10 April 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.A.04: Pachuca C.F.

D.C. United 2 : 1 Pachuca C.F.

Six Word Novel Recap

A classic match that United lost.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "United earned a 2-1 victory on goals from substitutes Rod Dyachenko and Franco Niell in the last five minutes last night at RFK Stadium, but Pachuca claimed the series 3-2 on aggregate after beating United 2-0 at home last week."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Under regular circumstances, D.C. United's feat in the closing minutes of last night's Champions' Cup match against Pachuca of Mexico -- scoring two goals to overcome a deficit and defeat the region's most dominant club this decade -- would have provided one of the most memorable victories in the team's 12-year history. Instead..."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "United had their chances before Pachuca struck for a 76th-minute counterattack goal from substitute Damian Alvarez that made late D.C. tallies from Rod Dyachenko and Franco Niell inadequate."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "But United created their share of scoring opportunities and saw two questionable challenges in the visitors' penalty area go unpunished by referee Joel Aguilar, most notably when Leobardo Lopez tugged Fred to the turf in the 55th minute."
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "United put themselves in the soup by failing to finish some glorious opportunities in the first half when they dominated the game...Emilio in particular had a rough night and had the most egregious missed chances of the match for the home side. In the 28th minute, right back Devon McTavish got on the end of a lovely overlap and struck a perfect cross to Emilio at the near post, unfortunately his angled shot whistled just wide of the far post. "
Goal.Com, Noah Davis: "The first half was marred by inconsistent and sloppy play. Pachuca controlled the early going, with D.C. unable to keep pace. After committing three fouls in the span of eight minutes, the referee showed a deserved yellow to Luciano Emilio...United, needing a result, began to press in earnest. The increased effort went for naught, as a spunky Pachuca side showed its class and absorbed D.C.'s advances...In an effort to inject life into the squad, Marc Burch came on for Santino Quaranta in the 60th minute, followed by Franco Niell for McTavish five minutes later. The changes didn't help, as the Mexican side drew first blood when Damian Alvarez rammed a ball past Wells from inside the penalty spot in the 76th minute." [Note: I'm quoting so much of this article because I think that, on-balance, it is the game recap that I disagree with the most. I mean, really Mr. Davis? This is what you took away from this game? Honestly, this game was fantastic, and I say that from the losing side, and you went a did a "MLS vs. Mexican Team Paint by Numbers" recap? Come on man, show some love and passion!]
Behind the Badge, The Management: "
Tonight's game could have had a very different outcome. Tommy Soehn's hybrid 3-4-3 formation worked wonders, the guys created numerous chances in the first half and if not for one defensive gaffe midway through the second, two late goals might have been enough."
DCist, Matt Borque: "Many times in soccer, a match's result can be qualified as fair, mostly fair, or unfair. This qualification is determined by examining the breaks of the game, the flukes, controversies, and dictatorship of the game's pace. The abundance of these variables in last night's games makes its result difficult to qualify."
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "Last night I saw a very discomposed DC United out on the field. I saw several passes that were made blindly and to no one. I saw many miscues when trying to play together, too many for a club that has been together for two and a half months." [Note: There's always one game where Brian and I come to completely opposite conclusions. Apparently this is that game.]
The Edgell Supporters: "The 3 man backline did a remarkable job until we started sending everything forward and even then we only gave up one. Namoff was especially good."
DCUMD, Shatz: "All in all, a fantastic soccer match. I could gripe about the officiating if I wanted to, but despite that, this game between two very talented and essentially evenly matched opponents might turn out to be better than any MLS game we see all year. Which makes the result even more frustrating and disappointing."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Pachuca is better. Faster, more athletic, most instinctive on the ball, better organized, better coached. I'm not slamming United: I like to imagine that United, given the same resources, financially and culturally, would build an organization and team equal to or superior to top tier Mexican clubs. And United has built, respective to its financial and cultural abilities, one of the top clubs in its league."

