30 June 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.15: L.A. Galaxy

D.C. United 4 : 1 Los Angeles Galaxy

Six Word Novel Recap

Martinez closes down on the Goldenballs.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "The offensive trio of Luciano Emilio, Marcelo Gallardo and Jaime Moreno - dubbed the "Iron Triangle" - combined for four goals, and the oft-criticized defense kept Beckham and Landon Donovan off the scoreboard as United defeated the Galaxy 4-1 on Sunday in front of 35,979 at RFK Stadium."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "They watched Luciano Emilio score two goals, giving him nine during United's six-game unbeaten streak, and observed embattled goalkeeper Zach Wells make several excellent saves in his finest performance of the season. They saw Beckham largely neutralized by United's ever-tightening defense, and in the most emotional moment of the joyous day, they provided a thunderous ovation for veteran midfielder Ben Olsen, who made his 2008 debut in the second half after being sidelined because of a career-threatening ankle injury."
The Washington Times, Drew Hansen: "...on Sunday, with Olsen's injuries improving and with a week of training under his belt, he was back out on the pitch...When Olsen stood up to enter, he received one of the loudest ovations of the day from a crowd of 35,979 (no small feat when Beckham is in attendance). He replaced team captain Jaime Moreno, United's longest tenured player and MLS' all-time leading scorer. The two shared a hug, and then Moreno handed him the captain's armband."
WTOP News, Dave Johnson: "There were goals—five of them, and some beauties—but one of the biggest cheers of the day was reserved for a D.C. United veteran, and a further sign of soccer's standing in this country. There was a rumbling that built into a roar as Ben Olsen rose from the bench and entered the game against the L.A. Galaxy late in the second half.
The LA Times: is too pathetic to shell out for their own beat reporter, and uses an AP Feed. Pathetic.
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "A 5th minute penalty conversion from Jaime Moreno got the hosts off to a dream start...United gave up the lead just five minutes later when Keystone Cops defending from United's back four gifted Edson Buddle his 10th goal of the season. United seemed to have the situation under control but a botched clearance between numerous United defenders ended up on the grateful foot of Buddle who slipped it past a stunned Zach Wells...United did indeed regain the lead in the 37th minute with Emilio's 9th goal of the season. Gallardo's brilliance in ball control in the middle of the field factored into a ball that eventually found it's way through the box to the left side where substitute Marc Burch, on for the injured Quaranta, lofted a cross to Emilio who headed back across goal past the diving Cronin for a 2-1 lead."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "A clash of No. 10s in front of the team benches drew blood and bad tempers in the 41st minute, as Donovan draped himself all over Gallardo's back as the D.C. playmaker held possession. Donovan's pushing and grabbing was met with a backwards elbow from Gallardo, sending his tormentor to the turf with a bloody nose...But United's midfield maestro took his next chance with aplomb, pushing the lead to two goals after smartly following the ball into the box as Emilio tried to turn on two defenders at the hour mark. Though his Brazilian teammate was well-defended, the ball took a quirky deflection into space and Gallardo was the quickest of the bunch, zipping forward to dink a savvy finish into the left side of the net to run the score to 3-1."
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "United put the game out of reach on one of the more simple goals Emilio he has scored all year to make the score 4-1 in the 69th minute. Gallardo played a ball wide right to Fred, who was close to an offside position on the right flank. The speedy Brazilian raced in to the penalty area and pushed the ball around a committed Cronin, to Emilio and the wide open goal."
The Offside: D.C. United, Jon: "Where to begin? Oh, I know. Greater than the win, or the crowd, or beating Becks. Ben Olsen, heart and soul of DC United, stepped back on the pitch for the time this season. Did he look great? No. Did it matter? Not at all."
Sideline Views, Andrea Canales: "DC an emphatic win at home. It might have been different if the call had been made for the elbow against Gallardo, but the home team took care of business."
DCUMD, Shatz: "Recently, United has been beating lesser opponents while giving up too many goalscoring opportunities. But in this match, against inarguably one of the most talented offensive teams in the league, DC dominated possession, dominated the scoreline, and performed admirably well on defense...Marcelo Gallardo was largely uninvolved for most of the first half, at least at times when he wasn't smacking Donovan in the nose."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Any questions on whether Marcelo Gallardo was the best player on the field? Yes, he gacked a couple, but his diagonals into space are brilliant. Moreno gets him, Emilio gets him, Martinez especially gets him, Namoff gets him, Quaranta gets him. It's going to be beautiful...Maybe the team is rounding - I'm still skeptical - but they needed nine of nine points out of this homestand before July's diversions, and they got nine points out of the homestand. And it feels to me like the team now has a personality it didn't for the first months. I'm still skeptical, but I'm no longer pessimistic."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "Wells did absolutely everything needed to do today and I will give him full credit for it. You can’t fault him for the goal and he came up with a few spectacular saves today especially the tip while backing up from Landon’s shot."
Poplar Point Perspective, JCM: "DC United are back."

The Good

  1. Ben Olsen: You can say, and we have said, all that you want about this team missing Ben Olsen, but that forgets how much we fans missed him. C'mon, you were playing the theme to The Natural when he retook the field in your head, right? Seeing him with the armband on, on the field, the great signs in the crowd "14 - Heart of a Lion" Go ahead, you got choked up. It's okay. We all did. For more on that, before it happened, I commend Dave Lifton's comparison to Mr. Reyna, and a shot at the Red Bull fans who are disgraceful. Read it.
  2. The Imperial Stormtroopers of the Evil Empire Invade the Galaxy: I'll admit, when Tom Soehn and Marcello Gallardo were wondering about heat and humidity, part of me was worried that this was a team making excuses in advance for a lackluster effort. I was wrong. Tom Soehn ordered, cajoled, and dictated that his team run at the LA Defense, who wilted. It was good coaching, good tactics, and once weaknesses were found Tom Soehn got the team to exploit them for all they were worth. To that end, we should note that Gallardo, Burch, Fred, Tino, Emilio, and Moreno all had excellent games in taking on and executing a forceful attack, and moving in for the kill when LA was overcome by the elements.
  3. LCDR Zach Wells: Some really good saves, some confidence building moves, and the one time he was beat it was thanks to three United defenders missing the mark. If you were waiting for a game where Zach Wells wasn't just adequate, but actually helped the team to win, this is the game, and accordingly we promote him to Lieutenant Commander (O-4).
  4. Marc Burch: This was the first time I've seen him come in at left back and really do well. Part of that is the LA Defense, and the defensive contribution they got from their midfield on the right side. But part of it was Marc actually knowing how to create space and not let his left foot get shut down.
  5. McTavish - Martinez: Special commendations to these gentlemen, who took their marking responsibilities seriously. Donovan was limited severely in his action, and Devon made some good, clinical plays to shore up what has been a ridiculously leaky central defense. Martinez vs. Beckham was wonderful. David would find space, but Martinez would close him down quickly rather then back off, and while he may have made the future Martinez generations pay for his defending, I was heartened to see it.
  6. Landon Donovan: His team quit, but he never did. Credit where it is due.

