31 March 2008

Checked-Off: Number Six on the Seven Deadly Sins

Over the weekend, I caught the Caps playing the Panthers. The Caps final playoff push (2 points behind Carolina) is being well covered on Comcast (tape delaying our season opener) but I have to give Comcast credit for some solid PR adverts for United. Still, the Caps finish the season with three home games. At the lovely Verizon Center.

And last night, the Nationals opened the baseball season against the Braves, and there were so many nice little touches. The color coordinated seats, the ubiquitous curly Ws, the stone work behind home-plate, it felt like a truly wonderful locale for a baseball game.

And now I'm thinking of RFK, and the lack of a true home for United. The orange seats, the banners hung awkwardly on the walls... It just doesn't feel like our house. Yes, the grass is better, but I long, I yearn for a true home. And I am angry. Not at the other teams, whose success I wish with all my heart, but it really is past time for our own home. This is our house rings a little more false. Listen David, home is where I want to be, but I don't feel like I'm already there. I know, that's a bit naive.


Debriefing for Match 13.01: At Kansas City Wizards

Kansas City Wizards 2 : 0 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Ask me the secret to comedy.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "the 2-0 defeat before a sellout crowd of 10,385 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark did not sit well with a United team that retooled its roster in hopes of winning something other than a regular season title. Ivan Trujillo and Claudio López, the Wizards' South American imports, scored 14 minutes apart early in the second half as Kansas City handed D.C. a decisive, early-season defeat for the second consecutive year."
The Washington Times, Cole Young: "D.C. United probably wishes it could replay the 61st minute of its MLS opener against the Kansas City Wizards last night. United had a goal called off because of an offside call and then gave up a goal on the ensuing possession as it fell 2-0 at Community America Ballpark.
The Kansas City Star, Bob Luder: "Ivan Trujillo and Claudio Lopez, both of whom signed with the Wizards earlier this month, each scored second-half goals. A mostly rock-solid defense did the rest in leading the Wizards past the reigning Major League Soccer Supporters Shield holder in front of — yes, a sellout crowd — 10,385."
MLSNet, Thomas Foote: "Managing player minutes with a big international game following was one thing. United is facing the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions' Cup semifinal against Pachuca of Mexico on Tuesday."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "United had the best of the rare scoring chances in first half with a 17th minute blast from Luciano Emilio that was well saved over the bar from KC keeper Kevin Hartman. United did well to create their usual smooth possession game in the first half but an early second half goal set KC on their way to the win."
DCUMD, Shatz: "One lesson learned though... Kansas City is probably better than I thought. Claudio Lopez really seems to have been embraced by his team, and Ivan Trujillo seems like a bit of a jackass, but will probably score a lot of goals this year."
Down the Byline, Mike: "Death, taxes, and beating DC to open the season. Those are the three assured things for the Wizards the past two seasons...To start the second half, though, it was the Wizards that dictated the tempo, and only 2 minutes into the second half, Michael Harrington's cross was touched by Jack Jewsbury into the path of Trujillo who slotted the ball inside the near post of Zach Wells to make it 1-0 Wizards."
Six Yards North, QJA: "The thing is, there's a big drop off in talent between our starting XI and our subs. Our lack of depth is a serious problem."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "I am quite disappointed. It’s not that we lost, it’s that we lost making so many of the same errors we explcitly sought to fix...The attack again insisted on pounding it down the middle of the field where KC had amassed all its defenders bother, hack and repel. Quaranta should’ve been inserted at the wing, not in for Niell...Don’t get me wrong, there were new problems as well...If they say that they weren’t looking ahead to Pachuca, I want to know what the hell they were looking at. "
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "BEN OLSEN! Any questions on his importance? Gallardo will be fine, Simms is fine, sure would be nice to have two other midfielders out there in the midfield, yes? Landru talks about the formation, but what five midfielders would United use? (Dyachenko out on red hurt, but really....)"
Still Pending: An American's View, DCist,

The Good

  1. Free MLS Direct Kick Weekend: That was nice, not making me wait for tape delay. And hey, RSL actually looked good in their second half with new US Citizen Dema Kovalenko, and Columbus wasn't awful to watch, and... wait, really, this is the KC telecast? Wow, um... I can see why Dave Johnson preferred to be calling the Houston-New England match on FSC than travel with Comcast to KC for this one. Yikes.
  2. Strategic Sacrifice: Look, there was a time when a D.C. United coach would simply look at a situation like Tom Soehn had on Saturday, and would play his top XI on Saturday, and then play them again on Tuesday. And then probably for the next two games he had as well, until they were about to fall over, and then he'd bring out a reserve squad against Columbus or something, and we'd end up losing that game narrowly. That time was 2005. That Tom Soehn is willing to rest some players ahead of the CONCACAF Champion's Cup match is the right decision, as right now that competition takes priority over the MLS regular season. That's the right decision. And while I somewhat agree with QJA above, I disagree in terms of actual impact. While our reserved are not as good as our first XI, I still think Domenic Mediate and Devon McTavish (and Niell, for that matter) put in good minutes. As good as Fred, Olsen, and Moreno would have? Maybe not, but that's why they are reserves and not everyday starters. Now, I do agree with some of the kvetching about Quaranta for Niell as opposed to, say, Quaranta for McTavish, but I think this was not so much about tactical decisions on pushing for the win as limiting Niell's minutes, so even there I won't object.
  3. Fight On Through: I disagree with the sentiment that somehow United wasn't showing the effort on Saturday. I felt they fought the entire game. Yes, the final shots weren't there, but they at least were creative, and were moving the ball around decently.

The Bad

  1. Emilio: Yes, he had one blistering shot, but even that shot was probably the easiest hard shot to save (you follow me, right?) Hartman only had to make a vertical move to make the save, there was no lateral movement involved. He was frequently drifting around the field, and never seemed to be able to leverage his strengths. I do not look to Emilio to break down a defender on the dribble, but apparently he felt that was his best option at times.
  2. The Predictability of Fred: There were multiple moments when DC would get the ball wide to Fred, but on each occasion he would cut the ball in along the top of the box rather than push it down the side to whip in the cross. After a time, that became much too easy a move to anticipate.
  3. The non-deployment of Clyde Simms: KC has a Designated Player their hopes for goals rest on, so why isn't Clyde man-marking him out of the game?