The Good

  1. Roll the Dice: Many times I have seen managers who need a result put out a line-up that looks attacking in nature, and then tactically play the lineup withdrawn so as to defang the very advantage you want to create. It seems that losing close is better than really risking things for the win. So my credit to Tom Soehn who put out an attacking line-up and played it like an attacking line-up, knowing that Pachuca was a good enough team that they would find opportunities to exploit it. And the three man back-line was excellent for most of the match. Yes, they had difficulties when Pachuca found counters with numbers, but that was inevitable. And contra the well-respected Mr. Urban from yesterday's comments, I don't think starting Marc Burch was the right idea. Marc has looked good going forward at times, but his defense, while better, has also never really gotten above adequate. In a four man back line that's fine, but he would have well and truly been exposed in a three man line.
  2. Midfield Tackles: From Gallardo, Fred, McTavish, Simms, Moreno, and even Emilio, I was pleased to see how hard United worked to get the ball back before it reached our half of the field. Pachuca was, I think, a bit disconcerted as time went on, and while they had some stretches of where they passed the ball around, frequently it was on their side of the field and didn't culminate in a credible attack.
  3. Rod Dyachenko: You know, I think I finally understood Rod for the first time last night. He's really good with the ball at his feet in tight quarters. He can't really beat anyone with speed, but he can engage a defender and get by him, and with Pachuca bunkering towards the end, it played well to his strengths.
  4. Namoff-Peralta-Matinez: I can not recall the last time I've really been truly comfortable with a backline, but I'm getting there. The great thing about this line-up is the fact that no one of these players will win Defender of the Year because they play well together, each covering. So far, this is the best defensive corp. that hasn't had someone named R. Nelsen playing for them.
  5. Pachuca: They play a really nice style of soccer, even in counter-attack mode. I have to give them that. This game was so fun to watch because it wasn't like Pachuca looked jet lagged, but rather they said "Okay, here's how we're going to play. Can you beat that?" And having thrown down the gauntlet, both sides excelled in trying to outplay each other. It was a feeling I don't get very often.
  6. The Return of Jaime Moreno: Last year he held the ball just by guarding it. Last night he held the ball by forcing defenders to try and figure out his intentions. It was much better.

The Bad

  1. So-Called Dangerous Set Pieces: I am coming to loathe Gallardo's corner kicks, fluttering things typically to the back post that never seem dangerous. His free kicks around the box weren't particularly good either, and Marc Burch's one shot at glory was a pathetic in-swinger to the keeper. This was the worst execution United was dealing with.
  2. Emilio: I hesitated about putting him in here, but I think it has to be mentioned. I don't fault him too much for missing the far post on his deflection, but the failure to get the shot off when he was in on the keeper and took three touches was worrying. But let's talk about missing the far post from Tino's cross In La Liga, that situation is a goal nine times out of ten. In the EPL, perhaps 8 out of 10 (and 10 out of 10 for the best teams). In MLS, it's a coin-flip. We lost the toss on this occasion. Provided Emilio doesn't become too Stoppardesque, I think we'll regret that miss, but not curse it.

Officiating Watch

The reason I started writing the Officiating Watch was that we tend only to talk about referees when they're bad, or focus on the one missed call, or what-not. And as a result, it colors our view of officiating in general, as what sticks out are the non-called penalty, the harsh yellows, the ridiculous failure to raise a flag over a head...

And so far, most of the officiating has been decent, even in games where United was not victorious. Which is why I've tried to give those officials their due. And that brings us to Mr. Jose Aguilar.

I'll say this for him, he improved over the course of the match, the same way one's situation in court improves when the prosecutors decide it might have been second degree murder. But truly, he was awful. He encapsulated the worst stereotype of the CONCACAF center official - the one that believes "Of course one team is more talented than the other, so any time that talented team is dispossessed, or falls to the ground, I should blow the whistle." And for fifteen minutes, the double standard of officiating between Pachuca and D.C. United was an insult to every other referee I have seen this season. And I haven't even gotten to the missed penalty on Fred (clearly wrong) or for the tackle from behind (debatable, and I can let it go). The yellow on Emilio for persistent infringement was the wrong card at the wrong time (a coworker notes that the Yellow was deserved for Emilio going in studs up the foul before). The double standard continued, just not as brazenly, for the entire game.

As for the Assistant Referees, I think they weren't particularly great, but at least they were equally bad to both sides. Pachuca was flagged for times when they were even in the second half the same way United was in the first half. Fine.

That there was a decent match on despite an atrocious performance from Mr. Aguilar is a tribute to the skills shown by United and Pachuca. Easily the worst match of the season. Likert Scale Grade: 1 - Poor

Man of the Match

You can pick any defender or midfielder you want, but I'm going to stick with my original pick and award it to Bryan Namoff. He started the move that got the first goal, played his head off the entire match, and was wonderful even as Pachuca seemed to think they could take advantage of him. Merit awards to Peralta, Martinez, Simms, Fred, Moreno, Quaranta, and Dyachenko. Your goat is Emilio.

