially an effect of a midfield not collapsing back in time.
  2. Namoff Gimping: I wrote this last week, but it is true this week. Not so much for the next Sudamericana game, but he needs to be healthy for the end of the season and the playoffs. This is not a good thing that I've had to write about it two games in a row. Get healthy.
  3. Vision: The biggest problem in the opening half hour was just how slow United was to recognize that plays that were developing for them. Gomez was having an awful start to the game, consistenly making poor passes and late decisions. Fred and Olsen were having success on the wing, but once again too often the ball was being pushed down the middle. Or rather, too often they tried to push it down the middle, and it was not working.
  4. The Fans of Chivas: This was alluded to in the comments, but while hearing a massive cheer of "CHI-VAS (boom,boom) CHI-VAS (boom,boom) repeat" is amazing the first two or three times you hear it, after awhile it gets old and tedious and not that impressive. They came equipped, which I credit them for, but they also were far too impressed by snazzy, yet ineffective play. I thought these wans were supposed to be savvy. And their whistles when Gomez and Namoff went down was just poor sportsmanship. Overall, I am underwhelmed with their supporters.

Man of the Match

Clyde Simms. Merit Awards to Olsen, Emilio, and most especially Perkins.

Karma Bank

Karma is not counted for non-MLS Competitions.

Final Thoughts

Let's get the scenarios out of the way first. For the second leg, here's how it works:

If United Wins: United Advances on aggregate
If the game is a draw: United Advances on aggregate
If Chivas Wins by Two or more goals: Chivas Advances on aggregate
If Chivas Wins 1-0: Chivas Advances on away goals
If Chivas wins 3-2, 4-3, 5-4, etc...: United Advances on away goals
If the final score is Chivas 2 : 1 United: We start to go down the road to penalties.

Got that? Good.

As for me, I enjoyed the game. I think the away goal for Chivas may be a better result for United than a 1-0 win (although certainly not as good as 2-0). If nothing else, United knows that they should look for one more goal in Guadalajara and not simply pack it in the entire game, a strategy with which they have shown dubious competence to date. That first goal in the second leg may well be everything, and United will know that very well now. Cagey, but aggressive, that's how we need to go. In fact, we need to play much like we did the first half last time we were down there.

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First Impressions - D.C. United Dos : Uno CD Guadalajara

After half-time, you couldn't really ask for anything better. 2-0 would have been ecstatic, but 2-1 is probably the best result against decent competition I can recall in some time when we've had the first leg of a tie at RFK.

Marc Burch's ejection was doubly painful, not simply because we went down a man but because his flank was overall better defended than Namoff on the right. Brian had a very, very tough game, and if MLS teams study how Chivas sent balls through to players on great runs, the end of the season could be tough. That being said, most MLS teams don't have the overall speed and touch of Chivas, who may be mid-table right now but had a lot of the goods last night. United also wasn't playing their best game. We'll hit this in the debrief, but the vision was either lacking, or just not at game speed, and Christian Gomez took about forty minutes to settle into the match. Also, since I know something will be said, Burch's ejection was one of those "harsh, but legitimate" calls from referee Hector Baldaffi. Both tackles were worthy of a yellow, and together that makes a red. Might he have kept the card in the pocket on either? Perhaps, but the man made a decision that was completely defensible.

The worry I had about this game was one of injury, fatigue, and game fitness. That's probably why I wasn't thrilled about seeing this tournament in the middle of our Supporter's Shield run. Once at the game, those concerns quickly faded. Chivas brought their East Coast fans once again, and that makes bringing the support a matter of honor. Still, once the game is over, I return to the dispassionately logical concerns I had, and I have to admit that the only thing that could prove me right is the potential injury to Namoff. Christian Gomez clearly had lost a bit of form with his extended break, and a game like this may ultimately help in the long run.

Oh, and for Olsen and Simms to get goals is pretty much perfect for this season. That makes me happy. Benny & Clyde. There's a song there somewhere.

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26 September 2007

Hockey and Marc Burch

I went to the Caps pre-season game last night against Carolina. Obviously golden goals in OT are exciting, but I really can't get too excited about hockey in general. In soccer when a player is offsides, the players scream at the AR, wag their fingers and the supporters go nuts. In hockey there is polite applause. In soccer, a long ball from the back that finds an on-rushing striker gets everyone out of their seats and cheering. In hockey, the equivalent gets a whistle, a TV timeout and more polite applause. The only thing that I enjoyed last night that I don't think I could get from a soccer match is the 15 second Metallica clips that are pumped through the arena speakers before each faceoff. I love me some loud Metallica.

Here's my contribution to the Match Debrief for CHI vs DCU from Sunday.

The Bad

  1. Marc Burch: I'm a huge fan of his and have been so impressed with that left foot of his as United made their impressive run after the All Star Break. But I wonder if MB has been reading too much of the positive press about himself. I got the feeling in the Chicago match that every time the ball came to him, he would just send in a cross but without the quality of previous games. I felt like he was making crosses too early or with no target or without enough pace. He may believe he can do no wrong and it seemed true in the FCD game in early September. But I think Burch needs to continue to do well by concentrating on quality and a target. Instead, it feels like he just hits it and assumes that the result will be a goal.
So if football is "pointyball", what is hockey? "Deflated-and-melted-into-a-lump-ball"?

Lastly, check out Nathan's comment to my post yesterday regarding the UEFA Champions League where I specifically mentioned the Turkish club Fenerbahçe.
Hi, nice blog. I, like you, am an American fan of soccer, and my team is Fenerbahce. I know...it's weird. Anyway, I have a blog about Fenerbahce in English if you ever want to learn a little more about our club - www.fenerbahceworldwide.blogspot.com. I have another guy who writes for me as well, and we try to update our site every day or so.
This is awesome because I think I know exactly what happened. I think he googled the name of his favorite club and found this blog because of an innocent reference on my part. Actually, that's the exact same way (googling "DC United", not "Fenerbahçe") that I found The DCenters originally. But the point is that I'm adding new readers immediately! Woo-hoo!

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DCU v CD Guadalajara

I just noticed this information updated to the DC United homepage:

DC United v CD Guadalajara
Copa Nissan Sudamericana
8:30 p.m. ET

TV: FSE (LIVE), FSC (TD - 11 p.m. ET)
Radio: 1160 AM (Eng), SRN

So to the commenter who was wondering if Tony Limarzi would be bringing us the action on the radio, it appears that he will be. I'll be listening at wmet1160.com

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Special Game C [hivas of Guadalajara]

The news in the major papers is tonight's match against Chivas of Guadalajara in the Copa Sudamericana. The buzz is emphasizing the fact that there is that United is carrying something of a grudge against the Real Goats. From Haydon in the Times:

"That loss against them left a bad taste in my mouth, and this is an opportunity for payback," Namoff said. "It gives us another chance to get another stab at Chivas."

And from The Bog Man in the Post:

"To me, it's more about Chivas versus D.C. United," Olsen said, "and it's a credit to this club that we can have a rivalry with one of the most storied clubs in Mexico."

Fred seems to be the one making the case for prestige of the tournament:

"We have to think big with our team's mentality in this tournament," said Fred. "It's very respected, it's very important. It's watched throughout the continent. I think we have a mentality that we can do well and hopefully advance to the next round."

QuarterVolley notes the voices from the Mexican side may sound a bit overconfident, but I also recall that we didn't open that series particularly impressively.

