30 May 2008

Open Comments

The first half of last night's game was SO AWESOME. Then I watched something else. What happened in the second half? Someone fill me in.

The best part of that game, at least the AWESOME first half that I saw, was that it was on ESPN2 in prime time, so now THE WORLD can know all about how AWESOME DC United is.

28 May 2008

Niell's tenure to be cut short?

Word in both the Examiner and WaPo suggest the Niell will be on his way out soon, at the latest by July 1st when player contracts are guaranteed. At $150k a year, he has not produced as expected, and may be having trouble adjusting to the league and new playing demands. Unless he goes on a scoring streak of titanic proportions, I think the club will find it hard to rationalize keeping him.

Niell acknowledged having troubling fitting into United's system.

"I am the type of player that basically runs forward and I haven't had to run back in a defending capacity, which is something that I have had to get used to here," he said. "I feel I am making progress toward that and ultimately it is the coach's decision to include the players. . . .Right now, I find myself on the outside looking in."

While its tempting to but the blame squarely on Niell, the Front Office has to be taken to task for bringing in a player, a not inexpensive one at that, and forcing him to not play to his strengths.

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Stadium Announcement coming soon?

The intertubes have been leaking rumors of a proposed announcement soon and today's edition of the post states D.C. Council Crafting Plan to Pay $150 Million for Soccer Stadium.
The city would finance construction bonds with excess tax revenue being collected by the District to pay for the baseball stadium. D.C. United would be responsible for paying for any costs above $150 million, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is still being finalized.
I'm hopeful that the deal can get done given the tight timetable it is now under. But, I'm also wondering if its the best deal that the team can get. How important is it to be in the city, as opposed to say, MD, if Maryland will give the team a better financial deal in the long run (chip in more money for construction, more favorable lease terms, etc).
David Nakamura covers Fenty's visit to the Anacostia Coordinating Council as well.
Fenty has reportedly been reluctant to take the lead on the project, considering he voted against the baseball stadium as a council member. He answered somewhat cryptically, saying he hoped a deal would be done soon, but adding: "We're not there yet, as of"-- he looked at his watch -- "7:15 p.m. tonight."

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24 May 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 3 : 2 Toronto F.C.

No, it doesn't make things better, but it does start to make things better. If United was truly to start reassembling this season, this is the kind of game they needed. Not a competent 1-nil victory, not a 5-2 thrashing of someone, both of those would lend themselves far too easy a comfort to a team to fall into self-delusion, to dismiss the first third of the season as just a bad dream.

But a game where the team plays well, and fights back twice to ultimately take a victory, that's one that might mean something in a way that keeps us all realistic about how far off we are.

I'll admit this, had we had the same game we'd had the last three, then that was it for me with Tom Soehn. But this game had more interesting moves to it. Remember what we said about toughness not being about fouls? This game saw Toronto vastly out-foul United, but we say United fight and dig and scrape for more balls in close space. This game had Gallardo, especially in the first half, switching balls diagonally from one wing to another. This game saw United truly use width to attack. And there was a goal on a set piece, a corner no less. I mean, really? Really? Yeah.

Maybe I'm dizzy from not having seen a win in a long time, but this game did feel better, didn't it? Not perfect, even in this euphoria I'm not that delusional, but better. Smarter. Tougher. Even when down 1-nil, this team seemed to have its head on straight. And perhaps the seeds of that were in the previous Toronto game, a game that we could see was better, but one that didn't feel better. Now what we see and feel are aligning in a more harmonious I-Ching hexgram, and that is refreshing. Emboldening, even.

No, this game was not perfect, it had plenty of flaws, but it feels like the first solid step up on a long staircase, and not simply falling forward on the stairs and claiming we've gained ground. This works for me. Yes, I know, we all want to discount a game where a penalty was involved in the margin of victory, but it was earned. Solidly.

Preliminary returns say merit awards to Martinez, Gallardo, Fred, and Moreno. Man of the match is probably from that group, and I'm leaning towards Fred who has been something of a catalyst of late (when he isn't depressed about heading a ball directly at a keeper). A quick snark at Mr. Wells is probably still in order, and Perralta seems to have scored a goal and missed a marker with similar dignity.

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21 May 2008

First Impressions - Toronto F.C. 1 : 0 D.C. United

A school of fish.

A parliament of owls.

A murder of crows.

