18 April 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.04: Columbus Crew

D.C. United 1 : 2 Columbus Crew

Six Word Novel Recap

Never understood why Goldilocks preferred lukewarm.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Even with the strongest lineup coach Tom Soehn could use, D.C. United fell short last night at RFK Stadium. United lost 2-1 to the Columbus Crew before a crowd of 13,329. It wasn't as one-sided as Saturday's loss at Real Salt Lake in which three key players rested, but United's offense still struggled to find the right chemistry."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Alejandro Moreno's sweeping shot from close range pushed Columbus (3-1) ahead in the 32nd minute. And later in the first half, after Bryan Namoff's deflected shot drew United even, the Crew needed just one minute to retake the lead."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "Soehn was baffled with the miscommunication that seemingly plagued the United back line all night long. 'It should have been better than it was. They punished us when we didn't do a good job.'"
Soccer America, Ridge Mahoney: "Is it too soon for the fans of D.C. United to panic, given their team's depressing 2-1 loss to Columbus at RFK Stadium Thursday night? Of course it's too soon. But their misgivings are well-grounded. You can talk all you want about players getting to know each other and it's still April and they've had a heavy load of games and all that, but this team has been together for more than two months and doesn't show much leadership or competitive fire."
Hunt Park Insider,
Matt Bernhardt: "The Columbus Crew's first victory in RFK Stadium came courtesy of an own goal from Richie Williams. So too did the team's latest conquest, as Sigi Schmid's men gutted out a 2-1 win Thursday night. The victory puts the Crew temporarily atop the MLS standings, with nine points from four games played. DC United, meanwhile, is in the Eastern Conference basement with the opposite record."
Behind the Badge, The Management: "[Emilio] There is no frustration here, we know the potential we have...[Gallardo] We need to get a couple of wins so we can gain confidence, not get desperate."
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "...it was Schelotto who controlled the midfield in the first half, orchestrating a far more fluid attack than his Argentine counterpart. Though United created ample chances, Gallardo was given very little space to play with very few options provided by his front runners. Most of United's attack was generated from the flanks with Fred on the left side and Bryan Namoff on the right."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "...the home side fluffed a string of scoring chances before Alejandro Moreno's grit and graft produced two goals that put United behind the 8-ball. Neither was pretty - the first, an awkward close-range finish to a fluid passing move and the second an own goal off Gonzalo Peralta just seconds after Bryan Namoff's equalizer - but both were just rewards for the Crew. The combined effect was devastating to D.C.'s fragile mindset."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "it is time to start asking if the team is playing up, down, or equal to its players' - and coach's - ability, and I've got the uneasy feeling that what we're seeing might be the team's true level: the players just aren't very good, and the coach isn't capable of getting a greater result than the sum of his players."
The Far Post, Thaddeus Byron Aloysius Dopenhopper: "...time to call out some dudes...Emilio: The dude is a poacher. Poachers are streaky and frustrating. This season he’s being asked to hold the ball with his back to the goal, but MLS defenders have figured out if you lean on him he gets so distracted he can’t make the appropriate pass to a teammate."
DCUMD, Shatz: "The whole team seems way too tentative on offense. Instead of taking the quick cross or the one-time shot, United is more often holding the ball waiting for a play to develop, or sending it in to Emilio posting up with his back to the goal (which never works)."
The Offside - D.C. United, Jon: "One of the Gonzalos is good, the other one needs to wake up. The good one is Martinez, who had a strong match. Peralta once again got beat for goals. I say sit him in favor of McTavish."