Now, while I'm thrilled that United's players really want this game (see the most recent Access United and Behind the Badge), and I'll definitely be there tonight, I just don't feel the same passion for this tournament that I felt two years ago. Perhaps two years ago it was the newness of the experience (Hey! We're playing in South America! Cool!) Perhaps part of it was just how depressing that ending was. But I think the major motivating factor is that of the three trophies in play for United, this ranks third right now. The Cup and the Shield are both much more desirable right now, and if either quest should suffer because of this match due to injuries or the like, I will not be pleased. I don't want the results of this match to interfere with the season or playoffs. I'd almost want a reserve heavy team to play in order to put out a full strength, rested line-up against Toronto. If the table was different, I'd feel differently, but right now this is not my main concern. The Real Goats may be a budding rivalry of a sort, but even that doesn't motivate me. Revenge, as Hamlet learned, isn't always a noble cause.

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25 September 2007

My Own Personal Trophy

Wednesday, April 18. A day that will live in infamy. Well, for some at least. For the rest of us, it's good stuff all the way:

When NY finishes ahead of DC United at season's end, D will proudly wear a Red Bulls scarf and shirt to a DC United match. A photo will be taken of the happy event, and said photo will be posted on his aforementioned blog. Should be a great time.

Of course, should the opposite occur, I'll appear here in DC colors. The thought is really atrocious, so come on, New York!

At this time, United owns the tie breaker over New York, and with one more point won by United, or lost by New York, it won't even come down to that. United will finish ahead of New York. It is official. Mr. Fish, your shirt size and address please? Your merchandise will be bought and mailed in the start of October. Please acknowledge receipt with photos, preferable in front of several other secretly jealous Bull fans.

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The Best Show on TV

Thank you all for the kind welcome to The DCenters.

Last Saturday afternoon (Sept. 22, if you actually care) I was downtown playing pick-up Ultimate Frisbee. One of the other players there was wearing his Michael Ballack GNT jersey, so we got to talking about soccer, futbol, Man U. (his club of choice) and DC United (mine).

Now as an aside, I consider my DC United jersey to be "the best shirt I own" and frequently refer to it as such. I don't even like to wear it when I go to RFK to see a match because I don't want to get it sweaty or have beer spilled on it or even maybe get hit by a Metrobus while wearing it. (Another point: black jerseys in July are no fun.) But there is NO WAY I would wear a soccer jersey (which aren't cheap) to play UF. But I digress.

I recommended a TV show to the Ballack fan that day that I will recommend to you now as well. It is called the UEFA Champions League Highlights Show. The show next airs on Friday, October 5th at 2pm on ESPN2. Set your TiVo.

If you've seen the show before, you will already know that there is a one hour episode of highlights and analysis for each UEFA Champions League Matchday. The analysts are Derrick Rae, Tommy Smyth and in the Matchday 1 episode a guy named Janusz Michallik who I wasn't familiar with prior, but who's first name is coincidentally my mother's maiden name. So, yay Poland!

from wikipedia:

Janusz Michallik (born April 22, 1966 in Chorzów, Poland) is a retired U.S. soccer defender and current soccer coach and television sports commentator.

Michallik moved to the United States with his father, a former Polish national team player, at the age of 16. His father had previously spent time in the U.S. in 1976 when he played for the Hartford Bicentennials of the North American Soccer League. While Michallik played for the junior Polish national team, he never played for the senior team, making him eligible for the U.S. team once he gained his citizenship.

UCL has 8 groups of four teams each - standard format - but with 16 matches each Matchday, that is a lot of highlights to get through in only an hour. But they pull it off and do it superbly. AND they find time for analysis. For example, in the MD1 episode they talked about Mourinho's departure from Chelsea, Henry's move to Barca and the influence of Fenerbahçe's Brazilians (that match against Inter looked like it was awesome!)

It is also interesting that as the tournament progresses to and through the elimination rounds, the show remains an hour long, so the highlights and analysis get even more and more in-depth (with maybe only one or two more Heineken commercials). By the time the finals come, you are getting an entire hour devoted to one match. Fantastic!

Champions League is of the highest quality, so the highlights are superb. That's obviously the biggest attraction for me. But as a relative newbie to international club futbol, this show immerses me in teams that I have (essentially) never heard of and have virtually no access to. (Yes, that's right; I am an Arlington Comcast basic cable subscriber. I've got ComcastSportsNet for MLS and EPL matches, ESPN2 for MLS and national team matches, and the 3 Spanish language stations for MLS, Mexican League and North, central and South American national team matches) But Fenerbahçe? Shakhtar? CSKA Moskva? I love it.

In the comments, sound off if you love this show too and why.

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24 September 2007

The DCenters brings North Arlington All-Star in for Trial

We know, the "At A Glance" section was not getting updated regularly. And we despaired of actually getting around to it. Fortunately, Bob, who spent some time with the North Arlington All Stars, has agreed to come on board and help get it sorted out. In addition to that, he'll be posting along the same schedule as the rest of us (i.e. whenever we damn well feel like it) and hopefully will join as a full-fledged writer in a few weeks. So please welcome Bob to the scene.


Debriefing for Match 12.26: At Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire 1 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Moreno scores even when he's passing.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

SE Podcast (via Booked for Dissent), David Lifton:"This was about the 6th or 7th time this year that United has been on the good side of some goalkeeping reminiscent of U-17 girls teams. "
The Washington Post, Steve Yanda: "The goal that saved an afternoon of largely sluggish play for D.C. United wasn't supposed to be a goal. The ball that left the foot of forward Jaime Moreno in the 84th minute wasn't even supposed to be a shot. It was meant as a cross and ended up earning United a point in the MLS standings."
The Chicago Tribune, Luis Arroyave: "The Fire dominated play for the most part, but one of its best performances of the season was spoiled by a late Jaime Moreno goal... This marked the second straight game in which the Fire had given up a tying goal in the last 10 minutes."
MLSNet, Tim Hilton: "'I faked it a couple of times to cross it and when I crossed it, it went straight into the goal. It was too bad for the 'keeper,' Moreno said...Chicago took an early 1-0 lead when Chad Barrett was able to put away a shot from the heart of the penalty area, which was set up by a 35-yard pass from Blanco in the 18th minute."
QuarterVolley, I-66: "So yeah, terrible decision by Matt Pickens, but as I said on Friday 'given the circumstances, I’d not be terribly disappointed to see a draw.'"
The Fullback Files: "The lack of creativity in midfield was a real hindrance to the United offense, though we did hit some testers from distance, McTavish proved how valuable his positional adaptability is, and Mediate proved that he deserved getting his roster spot back. I actually thought that not having Wanchope in the lineup hurt us more than Chicago, as Boswell-Vanney is not the speediest combo at the back and probably would have dealt with his physical threat better than the pace of Barrett and Carr"
An American's View, Brian Garrison: "Once Cylde Simms was brought on the field in for Namoff, United's composure looked completely different. Yes we were still without Gomez or Fred making moves in the middle, but defensively, United looked much more solid."
Fifty-Fifty Ball: "Once again Troy Perkins came up with a huge save in the fifth minute of stoppage with a game saving save.

The Good

  1. Making Due: Sometimes you hope to get by without one player, but missing three with Olsen, Fred, and Gomez all out meant that there was no way to hide a replacement out there. Instead, Tom Soehn adopted a different mentality, and the midfield was not so much an engine to drive the attack as an attempt to slow down the Fire's attack and to join the defense. It did alright, although it certainly wasn't the best. Plus, we pay our debts to society in one game, and have Fred, and Olsen, and Gomez all ready to go for the remaining games of the season with three cards each to give. Works for me.
  2. Troy Perkins: Needed to give United something, and he certainly did, playing a good enough game to keep the black and red in it long enough to make something happen.
  3. Clyde Simms: This marks about the fourth game we've seen him earn the everyday start with his performance.
  4. Tom Soehn: A more dogmatic coach would have looked at three missing players and somehow still tried to play his system with three replacements. Soehn instead adjusted his system to fit his players. I am a fan of this.
  5. Alex Prus: I ragged on him earlier in the year, but I have to say that he officiated this game fairly well. Yes, he was somewhat credulous on Blanco's consistently hitting the turf, but he was skeptical enough as well. They can't all be dives, can they? Okay, they can, but I thought Prus dealt with it fairly well. United did foul Chicago much more often than Chicago fouled DC, which surprised me given how physical the Fire were playing DC. To Chicago's credit, they played DC fairly clean.