An embarrassment of United?

Objectively, I know this game was an improvement over the last three, but the entire flavor of this game was ruined by two things. First, the fact that L.A. made me sick during my plane flight home. But second was the number of times when United seemed to create their own defeat. It started with McTavish being wrong footed with a bounce on the turf, a situation which he managed to compound in the greatest of tragicomic proportions (who was it who said "tragedy is when I stub my tow, comedy is when you fall down the stairs and die?") Then there was Fred managing not to score on two great chances. And Gallardo's game-long habit of sending weak square balls to players in red.

And so, you can consign this game to bad luck, but United has created its own luck this season. Objectively, this was a better game, we moved the ball, we fought for some balls and won some of those, we created chances, we passed with some degree of success, we were even downright creative. Subjectively, it still feels like being mugged. Oh, and objectively... objectively we got no points. Objectively, as one commenter wrote (which I can't find, but I'll post a link when I do) we have the same number of losses now that we had all of last season. My apologies if I'm not happy with the small progress which I know, somehow, should be enough.

Preliminary debits and credits - Merit awards to Martinez and Perralta, a I'm torn between Gallardo and McTavish for the goat. Oh, and P.S. to MLS Referees... "Persistent Infringement"

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Match Briefing vs Toronto FC

Match #: 13.MLS.13 -- at Toronto FC

Six Word Novel Preview:
Hoping for win on bouncy turf.

Toronto FC

TV: 21 May 2008, Comcast Sports Net, Direct Kick, MLSLive.tv, 7:30pm

Previous Meeting:
DC United 4 - Toronoto FC 1.

The Stakes:
United needs points, end of story. With, what - a quarter of the season, done, this team has to start looking like it'll make it to the playoffs.

Previews from the DCUniverse and MLSverse:
Behind the Badge: "A healthier and more determined United side has made its way north of
the border and is preparing for tonight's match with Toronto FC. " Plus links to stories in the local papers.

WVHooligan - "Some rumors flying around right now say the DC front office is giving Soehn this week to turn things around or he will get canned like Steve Morrow did yesterday in Dallas."


Obviously, United needs to start winning, although I have no illusions that they'll be able to play well on TFC's Astroturf pitch. At this point, a tie on the road would be a moral victory for the team and something that they could build on. How the team plays, and how Tom Soehn manages the team, I think are more important than the actual result.

What to look for?
  • Will we see Gallardo on the field? I have a suspicion that he might opt not to play the full 90 game, given the atrocious field. It could spare us watching his teammates not making the right runs and anticipating his passes.
  • Will Emilio start? Can or should he start the game on the bench again? I think we played noticeably better with Doe up top last week and it'd be worth experimenting a little more with him up there.
  • How will Wells organize his defense? Last game he was interviewed and mentioned that he needs to organize the defense better and improve communications. Its now or never, defensive miscues and bad positioning have been killing us.
  • Can Moreno lead the team? Jaime needs to step up as captain and keep his squad motivated and focused, both if we give up the first goal or need to keep attacking if we score first.

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19 May 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.08: At Chivas USA

Chivas USA 3 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Early goal... late defeat... final accounting?