The Good

  1. Marcello Gallardo: Commenter Jeremy asks exactly the right skeptical question last night in the Impressions: "How can you praise Gallardo's 'vision' when this vision leads to a turnover and the end of any attacking chance. For me vision includes seeing the play developing, anticipating the reactions of your teammates and the defense and moving the play forward. I have not seen that from Gallardo." And Commenter Grunthos gets the answer exactly right: "Gallardo *is* seeing the developing play better than his teammates and trying to direct the flow of the offense. With depressing frequency, his teammates ignore his suggestions or fail to understand them... the turnovers are not occurring because Marcelo made a bad choice, they are occurring because the other guys aren't reading his moves well." This is perfect, and means I don't have to do any work answering the question. Ah, the joys of laziness.
  2. Key Coaching Decision Making: Tom Soehn's line-up and substitutions were all reasonable and fine. I enjoyed the double-substitution early in the second half. Now we need to start thinking about what exactly the "Best XI" for United is. More on that below.
  3. Gonzalo Martinez: Really, his tackling, his presence, and his marking are excellent. If the United defense could be a little more competent, he may be putting forward a Defender of the Year type season if this continues.
  4. The Columbus Second Half: You can complain about teams sitting on the lead, or you can credit Columbus for playing an excellent half with a one goal lead. They kept their shape the entire 45 minutes, they defended well, and they limited United to one or two dangerous balls the entire time. They deserve credit for that, and I will give it to them.
  5. Checking in with the others: Saw this guy last night, who, like me, starts composing his blog posts around half-time. And to the three or four other people who dropped by to say kind things, I appreciate it.

The Bad

  1. Lieutenant Zack Wells: I think sometimes small moments illustrate big problems better than the goals do, so let me direct your attention to the second half, sometime around the 55th minute. Columbus attempts to play a through ball behind the United back line, but the pass is errant. Gonzalo Martinez starts to track the ball down facing his own goal. Robbie Roger, I think, starts to apply some high pressure. Now, Martinez has three options: 1 - He can try and turn the ball himself and play out of the back. 2 - He can send a back pass to Wells to play out of the back. 3 - He can guard the ball back to Wells who can pick it up. Wells comes out of his box, and it looks like Option 3 will be well executed.

    But then Wells suddenly backpeddles four steps, just as Martinez can hear footsteps. What now? The back pass could be risky, playing it youself can lead to a costly turnover, and Wells suddenly isn't in position to pick the ball up. With some frantic movement, Wells suddenly reapproaches the ball and kicks it directly to his left for a Columbus attacking throw. And then Wells yells at Martinez, after not having taken charge earlier despite being able to see the entire field. Which is ridiculous. Wells is clearly the one who should be commanding the play as he can see what's happening. Accordingly, Mr. Wells, we demote you from O-4 to O-3, and you are now a Lieutenant in the Goalkeeping Navy.
  2. Defense on the Left: Both goals had unfortunate breakdowns on the left side, and I won't even go into the Wells decision to leave the net on the second goal. I mean, he was in a perfectly fine position to guard the post for any keeper not named Tony Meola. I'd like to see Devon McTavish taken out of the midfield role (replace him with Quaranta or Kirk, please) and used more as an augment to the defense as needed. Bleh.
  3. Cutting-in: Fred, I love your workrate, and your willingness to run. I'm just tired of seeing you get a ball at the corner of the box and 95% of the time cutting it back into the middle on the dribble.
  4. Emilio: See last night's post. With his back to goal, he's looking awful.

Officiating Watch

Both ARs were excellent, and I didn't disagree with a single flag that went into the air. Center official Jair Marrufo was his typical self, which is a shame. I would really like to see a replay of the first time Emilio was taken down in the box, as from my seats (Sec 236) it looked like a penalty, but given that I couldn't see if Emilio was also shirt grabbing, I can't really make a definitive call. That being said, Mr. Lars next to me saw a lot of two footed tackles not get called (both ways) and that's really not right kids.

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Man of the Match

N/A. Merit Awards to Gallardo and Martinez, your goat is, I think, Zack Wells (though Peralta and Emilio both are candidates)

Adjusted Results

A-ha! If I can find a replay of that Emilio take-down, I might adjust one goal up for United. Or if there's consensus in the comments. So it's either no change, or a 2-2 match. What say you?