Adjusted Results

This is for the MLS Season, but man is it tempting to award that penalty. N/A

Final Thoughts

In the first leg, I know United was in trouble when I looked at Pachuca and thought "Wow, this is how I want to see United play almost every game." In the second leg, I saw United play like United, and Pachuca play like Pachuca. And as a result, the disappointment of elimination is tempered. Against Chivas last year, it felt like we gave the game away in Mexico, a game we by rights should have won. Against Pachuca, the series ultimately could have gone either way, but we showed up and didn't give away the game. So it feels different.

Now, I'm not sure this game will be different come CONCACAF Champion's League. Let's not forget that Superliga last year came at a time when United was playing somewhat poor mid-season soccer. But man, I'd like to see a rematch. Yes indeed.

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At 10 April, 2008 11:40, Blogger Brian said...

Only one game a season!? :)

I must have been watching a different game than just about everyone else in media-land. Most people are chiming in as to how great we played last night. All I mistly saw was missed chances, guys trying to find a pass rather than take a shot and over all frustrating play.

Then again, everyone sees things differently. :)

At 10 April, 2008 11:48, Anonymous I-66 said...

This team is fully capable of beating Pachuca should we play them again.

One of the most puzzling things about being at the game last night was that there were so many people in Chivas jerseys cheering for Pachuca. I'm not sure I understand that. I mean, I wanted Houston to beat Saprissa, but if I had been in Houston for the first leg of that tie and had actually gone to the game, I certainly would not have done so in a United shirt.

At 10 April, 2008 12:11, Anonymous keithw said...

Losing is never good, but I felt that we played our hearts out and that, as you say, so did Pachuca. Hope DC can keep their heads up and continue to play the way they did last night. A great game to watch, with chances on both sides, but sometimes the game is cruel and this was one of those nights. While I lean towards your view and not Brian's, I do hope our tendancy to walk the ball in the goal rather than pull the trigger, even if from distance, will not come back to haunt us.

At 10 April, 2008 13:17, Anonymous mel said...

Agree strongly with most of what you said ... especially about the poor set pieces from Gallardo. But I have to take issue with this: "So far, this is the best defensive corp. that hasn't had someone named R. Nelsen playing for them."

Really? Better than Pope, Agoos and Llamosa? Seems a little early for that one. In fact, I'm not sure I think Nelsen was part of a line that was better.

At 10 April, 2008 14:38, Anonymous Skippy said...

I find it tough to be overly positive or overly negative about the game. Though it was another big game where DC's stars really did not convert. Dyachenko and Niell scored, which is great and all, but in a big game, I sort of hoped that Emilio and Moreno and possibly Gallardo would step up. And I don't feel they did. They played well, United as a whole played fairly well, but there was nothing stellar coming out of these players. I'm all for consistency, that's how you win the Supporters Shield, but when it comes to big games, I just don't feel like United stepped up, or at least the starters. In last year's final game it took Simms to jab some life back into DC, before some of the others really started going after the game. And there's nothing one can really do about it and EXPECTING fantastic play is a little bit much. But dammit if it wouldn't be nice.
More specific commentary, I thought there was a lot of hanging on to the ball to long, particularly by Fred and Moreno, but more Fred who I felt had shots but hung on to the ball hoping to be fouled in the box. Speaking of Fred, I really like some of his play, but someone mentioned earlier that he cuts inside too much and, looking for that, I saw it at the game. A lot. And sometimes he would cut into traffic when he had 10 yards of open space around the corner flag. Given Pachuca's ability to stop runs at the top of the 18 and relative weakness on balls that came in from the wings, this felt like a glaring mistake. He's got the skills to take on a defender, but I don't feel like that always has to be an attempt to push the possession into the penalty area.
But yeah, I agree with a number of other comments, I want a rematch, this was in no way out of United's reach.
And I am pleased that United isn't bouncing between head-shaking embarrassment and we-can-beat-anyone-we'll-even-front-you-a-goal remarkable.

At 11 April, 2008 08:50, Anonymous Jeremy said...

I agree with most of your analysis. I only question why I was the only person expressing vitriol about the officiating in the first leg. The officiating in this match, although bad, was far less slanted to Pachuca.

I agree about the backline. Those Gonzalos are both amazing. Peralta's positioning and timely footwork and Martinez's spectacular tackles. Namoff is playing as well as he ever has too. The '04 line (while Namoff was healthy) was pretty special, although I think this one is probably better. It is good to have a back line this good with a green keeper who isn't having the best start to a season.

I also like the Goat of the match reference. That would be an interesting new feature.


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