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The LA Times, Grahame Jones: "D.C. United rode the talents of former Argentine World Cup midfielder Marcelo Gallardo to a 1-0 halftime lead over Chivas USA... Then, in a thoroughly unexpected turn of events, Chivas USA answered with two late goals from two good players -- Jesse March and Sacha Kljestan -- and then got another from teenager Jorge Flores to come away with a memorable 3-1 Major League Soccer victory."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: " It happened so suddenly and without any warning."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "United now has lost all four road matches this season and have been outscored 11-1 in those games. To add insult to injury this was the first ever win over United for Chivas USA in six matches."
MLSNet, Danny Bueno: "Marcelo Gallardo had put the visitors ahead in the 30th minute with a tremendous goal and D.C. United looked ready to take advantage of an injury-depleted Chivas USA squad that was missing nine players, including their entire starting defensive backline."
MLSNet, Luis Bueno: "Marsch finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about in the 73rd minute. Harris tried but failed to reach a loose ball inside the penalty area. Wells, though, dived and failed to collect the ball. Marsch ran onto the ball and softly slipped it into the back of the goal. Kljestan continued the late offensive surge. Harris tracked down a bouncing ball on the right flank and slipped a well-placed ball to the center of the box. Kljestan ran onto the ball and tucked it into the back of the net before heading toward a pocket of United supporters and karate-kicking his way toward a celebration."
Booked For Dissent, Dave Lifton: "United allowed themselves to get beat because they had no response to Chivas’ physicality. Instead, they got scared every time a Chivas player got near them, which led to cautious, hesitant play, resulting in turnovers. "
You Are My Minions, Landru: "It's also, not at all coincidentally, time to note the major role that awesome goalkeeping has played in DCU's success lo these many years. Great DCU teams had memorable keepers--Scott Garlick, Tom Presthus, Nick Rimando, and it appears all-too-briefly, Troy Perkins. Semen Wells is on a track to be the wrong kind of memorable. Except a keeper doesn't stay on that track long enough to become truly memorable."
DCUMD, Shatz: "I was all ready to come on here and give Tom Soehn props for putting together a good starting lineup that played really pretty well for 30 minutes. But that's about as far as it went. Because the tactical decision to sit back and defend a single goal lead has NEVER WORKED in this league...So we might as well start the countdown. If this persists, and there's no reason to believe that anything will change over the next few days, it will be exactly one week from today that Tom Soehn will be out of a job. That's Sunday May 25. And that will already be too late."
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "It might be just as bad a situation if United replaces Soehn during this stretch as opposed to waiting until June. I really cannot see the club getting any better with Soehn at the helm. Maybe it is time for him to go down with his ship?"
BlackDogRed, BDR: "It's entirely plausible that Soehn is doing a shitty job, but I don't think it possible, or fair, to determine with any accuracy how shitty a shitty job he's doing considering what crappy tools he has at his disposal. What if Soehn is getting all that can be gotten out of these mutts?"
BehindTheBadge, The Management (feat. Tom Soehn): "But the first half I thought we had a game plan and we stuck to it, we were hard to play against, we got our goal. In the second half they came out with a bit more intensity and I don’t think we handled it well." [NOTE: And did you have a game plan in the second half? Did you stick with it? C'mon now... -D]

The Good

  1. Gallardo's Goal: In a season starved for highlights, it was a good one. Not like his volley against RSL, but good none-the-less. I'm glad Behind The Badge has it up for you to watch. Really. Watch it, and pretend the entire game was like that. You might even come to believe it. We have always been at war with Chivasia.
  2. Bryan Namoff: Another game where he was running his shorts off for most of the match. He makes mistakes, he gets beaten, but damn if he isn't trying. There was always talk of handing the armband to Ben Olsen at some point, but perhaps Ben should turn around and hand it to Bryan.
  3. Atmosphere in the Corner: If we stipulate that certain Calvinists are right, and that there is an elect number of people that go to heaven come the Rapture, then certainly the brothers and sisters I was fortunate to join at the Home Depot Center have done enough to earn their place come Armageddon.

The Bad

  1. Analysis from the Corner: Really, it's damn difficult to make sense of the game from down there. Even without the alcohol, you just don't have a good look at the game. That being said...
  2. Aren't We Supposed to Play With the Lead? Yeah, let me say something I think I said on the UnitedMania Podcast. There's an old baseball maxim, I think attributed to Earl Weaver, that "If you play for the one run inning, that's exactly what you'll get." I think that also applies to us in the second half - "If you play not to score a goal, you'll succeed."
  3. Using the Field: Ryan Cordeiro proved he's a standout in the reserve games, but never seemed to fully grasp his role in how to occasionally use both the left and right flanks.
  4. LTJG Zach Wells: I was prepared to promote him after his performance against Chicago. Sadly, this performance negates it, as he lets in a dribbler and gives up a rebound. So we'll keep his rank unchanged, for the time being

Officiating Watch

Apparently the ARs had the offsides calls right. Michael Kennedy is a twerp, but no more annoying than any other official.

Likert Scale Grade: 3 - Average

Man of the Match

N/A. Merit award to Namoff. Goat to... Jaime Moreno, who never seemed to do what a captain needs to do. He's the one who should be harassing the ref, not Gallardo. He's the one that needed to give the team a quick reality check in the second half as the field started to tilt.

Adjusted Results

No adjustments.