UPDATE: Commenter Jason caught the replay, and argues for DC +1.5 for a DOGSO red to Frankie. I'm not sure I can go that far, but at least it confirms the initial thought of a clear penalty (combined with some good other chances). So the adjusted result is +1 goal for D.C, for a final score of DC 2 : 2 CLB. For the season, D.C. United's adjusted record is 1-2-1 (4pts); 7GF, 10GA, -3GD.

Final Thoughts

There need to be changes. Personally, I'd start with the place where it seems we have the most options, and take out McTavish for Kirk or, more likely, Quaranta. I mean, yes, thank you for your goals in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, but it's just not working Devon. Sub him in on the defense, or start him for Peralta for a game.

I'm not sure that we're a bad team, as BDR might argue. I see a whole lot of talent on the field, and not just on paper. But our lack of a coherent attack as a team is concerning. We improvise nicely, but that only takes you so far. I love improvisation, but Whose Line Is It Anyway? never won a dramatic Emmy. Or a BAFTA, for those of you who remember Tony Slattery. Regardless, we're not on the same page. And we've had, as Mr. Mahoney notes, 8 games to get on the same page. That's not good.

That being said, I'm less annoyed by this result than the RSL result. The RSL game was a game where we deserved the thrashing we received. This game was a bit unfortunate, as we had some very nice moments in the opening thirty minutes. There was progress, sadly it was progress from one of the most ridiculous losses in our history. So I'm not about to scream and yell. Yet. A loss, with extra rest, at home against RSL... that would be pretty much intolerable, right? Right.

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At 18 April, 2008 11:41, Anonymous Grunthos said...

That exchange between Martinez and Wells was a defining moment of the match. My friend sitting next to me immediately commented, in a resigned tone, "Well, I hope we start Carvallo in the next game," and I could only nod my head sadly in agreement. I would prefer that Zach succeed, and I'm more than willing to allow him a couple of strikes along the way, but that was just an inexcusable schoolboy play. It's little wonder Martinez was steamed afterwards and (so far as I could tell) for the rest of the match.

At 18 April, 2008 11:51, Blogger Doug said...

My lasting impression from last night's game was how often our guys were watching the ball and waiting for it to come to them only to see a streaking yellow shirt come and gobble it up first.

At 18 April, 2008 11:52, Blogger Chris said...

The word that stands out to me in defining Moreno's work for the Crew is GRIT.

United doesn't have it right now... and it shouldn't be blamed on a missing Ben Olsen.

Altough I see it at times from Quaranta, which is encouraging, Martinez is the only one out there that looks like he is in it to get the job done at all costs.

To get results we're going to need a real gut check from all sides to earn that ugly goal or break up a run that beats 4 players before our goalkeeper wanders out of the net. Then we'll start earning points against teams that United may be more technically and individually superior.

At 18 April, 2008 12:15, Anonymous Skippy said...