The Bad

  1. Ben Olsen: I'm a heartless bastard, but really, let's admit this - Ben Olsen is not match fit. I know, it doesn't matter, but I want to preempt any temptation that you might have in the wake of Tino going out early to say "Well, good thing we got Ben back just in time." He's not ready. He may not ever be fully fit this season. That's okay. What he did was enough, just don't put more on him than he needs to deal with right now.
  2. F-R-E-*: Until Fre* manages to finish a chance, I am now refusing to finish typing his name. On that final goal, tell me you weren't relieved to see him pass up the shot to Emilio for the goal.
  3. Gallardo's Gesticulations: We'll talk more about this, but I'm not entirely going to excuse the Gallardo bloodying of Landon's nose as purely accidental. Marcello felt remorse for his actions, and he should have. What's more, he imperiled the team with the risk of playing down a man.

Officiating Watch

Jair Marrufo got one big call right (the penalty awarded on the tackle of Quaranta in the fifth minute) but got far more wrong. He let tough fouls go all day. Beckham fouled Moreno. Moreno fouled Beckham. Too many fouls were allowed to play on. And yes, Gallardo deserved an ejection (and let's not say he's clear of things yet, since I wouldn't be totally surprised to hear of a league review). For two straight games, we've had officials whose lackadaisical approach to the Laws of the Game do not bias the match to one side or another, but rather endanger and detract from both sides.

The ARs, other than not helping out on the deserved red to Gallardo, seemed right on for the most part. Landon was off-side, if only just, on the one goal that was called back.

Likert Scale Grade: 2 -Below Average

Man of the Match

Devon McTavish. I know we had a brace from Emilio, but I want to reward what was one of the better defensive efforts this team has put forth against a very talented attacking side. Merit awards to Gallardo, Soehn, Emilio, Burch, Wells, and Martinez. Notes of Censure to Fre* and Perralta. Special Merit Award of Perpetual Honor and Gumption to Ben Olsen.

Final Thoughts

I've been thinking about this team all wrong. I've been expecting them to turn into "The Best Team in MLS" They're not going to do that. The defense, which should on paper be an upgrade, seems instead to have an upper limit of "acceptable" at the end of the season. The offense is finally turning into something fun to watch. Which leads me to what I should have been expecting from this team. They're not the best team in MLS, but they are "The Most Entertaining Team in MLS" The goals and attack are fun to watch, and the defense will have you on edge and could collapse like a building imploding at any moment.

And frankly, that's not a bad thing. I'll take fun to watch over crappy AND boring. This team won't be humming along as a surgical tool ever this season. And that's okay. Accept the gifts we are given, and let's have fun. United will no doubt lose more games this season, and may look damn foolish during some of them, but that's okay. Enjoy the ride.

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29 June 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 4 : 1 L.A. Galaxy

I'll admit that my cynical nature makes me want to discount this win. Surely 4-1 is a misleading scoreline? Surely L.A. isn't that good a team? Surely there must be some way to spin this as closer than it appeared?

Each objection to taking this game as a statement game is answered. United clearly created chances to deserve four goals, if not more. L.A. may leak goals like a sieve, but they're the top team in the West, were held to only one goal and were doubled up in both shots (22-10) and shots on goal (13-6). And the game was dominated by United, who earned all three points in deserving fashion. If we must complain, then we must complain that United is no facing a stretch of non-league games as we move into Superliga and U.S. Open Cup play. That's the sole thing I'm willing to point to as a worrying sign moving forward -- the lack of a chance to continue the momentum they've earned on the long climb back to .500.

Yes, you can once again say there wasn't a clean sheet, but this wasn't the fault of Zach Wells, it was one scuffed clearance by Gonzalo Perralta. Otherwise, even players that make me nervous showed well. Devon McTavish deserves a ton of credit for the way he fought against Landon Donovan, and may deserve man of the match honors for that work. Zach Wells made key saves. And Marc Burch filled in for an early injured Santino Quaranta in a way that didn't throw our midfield into disarray, but instead further pressed our advantage on the left side moving forward.

I'll admit it, you never want to be taken as a homer or a chump when you're writing. And I will have some negative comments tomorrow, but they are minor when compared with the good, and they are not pressing enough to bring up now. You never want to risk the vulnerability of belief. But this is our team: A team that finally has developed the lethal ability on attack. A team that may never have more than an average defense at best. But that's our team. And that team, perhaps infused by seeing Ben Olsen on the sideline, saw every player dig in and fight. Jaime Moreno was not just good holding the ball, he was good getting physically into players and pressuring them all over the field. Emilio and Gallardo both fought for balls to win. United attacked down the middle, on the sides, and from distance. And that is a team I am willing to believe in.

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27 June 2008

In advance of Sunday midday...

I was on the fence about this post. It is silly, certainly. I thought I might discuss the horizontal symmetries of the two clubs' jersey sponsors.


Or I might mention the fact that Greg Vanney is now a "Herbalife-sponsored player" (see: New Stars in the LA Galaxy) and has 10 appearances this season for the Galaxy after most recently playing for DC United.