Final Thoughts

Given this line-up, with the benching of Emilio and others, it had to be looked as a message from Soehn. So I feel that I have to give one game for the message to sink in. But that being said, all I asked for after the Chicago game was good basic soccer. Did you see that? I did for a decent portion of the game, but at the moment when the second half came around, we started making the same mistakes that have plagued us all season. Tom Soehn had a week and a half, even with a new line-up, to figure out how he wanted to simply move the ball around the field, and we couldn't do it in the second half. And that's a problem.

I'll be honest. He's got exactly one game left with me. And then, well, I might make the change. But if we don't do it in the next four games, then let's consign the season.

Shatz is writing that this is a rebuilding season. Well, it is now, but we were promised a shiny new car. It just happens to have been hit by a semi.

One game for Soehn. He's made his last possible move, now we'll see if it works. It's not that I think even that he's the problem, but the only move that can be made now to save the season has his name on it. Make the move, or consign the season to memory.

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18 May 2008

First Impressions - Chivas USA 3 : 1 D.C. United

It's late, and I've had 45 minutes driving north from the Home Depot Center to think on things, but I'll say this: Tom Soehn is right - This team lacks toughness. But toughness isn't fouls. It isn't yellow cards. It's mental toughness, the courage and precision to execute a turn and clearance as an attacked barrels down on you. It's the ability to push a cross clear to the other side of the field when the 50-50 ball is played too short. It's the heart to run down a ball that's probably beyond your reach but damned if that defender will beat you to the line. And this team doesn't have it.

This team isn't fast, but you can overcome that with toughness. This team isn't tough, but you can overcome that with smart tactical play and players moving to the right places off the ball. But this team isn't smart, and now we're exactly where we are.

United had gone ahead, and had some decent chances on goal (Namoff's header over the bar springs to mind) in the first half. Yet as the night wore on, they ceded more and more of the field to Chivas, and ultimately paid with three goals.

If nothing else, at least Tino Quaranta was the one who actually showed some fight for the shirt, in perhaps the most literal way he could. I was going to wait until August to forgive all, but given that he was the one willing to step up when the rest of the team held back, I forgive him now. He's fighting on the losing side, and that's impressive.

Tom Soehn is right about this team, but he's responsible for this team. Let's get a good night's sleep and check the highlights (especially as I can't believe Chivas was onside for two of those goals, but admittedly I had an awful angle to judge things in the corner of the HDC). Let's think. But then...

But then...

But then I'll know if how I feel now is something other than the momentary depression of a loss, or the sad realization of the what the future is.

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13 May 2008

Stephin Merritt is Right: I Hate California Girls (Although Our Reasons May Differ)

I am actually in L.A., and let me say this: It's not all that. The weather has not been particularly stunning (yesterday was cold and grey, today is chilly but sunny). The scenery is not inspiring. The hills are splotchy messes of beige, green, and burgundy, as if a frog on an acid trip had painted the landscape in acrylics. The roads are also pretty shit. You think driving north on 295 around Minnesota Avenue has some crappy pavement? Try CA-110 for the entire run.

So yes, I'm in L.A., and I'm hoping to score tickets to the game against Chivas. And finish the debrief (it'll be late, but damn it I have responsiblities.) And really, even if D.C. United as a team is awful, it's at least nice to know that I haven't come here and suddenly decided I want to move. I like D.C. Ol' swampy D.C. That, at least, is nice affirmation of the way things should be.

Washington, D.C., it's paradise to me...

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12 May 2008

Emilio needs a caption

I think they could have picked a better shot of Emilio to use for a VW ad campaign.. In this picture, he looks like someone shot his dog. In the interest of venting a little, let's have a caption contest - I hear all the big blogs are doing that nowadays.


09 May 2008

Delay in Debrief

Sorry everyone, I have some car problems, I'll fix em and finish my writing duties here.

08 May 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 0 : 2 Chicago Fire

...and it wasn't even the worst game we've played this season.

Here's the thing. I'm used to United defenses giving up goals because of bad plays in the back. Facundo Erpen, Bobby Boswell, Brandon Prideaux, Bryan Namoff, Brian Carroll... over the past few seasons, they've all commited some horrible blunders that led to opposing team goals. What I'm not used to is seeing a United defense get carved up repeatedly. That had played positioned wrongly, or not picking up markers, or not figuring out where to go. You can point at Quaranta for missing the marking on the first goal, but he had just run back and did anyone tell him where to pick up a marker? Fortunately, that was the only goal United gave up just to poor defending. The second Chicago goal you might try and hang on Clyde Simms, or you can do what I am going to do and just admit that Mr. White nailed that shot.