Officiating Watch

Ricardo Salazar had a decent match. Yes, KC got away with more hacking than I would like, but he called it decently enough. The ARs blew one off-side call, but that was to DC's benefit. The one call that went against us that I object to was the failure to award a penalty after Domenic Mediate was tackled in the box. That call should have been made, but perhaps the feeling was the ball had gotten away from him. I still think you make that call. Still, as a whole, I have little compliant.

Man of the Match


Karma Bank

We earn 2 karma for the failure to be awarded the penalty for Mediate's take-down, but we also burn 1 karma for the horrible off-side call that disallowed what would have been another KC Goal. Overall play doesn't earn or lose any karma. +1 for the match, so +1 for the season.

Final Thoughts

I don't feel much different today than I felt on Saturday. The comments in the First Impressions are right -- If we play this way against Pachuca, then the Champion's Cup run is over. But I don't expect us to play the same way, or with the same people, in that match. I expect a better effort. For what this was, I can accept it. It's a disappointing result, but not an enraging one. I did see signs of a good defense, a diverse attack, and more reason to hope than fear. It was an away loss to a team that's pretty good. And right now, the priority must be Pachuca.

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29 March 2008

First Impressions - Kansas City Wizards 2 : 0 D.C. United

...and yet, I'm not heartbroken.

Yes, the loss is disappointing, but somehow even now it feels a bit abstract. Removed. At a distance.

I think part of it was the fact that Kansas City's stadium make you think you're watching an NCAA broadcast. It's not really real -- not yet. And the team we saw play for United wasn't bad, it just wasn't all there. Everyone had a moment to shine, everyone had a moment to look rather awkward. The same was true for Kansas City, it's just that they got the ball in the net twice.

And for all the talk of team's not doing much in the off-season, Kansas City at least did something. I'm not sure how deep they are, but their starting 11, even without Eddie Johnson, seems a bit more formidable from in terms of average ability. They look better. Curt Onalfo has trained them well.

United also didn't look shabby, but they didn't look like a team that's going to treat MLS as its personal parkour environment. Still, for a line-up without Olsen, Moreno, and Fred in the starting side, I wasn't displeased. The central defense held well, with only two egregious moments (one of which was fortunately rules offside despite the fact it should not have been.) All teams will give up chances, the only thing we can ask is that they not give up easy ones. And the Gonzalos seem determined to make life difficult for opposiing teams. Brian Namoff looks like he may have learned how to send in an early cross.

The big problem right now is Emilio, who we can see getting into better shape, but he's still not there. He may still be dangerous even without his best form, but he's not as good as he could be.

Still, for a 2-nil defeat, I'm not overly troubled. This team was doing more right than wrong. I have no one I feel like calling out, and no tactics that I felt were egregious. The game simply didn't go our way. Fine. Other games just like this will.

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28 March 2008

Thanks MLS!

Does anyone else feel like MLS is kind of stupid about marketing itself? I got an e-mail this morning from MLSnet.com telling me to "Tune in to MLS First Kick 2008 presented by Dick's Sporting Goods!"

The associated image is here:

Beckham? Fine. Josie? Fine. (Except that he plays for the MetroBulls...) But Mr. White? Huh? He scored 4 goals in 14 games last year (0.29). Emilio scored 20 goals in 29 games (0.7). Hell, even Gomez scored 10 in 27 (0.37)!

I don't want this post to come off sounding like pure DCU bias (even though I am strongly biased towards DCU), so I'll go out of my way to point out that He Who Must Not Be Named, the friggin captain of the USMNT, plays in this league (0.32). How about him?

Discuss anti-DC bias in the comments.

UPDATE: In response to skippy in the comments: You mean something like this? :)

27 March 2008

DirectKick free for Opening Weekend

A quick cheer from those, like me, that will have to watch the match at home this weekend. DirectKick will be free this weekend.
Major League Soccer has collaborated with all three providers to offer a FREE PREVIEW period for the MLS Direct Kick package on opening day, March 29.


Stayed. Eee! Aaahhh!

The Washington Times has recently run two excellent pieces on the D.C. United Stadium situation. One is on the new stadium development, or lack thereof, but the other is a Tim Lemke blog entry on the lease negotiations regarding RFK. Now, we're all familiar with the stadium situation, so while that's arguable more important, I want to let that pass for now. Instead, a few key points from Lemke's blog:

The issue is this: The team really wants its own facility, where it can bring in all the money from naming rights, advertising, concessions, etc. But in the absence of that, it would at least like to get a bigger share of revenue, particularly since it is now the only tenant there.

The sports commission understands D.C. United's point view but is not about to give money away, especially since it recently had to turn to the D.C. Council for assistance in balancing its budget this last fiscal year.

And later:

"It is frustrating for us. We understand the [Nationals] stadium is a big deal, but that doesn't help us. We're getting a little tired of being told, 'We're too busy.' But Greg O'Dell has been responsive and has done his best to get us answers in a timely manner, and we're optimistic we can get to the finish line shortly."

What's interesting is that the city and DCSEC may have managed to get at cross-purposes with themselves. If United felt confident that the new stadium would be coming soon, perhaps they would be willing to accept a little less in terms of the lease since they knew what a limited time deal it would be. But with the uncertainty over the stadium situation, it makes all the sense in the world for United to try and dig in now and take what you can see.

While this is all likely to be resolved, the interesting thing is that we're also approaching the point where the City's good faith may start to come into question. They've messed around with Poplar Point. They're messing around with RFK. While the leaders consistently say "Yes, we want United to stay in the District" they seem unwilling to make concessions to that goal. Given their unwillingness to make any sort of positive action as far as I can see, I am almost ready to start checking the Metro fares to PG County. Which I will pay. Gladly.

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26 March 2008

Moxie vs. Chutzpah

There's a lot I'd like to get to over the next few days, but before that, let's talk about the wonderful world of management-labor relations. Suppose you've been a decent performer at your job over the last half-decade, receiving the occasional intra-company award. Now, your big firm is doing a huge PR offensive, and they want to showcase the fine quality of the workers they have, so you suddenly find yourself with your CEO on a national cable outlet's morning business show. Remember, they want the nation to be impressed with the quality of the product your company is putting forward, and to create a positive impression of their literate and smart workforce. So the morning anchor turns to you, and says "What are the challenges of being in your line of work?"