Or I might find some ridiculous quote to mock from herbalife.com; perhaps this...
Our Founder Mark Hughes: As a teenager he made a decision to improve people’s lives with better nutrition. This led him to found Herbalife in 1980.
Forget the fact that the Herbalife website is virtually impossible to navigate. You have to walk a tightrope with your mouse to use the dropdowns across the top of the site. With a touchpad, that's hard.

But then I found what I was looking for and I knew that "worlds colliding" was the theme of the post that I was looking for.

I saw this (4th item) and some smoke came out of my ears....

Grammy Winner Nelly Furtado Favors Liftoff®
According to People magazine, award-winning recording artist Nelly Furtado favors Liftoff® effervescent dietary supplement for "quick-me-ups." Furtado told People that she used Liftoff® tablets to get ready for her high-energy performance during the 2007 Grammy Awards.

Remember this?

So who will she be supporting on Sunday?

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26 June 2008

Submitted For Your Approval

From today's Fisher chat:

Marc Fisher: That's certainly one view, and likely the majority view in most of the country, though not necessarily here in the District. But the focus now turns to the D.C. Council, a body of 13 elected officials every one of whom supports very strict gun regulations. Somehow, they are going to have to create a regulatory scheme that allows handgun possession--and most likely, sales as well--in a city where even the addition of a new wing to a school brings out loud and paralyzing neighborhood protests.

I mean, these people! They'll protest against anything, even a new school wing! Can you believe it? Who are these people who just complain about anything new?!?

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Just a few things:

  • After the DCU v SJE match, the Washignton Freedom defeated the Richmond Kickers Destiny with 4 goals in the first half and one more in the second (Andrzejewski, Lindsey, Welsh, Andrzejewski, Jiminez). WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) is slated to begin next year. More specifically, from the WPS website,

    WPS is the highest level women’s professional soccer league in North America. Formed in September 2007 as the result of the efforts of the Women’s Soccer Initiative, Inc., WPS, which will begin play in April 2009 consists of seven teams across the country.

    The markets for the 2009 season are Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey/New York, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. More markets will be announced as they are added to the League.

  • On MLSNet.com, most of the league teams are linked across the top of the page by their location. For example, "Colorado", "New England", or "New York". But DC United only gets "DCU". I assume that this has nothing to do with a political statement about DC Statehood and is more a complement to the league's most successful club. Except what's up with "RSL" and "TOR"? Some consistency, please!
  • I feel like Burch's left foot is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. He has certainly been successful with it. But when I watch him on the ball, it seems that he literally cannot play the ball with his right foot. Whether he is crossing or touch passing or dribbling and whether he is under pressure or in space or standing still or racing up the side, he never plays the ball with his right. He'll contort his body or plays the ball into a less than optimal position. Even when a soft touch with his right would do, he uses his left. No matter how awkward or inappropriate. I hope it doesn't become a problem. Watch for it. I wish we could do something similar to what Trainer Mickey did for Rocky in Rocky 2 to get him to learn to fight with his right hand. But I'm not sure how that works with legs. We can't tie one of Burch's legs behind his back...
  • Congrats to Martinez for GOTW! That's three weeks in a row for United (Emilio, Simms, Martinez) and four weeks out of six (Gallardo). I'll go out on a limb and predict... um let's see... FRED wins it this week.
  • Matchday forecast for Sunday on weather.com is "slight chance of a thunderstorm" although the local weather guy this morning on the teevees made it sound like more than just a slight chance. Let's hope it doesn't turn out like the Houston match.
  • I went on the Volkswagen of America website to hunt for any DC United references. I was curious as to whether there was any reciprocity in DC United's favor. They aren't obvious, like on the homepage, but I found them here.

24 June 2008

Marc Fisher Takes the Bait

Someone should have seen this coming. Wait, someone did. The key graf:

It might be a tempting move to cut a stadium as a gesture to the anti-development side. It wouldn't really change anything, but it allows the city to remove the trojan horse argument of "Don't give away our land to evil sports owners!" that we're seeing employed. In reality, nothing changes, but the city might think it's an expedient PR move

And suddenly, on cue, comes Marc Fisher on his blog. Remember that we wrote that the goal of the anti-development forces is "No development of any sort." And frankly, they were at least refreshingly honest in their stated objectives. But we cautioned then that the stadium would always be the trojan horse in which the objections would be framed, and Marc Fisher decides to enter that horse through the predictable route. See how his article is framed:

"The battle over whether to build a soccer stadium for D.C. United at Poplar Point will today move beyond the rhetorical..."

"That does not bode well for a soccer stadium, at least not in the timeframe that D.C. United has been talking about."

Marc frames the entire issue in terms of the stadium, not in terms of the development as a whole. Marc then cynically insults his new environmental allies "Environmental claims are a developer's worst nightmare. Whether or not the most dire claims of the greens are correct, the process of finding out can take many years and many millions of dollars." In other words, it doesn't matter if the claims are true or not. Marc doesn't care. What Marc delights in is the political move of stalling and waging a social war of attrition. Marc's proposed solution "for the District to reconsider the privately held land immediately adjacent to the park" is a nice one that is, however, not on the table. That land is already privately held, and there's no guarantee that anyone can get at it to develop it. It's not on the table, it's merely the slight of hand distraction needed to allow Marc to deal all four aces to the bottom of his rhetorical deck.

I'd say this is shockingly cynical on Marc's part, but I would be lying. It is expected. Marc likes to deal in the faux-populism of Pat Buchanan circa 1991 in New Hampshire. He claims, disingenuously, that while he doesn't care for soccer, this isn't about his admitted antipathy, but instead about his love for the city. But when choosing between writing an honest column about the motives of the proposed lawsuit (that it is against all Poplar Point development) he instead chooses to clothe it once again as an anti-stadium screed.

American letters is full of curmudgeonly old men who are worth reading (H.L. Mencken, P.J. O'Rourke, and others come to mind). However, one thing those men couldn't stand was inauthentic representations of objection. Mr. Fisher embodies the worst posing, posturing, and demogoging tendencies of his profession as an opinion columnist. It's sad, pathetic, and disgusting simultaneously. The truth, which should be the most fixed point of navigation for anyone in the media, is simply a lesser constellation to that of Mr. Fisher's own agendas.