The thing is, while there were some performances turned in by players who clearly haven't given up and were still fighting (Namoff, Wells, Quaranta all deserve nods here), there was also a lot of tentative runs toward balls that meant that a 50-50 ball turned into a 75-25 ball for red.

Franco Niell not pulling the trigger inside the box is upsetting. Emilio was better, but not good yet. But the touch was off, the play was off, and while it was better than last week against Colorado, it was hardly a reason to feel like things are turning around.

As I said, there were some good things. Wells made some saves he had to make. Namoff looks like he's the only one fighting for the season at times. Quaranta ran til he had nothing left. Emilio started taking shots. But Simms had an off game, Niell wouldn't take shots first time, and Emilio can't find the net, and everyone, just everyone, had a touch that was two stone too heavy.

Your goat, I'm thinking, is Niell, but I'm listening for your saints and sinners as well. And right now, United needs more than anything to just play a technically sound game. Even if they lose. Away to Chivas, after a long week of practice, that's what I want to see. Not a result, though that would be nice. Just some good, sound soccer. We need to see some basic being executed before we start enjoying beautiful soccer again.

The most troubling sign? It was that D.C. United didn't just look slow, they look frightened. And that's a recursive function that eats its own.

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Tonight's Forecast: "Tears Shall Drown the Wind"

A few scattershot links before I reach my main point. First, it's going to rain tonight. We play better in the rain, except for those times we don't.

Second, Commenter Bootsy sent us this link to Charles Boehm's blog, in which there might be some dissatisfaction expressed by the Ownership at the state of things:

Principal owner-investor Victor MacFarlane was on hand at the announcement of the VW partnership at RFK Stadium on Tuesday morning, and his enthusiasm about the deal was tempered by noticeable dissatisfaction with his team’s performances.

“I’m not happy. We need to do much better on the field,” said the San Francisco-based real estate magnate. “The team needs to come together – we have the talent necessary, the team needs to gel and start delivering.”

And also a link to Booked for Dissent, where another critique of Tom Soehn is made (and made very well) but also contains an coda with which I am in complete disagreement:

But for all that, those of you calling for Soehn to be fired immediately should stop it. This is an organization that has never technically fired a coach (Rongen’s contract wasn’t renewed, and Hudson’s third-year option wasn’t picked up). And for all the talk at the United-Volkswagen press conference today about the importance both “brands” place on “tradition,” I don’t see them breaking away from any of that in the near future.

First, let me say that while I agree with pretty much everything else that Dave wrote, I am in utter disagreement with the ideas in his last sentences, so unfairly that's the only part I quoted. If you listen to the VW press conference (which Lifton nicely has put on-line for you, and I did listen to) he's right that a lot of talk about "brands" and "management" was invoked. However, more important to me was the statement, once again, that D.C. United's mission is "to win championships and serve the community." That's our tradition. We didn't put up a banner on DCUnited.Com with the word "tradition" next to a picture of Ray Hudson not getting a pink slip. We put that word surrounded by a bunch of trophies. Our tradition is about winning and community involvement, not some management practice. If it looks like 2008 is a lost season because of Tom Soehn, I don't see United's ownership just letting it happen simply because they never fired a coach before.

Now, that being said, I'm not calling on Tom Soehn to be fired. Yet. But I can see a time where it might have to happen, and I'd prefer it happen earlier in the season than later. And yes, I have a name in mind for at least a caretaker coach who could earn the job (and no, it's not Bruce Arena, but I've had this idea and talked it out with someone, and at least they didn't think I was crazy, even though I thought I might be. And no, I'm not telling you yet, because right now is not the time, but it's someone you know.) Still, if United underperforms tonight against Chicago, and in a week and a half against Chivas, could I see myself finally succumbing to the Fire Soehn commentary? Yes. It would require two dismal performances, but I'll be honest, it's something I've thought about.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. A new coach would need to have some time to impose their ideas to turn the team around. A new coach might deserve some time to make a move before any transfer deadlines. And most of all, losing is a habit that gets harder to break.

So if we haven't fired Tom Soehn by Match 14, and the season is gloomy, then let's write the season off and move forward. But if it might make a difference, let's do it sooner rather than later.