I seem to be a little more frustrated than everyone else. Maybe I got my hopes up after the Toronto and second Pachuca games.
Simms - we may have been over excited about, BUT I still think he shows a lot of potential. If he can get his touch down, I feel like he will be worth the hype. Great energy, but I also like his instincts. I think D once talked about his defending instincts, but I like his attacking, particularly 20 yards out or so. I like that he's willing to shoot from that range, and though he hasn't been successful yet this year, the ball doesn't end up closer to the corner flag or the upper deck than the crossbar like so many shots from distance (see Emilio's ranged attempt last night). Nor does he wait for the defense to form in front of him before he tries a shot, how many blocked shots have their been this year because the ball was held two or three seconds too long? But he doesn't always shoot either, I think his vision and finding open players shows strength as well.
Gallardo - I think plays well, sort of. There were so many good passes that he made with no one on the end of them. He's not clicking with the team, not just Moreno, I think. Maybe that's something that will come with time. If not, something needs to be done, it is true that some of his "great" passes become simply turnovers because there is no one to receive them and that cannot stand, DC will not win games like that.
Emilio - What the hell happened?
Wells - There's been some good play, but he's leakier than the kitchen in my first apartment. I don't know if its nerves. Most games we've seen poor communication between Wells and the defenders - how is this not fixed yet?
McTavish and Burch - Not to lump them together, but, well, I am. I think Burch and McTavish both have moments of brilliance and are going to help the team on the field, but I think their spots are up for grabs to anyone who can demonstrate consistency. With those two, play ranges from "God, I love that" to "Umm, where was that supposed to go?" and it varies not by game but by possession which makes it hard to get a rhythm going. I would rather see Tino get more playing time in place of one of these guys. At least for now.
Dyachenko - I have never seen what anyone sees in this fellow. Maybe we could use a Peter Crouch stand-in to finish chipped balls, if the other strikers had the work rate of Kuyt, but Emilio and Moreno are out of shape. I don't see how he will ever fit into the DC attack.
There's more, but this post is getting lengthy. I know I am supposed to have learned from last year, but I'm getting dangerously close to start-in with the "sky is falling." This game did not indicate promise of better things to come - it was better than RSL, but if they had played worse Soehn should really just have promoted the reserves in their entirety. Last night I think DC looked like a team that will finish the season in the middle-to-bottom half of the East and may or may not get the last playoff spot. I don't think its a talent gap, but I really don't know why the team looks so dreary (to me) as a whole.

At 18 April, 2008 12:26, Anonymous Skippy said...

P.S. I was just thinking about this - What about Fred as a striker? He has the work rate, the speed and skill to beat defenders and that tendency to work in the box. Wasn't Fred a forward in Australia?
Were I Tommy Soehn, I'd take Emilio out for a game and put Tino on the wing and Fred up front with Moreno. I think both Fred's and Moreno's ability to beat at least one defender might enable them to break through defenses as a team. But if I were Tommy Soehn, the team would probably be 0-0-4 and wouldn't have beaten Harbour View, so take it for what its worth (nothing).

At 18 April, 2008 13:21, Anonymous bdr said...

Gallardo's problem is that he's making great instinctive passes that United players either don't read or do read and can't get to or do read and do get but can't do anything with it.

Gallardo is the least of the problems.

D, it was great running into you last night.

At 18 April, 2008 13:23, Blogger The Bird said...

Fred played A-mid in Oz, I believe. Might have played in the hole for some games, too. I don't think of him as a target man though, which is what we really lack.

At 18 April, 2008 14:13, Blogger Jason said...

What I saw of it (and the replay on the bi g screen) I would probably say DOGSO red and PK... to Hejduk for +1.5 goals. I CANNOT believe Hejduk made it through that game without a yellow card much less red.

At 18 April, 2008 15:10, Blogger rke said...

Call me weird, but I'm still optimistic. That game could have gone either way, and losing to Columbus this year isn't as embarrassing as it would have been last year.

I think the crux is still how the team reacts to Gallardo. He's like a chess-master, playing his passes a step ahead of the game, always predicting.

The problem is, our players are accustomed to getting beautiful passes placed right at their feet.

Gallardo is placing them where their feet are about to be. But last year's Emilio doesn't trust it -- he stops his run and turns around, expecting the ball at his feet. Instead it's a few yards ahead, past the defenders and out of play.

When Emilio and company get their heads in line with Gallardo, the team will improve dramatically -- even evolve to the next level.

I think that's part of why Quaranta looks good -- he's not biased by what Gomez used to do so well, and he's predicting the play.

Moreno is not a runner, so he's forging something different, and challenging Gallardo to change his game. He's a distribution center up front -- a safe, go-to spot on the field that Gallardo needs to learn to trust and use.

So I guess I see this: Gomez was brilliant because he brought the best out of a great MLS team. Gallardo is trying to bring a great MLS team up to higher standards. It hasn't clicked yet, and currently it doesn't look pretty.