At least now we can dispense with the pretense that Mr. Fisher is a reasonable man championing the poor against evil judges with dry cleaning bills. We see him now as the mirror image of Roy Pearson, willing to use and misuse any platform he can find to advance his own opinions. And for that, perhaps, we can thank him.

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23 June 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.14: San Jose Earthquakes

D.C. United 3 : 1 San Jose Earthquakes

Six Word Novel Recap

Gonzalo Martinez's right foot of DOOM!

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "D.C. United had plenty to savor from its 3-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes yesterday at RFK Stadium, a result that extended its unbeaten streak to five and pulled the club into a three-way tie for fourth place in MLS's Eastern Conference....But from Coach Tom Soehn's perspective, United (6-7-1) was fortunate to escape with a third victory in a row. He agonized over a bland first half and then watched goalkeeper Zach Wells make another critical blunder."
The Mercury News, David Lifton (!!): "The Earthquakes had the better of play through much of the afternoon before losing 3-1 to D.C. United in a Major League Soccer match Sunday at RFK Stadium."
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "The deadlock soon was broken when Simms scored in the 50th minute...The lead vanished a minute later, however, when Wells failed to hold on to James Riley's cross. The United goalie tried to reclaim the ball, but it bounced to John Cunliffe, who tapped it home...United was back in the lead four minutes later when Martinez whipped in a blistering shot from 16 yards after speeding away from midfielder Ronnie O'Brien."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "...the Black-and-Red overcame a sluggish first half and a poorly-timed error from goalkeeper Zach Wells to earn their fourth win in the last five games."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "McTavish found himself playing a central role in the game's next pivotal moment, too, when the United utility man reached a loose ball well before James Riley some eight minutes from full time.The Quakes defender had already committed himself with a rash slide tackle aimed right for McTavish's ankle, however, upending his rival and drawing a swift decision from referee Alex Prus, who produced a red card and patiently waited for the prone Riley to get off the turf before brandishing it in his direction for the meaty challenge."
Center Line Soccer, Jay Hipps: "It was a result that the Earthquakes will have to chalk up to experience. All week, the team’s coaches and players spoke of the importance of bringing the proper aggressive attitude to each match, and they succeeded in unleashing that determination against DC. Attitude alone can’t win matches, though — there needs to be quality as well, and in that, the Quakes were lacking."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "There is a school of thought in most sports that says the sign of a good team is getting a result when they are not playing at their best. I think United's 3-1 win over San Jose this afternoon firmly puts their win in that category"
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "I'm tired of typing 'good teams win games they ought to win' because United is not yet a good team, and a decent team beats United yesterday. United is not good enough, cohesive enough, organized enough, or fluid enough to take halves off against anybody.' Good teams stomp teams they ought to stomp' is not the same as 'good teams gut out games they ought to win.' The second United begins to think they are all that, they aren't. "
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "in the end, United have more talent in most of the critical areas than the Quakes and therein lies the primary difference between the two clubs, which was evident United's 3-1 win against the Quakes."
DCSportsBox, Abram Fox: "In a reverse of the age-old adage, it was the moveable object against the stoppable force. " [That's a decent line.]
The Far Post, Mark McClure: "I still think United is an ordinary team that is benefiting from a series of home games against weak opponents. But now things get interesting . . . LA and then Chivas (Mexican kind) come to town for the next two games. (That Open Cup game in between doesn’t count and you know it.) Two wins from those two games will convince me United is legit."
The Fullback Files, Fullback: "It wasn't just on the goal that Gonzalo Martinez was bombing forward. And what a peach of a goal it was! Fullbacks everywhere will be putting that one in a replay loop on the HD sets tonight."
DCUMD, Shatz: "The past two weeks, DC has beaten the teams that they are supposed to beat. And that's good and continuing to do that should get us into the playoffs. But it's not inspiring a whole lot of confidence that we'll do very well in the playoffs, or in international competitions."
Behind the Badge, The Management: "[San Jose defender Kelly Gray says...] I hate to say luck but we got a couple of unlucky plays where a little deflection causes a goal."
The Offside: San Jose Earthquakes, Sean: "I hate to play the optimist once again, but if a couple deflections go our way (or don’t, as it were), I think we have a much different game on our hands."

The Good

  1. Gonzalo Martinez: Lovely game on both sides of the ball. Most of the time when a back on the sidelines is facing his own goal, and there's high pressure coming his way, I get nervous if he doesn't immediately execute the back pass to the keeper. Martinez's ability to turn under pressure, which we have seen regularly the past few games, is a higher risk move, but one that pays off with better possession at midfield. Add to that a wonderful goal, just a fantastic strike from the corner of the box to the far post, and it was a lovely opening hour for him. The last thirty minutes, complete with a fouls in a dangerous area and a poorly timed tackle for a yellow-card, make this not quite the best effort possible, but it was still damn good.
  2. Tom Soehn, Realist: I was going to kick my radio is Tom Soehn started to talk about how good a game this was, and how his team gritted out a result. The fact that Tom was also disappointed in his players, and that he was willing to make changes all game long, speaks well of him.

The Bad

  1. Fred: Yeah, looking through the game again, he had an awful game. Far too many give aways, and not a good looking performance when he was pulled (legitimately) from the match. You're better than that. You can use the pacifier in goal celebrations provided you don't ever actually act as a spoiled child, and that didn't happen in this game.
  2. Lt. Zach Wells: The knives are out for Zack (listen to the United Mania podcast for a great example), and really, he does deserve every bit of flack for the goal that he allowed. Trying to recreate a Randy Moss one handed end zone grab is never a good idea, that ball should have been punched out twenty yards. That being said, he avoids demotion for some areas of good: A strong save on Ivan Guerrero in the first half, and twice coming off his line to do just barely enough to save a goal. In the first instance, he managed to get enough of the ball to send it out for a corner, and in the second he at least bought time and angle for Devon McTavish to get back. So let's not forget those as well. Still, it was an awful goal that he gave up.
  3. The huge ever growing sucking hole that lives in the center of our defense: Okay, Perralta had a better game, but here's my question. To my mind, our two weakest defenders are Perralta and McTavish. That's why I'd rather put Martinez in the middle and Burch on the left, sacrificing some good left back work for a stronger center presence for better cohesion right in front of our shaky keeper. Of course, tactically, Tom Soehn may well have made the right chance against a weak San Jose offense, so I'm not up in arms about the choice this week. But against Los Angeles next week? Clyde Simms will have to stay at home more, or something, because we are going to be carved up otherwise.
  4. Midfield Depth: We have two wing players with Olsen absent - Tino and Fred. That's it. Cordeiro hasn't established himself as a consistently viable option, McTavish and Mediate are downgrades, and Burch is an acceptable left back but awful left wing. To think what this team would be like if we hadn't signed Tino is a worry. If there is a shopping list for the summer transfer window, a center back and a left winger should at least be considered at this time. Or perhaps Quavas Kirk, or Murphy, or Cordeiro will improve to the point of earning the spot. But it is a worry. Fred will get five yellows at some point this season, and Tino getting another suspension is not entirely out of the question.