And you turn to the anchor and say "Well, all the workers in our business need a raise for one thing." And you didn't shave that morning. And you're in jeans. And you CEO has to pretend that you didn't just say that and move on. Would you do this? No, but you're not Ben Olsen (link to video at The Offside Rules).

Look, if you have a shot for solidarity with the workers, might as well take it.

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25 March 2008

MLS Season opener draws near.

Ahh, the end of march, when MLS bloggers awake from their pre-season slumber and start covering their team. Or something like that. This Saturday, United kicks off the 2008 season on the road against the Kansas City Wizards. We're sure to have a full on preview before then, for now, suffice to say that the game is only available on DireckKick and MLSLIVE.TV. The Screaming Eagles have you covered and have set up not one, not two, not three, but four viewing parties for the game. A sad state of affairs for the debut of a Designated Player, but thats MLS for you. By the way, have DC United ever opened the season at home?

In other United news, Josh Gros will coach the U15 Academy team. Let's hope he has someone else showing the kids how to refine their heading techniques.

Josh Gros, former United midfielder and defender, is set to lead D.C. United's U-15 Academy Developmental Training Program. Gros did not resume his playing career this season after his 2007 campaign was cut short, the result of a series of head injuries. Though his playing future has yet to be determined, the Rutgers product will remain a part of the team in his new position on the sidelines.

Finally, we learned last Thursday that DC United will face Pachuca of Mexico in the Champions' Cup semi-finals. I like our chances, given that we host the return leg, so barring a massive drubbing in Mexico, dot dot dot. The away match is next Tuesday, April 1st with the return set for Wednesday April 9th. Pachuca knocked the Houston Dynamo out of the cup last year, but only barely. This mexican press article notes that "Enrique Meza pupils barely dominated to continue the defense of their crown, despite Montagua dominating beginning"

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19 March 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.A.02: Harbour View F.C.

D.C. United 5 : 0 Harbour View F.C.

Six Word Novel Recap

They got up. They stood up.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Devon McTavish, who scored his first goal for D.C. United in last week's tie at Jamaican club Harbour View, added two more last night in the return game as United breezed to a 5-0 win before 12,394 at RFK Stadium."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "That Luciano Emilio provided two goals during D.C. United's 5-0 demolition of Jamaican club Harbour View last night came as no surprise. He was, after all, the leading scorer and most valuable player in MLS last season. The fact that his Brazilian countryman, Fred, set up a goal with a breathtaking pass and scored on a breakaway was not totally unexpected, given his flashes of brilliance a year ago. But Devon McTavish scoring the other two goals to increase his total to three in the Champions' Cup quarterfinal series? "
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "United were the better side in the first half, but struggled to test Harbour View goalkeeper Dwayne Miller until a Marcelo Gallardo free kick trickled through a crowded penalty box and fell for Devon McTavish to finish in the 26th minute. D.C. rode out a brief Harbour View rally after halftime, then struck for three goals in five minutes beginning with Luciano Emilio's left-footer in the 62nd minute."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "United controlled the flow of play from the start and Harbour View had only one thing on their minds. Penalties. Harbour View sat 8 or 9 players behind the ball to stop the penatrating runs and decisive passes from the United offense. "
SoccerAmerica Daily, Paul Kennedy: "Santino Quaranta, signed as a free agent in the offseason, celebrated his return to RFK Stadium, where he started his promising career as a teenager, by coming off the bench and helping set up the last three goals."
Potomac Soccer Wire, Chris Hummer: " Tonight D.C. United's new look squad clicked...Enter United's new signings – the Gonzalos. Peralta and Martinez, the central defenders, staked a claim tonight in RFK's beautiful new field that will be hard to breech by any team venturing to the nation's capital this year. As dangerous as Harbour View could have been, there was a Gonzalo there to put out the fire. Peralta was omnipresent, dominating every ball that came his way seemingly without breaking a sweat. Martinez was always near by, winning 2nd balls and calmly starting the attacks in the other direction."
Six Yards North, QJA: "The big story here is United's clean sheet. There were no goals due to communication errors, to goalkeeping howlers, to poor positioning, to tactical misalignment, to anything; there were no goals period. Defensive cohesiveness must have been Soehn's big preseason project and it is beautiful. Beautifully surprising, even: where the hell did Martinez come from, getting forward like that?"
DCUMD, Shatz: "So yeah. Are we excited yet? The sky has stopped falling? Sweet."
BlackDogRed, BDR: "Don't get carried away with this win, don't draw too many comprehensive conclusions from this win: United should beat Harbour View handily...Mediate was tested at left back - United obviously likes him and wants to find a role for him, and depth in back is needed, so. Dyachenko came in and clobbered someone unnecessarily.Quaranta: played great, made peace. Honestly, there are flashes of brilliance, of quality, most MLS players don't have. A betting man would still wager that odds are something stupid will go wrong with Quaranta, but at the price of the bet, United was smart to make it."
The Edgell Supporters: "The subs. Mediate (for Burch) did not look comfortable with the pace of the game. Dyachenko (for Gallardo) needs more time to get himself into a game. Santino Quaranta (for Niell) was fantastic. He was quick and he had vision, while everyone else seemed to be hesitant, he went at it. If he can repeat the performance, he could easily be the back up #10 and maybe the holding forward that we need."

The Good

Since I didn't see the game with my own eyes, I'm gonna incorporate some comments from last night...