The Bad

  1. Vanney and Boswell Together:It's a working hypothesis of this blog that Vanney is acceptable at Center Back, and Boswell is acceptable, but both is somewhat problematic. We saw that yesterday, as United struggled to deal with through balls played down the sides of the box. Theoretically, that's where a center back can provide support, but Boswell wasn't there in time to help Namoff and Carroll on the goal, and Vanney was abused repeatedly (although, to his credit, at one point he did recover enough to shut down one cross. However, to his detriment, I only noticed it once, and noticed him beaten two or three other times)
  2. Namoff Gimping: Just as Marc Burch could have been the hidden catalyst to the United run of results, Brian Namoff picking up a knock could be threatening. Right now we have two reasonable options at Left Back, but I'm not sure where you go at right back after Namoff. Gros, potentially, or MacTavish. Not Simms. Hope that isn't much.

Man of the Match

Jaime Moreno for saving the points. Merit awards to Simms, Perkins, and, yes, Mediate.

Karma Bank

+2 for the season entering the game. We burn two karma for the ridiculous nature of Moreno's goal, which is pretty much a once in a season event you see something like that (-2). We earn one karma for some good attacking soccer despite a second string midfield (+1). We should all earn karma for having to listen to people sing Fire, Fire, Fire fire fire... without even the courtesy of a Jimi Hendrix riff behind them. -1 for the game, +1 for the season.

Final Thoughts

United had two games in a row where wins were not of paramount importance, and picked up four of six points in them. That probably ends now in terms of the Supporter's Shield run. Combined with the Copa Sudamericana ties, we are now faced with a completely legitimate question of trying to maintain the rotation in order to keep rested for the playoffs or really pushing all-out for the Supporter's Shield. Chivas is not making this easy on us, and that's to their credit. Personally, I would maintain the rotation in the Sudamericana, and push to polish off the Supporter's Shield. Looking at the remaining games for Chivas, I think their schedule is decent to them. I think you can give them at least six points in the bag, and the games against Chicago, At Dallas, and Houston are the places they may lose points. I think Chivas easily gets four points, and as many as six from those matches. Give them 12 more points for the season, and United needs to take home a certain birth in next season's CONCACAF Champions Cup. Doable, but not easy.

I also want to draw your attention to this article at Goal.Com. It makes a point that I was going to make, until I really thought about one fact: I don't want to see Chicago in the playoffs. Yes, I know they'd be lower seeded than New York or Kansas City, but right now I really don't want to play Chicago. They are getting better, and just learned the lessons that United were taught earlier in the season about closing out games. So, yes, the playoff system is theoretically unfair to United, but it may turn out to be a saving grace.

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23 September 2007

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

I'm sure there are those that will be annoyed by United coming away with only a draw, but this is about as good as I think we have any right to expect. United entered the game without most of its starting midfield, and still managed a draw against a Chicago team that's playing pretty well. Those that are inclined to judge United harshly may say that the goal was something of a fluke, coming only because Moreno's cross was so bad it caught everyone, including Pickens, by surprise. You can go that way if you'd like, but United was generating some offense before then, and had done enough to earn the one goal they eventually received. It was a good draw, one that I'm happy to take. We're now down to four games remaining, and Chivas is three points back with a game in hand. Here's the stretch run:


Now, United has the tie breaker over Chivas from head-to-head, which means if United wins out, then they'll have the Supporter's Shield even if Chivas wins out as well. And it might come down to something like that. I see three tough games for Chivas, and United's schedule ends against teams all trying to jockey for playoff position while they fit in Copa Sudamericana.

While I wasn't pinning all of my hopes on a win today, the draw will mean that the season is going to be a bit tense from here on out. Take the point, come home, and come out firing against Toronto.

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21 September 2007

Poplar Point Positions

A few reader emails that I'd like to get to. First, James emailed us to let us know of a grass-roots group has an online petition supporting Poplar Point. Now, the more cynical among us will ask "what good will that do?" Forget that, ask yourself instead "Can do this any harm, and could it possibly do good?" If just one person looks at this and realizes that Poplar Point is not something wanted only by money-craving, poor-people-hating, baby-eating developers, then that's good enough for me. Consider me signed on board.

However, while I tend to support Poplar Point, reader Larry Leister emailed us these thoughts towards an argument that perhaps renovating RFK ain't a bad idea, and he's given the okay to reproduce his thoughts in-full here:

DCenters Folks,

Since you seem willing to take on topics of some length, I'll offer the following for consideration. I've not seen this discussed, but if it has been just delete this note.

I realize that the following idea will most likely not be to the liking of the owners of DC United since the profit potential would seem to be much less than a new stadium at Poplar Point (I'm sure creative developers can figure out how to work with this idea). However, if the issue at hand is limited to providing a suitable stadium for DC United, I would think this idea would have some merit. My guess is that part of the foot dragging on the part of the DC city government related to the building of a stadium at Poplar Point is due to the fact that the city would be left with a decaying RFK stadium with no tenants and no prospects.

So the proposal is for the city to sell RFK stadium, parking lots and all to DC United for some token amount.

  • The cost to the city should be less than what would be required for the Poplar Point stadium.
  • The revenue from game related events available to DC United should be the same as it would be at Poplar Point. Granted the ancillary revenue from other buildings/development would be much less or non-existent.
  • The money that would have been spent on the Poplar Point stadium could be spent on refurbishing RFK. I have no idea what the underlying infrastructure of RFK is like, but if Yankee Stadium can be refurbished, I would assume that RFK could be also. As the refurbishing costs could be significant, funding from the city might be part of the deal since a city landmark would be retained and improved.

This seems to be a win-win (again not considering the loss of development profit).

  • The city gets rid of a stadium for which there are no tenants nor little apparent future
  • DC United gets the additional revenue from owning the stadium and concessions.
  • MLS gets to keep one of it's landmark stadiums

One of the benefits of soccer specific stadiums is the seating capacity that is sized closer to the expected attendance.

Staying in RFK would seem to defeat that, although this does not seem to be as much of an issue for DC United as it is for many clubs. However, I have a suggestion for that as well.

Part of the refurbishment, in addition to aligning the seats so that they actually face the pitch, would be installing a retractable roof, actually more like two awnings made of waterproof and sound-reflecting material. These would cover the seats in the lower bowl. This would have the following advantages:

  • The field would be uncovered but the seats would be at least partially covered
  • The crowd noise would be reflected down on the field and would be absolutely incredible
  • The seats in the upper deck would be largely removed from view, thus giving the feel of a smaller stadium
  • For big events, MLS Cup, national team games, foreign club friendlies, dramatic increase in MLS regular game attendance, the awnings could be retracted and the upper deck could be used.

Just some thoughts.

Larry Leister

Now, put aside our natural desires for a home of our own, special for us, and consider this idea. I think Larry recognizes the biggest problem with his scenario: It's not what MacFarlane and company signed up for. They want the team, yes, but they also want a piece of the ancillary development, and that ain't happened with RFK. However, since Larry asks us to set that aside, let's do so. Would this work for you?

It's tough. I want to say "No, no, a thousand times no" but perhaps that's just being spoiled. I personally think that rehabbing RFK as Larry describes would be almost as costly as building a new stadium (I mean, look at the state of the concrete...) and then throwing on a roof would just sky-rocket the price. So financially, I'm not sure it is viable. But perhaps part of me is just done with RFK. I want to move on. And that's not a rational reason for opposing Larry's idea. What say you?