    On another note, the Gallardo-United mix is not right. Yes, Gallardo is making smart plays at times in feeding the ball in, but really, the rest of United is not really adjusting to his game. Also, Gallardo is not adjusting his game for the rest of United. There's a disconnect there. Two great tastes that don't go great together yet. BDR has this covered from the Gallardo is good perspective, but I think there's another side to the coin as well (or, being as there are so many of us, the same side of two different coins?)

Officiating Watch

Alex Prus has a game that managed to disadvantage both teams. There were a ton of fouls not called on both teams, though DC probably got the better of it. Still, he created at atmosphere that positively encouraged James Riley's reckless tackle, and it made me sick. You could tell it was building. I'm saying, this was a poor performance all the way around. Awful. The ARs were fine, except for Alex waving off their flags at times he should not have. Alex Prus, today's Worst... Person... In the World!

At least, until Matt Reis does something new.

Likert Scale Grade: 1 - Bad.

Man of the Match

Gonzalo Martinez, congratulations. Merit award Gallardo. Notes of censure to McTavish (missing his runner), Wells (circus catch, or not as the case may be), and Fred.

Final Thoughts

Take the win, take the points, and take the tongue lashing from your coach. Los Angeles is coming. Now, under the rule of "Soccer-sometimes it just has to be contrary to your expectations" I expect a low scoring game next week. A 1-0 or 0-0 game. Really. I do.

That being said, I'm also now willing to say Tom Soehn's job is safe for the rest of the season, but that's about it. His job does not have, and should not have, security beyond the last game played. Still, that's a much longer horizon than he did have. It means I'm not evaluating him result to result, which is the situation we were in a few games ago.

Five hundred, by the international break. It's important to remember that would have been a disappointment pre-season, but right now it is the best we can hope for, and seems like a major fight back. Seems that way. But the second half of the season is going to be tougher than the first half, and that's something else to remember. It's not going to get easier in August and September.

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22 June 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 3 : 1 San Jose Earthquakes

I know that I should feel bad keeping these three points for D.C. United. It feels like I found a wallet full of twenties at the side of the road, and decided to pocket the cash before looking up the address on the license inside.

Actually, that's a lie. Two months ago, if United had played the exact same way as they did this afternoon, don't you feel like the result would have been a drubbing at the hands of San Jose? It had all the hallmarks - moments of slipshod defense, long stretches where United couldn't challenge keeper Joe Cannon, awkward give-aways at midfield, yet this time United ends up on the right side of the 3:1 result. Part of that is certainly luck: San Jose had two shots rattle off the frame of the goal. That being said, part of it is attitudinal. Since Chicago, this team is looking for ways to find things to go right instead of anticipating the next slip-up.

This was not an awful game for United, I'd say it was a few steps down from what we've been seeing, so let's call it below-average. And let's admit that San Jose was, especially for an expansion team, a credible side that if a few things go right for them, they walk out with at least one point.

Tactically, United did seem to have a plan of attack. Gallardo was finding runners. United had success attacking the flanks, but couldn't execute a final pass into the middle for the entire first half. Defensively, there were problems. Perralta and McTavish never held the center of the field as well as they should have, and Clyde Simms found himself pushing too far up at moments when Gallardo had moves to one of the sidelines. San Jose, as a result, created multiple chances right down the center of the defense.

Most of that is attributable to the starting line-up. With Quaranta out, Soehn decided to Burch to left wing, Martinez to left back, and start McTavish in the middle. Which is, to be fair, a completely defensible decision. While Martinez is certainly a joy to watch when he gets forward, I feel that United is better served keeping Martinez in the middle, leaving Burch at left back, and starting McTavish at left wing(or perhaps now Cordeiro, who rarely looked dangerous but didn't look bad either at left wing). Left wing, however, continues to be a problem when Tino and Fred aren't the ones switching sides. The worry for me is that the defense pairing in the middle has to work, and it's better with Martinez than McTavish right now.

One note, quickly, about Alex Prus - He had a horrible match as center ref. The box score reads that San Jose fouled D.C. by a 2:1 margin, which is ridiculous. DC was fouling more, and Alex Prus wouldn't blow the whistle if even the slightest hint of advantage existed. As a result, San Jose had to be confused about what the standard of a foul was, and as things escalated with more and more 50:50 challenges, and 75/25 situations, not resulting in a foul call, San Jose saw no reason to hold back from riskier challenges. After all, D.C. wasn't paying a price. Which is my way of saying that James Riley is certainly to blame for his red card offense, but he was also disserviced by the examples that Alex Prus was setting.

So let's start wrapping up by saying this -- I'll take the points, thank whatever random forces of luck brought them too us, and move on from this match. The United defense is still a concern, the offense is not entirely there, but the midfield was decent. I'm thinking of Martinez for man of the match, both for his goal (what an amazing strike) and for some nice turns under pressure he executed in the defensive end. Then again, he did look kind of bad the last thirty minutes of the match, so perhaps not. We'll see. Other contenders could be Fred, Jaime, and Clyde, but Clyde seemed a bit out of sorts tonight.

Wells one gaffe surrendering the San Jose goal was bad. Ridiculously, circus clowny bad. But other than that... Well, he actually was okay. Other people for potential censure are McTavish, but he did save one goal, Namoff, and Perralta. Ditto March Burch on the wing who was as lost as a Rose Mary Woods guitar solo.