  1. Tom Soehn and the Finish the Game Off First Kids: He makes an offensive substitution, manages his subs and avoids cards, and wing big. Tactically, it sounded as through we were not the same team we were a week ago, something I hoped and predicted, but couldn't be sure of. Good.
  2. Marcello Gallardo: Played well with everyone, linked up better with Emilio (important, that.) Commenter Grunthos: "Doesn't charge up the middle nearly as much, preferring to find space where it is granted and then get creative." Different is not bad, and I think we all liked it.
  3. Devon McTavish: Commenter Jeremy: "McTavish is doing the best Ben Olsen impersonation that I have ever seen." Last week we hit him for not defending, and this week we were better on the outside. He also didn't play the same way, made runs down the wing for Gallardo, and didn't send the same misplayed balls we complained about previously. Oh, and as an afterthought -- 3 goals from 2 games. Even if they were some easy opportunities, when was the last time we could rely on a wing player to really finish those who isn't named Fred or Ben Olsen?
  4. Emilio: A brace, and a sense that he knew how to make his runs better than before. While I know that some complained that he didn't really click until the second half, I heard his name enough to know that he was making runs, and was successful in getting into dangerous positions. Yes, some shots were over the bar, or right at the keeper, but he was clicking and moving. Good.
  5. Jaime Moreno: Thanks to the WFED broadcast, we heard Jamie Moreno at half-time, and he sounded good, but I also mean this in a more global sense. At times, regardless of the opponent, there has been criticism that our offense can't function without Moreno in the game. Now, provided the Vinge singularity doesn't hit, at some point in our future there will be a day without Moreno. So to work without Moreno is a good sign, and better to hear him coming back.
  6. Marc Burch: Here's what I heard "Scarlet sends a ball-in, and Burch clears it with his head up to [Gallardo/Fred/Simms]" I like to hear that.
  7. Center Defense (And outside too!): Click any link above, and read glowing testimonials about the defensive work by the Gonazalos, and Burch, and Namoff. Good.
  8. Santino Quaranta: I will not back away from what I said, but to not acknowledge a good effort here would be a crime. Commented rke: "Tino did nicely off the bench. Really gave us some exciting plays, leading to a couple goals. Class act coming to Brava after the match, swapping jerseys, etc.. Seems all is forgiven." -- Not yet. I'm with Jeremy: "Two assists for Tino, and I didn't see anything glaringly awful from him. I'm not in love with him yet, but I don't hate him anymore. Keep up the good work Tino."

The Bad

I do not have the heart to write anything here. 5-nil does that. Let it go.

Man of the Match

Devon McTavish.

Karma Bank


Final Thoughts

The goal, as we have always maintained, was that United should advance through this first round. That they have done. Now, I'm not convinced that they must advance in the next round. A nice to have, but not a true pass/fail test. The point being that United did what we hoped they would do -- They played a different game in the second leg than the first, they showed progress towards gelling as a new team, they are defending well in the back, starting with Wells, and moving forward. This is what we want to see, but it is not a gurantee. All I can say is that "Yes, United is where it should be, or perhaps a little ahead." But the season is long, the other competitions will come after injuries or other setbacks, and we know we can't crown ourselves with any given trophy yet.

But we're still in the running for all of them.

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18 March 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 5 : 0 Harbour View FC

D.C. United 6 : 1 Harbour View FC [Aggregate]
D.C. United Advances to the CONCACAF Champion's Cup Semifinal

There are many ways to enjoy a game. The best is to witness it in person, in good seats, surrounded by those who share the love. The second best is on TV, intensely, scrutinizing each detail, rewinding the TiVo to examine the a back heel as though it were the Zapruder film. A distant third is on MLSLive.TV, where the screen size affects the ability to examine the shape of the game in a general sense, but still allows you to evaluate, to judge, and enjoy. Not really workable is listening on radio. And listening to the radio webcast while in Detroit (where it is cold, a dampy awful cold) and your team starts to put on the clinic? Worst of all.

The problem with radio is the single method of input you get. You are dependent on the evaluations of others entirely. Was it a nifty move, or poor defending? There is no reason to doubt Mr. Limarzi's descriptions, but there's no way to really verify that things are as they are. I may well be relying on each of you to help with the debriefing to set me straight.

That being said, I get the sense that things were very different tonight. And I could tell they were different sometime in the tenth minute onward. Yes, when the first words I heard were "and it's a long ball out of the back from United" I did curse. What, again? We had returned to RFK just to play the same type of game I swore I wouldn't see again? Would I have to find a crowbar and meet Tom Soehn in a back alley? But over the next minutes, it became clearer that United was mixing things up. Long, short, medium. That United was using its possession to generate chances. That Emilio and Gallardo were finding each other easier. That Harbour View could still counter, but wasn't finding the going on the wings nearly as easy as the last match. And then the one goal before half time, Gallardo to McTavish, and things were promising. Still, it was that kind of promising that felt like United might have managed to make things go right, but could still find some fluke way to lose. It wasn't comfortable. But at 2-0, when Emilio put one in, it felt like things were destined. At 3-0 it was time to dare fate. At 4-0, thanks to D.C. United's current leading goalscorer Devon McTavish (50% of the United offense), things were ridiculous. Then 5-0. And it felt like, well, yes, this is what I want. Not what I expect. I expect, given pre-season form and the other caveats, a win, but only just a win. A blowout, and one that while the score may flatter United, it flatters United only in the same a nicely tailored dress flatters an otherwise beautiful woman: It's just that much more. It is a nice feeling.

United's last loss of the 2007 campaign happened when I was in Buffalo. It was raining then, as I recall. And as I look out into the night from my hotel window, I can see the rain has stopped. Maybe for the first time in many months. And the game is back on.

(Debrief tomorrow, but I may need your help given that I couldn't really see it with my own eyes. But my sense is that everyone I put in the "Bad" column last week makes the good column this week.)

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14 March 2008


A statement you may here from now until Tuesday... "Once we get them back on a good field like RFK, it'll be a different game." True. But a year ago, can you imagine saying that?

13 March 2008

Luck is when Skill Meets Opportunity

On one hand, you have a bunch of supporters in a city whose Mayor was busted for smoking crack over a decade ago.

On the other hand, you have a bunch some a scattering of supporters, half of whose governor can't figure our how to work a seatbelt, the other half has a governor who likes the ladies of the evening.

There must be a song in this somewhere, right?


Debriefing for Match 13.A.01: At Harbour View F.C.