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Access United Update

I was clicking through MLSnet while watching Houston v. LA last Sunday. I came across this page that has all of the Access United posts along with the other team's insider shows. I realized that I hadn't watched an Access United video in a long, long time. They come out randomly with no set schedule and I don't normally check the DC United web page for them, which means that I usually miss them. If I am missing them I am pretty confident that means that a lot of DC United fans are missing them, and that is a shame.

I really like the Access United videos that I have seen and think that they do a good job of showing a small portion of the raw feed that reporters with press releases get week in and week out. As I was on YouTube watching something I will hopefully get to blog about later, I saw that Kyle Sheldon has started to put the Access United videos up on the tubes. This basically means that DC United is trying to get these distributed as widely as possible.

So here is my question for you readers, would you like it if The DCenters started a regular feature where we embed the Access United videos as we find them so that you don't have to continually look for them on the website? Or do you guys have some other means of easily viewing them and knowing when they are released that I should know about?

I have included the last two Access United videos as an example of what the embed would look like and how good the video would be through YouTube.

D.C. United vs Chicago on September 23, 2007 Preview

D.C. United vs CD Guadalajara on September 26, 2007 Preview

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20 September 2007

This Explains Much

Over at For the Integrity of Soccer, a fascinating bit of blog writing:

After a match at D.C. United, one member of the audience at the post-game meeting asked the referee for his thoughts about persistent infringement. In particular, he asked what his threshold was (the number of fouls before he intervenes), because one player (Fred) had six fouls. That's a fair question, but the answer was not.

The referee replied: "I don't keep track of the number of fouls during the match. Too many other things to keep track of."...on the stage with the official was the in-stadium observer representing one part of the assessing process of MLS. He said not a word, thereby giving his tacit approval.

Now, in this case the question is why a DC player wasn't given a yellow for persistent infringement, but many of us have had this same question about a number of other games and teams (cough...Revs...cough). I think we understand a bit better now.

By the way, I'm not sure who the referee was. I don't find a record of Fred having six fouls in any game this season, but he's picked up a few. I'm guessing that it was the New England match, which would make the ref...oh, look at that, it's Abbey.

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Coffee with Sweet Creamery Butter

GARTH LAGERWEY TO REAL SALT LAKE: As if sending them previous DCU players wasn't enough, now they want former color commentators. Anyways, congrats to Garth on his new job as General Manager in Salt Lake. Now, there is an interesting subtext here for those that want to think about it. At the SE Pub Quiz back in April, someone might have heard Garth speculating that his playing days in MLS ended a bit prematurely perhaps because of his involvement trying to unionize players. A bit of management payback, if you will. (By the way, if that's the case, and I don't know if it is or not, but any front office official that got rid of a decent keeper to make a collective bargaining point should be fired. Just saying.)

The interesting thing is now Garth is across the table for the Union he worked so hard to create. Wonder how that will play out.

And no, I never liked the Sweet Creamery Butter call, and if you notice he hasn't used it much in recent games. That being said, I thought he was a capable color commentator, and if he's as capable in the General Manager role, I think RSL will improve.

IS IT TIME TO PLAY "ROOT FOR WHO CAN HELP US?": Of course it is. Here's my guide to the upcoming games:
  • CHI-DAL Root for a Chicago win. Two reasons for this. First, Dallas is a potential Supporter's Shield competitor, and Chicago isn't. Second, I don't want Chicago all riled up with must-win thoughts when we face them. Let them have the three points in this game, and hopefully (okay, not realistically, but still) they'll be a bit more complacent facing DC.
  • CLB-TOR Root for whomever you want, no real implications to this match.
  • NE-RBNY Root for a draw and tons of cards. From a supporter's shield perspective, a New England loss is better, but that would somehow mean rooting for the Bulls. Not gonna happen.
  • COL-RSL: I hate to say this, but you should root for the Rapids. I'd rather have four seeds from the East than five, so I want Colorado to overtake Chicago for that eighth playoff spot. Since we're also rooting for Chicago, we need Colorado to keep pace here. That being said, a draw will do nicely as well. And wish Garth well on his first game.
  • KC-CHV: Supporter's Shield implications mean rooting for Kansas City. Chivas is still only two points behind once games in hand are factored in, and we need them to drop points.
  • DAL-LA: Root for LA. Let's get Dallas out of the Supporter's Shield picture.

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18 September 2007

Life Imitated Satire: Morrisey is a Chivas Fan

I saw this noted briefly at DuNord, but Kyle Guftason of Information Leafblower (and many DCist posts and photo galleries) sent us this link that proved Morrisey is a CD Chivas USA supporter. Of course, if you're a regular reader of the DCenters, you got the information directly from the man himself back in May of this year. Hilarity ensues.

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What Chris Webb Gets Right, and Wrong, About the Vanney-Erpen Trade

Chris Webb has a provocative article about the Vanney-Erpen deal over at UnitedMania. Go ahead and read the article in full, because it is good reading. However, as always, we reserve the right to dissent, at least in part. Now, this is the kind of in-depth argument that only fans care about, so let's get at it. Webb argues that the day of the Vanney deal was the day "D.C. United moved into the upper echelon of MLS." But is that true?

I don't think so. As we argued previously, the Vanney deal was more problematic for DC to begin with. There's a clear correlation between Vanney arriving, and a mid-season string of mediocre results (yes, correlation is not causation, but it should at least raise your eyebrows). Specifically, one game after Vanney arrives and the United defense, whose recent form had been below their season average, suddenly spikes above the season-to-date averages. At the time, we argued that this was evidence that Boswell/Vanney did not work well, and that the true spark to the defense was Marc Burch. Webb attributes Burch's maturity at least partially to Vanney:

However, probably the biggest benefactor of the trade has been Marc Burch who has more than exceeded expectations on the left side of defense...Burch has not only defended well but his already prolific offensive moves has added a new dimension to a United attack that now can attack from every position on the field. United has undergone a tactical and philisophical change since Burch has come into the lineup. They actually use his fantastic left foot to their advantage.

Yet let's not forget that Vanney, when initially acquired, was blocking Burch. To refresh your memory, the back four against Colorado was Gros-Erpen-Simms-McTavish. The first game Vanney plays, and the backline is Vanney-McTavish-Simms-Gros. Against Houston, the line-up is similar: Vanney-Boswell-McTavish-Gros. In the crucial road-win against New England, we finally see the backline that powers the unbeaten streak: Burch-McTavish-Boswell-Namoff. Burch, if anything, was not helped by Vanney's arrival, but hindered. Vanney was blocking Burch at the left back position.

Now, I agree that one major benefactor was Josh Gros, who was servicable at best as an outside back, but is more effective in midfield. Webb has that absolutely right. But the day United became a contender wasn't the day they traded for Greg Vanney, it was the day that they realized that the job they acquired Vanney for was one that was better filled by Burch. Once Vanney was put in the center of defense, his speed became a bit less of a liability, and his experience and ability to organize a defense was better utilized. If you're looking for a turning point (and certainly with a season with 5 remaining games, plus the playoffs, it's possible more turning points will emerge) then that's a more persuasive turning point. Is the Vanney-Erpen deal a good one? Yes, for many of the other reasons Webb enumerates (freeing us from an SI logjam with Erpen next year becomes a large one). But the deal itself wasn't the contributing factor, it was the ability to adapt Vanney's usage to his abilities, and that meant moving him out of left back.

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You Request, We Respond

A few reader questions on which I am happy to provide a response:


Anonymous K had a question in the wake of our noting that DC United has once again regained their rightful crown of winningest team of all time - "What about in terms of points?" Well, decent question, so here are a few other ways of looking at overall history. If you take points in terms of regular standing points, United is, wait for it... tied:

1t) LA:526 points through 2006 + 17 pts to date in 2007 = 543
1t) DC: 494 pts + 49 pts = 543 pts
3) KC: 445 pts + 36 pts =481 pts

So United will need to finish off the season better than LA in all games remaining in order to obtain the all-time standings points lead.