So hey, let's take the points. Even we are deserving of gifts. And a win, even a bad one, is better than a loss, even a good one. Right? Right.

One game to .500, and it's against the player who makes me call myself by an initial on this blog. Dig it.

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20 June 2008

False Objections Lead to Insincere Compromises

The Washington Business Journal runs a piece on Poplar Point development, which is worth reading by itself, though I am about to quote long pieces of it. The article is a remarkably one-sided story which is still useful for thinking about what's really going on. Let's take a look:

"The debate about whether Poplar Point should include a soccer stadium could take a back seat to whether Poplar Point should be developed at all."

This is one of those disingenously objective sentences that reporters like to use when they can't really do any fact checking. Sure, the debate could take a back seat, but this point is really argued anywhere else in the article, other than being a lede for anti-development forces to have their say. If I wanted to rewrite this with a pro-development slant, I could say "The debate about whether Poplar Point should include a soccer stadium could be over, with all remaining the question of resolving environmental concerns." Or "The debate about whether Poplar Point should include a soccer stadium could take a back seat to whether or not it was right for the Guardians to rewrite the Book of Oa to allow for lethal force against the Sinestro Corps." I mean, these things could happen, so there's no overt bias in saying any of them, right?

"A coalition of environmental groups wants to stop a $2.5 billion, 40-acre mixed-use project by Clark Realty Capital LLC and transform the 110 acres along the Anacostia River into an urban public park -- 'a Rock Creek Park for residents of Southeast,' one of the coalition's leaders calls it."

So the people saying that the soccer stadium debate is taking a back seat is... the people opposed to the development in the first place. Well, sure, it's a good thing this group has been so successful this far in moving the debate over the stadium to the back burner.

"The coalition plans a June 24 announcement to kick off its campaign to derail the development."

Except for the fact they haven't really tried to do this yet.

"The effort comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report that raises questions about how quickly the site, owned by the federal government, can be transferred to D.C. and how much environmental cleanup will be required. The June 13 report estimates it could take three years before the transfer, which was established by a 2006 law."

Yes, this is a problem. Poplar Point will need clean-up, and that may take time. And if we leave it as parkland, then the city would not clean it up? And if they did, they'd really see no new tax base as a return on that investment?

Agreements still must be reached on the scope and cost of the cleanup, who will pay for it and how and where facilities for the U.S. Park Police -- including a helicopter pad and a shooting range -- will be relocated. D.C. officials have cautioned that completing an environmental impact statement for Poplar Point, required by federal law before the property can be transferred to D.C., will take at least 18 months, but the GAO report says senior officials from the National Park Service and park police cautioned that the process will be complicated and "might affect the timeliness of the conveyance of Poplar Point which in turn will affect when development on the site begins."

Again, the turnover process is going to take time and planning! Screw that! DC never should do anything that involves those two processes. Let's just turn it into a park!

"That gives environmental groups a window to argue that the open space should be preserved. An alliance led by Our Park Coalition and Earth Conservation Corps has started an online petition to stop development, surveyed residents who live east of the Anacostia about their interest in preserving the land park, erected a 'Save Anacostia Park' billboard and submitted anti-development columns in newspapers, including a June 15 piece in The Washington Post."
So their effort consists of a billboard (which you've probably seen if you've ever gone from S295 to S395), a letter to the editor published in the esteemed Free for All section of the Post, and a petition which has signatures. More than the petition supporting D.C. United? Hard to say, since the petition site that the anti-development people have won't let you see who else has signed it.

"'To think that in our nation's capital we could lose precious parkland so people could make a dollar -- it's really obscene,' said Glen O'Gilvie, president of Earth Conservation Corps, an 18-year-old organization that has both Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Ethel Kennedy as board members."
Mr. O'Gilvie is no doubt sincere in his message here. But is it more obscene to lose parkland, or tell Ward 8 residents to be happy for what small economic development comes their way? Is it obscene ever to make a dollar? I am not exactly someone who believes Big Business is the greatest thing to happen to humanity or the environment. But the idea that parkland is always preferable to making a dollar is an oversimplification of the first rank. If you're like me, a renter, then I suppose I should want my apartment building rezoned into parkland so that those evil landlord developers don't make a dollar and we have more parkland, right? Except for that entire me not having a home thing...

"Although Clark Realty's plans must include 70 acres of parkland, that space is not required to be contiguous, he said. O'Gilvie acknowledged that Anacostia residents want new housing and amenities but said they should not come at the expense of an area where 35 species of birds had been counted."

Okay, this at least is an argument. I dig the idea of preserving environments for wildlife. Really. But until an environmental study is complete, do we have any evidence that the 35 species of birds would be endangered by the development? I'm sure the article would tell us if there was, right?

"The environmentalists face an uphill battle in part because Congress established the land transfer with the express purpose of increasing the District's tax base and shoring up its finances."
And here, quite simply, is where the entire article falls apart. Either DC Develops the land, or they never needed it in the first place. If they can't develop it, do you believe there will be any effort made at all to preserving it as decent parkland?

Clark's proposal for a large central park and 1.5 million square feet of office space to draw environmentally focused companies and jobs is of little solace, O'Gilvie said.

"I think we want all 110 acres to be national parkland," O'Gilvie said. "We want no commercial development on the park."

Keep this in mind. This is the true objection to development of any sort. They want nothing done. Now, in the next paragraph:

Earth Conservation Corps and four other nonprofits are getting pro bono legal help from the Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law Center. Erik Bluemel, an attorney at the institute who filed lawsuit to stop the Intercounty Connector in Maryland, said pollutants on Poplar Point include pesticides, metals, oil, PCBs and other toxins from its previous use for naval laundry facilities, greenhouses and a land mine research laboratory. He also represents the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Potomac River Keeper and D.C. Acorn.

"It is remarkable how many different types of pollutants are on the site that endanger human health and the environment, and it's incredibly depressing that they've been allowed to remain there for so long," Bluemel said.