Harbour View F.C. 1 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

The season's started. Tell the players.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Devon McTavish scored for United just before halftime, but Lovell Palmer volleyed the equalizer past goalkeeper Zach Wells to leave the total-goals series even heading into the final leg Tuesday night at RFK Stadium."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "D.C. started out brightly, switching play from side to side and probing the Harbour View back line. But the MLS side was hit by two injury blows in quick succession starting in the 14th minute. First Moreno pulled up clutching his hamstring after chasing after a ball deep in the Harbour View penalty area, immediately signaling the bench for a substitution. Then goalkeeper Zach Wells took a boot to the head as he raced off his line and smothered a through ball at the feet of Richard Edwards, who seemed to leave his foot in a dangerous position as he moved past the prone netminder. After receiving treatment, the dazed Wells was able to continue, but Moreno gave way to another new South American, Argentinos Juniors loanee Franco Niell."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "Despite it being United's first match of the season, they had decent control of the flow of play throughout the first half only being halted by a series of rough tackles that resulted in yellow cards to two Harbour View players...The second half was pretty similar to the start of the game in that United was the better team for the first 20 minutes but then Harbour View started to pile on the pressure."
The Fullback Files: "United looked rough, but you pretty much could have predicted that with the crappy pitch on offer and the lack of match sharpness for United coming in. Regardless, I thought we'd show a little better than that."
BlackDogRed, BDR: "No broad generalizations on the fate of the season from a first disorganized 90 minutes of determined refusal to build through the middle, but if Soehn's great brainstorm with all his new talent is to play every ball over the top like some relegation threatened Wearside team, jeebus fuck, he could have done that with last year's talent. You spend the designated player spot on a ball-distributing ten and craft a strategy of running the offense over him?"
DCUMD, Shatz: "All in all, not an unfair result when you consider its our first competitive match with this team and they've been playing together for months. And we were missing our two emotional leaders."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "What I didn’t like...No wide play. United left Emilio fairly isolated with a lack of decent crosses. Yes, the goal was a result (indrectly of a cross) but the two wingers Fred and McTavish needed to be more involved and they weren’t" [Note: Word. See below]
QuarterVolley, I-66: "Work in progress. That’s the way to describe this team right now. "
Six Yards North, QJA: "The most important thing I noticed was the slow pace to the game. It seems United is struggling to shake off its preseason mentality. Players were walking at every opportunity and there were far too many lackadaisical balls over the top."
Soccer Insider, Steve Goff: "The first two results were satisfactory for the visiting MLS sides, who will head home for the second legs of the Champions' Cup quarterfinals next week"

The Good
  1. Frank O'Neal: Came into the game ahead of schedule, but I thought did very well. He seems to be two things: Fast and Small. And he was good, it was his hustle that brought us to the goal.
  2. Clyde Simms: Thought he had a wonderful game at midfield, a disruptive force
  3. Center Defense: Seemed decent for most of the game, giving up a goal on a set piece but I don't fault any of the new acquisitions for that. Stollar and I are in agreement that Burch and Namoff were most at fault.

The Bad

  1. Ef the SC: Reading around the blogs, it seems to have been concluded that Lifton and Fullback posted the definitive critique of Fox Soccer Channel's myriad mispronunciations. I agree with everything they said, and urge you to read their litanies. In response, I propose to now pronounce Caligiuri as Caligula.
  2. Tom Soehn and the Safety First Kids: Again, I don't think out tactics last night will be the same as our tactics the rest of the year, but last night was not particularly fun to watch. Long balls over the top is ugly football, but I understand the reason for it. More concerning for me was a lack of recognition that Harbour View's late game threat wasn't something that would solved by adding Dan as another holding midfielder. The direct move would have been to take off Fred or McTavish for a better defending wing player (Kirk? Tino if his defense really has improved?) And that's assuming you agree with the idea of just trying to hold the lead, which many of you do not (although here, I differ, feeling that the motivation is sound, it was just the execution that was suspect).
  3. Marcello Gallardo: A marginal call here. It wasn't so much that he was bad, but that we seemed to be playing a system that reduced his role to Marco Etcheverry 2001 (let me hit a thirty yard pass and see if you can run it down.) I expect more. I expect our tactics to show us more. His first free kick was pretty nondescript. His second was quite nice. I am excited, but I don't think we really saw much last night.
  4. Devon McTavish: Yes, he got the goal. And he did well after blocking a team mate's shot to get that goal. But for most of the night, he was invisible, even on defense, and that's simply not acceptable. Fred was compartively better, so Fred's off the hook on this one.
  5. Emilio: If he's going to get the captain's armband, then even when teams are taking him out of the game he's got to assert himself.
  6. Jaime Moreno: Not his fault that he pulled up lame, but not encouraging either.
  7. Marc Burch: Got caught twice deep in our end with the ball, and that's simply not acceptable. I want to see a step forward in his game, and it wasn't there last night.

Man of the Match


Karma Bank

Not applicable, but it was I'd fine us 1 karma for a generally listless performance.

Final Thoughts

I do enjoy writing these again. I really do. And while I'm disappointed, I'm not furious. As I wrote last night, I can't imagine this is how we'll play the entire year. I have to believe we made a tactical decision last night to play as we did, and that the second leg at RFK will see an entirely different type of game.

Like Stollar, I am concerned about the lack of wing play. I hinted at this last night, but even when we had control at the top of the box, it seemed too often the through balls on the flank were going to Namoff. I love Namoff, but I'd prefer to see crosses or penetration in that area from Fred or Kirk or someone whose job is to get forward. Gallardo played the ball long decently, but I did not see a recognition that our lack of width was an issue last year, or that we've taken any tactical steps to address it.

So... neither bad nor good but thinking makes it so. Preseason form was in evidence, but we can not use that as an excuse. If we allow ourselves to think that way, we are only creating excuses for a loss, and not a reason for a win. I want a win.

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12 March 2008

First Impressions - Harbour View FC 1 : 1 D.C. United

Aggregate after first leg - D.C. United 1 : 1 Harbour View FC

As much as I said there should not be excuses for the "pre-season mentality," there certainly seemed quite a bit of rust on the United team. United showed moments of true class, and moments of out and out confusion. Things aren't right yet. The play is not there. Gallardo may have been handed the keys to the offense, but that doesn't mean the transmission is an automatic, to stretch a metaphor too far. Still, you can see some very encouraging signs, and some disturbing ones.