Now, the other thing that might be interesting is if you convert shoot-out wins and losses to draws, which will sort of make the previous seasons more consistent for the sake of comparison and compilation. On that basis, adjusting the number of wins for shootouts, we get the following:

1) LA: 156 adjusted wins through 2006 + 4 wins in 2007 = 160 adjusted wins.
2) DC: 143+ 15 = 158 adjusted wins.
3) CHI: 128 + 8 = 136 adjusted wins.

So United needs to get two more wins than the Galaxy of the rest of the year in order to gain the title on those terms. Similarly, lets look at adjusted points (counting shoot-outs as draws):
1) LA: 540 adjusted points through 2006 + 17 points in 2007 = 557 adjusted points
2) DC: 507 + 49 = 556 adjusted points

Again, this one is also up for grabs for the remainder of the season.


A few days ago we posted our analysis of what's going right for United based on some moving averages for goals. Commenter Bob had this to say:

I think that the third graph should also include the full season moving averages, so you can quickly see how the past few games have shown above average scoring. You will also see a danger point if the scoring average drops below that trend line.

That seams reasonable Bob. Since you ask, here it is (Click to enlarge):

You can see quite clearly that United has recently been allowing about half-a-goal per game more than season-to-date, but they've compensated by scoring about two-thirds of a goal more per game recently than the season-to-date. Now, the good news about the defense is that you would expect it to get better. The bad news is that you also expect the offense to similarly regress to the mean over the final games. The great news is that the season to date averages show United scoring about .75 more goals than they allow, and that's a good place to be. Okay, that's enough dorkiness from me. Any other concerns you need follow-up on?

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17 September 2007

DC United: Winningest Team of All-Time

I want to just make a quick note of it while it is out there. For a time there, the LA Galaxy had the most wins of all MLS teams in history. Through 2006, the Galaxy had 167 league wins (including shoot-outs) to United's 161. Of course, at the end of this year, the situation is much changed. To date, United has 176 wins to the Galaxy's 171. LA can finish with 8 more wins, which would bring them to 179. That means United needs three more wins to guarantee at least a share of the all-time Wins record for MLS season matches. Or LA can not win three more matches. Either way. And, of course, right now we're the winningest team in MLS history. You know, just in case Alexi brings up that crown-jewel nonsense again.

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Checking in Overseas

As you know, The DCenters have sort unofficial partnerships with a few other blogs. Let's check in to see how our friends are doing:

HEED ARMY MARCHING: The official UPL team of the DCenters, Gateshead FC, currently have won all of their six league matches and sit third in the UPL table (with two games in hand). Needless to say, the famous (and fabulous) Heed Army is thrilled, so we encourage you to support the team of Ray Hudson's birthplace by checking in with The Heed Army. Matches against Matlock Town and current top-of-the-table Guisely promise to be good tests as the march to the Conference North continues.

HAIL HAIL AND FORZA: Celtic is also top of the table, having not lost a league game. Our friends at The Lord of the Wing sound just as measured as we do during a winning streak though, and we defer to their sangfroid:

We have a big week this week. Two away trips, which potentially could end wie two defeats but we go in to it wie confidence and goals. There's no sense of fear as whisper it for all oor faults we are no a bad side and an entertaining one at that
Measured, but confident. I like that.

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DC United chasing Veron for 2008

Ives is reporting on his blog that United " is deep in talks with Argentine star midfielder Juan Veron to sign him as a designated player for the 2008 season." Jump over ther for the full story.

  1. How much does Veron have left in the tank? Would he adjust to the more physical play in MLS if he couldn't adjust to playing in the EPL? I'd wager he would although his current Argentine season has been marred by minor injuries.
  2. Is Gomez who we have to give up? Even in an arguably sub par season, I really hope there'd be some arrangement that keep Gomito in a United uniform. I'd rather he go overseas than to another MLS team.
  3. Do we have the slots to keep so many foreign players? Moreno has a green card, so he doesn't count against the limit. Gomez, Emilio, Fred are our current Senior Internationals. Kpene is a Youth International, and I'm not clear on if he would count as an SI next year.
  4. An interview in Ole, mentions that Veron would like to play in Copa Libertadores. If its true, is he willing to give up on that?

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Nike and the NFL Co-Opt One of Soccer's Great Attractions

Nike's most recent advertisement for their football related products is a stunning piece of work. I'm sure someone will post a link to YouTube in the comments (Please? It's blocked where I'm at). The ad is a stunning triumph of clever editing, CGI and other effects, and orchestration. Playing like one really long cinematic take, the ad opens with San Diego Charger Shawne Merriman leveling a ball carrier, only to promptly get up, continue running up the field, and level another. And another, and another, while the teams and weather change around him. Ultimately he levels a quarterback just after the ball is pitched to St. Louis half-back Stephen Jackson. Now the motion is reversed, and Stephen Jackson hurtles over would-be tacklers, or fights through would be defenders, spinning and dancing his way towards the end-zone where he's met by a group of five Steelers. The commercial ends with him stretching out his arms to break the plane of the goal line, and the Nike Swoosh with the slogan "LEAVE NOTHING" appears.

The ad is simply brilliant. Beautiful, stirring, inspiring, jaw-dropping... all of that. But even when I saw it for the first time, something nagged at me. And that something is this: It's a big lie.

The thing about football, which I was recently reminded of with the start of a new NFL Season, is that the actual action is ten seconds and then a break when the teams huddle up. Then five more seconds, and another break for thirty seconds. It's a choppy, awkward affair, like a poorly directed Pinter play, not the continuous fluid movement that the Nike ad gives us. The motion that the Nike ad shows is more like, well, soccer, than anything else. A football player will spring fifty yards and trot to the sidelines for oxygen. A left back will sprint fifty yards and then have to reverse directions and sprint back fifty yards to cover the counter-attack.

The clever thing Nike has done is repackage football in the tempo of soccer. And that, well, bothers me for some reason. It's not the misrepresentation, it's the feeling that one of the things that makes this sport special -- it's consistent, fluid action -- is being stolen for sport that doesn't deserve it. I like pointy-ball. It's discrete battles, it's overarching strategy, it can be fun to watch them play out. But it isn't about what Nike purports it to show. If that's the kind of action you want, watch soccer.

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Sic Transit Chick

The DC Sports Chick will blog no more. A sad day.


Coffee for the rest week

A few notes and such, and then I have some posts I want to write during this brief moment when we're out of the constant stretch of games and can broaden our vision for a moment (before narrowing it for the final five regular season matches):

UNITED ACQUIRE MONTEIRO: The interesting thing here is the phrase "conditional pick." Typically, this means a pick that depends on the amount of playing time Monteiro will see. However, United does not have a #1 pick in the 2008 Superdraft (we traded that to Toronto to get Dyachenko back), which means that at best we traded a second round pick for someone that was drafted in the first round. More likely, the value of this pick will be between the third and fourth rounds. Now, is that a bargain? Probably not. Monteiro was a bit of a reach as a first round pick, he never made Carrick's list of the top 10 strikers, and JoeSoccerFan's analysis of the draft admired his instincts but hated his finishing. Whatever United traded for him is probably closer to his true value on draft day than the first round selection would have indicated. And that's before he's had a season's worth of evaluation with an MLS side.

That being said, both Kpene and Addlery may be made a bit nervous by this. Addlery is the most likely to be displaced: Monteiro is a bit younger and Addlery, and my impression is that Kpene has shown better in his time with the first team. The only reason that Kpene might be a bit nervous is that Guy-Roland Kpene is taking a Youth International slot which Monteiro would not.