Right. Why might pollutants be allowed to remain there for so long? Why? Because, quite simply, there was no reason for anyone to care enough to make the investment to clean it up. Setting aside parkland probably won't do it either, it will remain in the same state as the chemicals slowly march to through their half-lives.

On the other hand, if there is a development initiative, there's suddenly a very strong interest in cleaning this material up. If I wanted to engage in the same sort of faux objectivity, I might say "In fact, one could argue that developing the area is better for the environment and the health of the Anacostia." But the fact is that I really don't know. I'd want to see the evidence. But simply objecting to any development at all before we know these things is not an answer.

Now, the danger here is not really from the anti-development side, but from Clark and the City. It might be a tempting move to cut a stadium as a gesture to the anti-development side. It wouldn't really change anything, but it allows the city to remove the trojan horse argument of "Don't give away our land to evil sports owners!" that we're seeing employed. In reality, nothing changes, but the city might think it's an expedient PR move.

One that has no basis in reality. But this is, after all, DC.

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19 June 2008

To the loser of the Atlantic Cup goes...

Remember when we won the first leg of the Atlantic Cup on Saturday evening? OK, check this out.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I watched the Spain v Greece Euro 2008 match from Salzburg, Austria. As I sat there watching, I thought, "I wonder what club team plays in this stadium?" So on a whim, I Googled "FC Salzburg". I found the wikipedia entry for this club:

Under the heading The Red Bull Takeover the entry reads,
After the takeover, Red Bull changed the club's name, management and staff, declaring "this is a new club with no history". Red Bull initially claimed on the club website that the club was founded in 2005, but was ordered to remove this claim by the Austrian F.A. The new authority removed all trace of violet from the club logo and the team now play in the new colours of red and white, to the consternation of much of the club's traditional support. More disconcerting to many fans was Red Bull's demand that the goalkeeper of the new team wear a pair of synthetic wings and be hoisted upon a series of pulleys and ropes, to simulate a flying motion, during all home games, in accordance with Red Bull's commercial slogan at the time, "it gives you wings".
You know, because the keeper is the most expendable player on the team, if the series of pulleys and ropes should fail.

As D said, if it is on wikipedia, it must be true.

Stay tuned... there may be more to this foolishness.


We play San Jose sunday...

You know what that means? Zach Wells has a change to get his first shut out of the season! That is all.

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17 June 2008

Yes, the Champions League Draw is Relatively Tough. Relatively.

The CONCACAF Champions League groups have been chosen, and neatly summarized by Mr. Bueno at Sideline Views. Over at MLSNet, it is summarized as "D.C. United has been given perhaps the toughest test of Major League Soccer's teams in the group stage..." And yes, the schedule contains some nasty fixtures. But, while it is a tough draw compared to some of the other groups, this is not an impossible mountain to climb.

Let's engage in premature expectation setting. Two of the four teams in United's group will advance, and let's assume the following:

  • Cruz Azul will qualify into the group.
  • The Honduran teams are pretty much interchangeable with El Salvador (though it will probably be more difficult to win in El Salvador)
  • United is playing in form closer to that of the last four games of this season than the first four games.
Given that scenario, I think that 11 points would easily be enough to get out of the group stage. I also think that United, in form, is probably at par with top Mexican teams, and Cruz Azul is one small step below that talent level. Checking the schedule, and assuming some not so fortunate results, and I think we can get
  • United : Saprissa = Draw
  • Honduras/El Salvador : United = Draw
  • United : Cruz Azul = Win
  • Saprissa : United = Loss
  • Cruz Azul : United = Loss
  • United : Honduras / El Salvador = Win
That's 8 points right there, which depending on other results still sees United though but most likely United would need a few more to make it up. Any places United could pick up three points? Sure, I think United should be expected to win against Saprissa at RFK, should have a decent shot at winning in Honduras, and could pick up a point in Mexico. If all went United's way, that's five more points right there. If all those results went our way, 13 points would probably be enough to win the group, as I don't see any team getting to 15 points easily at all. United could also drop some points against Cruz Azul at home and still see a path through.

It's also, I think, a very good thing that the first game is Saprissa at home. Before any yellow card peril is considered, that result will certainly shape the rest of the matches. A draw is not disastrous, a win would put United ahead of the game, and a loss makes things difficult, but at least clarifies the matter early enough to shape tactical considerations.

So all in all, I'm hopeful about this draw, and given that regardless of what has happened this season, this team was built to compete internationally, this is a competition we must expect our team to advance in.


16 June 2008

The Real Reason the Euros are Important

When talking about a keeper in an international tournament allowing a ball to slip thought his hands for a goal, thus eliminating his team, we will now talk about Petr Czech and not Troy Perkins. Which means we can joke about it now.

Debriefing for Match 13.13: New York Red Bulls

D.C. United 4 : 1 New York Red Bulls

Six Word Novel Recap

Rebound? Or Regression to the Mean?