Let's start tactically. If I have this right, Tom Soehn entered this game remembering conditions from last year in Honduras. He did not like the field, and figured he was in for much of the same in terms of an uneven pitch. Given that Harbour View might already take a counter-attacking mentality, I imagine he decides to hedge against costly possession mistakes in midfield by playing long balls over the top, bypassing midfield or having Gallardo come back to the top of the defensive third to start the direct movement. As a strategy, I think there's something to be said for this on a tactical basis, but I can not imagine this is how we'll play all year. So to some degree, I'm discounting this game because I don't really thing we've seen the typical United game-plan. This is not who we are.

That being said, as a tactical move it worked. While MacTavish will get credit for the goal, the real story on that play was a long ball that Frank O'Neal (n&eamp; Franco Niell) tracked down and neatly pushed back to Fred. It was a nice move, showcasing a potential weapon and tactic we haven't seen much of. It worked.

The problem was the wing situation. MacTavish, despite his goal, was not particularly effective on the wing. Fred was marginally better, but Emilio was clearly having difficulty with service and space. The wings were largely ignored, and the few times United did get forward on the flanks, it was frequently Namoff and Burch who had moved into those spaces.

Defensively, I was encouraged. Wells had good command of his box and answered his tests well. You can argue that he should have left his line to punch out the corner that ultimately resulted in the late HVFC goal, but given the sheer number of bodies, I'm not convinced he could have fought his way through to the point of attack. He made a decision, and it seemed a legitimate one. I do not fault him on the goal, but I do fault the inability of Namoff or Burch to get into that scrum and clear the ball out. Still, for the most part, the center defense played well. The outside, a little less so, and there were some Erpen-esque moments of being too cute with the ball at our feet.

United is not in form, but that can not be an excuse. At best, it is a failing, and by the second leg at RFK it must be dealt with. Still, I think the quality of the field at RFK may see a different set of tactics employed, and I look forward to seeing that.

The Debrief is tomorrow.

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11 March 2008

Match Briefing for 13.A.01: At Harbor View


Six Word Novel Preview:
They built the team for this.

Harbor View FC
2006-2007 Premier League Champions (Jamaica)

TV: 12 March 2008, Fox Soccer Channel, 8PM

Radio: WFED 1050AM

Previous Meeting:
2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup, Quarter Finals, DC United 4 : 2 Harbour View (Aggregate)
[9 MAR 2005] D.C. United 2 (Eskandarian, Gros) : 1 Harbour View FC (Shelton)
[16 MAR 2005] Harbour View FC 1 (Stewart): 2 D.C. United (Walker, Moreno)

The Stakes:

Let me give some belated credit to Shatz, who did hypothesize early that many of the offseason moves were to make United more competitive in international play. So it is appropriate that United is instantly facing international competition in its first match. Last year's squad did what had to be done, and the stakes are the same for this year's team. United must win in its first round match-up, and failure would be even more disappointing than a failure would have been last year. This should be the start of a Champions' Cup run, not the mid-point.

For Harbour View FC, the season has seen a few troubling fixtures for them recently. They are 12 points back of Portmore after some disappointing results, and a win here could build on the recent success of their two last league games. To some degree, I think they feel that the 2005 contest was closer than the final scoreline would indicate, especially after drawing level in the second leg three years ago. They will be up for this game, both for revenge and for their season.

Previews from the DCUniverse:


United should look like the more likely of the two sides to go through after tonight's game. If it's a win, so much the better. A draw but good form to build on is also a potential likely, and acceptable outcome. A United loss, even away, would be troubling, and a multiple-goal loss would be distressing. Last year was about demonstrating that MLS teams have no excuse to go out this early, least of all United. Unless we all suffer collective amnesia and are running around in animal skins yelling "Miramani!" then we must keep that in mind judging this match. We hold this team to an elevated standard.

What to look for?
  • The big question: How will Gallardo run the offense? We've heard that United is still a possession team, but if that possession results with silly plays up the middle, how much has changed? Will Gallardo use the wings better than Gomez, and with that implied width find ways to take on defenders and beat them? That's one thing to look at.
  • Who starts on the wing? Some of Moose's few minutes last year came in Champions' Cup play, but with Olsen out, the indications from camp seem to be that Tino and Fred are your wingers. Watch for this.
  • How well in the center of defense organized? With a completely revamped center back set and keeper, watch to see how good the communication among those three players (I'm assuming a 4-4-2, which may be faulty) is set up. This is probably not the easiest environment to get this right in, which means it is a good test. On set pieces from the corner and around the box, I am especially interested to see how this works.
  • Who starts up top? Emilio is a given. Does Moreno start, or Niell? My guess is Jamie, but let's also check his minutes.

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07 March 2008

Let's Make a Deal

The Editorial Board of the Washington Post comes out with a tentative first discussion of the United Stadium Deal, and on balance I think this should be read encouragingly:

...The costs will have to be carefully analyzed, particularly since there is economic uncertainty. What will be harder to judge are the intangibles. Such as civic pride in retaining a popular and successful sports team. Or the spinoffs that soccer could provide to the boys and girls of the city. And what could perhaps be the most appealing argument for the stadium -- its potential to spark a revitalization of long-neglected communities east of the river. If soccer can help transform Ward 8 and Ward 7 the way basketball helped to change downtown, city dollars would be well spent.

Much of the discussion about these issues has, regrettably, been behind closed doors, as the mayor and council want to avoid the kind of debilitating battle that occurred over baseball. That desire must not rob the public of full and open discussion of the issues. Or of an answer to the question of what best serves the District of Columbia.

Perhaps some of these arguments sound familiar? Well, they should, as I'd say the Post is in agreement with this very blog from six months ago on many of these points. Now, I feel encouraged by this editorial, cautious as it is, for a number of reasons:

  1. No false, but temptingly easy, comparison of the popularity and cash flows between baseball and soccer.
  2. The willingness to consider, as the Post says, "intangibles." That's something we don't discuss, not because we don't feel it, but because I think they are so difficult to quantify. And the intangibles of keeping United in D.C. are, if considered at all, in our favor. We don't argue that because they are, as the post says, "harder to judge." And any deal that is bad will not be made better by intangibles. But a fair deal looks even better with them.
  3. The openness to the idea of transformation of the Southeast neighborhoods.
  4. The fact that using any public monies at all, even as part of the so-called "public-private" partnership,is not summarily dismissed by the Post, as they could all too easily take a position of "No money for greedy sports owners! Spend it on schools and libraries!" and then pat themselves on the back for their populist integrity.