WEEKEND RESULTS: Nice to see Chivas drop a few points against Colorado (Credit-where-it-is-due note: I-66 saw this in the cards. Still, United is playing with less than a one game margin of error in its upcoming matches (assuming Chivas wins its remaining game-in-hand on United). While I'm willing to overlook the Chicago match for now, given the number of people out for accumulated cautions, the four games after that may each have must win status in terms of the Supporter's Shield. Especially if United drops points against an improved Chicago side.

And I did watch some tivoed Women's World Cup games. Hooray for the US winning over Sweden, and all of that, but that Germany-England match was my favorite. Tense, cagey, smart soccer with some gaffs to liven things up, as well as some good end-to-end action. If MLS nil-nil draws were as enjoyable, people wouldn't worry about goal scoring so much.

NOTED: RSL blogger RSLFM visited RFK for the United-RSL tilt, and overall had favorable impressions of the match and crowd (except for a run-in with Talon.) A good read. One question: Who let her have an Eagles ticket and wear an RSL jersey? For shame, kids, for shame. (I know, it was the more tolerant 133 section... still, it seems a bit off to me).

Coming up in a bit: The big-lie told by the pointy-ball marketers, and a discussion of the strange quirk in the MLS Playoffs that punishes success.

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13 September 2007

Debriefing for Match 12.25: Real Salt Lake

D.C. United 2 : 1 Real Salt Lake

Six Word Novel Recap

Thank you alumni, playoff spot clinched.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Luciano Emilio continues to close in on Raul Diaz Arce's single-season franchise record of 23 goals set in 1996'"
The Washington Post, Paul Tenorio: "But besides the early goal, United struggled in the first half. Real Salt Lake dominated the midfield, dictating possession in the first 45 minutes while outshooting United 8-5 and winning six corners to United's one."
The Examiner, Craig Stouffer: "Thanks to Luciano Emilio’s third consecutive game with a goal and a penalty-kick save from Troy Perkins, D.C. is nine games without a loss and became the first team to clinch a playoff berth after a 2-1 win Wednesday in front of 14,655 at RFK Stadium."
DCist: "Soehn expressed his frustrations during halftime, lamenting a "predictable" attack. Guy-Roland Kpene got the start in place of Jaime Moreno (on call with the Bolivian national team), but performed ineffectively."
Soccer America, Ridget Mahoney: "Gomez's failure illustrates that penalty kicks, which are usually taken by Moreno and make up a substantial chunk of his league-record 110 goals, aren't necessarily gimmees."
Salt Lake Tribune, Jimmy LaRue:
"We give good teams good games, and for some reason, we give them away, and that's why we're on the bottom, and they're on top."
Daily Utah Chronicle, Jon Gilbert: "
The Man of the Match was Christian Gomez. D.C. United's midfielder used his head to notch the game-winning goal in the 73rd minute to put away a stubborn RSL team still looking for its first playoff berth in franchise history."
Desert Morning News, David Driver: "
Alecko Eskandarian, a striker for Real Salt Lake, used the words "crazy" and "bizarre" to describe his first game as a visiting player at RFK Stadium. Two other words that can be used are "road" and "loss."
Booked for Dissent: SE Podcast posted
An American's View, Brian Garrison: "
DC United picked up all three points last night by being able to adapt to its situation, an ability that good teams have and call upon when they aren't able to bring out the skill. United did that last night."
The Edgell Supporters: On to the match itself. 3 games in 7 days is tough. 7 points in 7 days is phenomenal.
Quarter Volley: "The best word I can come up with to describe last night’s events at RFK Stadium is “strange.” Jorge Gonzalez, the center referee, made some strange calls."
The Fullback Files: "This is the type of game that I would have expected to drop points in early on this the season. But confident teams find a way to win and it's encouraging that despite the royal ref-job, despite RSL's strong play, despite the tired legs, the boys did just enough to get the three points."
Fifty-Fifty Ball: "DC gratefully takes the three points and continues to distance themselves from the pack for the Supporter's Shield."
US Soccer Players, Ian Plenderleith: "We all know that referees are as prone to error as the players they arbitrate. But Major League Soccer has to take action against the kind of blatantly poor officiating on display on East Capitol Street last night."

The Good

Let me preface my "analysis" with full disclosure: I was not able to make it to yesterday's game, and missed the opening of the second half while I was grilling up dinner.
  1. Taking Control of the Game: Now, I don't mean controlling possession, instead the team didn't let poor officiating dictate the result. Much of it goes to Perkins for saving the penalty kick but I didn't see any indication that the players were letting the referee's poor job (both ways) really get to them.
  2. 49 Points: Is it time to start really believing in this team and stop couching our support so that we have some plausible excuses to point to that we knew this team just didn't quite measure up after all? During the 1997 and 2004 runs you could feel the confidence as you walked into RFK for a game, you could see it in the players and how they played. I felt it on Sunday, and again watching yesterday, this team is peaking just right.
  3. Tom Soehn's Substitutions: His subbing pattern was really hard to figure out early in the season. I remember watching the Houston game with D and Kinney and around the 60th minute predicting Simms was going to come in. "What for?" aksed D, to which I could only reply "I have no idea." The coach is using his subs much better than before, and has found a way to keep everyone fresh and performing well. The emergence of Burch and McTavish in the back, coupled with the strong play of Simms have arguable made this easier - since he has more talent to work with.
  4. Honoring the Alumns: Just goes to show what a classy organization United is. Now, how did Mr. BobbyBoswell.com fail to organize a homecoming dance for this match up?

The Bad

  1. The Goal: How Beckerman was given so much space and time that close to goal is inexcusable.
  2. The PK Call: I've never seen a defender get called for being pushed down in the box by an opponent. Initially I thought there must have been some retaliation, or kick towards Talley on Mctavish's part but saw no evidence on the replays. We burned one karma with Troy's save.
  3. The Non-Offside Call: Emilio and Gomez were both even with the defender but the goal in the 55th minute was taken back.
  4. Yellow Card Peril: We'll be missing 3 starters - Gomez, Fred, and Olsen, leaving the midfield cupboard looking thin going into the Chicago match. Who gets the nod? Can we start Vanney as a wide defender and push Burch forward for one game?

Man of the Match

Perkins, because its easy to give when your keeper saves a PK, plus he stopped Alecko numerous times before the penalty kick. Honorable mentions go to Emilio and Gomez for the headers.

Karma Bank

+2 for the season entering the game. The saved penalties cancel each other out. -1 for Mctavish not getting a second yellow with his "foul" that led to the penalty call. That's -1 for the game, meaning we have one karma to burn (at +2) for the season.

Final Thoughts

Cross "clinching a playoff spot" off the todo list, which leaves the team free to concentrate on securing the Supporters Shield and home field advantage. Seven points clear of second place gives us some breathing room, but hopefully not enough to let complacency creep in. Frankly, seven out of a possible nine points in one week is friggin awesome. Yes, we're demanding fans and hate settling for less than the full nine but the coaching staff have managed the roster well and can take a well earned break.

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Admin Note

Everyone on our team is pretty busy at the moment, so the debrief may be delayed. However, the comments I'm seeing last night are rather good reading, so check 'em out.


12 September 2007

First Impressions - DC United 2 : 1 Real Salt Lake

I think I warned about DC United dropping points in this match, and certainly United seemed to play around with the idea. RSL was easily the better team through 40 minutes, and United was on their heels. Even in the second half, despite much of the commentary about United being fired up, RSL was still threatening around the box at times. This game, even as late as the 70th minute, could have gone in any direction.

That being said, I'm not upset about that fact. United was finishing off a tough stretch of games, and the results have been as good as could be hoped for. They now don't play a match until September 23, and they need the rest. Even that match will be something of an oddity, given the number of players that will miss the game due to accumulated yellow cards, so Fred, Christian, and Ben all get a little more rest. Fine. With Copa Sudamericana approaching, let players get something more of a breather. Us too. Inhale. The final five games of the season will be on us soon enough, and there's one last stretch before the playoffs. The Supporter's Shield is still the goal. Breathe, then focus.