UPDATE-3PM: Lifton responds to the post above that, as he says, "ripps him a new one" (the extra "p" means there was more power in the ripping). He says that our post...

...overlooks a major aspect of why United has a tradition, the way Kevin Payne does business. He is far too loyal to discard a coach so quickly (does 2001 ring a bell?), and would undoubtedly go to the wall for Soehn. I don’t see that changing so quickly.

I don’t know the terms of Soehn’s contract, but my guess is that it’s for two years with an option. That seems to be the standard. By virtue of his record last year, as well as his success as an assistant here, Soehn deserves to at least finish out this year before a decision on the option year is made.

I'm sympathetic to half of this argument. I do believe that Soehn has earned some margin of error. I believe that everyone can earn a bad season. The problem was the way this season has been positioned - as a year to really take on the international responsiblities. Failing to retake the Supporter's Shield doesn't bother me much. Failing to be competitive in our league matches while waiting for our next shot at international play? That does bother me. That being said, if United executives come out and say "Tommy's earned this for the remainder of the year" -- well, I could live with that.

However, the other part of Lifton's argument doesn't hold water for me. Loyalty is a fine thing, a noble thing, but loyalty that leads to disaster is not a virtue, it is pigheadedness. It is a form of willful stupidity. Kevin Payne is not a stupid man. He makes mistakes, but he learns from them.

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06 May 2008

More alumni to haunt us?

Looks like former DC United forward Guy-Roland Kpene will sign a developmental contract with Houston Dynamo and rejoin former DC defender Bobby Boswell. I wasn't a huge fan of his when he was here, seems he had more potential than actual payoff. But compared to Niell and Doe, I'm not convinced either is that much of an upgrade over Kpene. At least on the surface, Doe and Kpene seem to be very similar forwards. Granted, we haven't seen much of Doe ...

Forward Guy-Roland Kpene, who came to the Dynamo on trial a couple of
weeks ago seeking a senior contract, was back with the team Tuesday.

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Or, It Could Be a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme, So Be Thankful It's a Real Company At Least

The news this morning is of United's forthcoming announcement of VW as the official jersey insignia. By, I'm sure, complete coincidence, last night I was watching a rerun of Top Gear and there was a review of the Volkswagen Golf GTI W12. Jeremy Clarkson noted that this particular car, while seeming to combine the best of various other models, was unfinished, couldn't change directions well at all, and was slower than it should have been. At this point, you should be able to draw the connection.

That being said, short of Ben's Chili Bowl sponsoring United, this isn't bad. There's at least a local connection of sorts, it's a real company, and the money is decent. If it had to happen, and it did have to happen, it could have been so much worse.

So welcome aboard VW, and now let's ask the next question. With a debut on ESPN of the new front-of-shirt logo, and a designated player signing, and all the attention that brings... Does this raise the pressure to get results? Will the front office accept losses with our new corporate partners looking on? I mean this seriously. I think the leash just got a bit shorter.

UPDATE: This is Kinney just adding on to D's post. Goff is reporting that the contract with VW gives them the option to purchase the naming rights for the new stadium...whenever that gets completed. Also, for anyone thinking about going to Thursday's game, apparently VW is picking up the parking tab, so it will be $12 cheaper if you are a driver.

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05 May 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.06: At Colorado Rapids