It's risky... Maybe it won't work. But if it does, we'll be singing some happy chants later in the season.

At 18 April, 2008 15:18, Blogger D said...

RKE: That's the best case I've read that anyone has made for optimism. Bravo. Now to con myself into believing it.

At 18 April, 2008 15:34, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Unfortunately, you missed the whole point of my question about Gallardo. He does have the vision to see "Hey, if I put the ball here and Emilio runs on to it, we've got a sure fire goal." Unfortunately, he has no concept of where Emilio is actually going to run. What good does a perfect pass into space do if no one is there. Communication and understanding go both ways, and there is definitely fault on the side of the rest of the team. However, all I hear are people saying "Oh yeah, I see what Gallardo was thinking. That would have been a great play if..." Gallardo just doesn't get that he isn't playing with the Argentine World Cup Team and isn't adjusting his "vision" to take account for the abilities and instincts of his actual teammates.

At 18 April, 2008 15:38, Anonymous Jeremy said...

RKE- I like your take on it, and I still am optimistic, just frustrated. If it works out the way you are thinking, we will all celebrate, I just don't see any growth at all yet.

At 18 April, 2008 16:41, Blogger Sean said...

I think Jair is a one of U.S. Soccer's best. He's close up on plays, has a strong personality, and a lot of courage. He's the one that saw and took back Gomez's handling to tie DC last year in the Chicago second leg when other refs might have let it go.

I have no doubt if he saw a PK, he would call it, and pull red if he had to. I think he calls a looser game than some other centers, but I think he calls a good game.

We will see, however, if U.S. Soccer says anything in its Week 4 memo next week.

At 18 April, 2008 16:50, Blogger rke said...

Jeremy - I agree. And asking our DP to adapt to "MLS style" would be the easier path. But I'd rather stretch the team to step up to something better -- even if it's rough in the short-term, and risky overall.

D - Thanks! Now sing it with me... "Always look on the bright side of life..."


At 19 April, 2008 15:39, Blogger kevin said...

Honestly, we didn't deserve to tie that. Sure, there should have been a penalty, and sure, the ref was HORRENDOUS on both sides, but really, we flat-out sucked in general. With the exception of Martinez (who may give Ben Olsen a run for his money for my favorite player) and a decent showing from Gallardo, we were terrible. Ugh. All I have to say is that we need a decisive victory over the Mormons to gain some momentum and confidence. And maybe a team bonding night. There's no chemistry.

At 20 April, 2008 10:09, Blogger Landru said...

Hi, and sorry I couldn't be there/run into you.

Spot on about Wells. That was not the first time this season we've seen him have essentially fatal difficulty communicating with the back line. This shouldn't be hard to work out, and I'm not opposed to Carvallo as a solution.

I'm also very, very unhappy about Emilio. I don't see a lot in Beaky Dyachenko either, but I'm not opposed to giving him a start or two up front to get Emilio the message that he needs to break through whatever's fogging his brain. If he has instructions to do things with his back to the goal, that's one thing. Those instructions don't include "get abused and fall down" or "procrastinate through any reasonable chance of a decent shot."

I'm not as unhappy as you and some others about Fred. I'm seeing a lot more spark there this season. I agree with you about the creativity deficiency, but I'm wondering if there was something to the notion that he was awfully tired for all of last season (from not getting much of a season break).

Oh, and the Frankie takedown was way totally a penalty. There was another takedown that didn't resonate so clearly, and there was a not-particularly-artful Fred-dive. But it's surely charming that a Social Security recipient like Frankie can manage to wrestle Emilio to the ground. I hope he's easier on his walker.

Of all of it, the thing that disappoints me most is one I haven't mentioned, but others have; why isn't some of this fixed yet, especially the backline communication problem? I have always been convinced that Soehn has little clue of how to coach a defense. I do not wish to be unkind, and not all of The D Conditions (which I accept as The Law, of course) have been clearly met. But.


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