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11 September 2007

Retrospective: Why does it go right (or wrong)?

Continuing some earlier thoughts on the season-to-date, we've already broken down the season into some distinct phases, but I want to take a slightly closer look. First, let's take a look at the most recent annotated pace graph (click to enlarge):

Now, we speculated on some reasons why the season might have behaved this way, but let's look just a bit closer, shall we? The graph below is DC United's goals for and goals against in league games. Don't worry if it looks like a mess, because it is a mess and we're going to move beyond it shortly. I just wanted you to see it for the data purists among you (Again, click if you'd like to enlarge):

So that's a bloody mess, but I think we can refine this to something that's useful. The problem with this graph is that there's too much variation from point to point to discern any real trends. A lot of noise, if you will. However, let's borrow a tool from our wall-street friends and apply a moving average to this data. If we start at the third game of the season, and take the average of the first three games, we'll plot that point at game 3. Then average games 2-4 for game 4, average games 3-5 for 5, and so-on. In so doing, we smooth out a lot of the noise, and I think a story becomes apparent.

What I like about this graph is that it kind of syncs up to many of the turning points that I and several commenters were referring to. First, we see how bad DC was in the beginning of the season. United has allowing 2 or more goals a game, and averaging one in response. When you don't score. Starting in Game 5, we see the goals pick up to 1.5 to 2.5 goals per game and defense stabilize at around 1 goal game.

Now, the defensive move can be explained by the switch to the 4-4-2, but why would goals per game suddenly pick-up? Part of it is the Emilio slump, but I think a large factor is simply that United's talent level wasn't a 1 goal per game team. This team's forwards and midfielders should generate 1.5 to 2.5 goals per game, regardless of whether you're using Moreno, Emilio, Gomez and Fred, or you can use Addlery, Kpene, and Olsen. There's enough talent there, really. The 1 goal per game was a team underperforming, and the ship was righted enough to generate some good results. Our talent level is 1.5 to 2.5. Keep that in mind, it'll be important in a bit.

Now, when scoring 1.5 to 2.5 goals per game, and surrendering about 1 goal per game, we were a decent team, but not setting the league on fire. Then we took a slide. Goals fell to the 1-2 goal per game range, and we were allowing a 1 to 1.5 goals per game. This is the period when we lost to New York and Houston. The big change was a defensive one: at similar scoring rates we had done acceptable previously in the season, but the goals allowed cost us points. Yes, there was a dip in scoring (attribute it to Moreno and Bolivian National Duty if you'd like) but had the defense played the way it had previously, I doubt you would have seen a real effect. The problem was defense. Were there any changes in the defense around this time? I can think of one - the Erpen for Vanney deal.

Erpen for Vanney happened one game before the slide starts to develop, and to me it is clear evidence that while Erpen and Boswell may have given you heart attacks, they meshed better than Boswell and Vanney did to start Greg Vanney's tenure in DC. The two simply didn't play well together, with Boswell certainly looking the worse in the exchange. It also further unsettled a backline that was making due with Josh Gros at left back. Things weren't jiving right.

But the story changes yet again with the introduct of Marc Burch in Game 18, and Clyde Simms wins the starting job a few games later. Suddenly the shaky United defense settles down to averaging less than a goal per game, their best performances of the year. Scoring is consistent with the rest of the year, but with Burch at left back things change. The six game win streak was fueled by defense. Why is Burch the key? A few thoughts on that:

Burch frees Josh Gros to take on midfield duties, which he's more suited too from years in Nowak's system. Burch, perhaps more importantly, makes Olsen and Fred more comfortable on the wing. Suddenly freed from having to run all over the field and worrying about what's behind him, Olsen settles in on the wing and really shines. Clyde Simms improves the midfield defensively, and Namoff returns at right back feels more comfortable. The benching of Boswell, it should be noted, happens after the defense is showing results, but perhaps it doesn't hurt, as either Vanney or Boswell seem decent in the center, but both seems problematic.

Still, the most recent games show some warning signs. United is once again allowing more than a goal a game (in fact, closer to two goals a game now) and is getting results because of an atypical surge in offense. I don't expect our strike rate to remain the way it is, and that means once it returns to its seasonal level we'll need the defense to re-stabilize. Part of it maybe the quality of opposition: United is #1 ranked for goals scored, but they just faced #2 and #3. That would be the "it's a momentary blip" explanation, and it is the explanation I want to be true (and, to be fair, I think it is probably true). Or it's a warning sign that things have become unsettled (and perhaps I just don't want to see that.) Again, the strike rate is ridiculously high at the moment, but pretty good at where it's typically been since June.

The lesson for me? Offense is what allows United to compete, but defense is what will decide whether United will dominate or not.

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10 September 2007

Debriefing for Match 12.24: New England Revolution

D.C. United 4 : 2 New England Revolution

Six Word Novel Recap

Four goals equals four point lead.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Moreno scored his first goal in the run of play in nearly a year, and Emilio scored two more to bring his league-leading total to 18 as United defeated the New England Revolution 4-2 in a game littered with questionable calls...'The first goal was lucky,' Emilio said. 'On the second goal, I was the only one on the field who believed Carroll would get that cross to me.'"
The Washington Post, Paul Tenorio: "With the win, United moves four points ahead of New England atop the Eastern Conference standings and is one step closer to the Supporters' Shield."
The Examiner, Craig Stouffer: "Fred opened the scoring in the 31st minute, but the Revolution (12-6-6) reclaimed the lead with a Taylor Twellman smash just before halftime and a Jay Heaps score on a messy corner kick 10 minutes after halftime."
The Boston Globe, Frank Dell'Appa: "The league's all-time leading scorer, Jaime Moreno, scored the tying goal for D.C., and the league's leading scorer this season, Luciano Emilio, provided the third and fourth scores. Nicol disputed the goal that gave D.C. a 3-2 lead, contending referee Abiodun Okulaja should have awarded the Revolution a free kick instead of allowing play to continue following a clash between United's Ben Olsen and the Revolution's Khano Smith...'We can't set the team up to play against the officials,' Nicol said."
The Boston Globe, Frank Dell'Appa: "'Every time we come down here it's something,' Revolution defender Jay Heaps said. 'The goals scored when the linesman could have called it, I can count on more than one hand. It's a shame. The goal they scored when it was 0-0 was clearly offside.'"
UnitedMania, Jimmy LaRoue: " Most teams can't bring three players off the bench with national team experience. DC United can. While lineup choices are always subject to debate, one thing is clear: United coach Tom Soehn is keeping his players fresh. "
Soccer New England, Sean Donahue: "The New England Revolution came back from a one-goal deficit, but allowed three unanswered goals to D.C. United in wild 4-2 loss Sunday that saw the Revs slip further out of first place and Steve Nicol get ejected."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "United were coming into the game just three days removed from a 2-2 draw at Chivas USA that ended a six-game winning streak, with a cross-country road trip in between. The Revolution hadn't played a league match in two weeks, but were winners of two in a row and five of their last seven. United's ongoing center back shuffle continued as Bobby Boswell gave way to Devon McTavish in the heart of the D.C. defense, while Josh Gros was given a start at left midfield as coach Tom Soehn rested Ben Olsen at the outset. "
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "'Don't get me wrong, D.C. is a good team. But it's even harder when we have certain people -- I'm just going to leave it like it is. It won't get me anywhere,' said a frustrated Nicol. "What are you supposed to do? We can set up to play against teams but we can't set up to play against officials.' New England's Khano Smith came in hard and took down United's Ben Olsen almost directly at the center line. As Smith got up to take the ball the other way, Olsen subtly clipped him in the back of the leg, which went uncalled by the referee. 'I'm not talking about a hairline decision one way or the other,' said Nicol. 'I'm talking about a free kick that everybody within 20 yards could see what it was. Not one of them saw it? That's what they'll probably tell you. And if they did see it -- are you kidding me?'"
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "Moreno was the center of attention before the match as United staged a moving video tribute in celebration of his MLS-record 109 career goals, and he responded with an imperious performance as the linchpin of the Black-and-Red attack. His contribution was made all the more remarkable when Soehn revealed that Bolivian legend has been hampered by an illness that prompted the use of intravenous fluids before the match."
An American's View, Brian Garrison: "As a whole, the team looked better than they did against Chivas on Thursday night...(I cannot believe that I am typing this) the final nail was hammered in when Brian Carroll was brought on for Clyde Simms. Carroll is no favorite of mine and infact, before today, I would have been happy to see him be shipped off to San Jose. Today however, the guy stepped up and showed signs of his former self."
QuarterVolley, I-66: "And really, how hot is Luciano Emilio right now? 18 goals in 23 matches, and, I believe, 16 in his last 15."
Soccer Insider, Dan "The Bog Man" Steinberg: "..for a while there I was wondering whether DCU would outscore the local NFL team."
BlkDgRd, BDR: "United needs the nine days off following this Wednesday game v Salt Lake, which makes the resilience shown after going down 1-2 that much more remarkable...Okulaja must be thankful for Terry Vaughn, the only man who keeps Abby from the title of Shittiest Referee in MLS, though D implies Abby is crooked." [Note: Clarification Below]