The one place where I will critique the Post is its argument for transparency. Any deal must be openly vetted, we agree with that. Once, or if, a deal is reached all the details should be put out for view. But the discussions that lead to that deal should be handled in a mature, responsible, and quiet manner. Privacy can aid in that. The process of negotiation should not be unduly influenced by any outside agencies who might be all too quick to demagogue the issue, either for or against. This outside groups certainly include a few of the Post's own commentators.

No, I am content to let the negotiations be handled quietly, and then at that point, let's announce the proposed deal and have people take a look at it. I think this is the most likely way that an equitable, to all sides, deal can be formed.

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Status Q-uo

So it is done, and Santino Quaranta returns to United. I stand by my previous comments, but let me make this clear. I will not root against, or not support Tino. I support the shirt, and if Tino is in that shirt then I shall support him. Yet there will be some detachment, a sense of judgement at all times.

There have been many thoughtful comments in our previous post, many which point out very reasonable objections to my feelings, other from people who feel similarly. And really, I think, this is one of those situations that can be up to individual fans and their own (ir)rationalities. And let me be clear on one other thing -- I want Tino to prove me wrong, to demonstrate to all of us that he clearly belongs. But part of me is also concerned that the biggest hurdle to this might not be a long struggle to regain his form, but instead if he gets success too early. We know that he has mentally responded to a challenging situation with the right attitude, but if things go well will it be tempting to slide back to the way things were? How he handles success may be just as, if not more, important than how he has handled getting cut from New York. I want Tino to succeed, but I am wary.

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06 March 2008

Small Signs for Optimism

I haven't been writing much about the pre-season simply because it doesn't matter so long as no head coach decides to give an opposing team's players advice on where they should be geographically located. But I will say this -- There has been some whispered talking about United's lack of goal scoring this season, and according to the UnitedMania podcast, the players themselves started talking about the need to "get results." So when they felt the chips were down, the people we want to score, did score, even in preseason. Indicative of a long-term trend? No. But a small moment of satisfaction? Yes.

So let me say this. For this, as well as a number of other reasons, I am quietly optimistic about this upcoming campaign. It has potential, and not just in a "even Washington Nationals fans can dream of the series in spring training" kind-of-way. A sense of, shall we say, potential energy awaiting a transfer to become suddenly kinetic. Before a real game is played, that's all I can ask for.


05 March 2008

4 Non Factors to the 2008 Season

With Harbor View a scant few days away, it is already time for some to start previewing United's season. Perhaps we will do a post on that subject closer to kickoff. For now, I want to talk about what won't be happening next year, and so I give you 4 things that won't be important to next year:

1) Ben Olsen, Goalscorer: If you're looking for another year of Olsen at 7 and 7, you are likely to be disappointed. But that would be because you're expecting too much. Ben can have a perfectly fantastic year at 2 goals and 3 assists, especially since it is more likely that he won't be starting every game on the wing. Key things to watch will be minutes and games started, as well as where he plays. I can imagine him, early in his recovery, to come back and primarily be used to provide steady leadership (and a few important fouls at midfield) to lock a game down. That's what we will look to from Ben Olsen. Goals will be a bonus, but should not be relied upon.

2) Emilio, 20+ Goals: Luci had a ton of goals last year, but I think his tally this year is likely to be closer to 15 than 20. There are a few reasons, the most obvious being that teams are going to spend more effort denying him service and trying to mark out the league MVP. He will be a target. But there's another reason, which is that the nature of the attack will be different. I get the sense that while Gomez was willing to go for goal when the chips were down, he was more comfortable as a playmaker during the run of play. Gallardo strikes me as a bit more selfish, probably in a good way. He'll get you the ball, but he expects to get it back as well. Jamie Moreno will also go for goal a bit more frequently than he did last year, and Franco Niell (aka Frank O'Neal) will also want to get his chances in on the keeper. Emilio had only one assist in league play last year, but I expect to see many more this season as defenses collapse upon him, but he gets the ball out to others.

3) United's 2006-2007 Mid-season Surges Will Not Happen: I'm not going to say there won't be back-to-back-to-back Supporter's Shields parties. I don't think it is likely, but it's not impossible for a number of reasons (the predominant one being that I'm not sure that the average talent on the field for other teams in the East is more competitive, I think you can make a case that while some teams have improved, the better teams may regress. There's only so much blood even Steve Nicol can get from a stone.) But I think Ives, and the people at United Mania, and others are right when they say things like this: "The changes weren't just about winning a fifth MLS Cup; they also were done to bolster the club's chances of securing hardware in one of the various international tournaments D.C. will be competing in this year." And part of that will be working out how to actually keep the teams legs during some heavily congested periods. If United does somehow win the Supporter's Shield, it will be in a run at the end of the season.

4) Gallardo is not the key to everything: I know, I'm saying our designated player, the player who replaced Christian Gomez, is not the most integral factor to our success. But I truly believe that this team has enough talent even around Gallardo in other players that the attack is not what concerns me. The key will be the development of a cohesive keeper and center back chemistry. United, when undone last year, was undone by defense rather than offense. The offense in the Chicago playoff matches, the Superliga games, and the CONCACAF Champions Cup did enough to at least give a chance for United to advance. The best chance? Probably not, but it certainly did enough. It was defensive lapses that undid us. So while United could be average to awesome in its attack depending on Gallardo, the defense could be anywhere from awful to decent, and that is far more key to our success than anything else.

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04 March 2008

Our House, in the Middle of DC

Let's shift to a quick marketing discussion. The new "WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE" banner (shown below) for D.C. United. As a marketing tactic, what's your verdict?