Colorado Rapids 2 : 0 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Gomez-Gallardo. Clavijo-Soehn. Lost Both.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Denver Post, Brian Forbes: "By the time Gomez was replaced to a standing ovation in the second half, having outplayed United's No. 10 — and Gomez's replacement — Marcelo Gallardo, the Rapids had sealed their 2-0 victory to give them 10 goals this season from 10 players."
MLSNet, Geoffrey Urland: "
Former United midfielder Christian Gomez set up Jacob Peterson for the Rapids' first goal and former D.C. defender Facundo Erpen scored the insurance goal, with Gomez again providing an assist, as United remained winless in Colorado since the 2000 season."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: " Unimaginative and uninspiring, United rarely challenged the Rapids..."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "With United playing cautiously from the jump, they never gave themselves a chance to win this match. "
MLSNet, Geoffrey Urland: "The statistics show a game that was thoroughly dominated by the home team. United were outshot 17-5, gave up 10 corner kicks while earning only half that many, committed 13 fouls and, most importantly, gave up two second-half goals."
Behind the Badge, The Management: " D.C. United Head Coach Tom Soehn: 'The loss is very troubling, we have addressed a lot, especially having a better road mentality. When looking at individual performances in this game we were just bad all over the field, I can’t even think of a player that did well. '"
The Offside: Colorado Rapids, Kyle: "On Sunday, the Rapids outplayed DC United by any measure, and I still think they underperformed. I really think they could have scored three or four if they had just finished on a few of the opportunities they had in the first half."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "Garbage. Absolute garbage...This is a team who’s best striker clearly cannot contribute right now and whose manager and technical director are finding their decisions exposed as wrong on a more regular basis...What is the one thing we all learned about Gomez during his tenure here? It’s that if you pressure him in possession incessantly and knock him down repeatedly, he’ll struggle. We didn’t do that one bit...I’ve officially reached the point where Soehn’s job is officially in jeopardy, at least to me."
Booked for Dissent, Dave Lifton: "I don’t know if United can make the necessary adjustments against a team that is playing very well and perennially has our number. It could just be a home-and-away thing, in which case United right now is no better off than it was under Ray Hudson. Again: one step forward, two steps back."
DCUMD, Shatz: "So despite playing with one more midfielder than the opposition, we were still dominated in the middle third. That right there is a really bad sign. But a worse sign is that Soehn continues to roll out the 3-5-2 regardless of the situation. Coaches always talk about how its important to be able to play successfully in more than one formation. I believe we have the team to be able to do that. So why not take advantage of our personnel and tailor the formation to the situation. Playing at home against a team that is weak offensively: that's a good time for the 3-5-2. But playing on the road against a team with a proven (and vengeful) MVP leading the attack, in a game where we would probably have been happy with a nil-nil draw: not a good time for the 3-5-2."
The Fullback Files: "I'm getting the worrying feeling that I'm on a bus, and the driver's got his eyes fixed on his dash-mounted GPS rather than the 30-car pileup a half-mile up the road and approaching fast. 'Hey guys, this setup worked for us at home against a team with no midfield creativity and no width! Let's do the same thing on the road against a team with a proven All-Star midfield dynamo and some decent wide players!' Jumpin' Jeebus on a pogo stick, man!"
BDR, BlckDgRd: "I'm going to wait past Thursday's game regardless of result and past both Toronto games, the back-to-backs, before thumping the chest of this season and declaring the corpse dead. But everything feels wrong this year, from the front office to the coaches to the players to the stadium experience. Everything."

The Good

  1. Bryan Namoff: Even if Mr. Soehn can't name a single good performance, I can. Bryan played his role right, and was one of the few people who knew when to push up to put Colorado attackers into the offside position. Bryan didn't get beat by his marker on a corner kick. Bryan is most of the Good, except in tandem with...
  2. Defenders, Roll Out: It was nice to see Martinez and Namoff join the attack moving the ball up on the wing. Really, our midfield play only looked functional in those moments.
  3. The first half of Santino Quaranta: He played both ways, and again our movement up the wings looked better than anything in the middle. Sadly, he got gassed. Let this not be a metaphor for this season.

The Bad

  1. We Always Fight the Last War: There's more concern about Soehn. There should be. If our working theory is right, we'll see a different performance against Chicago on Thursday. And, if our theory is right, and we do well against Chicago, we'll see the same ideas for the Chicago game used against Chivas. And that's a recipe for a .500 team...at best.
  2. Emilio - Financial Market Performance Artist: Either he's hoping for a call every time he's falling down, or he's decided to stage a piece called "The performance of the Dollar against International Currency." It would be better if he covered himself in chocolate first. And said things like "rabbits! rabbits! rabbits!"
  3. LTJG Zach Wells: Another game, another communication gaff. C'mon, I'm tired of this. We demote Lt. Zach Wells (O-3) to Lt. Junior Grade Zach Wells (O-2). Yes, we're using Navy ranks. No, I don't know why, other than I think that all starking keepers should at least have the rank of Commander (O-5)
  4. Our game is one of holding the ball...Except when our midfield is dysfunctional. There's a lot of heat at Emilio, but I can't think of a game this season where he got less service. Our midfield was awful. Really awful. Anytime a team manages to simultaneously mark you closely and clog your passing lanes, something is deeply wrong. Gallardo also had one of his worst technical games this season. You could see the ideas in his forward passes, but they were either passes that required a precision that he couldn't execute (between two or three defenders) or they weren't particularly dangerous. No middle ground.