The Good

  1. Get Up and Get and Get Down ("There's not a minute to spare..."): Okay, I know I was not alone in my despair when United gave up the second goal to New England to go down 2-1. That United fought back, and then stuck the dagger in, despite their third game in nine days, spoke volumes about this team. More fight than I expected, or even had any sort of a right to expect. What's more, they fought back within minutes to gain the equalizer, and then kept pressing, and pressing, and then finished it off. Simply amazing.
  2. Brian Carroll: It's been a long time since Brian's been on this side of the ledger, but watching him push by Jay Heaps was a wonderful thing. What I like most is that, if you download the SE Podcast, you can hear his rationale for making that run... it wasn't to score, he was heading to the corner to waste time. Then he saw someone making a run and sent in the cross. His first instinct was right, and his reason for deviating from the plan was right. Nice to see that. Yes, I've been part of the "What the hell is up with Brian Carroll" chorus. Please let this be a resurgence, and not a momentary blip. He still hasn't displaced Clyde Simms yet, who had some key moves to clog up the Revs' midfield play.
  3. Substitutions: Earlier, which was needed (yes, Fred was dog tired by about the 50th minute). And I can't remember a substitution like Boswell for Gomez, which was exactly the kind of defensive move we needed then.
  4. Honoring Moreno, who then says "Screw that, I'm scoring my own goal": Nice to see that highlight package of Moreno, including a Dave Johnson electronic remix of "It's in the Net" calls. Opening that package with "You got burned Johnny Walker" was also brilliant. And yes, Moreno did take a ton of touches before scooping the ball over Matt Reis. But here's the thing: Earlier in the match Moreno had taken two shots from un-Moreno like positions. Does Reis bite as fast as he did if Moreno doesn't take those shots earlier? Probably, but still, Moreno actually was a bit more selfish overall in this game. Nice to see.
  5. Touch: Much better this game than last, as balls weren't rebounding three yards off our midfielder's shins. Simply home-field advantage, or perhaps that extra bit of concentration? You decide.
  6. The AR Goal Call: I didn't like it, and still haven't been convinced, but the AR was correctly positioned on the goal line and made a courageous call. He deserves credit for it. He was probably the only person in the stadium who could make that call properly.

The Bad

  1. Abbey: I know I went off on this already, but here's the thing. Abbey isn't crooked, he's just gullible and poorly positioned. Nicol and Heaps were both complaining about calls (I mean, seriously, Heaps?!?) and the thing is... they're right to complain. Abbey has an amazing knack of calling a game that's unfair to both teams. I just don't understand him. I may not agree with Prus or Hall or Marrufo all the time, but they rarely botch things and single-handedly as Abbey.
  2. Vanney on Twellman: Vanney's mistake on the Revolution's first goal wasn't after Twellman settled, but before. He was a good three steps closer to the line than Twellman, which forced him to move to his left as the ball came in. Twellman settled and then moved to Vanney's right, easily shaking him off and opening up the half-volley shot. If Vanney is even with Twellman earlier, momentum doesn't screw him over like that.
  3. Perkins: There was a moment in the second half when McTavish made a desperate header over the crossbar to deny a revolution shot. The problem was Perkins, who was a bit shaky in this match. When he's on, his aggressive instincts are perfect. In this match, he was caught out a few times, and on the play mentioned had offered a weak punch at a ball that was quickly settled by New England. That is what you get with Troy, and I'll take this moment of bad with all the good.
  4. Burch on the Right: Marc spent at least half an hour on the right side in the first half, and I don't know why. It seemed ineffective at best. Maybe it was just to get a look, or perhaps to deal with McTavish and Vanney's pairing in the middle. Still, put him on the left.

Man of the Match

Moreno, who was key not only with his goal but frequently holding the ball well for United, and sent multiple players springing free (though he missed Josh Gros on a run that everyone in the stadium but Jaime saw.) Merit awards to McTavish, Simms, Emilio, Carroll, and Olsen.

Karma Bank

+1 for the season entering the game. -1 for avoiding an off-side call that might have been correct, but would have been easily given. +1 for Abbey's calling every dive that New England gave (my own personal count is that there were 8 legitimate DC fouls, 5 of a borderline nature, and the remaining seven were ridiculous). +1 for that third goal (when you could see Gomez slide along the top of the box to catch Olsen's eye, and you knew it was going to happen). That's +1 for the game, meaning we have two karma to burn (at +2) for the season.

Final Thoughts

Four points on New England for the Supporter's Shield, but none on Chivas if they win all their games in hand. United will drop points in their remaining games, but so will everyone else. We'll certainly need all the points on New England, and perhaps might need Chivas to stumble for a real edge. Here are the remaining games for Houston, Chivas, DC, Dallas, and New England.

D.C. United: RSL, @CHI, TFC, @KC, CHI, CLB
New England Revolution: FCD, @NY, COL, @CHI, CLB, @TFC
C.D. Chivas USA: LA, @COL, KC, CHI, @RSL, @FCD, COL, HOU
F.C. Dallas: @NE, CHI, @LA, HOU, @CLB, CHV, KC
Houston Dynamo: @LA, @FCD, LA, RSL, @CHV

Here's how I figure pessimistically figure it:
Houston will get 11 of their15 points (for 57 points)
New England will get 13 of a maximum 18 points (for 55 points)
C.D. Chivas USA will get 15 of a maximum 24 points (for 55 points)
FC Dallas will get 13 of their 21 max (for 52 points)

Which means United will need at least 12 points in their remaining games to gain the Supporter's Shield. And this is a team that could feasibly drop points against RSL. Sure, some of the matches are "should wins" (home to Toronto) but I remember feeling similarly about home matches with Columbus in the past, and the Chicago matches don't strike me as particularly easy. Which means that this match against RSL is, strangely, a win we'll need to get. A win we'll need to get without Moreno (on International Duty), on a night when we honor Eddie Pope, and when we face Rimando and Eskandarian at RFK.

We're in the driver's seat for the Supporter's shield, but the road is still slippery. Fortunately, it is just as slippery for everyone (except perhaps Houston, who fortunately have huge games against Chivas and Dallas on the road to even out a cupcake home schedule)

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