Now, I loved, absolutely loved, the "TRADITION" campaign. So it's likely that most things after that are going to be a bit of a come-down. I mean, part of what I liked was the almost anti-marketing feel of that banner. It said "Look, we don't need corporate graphics, or focus-group tested phrases, or phones ringing at 3 A.M. (uh-huh, uh-huh, KLF is gonna rock you!), or any of that, what we have is a simply shot of our trophy cabinet, and tells the story you need to know." That was powerful.

Now, "WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE" is fine, acceptable, and decent enough. It's not bad. But I do have some quibbles, which I list here in increasing order of importance.

THE "YOUR COACH IS FAT" QUIBBLE: It does seem a bit familiar, almost like the Under Armour "We must protect this house!" line. Which is okay, given that Under Armour is at least a local company. Baltimore is still United's market, even with Philly entering the league. But it also just seems a bit, well, derivative. And Tom Soehn and Ralph Friedgen are different people. So it seems a bit played out.

THE "YOUR HOUSE IS CONDEMNED" QUIBBLE: What's interesting is if you want to overread the slogan. Apparently we're making a big deal that our house is RFK. And RFK is not where I want to live. Yes, I'd prefer a stadium in PG County over staying at RFK, even though the trip would be two or three times longer for me to make. Because that would truly be our house. Our House isn't Ours, it is DCSEC's. And I'm not happy with staying in our house.

THE "EMPHASIZE THE POSITIVE" QUIBBLE: My last issue is that United has seen some major changes over the off-season, and most are designed to make this team better. Given that United has adopted the MLS practice of including player images, I think it would be nice to emphasize what makes this team different. A series of comparative adjectives with a player photo would make the point. "STRONGER" with an image of Perralta. "FASTER" with an image of Gallardo. Heck, even steal that Daft Punk song that Kanye's sampling, the one that sounds like intelligent androids decided to invent jazz fusion based on first principles. There's two more adjectives right there. "HARDER" with an image of Jaime, or Emilio. See, this works. "Welcome to Our House" makes it seem like we've got nothing except home-field to talk about, and we actually have so much more.

So, it's not that I dislike the campaign. I think it's a pretty decent one, it's just that I don't love it. Which is fine, I don't need to love everything, but it just seems like a missed opportunity to say so much more in a way that doesn't sound to my ear like marketing speak.

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03 March 2008

Redemption Song, But I Do Not Sing Along

Yes, I am trying to fit in as many business trips as I can before the resumption of the season, which has put me out of the writing business for a bit. Now, I do not flatter myself as the greatest soccer polemicist of our time, but I do find it interesting that as soon as this site goes momentarily silent, United brings Santino Quaranta into camp.

I know that the high road for Tino's return would be let the past be the past, let bygones be bygones, and wish him well. If all he does is score goals, that should be enough, right? We should all forgive, forget, and celebrate that young Santino has decided to put his game and life back together here in DC. Certainly the voices at UnitedMania are talking up the idea of giving him another chance:

...if it does come around for Tino, and I'm talking all the way around, this could be another in a long line of fantastic under the radar type of moves that United and their front office have been pulling off for a number of years now.

BDR likewise tells the Story of How One Player Found Moral Redemption By Scoring Goals for United:

If - if if if - Quaranta understands this may be his last chance to avoid a lifetime of working the pit of a Jiffy Lube, this could be the steal of the year for United.

So allow me to be the bastardly curmudgeon who ruins everyone patting themselves on the back for being such good forgiving people. I'll say it simply: Santino Quaranta has dug himself a hole that will take the entire season for him to climb out of. Make a hole with a gun perpendicular to the name of DC on a desktop globe, and the exit wound is closer to Tino's current depth. (Ha! That's plagarism, that is.) Even these comments (from Goff's story) do not atone:

He made a strong impression for the Galaxy, scoring three goals in 12 league games. He also infuriated some United supporters when, in his return to RFK, he exchanged gestures and taunts. "I really owe them an apology," he said yesterday...Quaranta said that although he has firm offers from other MLS clubs, he wants to prove himself here..."I owe these fans," he said. "I cheated a lot of people in the process, and most of all, myself."

Correct, but the key word here is "owe" and it is a debt that Tino has not yet begun to repay. I have no problem with players going to other clubs and being proud of those clubs when they join them. I expect that, and that's fine with me. And when players are with other teams, I expect them to want to come back and beat D.C. United. Alecko? Facundo? Brandon? Christian? Yeah, I expect them all to want to come back and kick our ass. But when, and if, they do put the ball behind our keeper and into the net, that is the ultimate revenge. And they should take pride in that. It is also contingent that they be the ones to get the ball by us.

When Santino "exchanged gestures and taunts" it wasn't even Santino that had scored the goals. Santino's name is not on the scoresheet of the Free Beer Day debacle. Santino didn't even earn the spot kick that allowed Landon to put one in the goal (that would be, um, hey, Quavas Kirk. Nice to see ya pal.) And yet Tino felt compelled to run over and taunt the fans. Could I have forgiven that if he scored the goal? Probably, but as it was it was not nearly a celebration of revenge, but simply putting the boot in. It had no class. The problem wasn't the gestures, the problem was that he didn't earn it, and simply wanted to stick his fingers in the eyes for the sheer satisfaction of doing it.

Some will say that that once he starts playing, and playing well for United, that all will be forgiven. Not for me. Last year United marketed itself with the word "TRADITION" That word is even now interwoven in our jerseys. When we stole Luciano Emilio from Olimpia, and he rained goals upon them in the 2007 CONCACAF Champions Cup match, he didn't go mad with celebration. His celebration was restrained, dignified, and respectful. He understood that the past is not merely prologue, it is an inherent part of the tapestry that defines our personality. To dishonor his history with Olimpia would have also dishonored his new club United. That was classy. And Santino did not understand that when he behaved as he did.

I can forgive the injuries, the lack of work ethic, and the occasionally combative personality. But I do not forgive easily a lack of respect for not just your old club, but for yourself. Maybe Santino really has put it all back together. And saying he's going to atone is the right thing to do. But I reserve the right to see if he's still got the new attitude in the oppressive heat of August and not just the pre-season practices.

I may be alone in refusing to meet Tino halfway, and that's fine. Everyone else can move on. I certainly would hope his teammates would. But as a fan, I can not. Not yet. Talk to me in September.

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