Officiating Watch

This was not a particularly challenging game for center official Jorge Gonzales and his ARs. If I have one complaint, it's that Ugo Ihmelhu somehow managed to commit half of Colorado's fouls and not get carded for persistent infringement. The ARs missed one off-side call that I saw, on a DC free kick, but otherwise had little to do, and did it well.

Likert Scale Grade: 3 - Average

Man of the Match

N/A. Merit award to Namoff. Your goat could be any number of players, but I will go with Gallardo.

Adjusted Results

No adjustments, though you might make a case that Colorado deserved another goal to make it 3:0. Still, the result feels about right as is. No change, and for the season D.C. United's adjusted record is 2-3-1 (7pts); 10GF, 13GA, -3GD.

Final Thoughts

What worries me is that I get the sense that Coach Soehn puts a team out there, and that is the extent of his management so far. Too frequently it seems he's relying on his players to figure out how to play the game, as routinely, even in games we do well in, the first 10 minutes are a disjointed affair. It's a strategy that could work, given experienced players, but how do you expect Quavas Kirk or Dan Stratford or any of the other new players to fit into a gameplan where the gameplan isn't necessarily known on the sideline. Instead, there seems to be a general theory and formation, based on the best moments of the last game, and the players are told "Go do something."

Case in point, earlier in the CONCACAF Champion's cup we saw that Franco Niell was fairly adept at running down long aerial balls over the top. Given that he's starting, and given the presence that Mastroeni and Ihemelu had in the middle of the field, might it not have made sense to try that in this match? Even with the narrower field? And yet, to my knowledge, I think I saw one attempt to play Niell into the final third in that fashion.

Now, I fully expect to see a different result against Chicago. But until we see two wins in a row, two games where United consistently makes progress even after a good result, then we have every reason to be concerned about the coaching for this season. We can blame the players, sure, and we can blame the lack of speed, sure, but these are the players we have. Either they just aren't sure how to use each other, or the coaching staff isn't telling them.

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04 May 2008

First Impressions - Colorado Rapids 2 : 0 D. C. United

That D.C. United lost in Colorado is not much of a surprise, as United has done little else but that for the better part of a decade. That we looked so bad doing it is perhaps something of a surprise. Colorado deserved the win, and deserved the margin. The natural focus of any post-game write-up will be to cast this match as "Gallardo vs. Gomez," and I understand that. And Christian did his part to make it look like D.C. United made a mistake.

The more interesting focus to me is "Clavijo vs. Soehn" and on that mark, I think it is clear that Tom Soehn again trusted too much in previous good results. While we saw a slightly different line-up (Niell for Moreno, and I suppose Burch for Fred) to start this match, the tactical decision making seemed very similar to the last match against RSL. Which is the worry we've expressed about Tom Soehn's United. If something works, try it again until is stops working.

It is, if you think about it, the very antithesis of "Building on a win." There was good and bad against RSL, but rather than take the good and try and add more to it, we accepted the good we had and hoped it would be enough again.

We are not a fast team. That's simply a fact, but not all successful teams need to have great speed. We still haven't figured out what we are, and how to make it work. And while Dave Johnson can talk about this team still "coming together" the fact is that we've had 20% of the season go by now. Maybe it snaps into place in the half-way mark, and I'm more than willing to give it that long. But if it doesn't...

If it doesn't, then I have a feeling that the game I just saw is one I may have to get used to seeing.

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01 May 2008

Learning to Love the Bug

The Washington Business Journal has announced that Volkswagen and DC United have signed a jersey sponsorship agreement. The deal will bring 3.7 million dollars annually to DC United and is the second largest deal in league history, behind Beckham's deal with Herbalife. There have been some rumblings about this, specifically in the Examiner, so it is not entirely out of the blue, but it sure came quick.

This sounds like a good deal to me, lots of money, an international brand, and a company that has a good history of sponsoring soccer teams. MLS rules will prevent the blue logo that would clash badly with the black and red, much like it used to clash badly with Werder Bremen's green and white, which is one of the main reasons I am pleased with the choice. But I want to know what you guys think. Do you love it? Hate it? Or could you care less?

Thanks to Mike H over at My Soccer Blog for the mock up jersey which is a photo shop job and not the official new look.

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