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "The revival of Luciano Emilio continues. Emilio scored three goals Saturday night - his first MLS hat trick - as D.C. United beat the New York Red Bulls 4-1 at RFK Stadium."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Despite the absence of playmaker Marcelo Gallardo and top defender Bryan Namoff because of red card suspensions, United (5-7-1) offered another comprehensive attacking performance and overtook New York (4-4-3) for fifth place in the Eastern Conference."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "I think it's safe to say that Luciano Emilio has put his slow start to the 2008 MLS season behind him. "
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "With key veterans Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna sidelined by injury and young striker Jozy Altidore recently sold to Spanish side Villareal, the visitors entered the match shorthanded and United showed no mercy..."
The Fullback Files, Fullback: "...Martinez, on the other hand, seems ferociously competent, and is completely unafraid and fully determined to make vital tackles. He also reads the game well, cutting down angles for though balls, running down wide threats, and keeping his head up when in possession. I was a bit concerned that playing him on the right with Burch on the left--which Soehn's comments had pretty much confirmed for me as early as the aftermath of the reserve match against Chicago--might lead to Burch getting schooled for pace by Dane Richards, but that threat never really materialized, whether through good play by Burch, cover from McTavish, or outright incompetence by the Metrobulltards"
MetroFanatic: "Did you know that, back in 1996, the MetroStars won their first two matches at RFK? Since then, they've won just five other times at their hated rivals, getting trounced time and time again. It doesn't matter if Metro is fielding a full lineup, or a shortened one like tonight. It doesn't matter if they're playing well coming into the match, or not. With few exceptions, RFK is Metro graveyard, as it was tonight, as DC Scum took Metro apart, winning 4:1 and jumping them in the standings."
DCSportsBox, Abram Fox: "...in the second half, Soehn said. 'I came in [to the locker room at the half] disappointed that we didn’t play better.'"
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "If this were an actual rivalry, New York would’ve actually tried to get a result yesterday. Instead, they looked entirely like they’d chalked this one up as a loss on the bus south and just wanted to get through the bludgeoning as quickly as possible. Rivals don’t do that. The New York Red Bulls do."
Injury Time, AT: "i don't even know where to begin in talking about this 4-1 loss, but we can start right off with the critical injuries. reyna and angel were out with back problems, and as shep messing pointed out during the game, there seems to be a whole lot of back injuries going around this spring in new york and maybe it's time to look at the type of grass they're practicing and playing on."
BlackDogRed, BDR: "It's important when evaluating this game to remember Metro fans suck, but, hard as they try, they just can't suck as bad as their soccer team...a sign of progress, not a sign of deliverance."
The Offside: DCUnited, jon: "When Woly is your scoring threat, you’re screwed from the get go. DC came out a little flat, but within 10 minutes, they realized the team they were playing against would struggle in the USL."
The Offside: Red Bull New York, Dave Martinez: "What else can I tell you? My last post said it loud and clear - 'this is a statement game.' And what is the statement thats been made? 'We need help. Urgently.'"

The Good

  1. Luci Keeps the Football in Place: As much as I distrust cliches, perhaps there is some truth the entire "Goal scorers score in bunches, so the drought will eventually be quenched." To be honest, droughts make me nervous, but Emilio has now scored in several games, and a hat trick does seem to be a fitting punctuation mark. Right now, on MLSNet, the top goal scoring list reads "Donovan - Buddle - Emilio and Cooper" And that's pretty amazing, so let me admit that the conventional wisdom may well be the correct wisdom: the goals were going to come. That being said, I think there is a difference in play. This isn't simply a matter of Emilio getting breaks he wasn't getting before. Instead, there are two things that are different between Emilio now and Emilio circa two months ago. Now he's getting the ball facing the goal (all three of his goals were situations where his first touch in the attack was with him facing net, not with this back to goal). That's partially from more effort in his runs, but also to the team getting him the ball in a better position. The other change is the way he's dealing with contact. Emilio's first goal saw him fight through a marker to get on the end of Fred's cross, and two months ago I'm not sure he had the strength to do that. And that's really a difference for him, and an encouraging one.
  2. Handicapped to Even: Red Bull fans can rightly point out that they had no Jozy, and no Angel. But before this is used as a "DC just beat up on a team missing key players" let's not forget that DC was missing Gallardo, Namoff, and Olsen. So both teams had equal excuse to play the "we're missing key starters" card, but only one team did.
  3. Playmaking from the Middle: Both Quaranta and Fred, especially Fred, did excellent jobs pinching in from the wing to create attacking moves. Fred getting moved into the middle for the ineffective playmaking of Dyachenko was actually a strong move by Tom Soehn. Rod was proving a disappointment, but the position switch maximized the ability on the field. Quaranta's through ball to Fred was easily the start of the prettiest goal scored by United this year.
  4. Clyde Simms: Getting him a statistic to help demonstrate his ability is a lovely thing. He has done so much for this team, Moreno's decision to trust him to take that shot rewards some strong defensive play all season.
  5. LT. Zach Wells: A promotion to O-3 for Zach. Yes, the clean sheet wasn't kept, but his decision making in coming off his line was better this game than I can remember for some time. So we're bumping him up a rank.
  6. Tom Soehn: He put out a line-up compensating for suspensions, but also had the ability to play tactically to both minimize our shortcomings for what we were giving up. Quaranta and Fred would pinch into the middle as needed to support Dyachenko in the first half, and Emilio and Moreno were both going wide at the same moments. That was good play in this game, but not for every game. For the next match against San Jose, Fred and (McTavish/Burch/Kirk) must stay wide and let Gallardo and Simms fill the middle of the field.
  7. Jaime Moreno: Now, let me say this. While he's playing wonderfully the last few games, aren't you a bit concerned about him running out of gas in August? I am.

The Bad

  1. How United didn't score: One set piece goal, three goals on the counter, zero from a build from possession (unless you count earning the set piece.)
  2. Service Level Agreements: Here's the thing you can legitimately wonder about. That United scores four goals is fair, but if Juan Pable Angel is playing, or Jozy is still around, doesn't one of them get on the end of Dave van der Bergh's multiple dangerous serves into the box, and New York gets one or two more goals, right? Right. United still struggles wit the Terry Cooke's of the world, and this game was no exception. United was also fortunate that New York never really tried to play in long balls to Dane Richards over the top, another bug-a-boo of games past.
  3. Quavas Kirk: United was off-side once in this game, and it was Kirk who was offside despite coming in only at the 72nd minute. This is a problem for him, as he really needs to see the line better.

Officiating Watch

Kevin Stott and the ARs had a decent game. I think New York could have argued that Perralta was interfering with the play from an off-side position on the Simms goal (but even the replays there with regards to Perralta's position were inconclusive to me). The cards and fouls seemed about right, and despite the blowout the game never felt like it was going to get out of hand. So kidos for that.

Likert Scale Grade: 4 - Good.

Man of the Match

Luciano Emilio, obviously. Merit awards to Tino, Clyde, Fred, Jaime, Zach Wells, and Mark Burch. Small notes of censure to Quavas Kirk.

Final Thoughts

Let me admit that I missed the true importance of the Chicago game. The key was that United fought through another game that looked like it might get away from them, the same way they continued to fight against New England. The importance of playing for the shirt should never be understated, and I missed the boat on that.

That being said, let me say the thing that's probably going to be considered unfair -= Tom Soehn's job should not yet be considered safe for this season. We've had two good results, and have a chance to go to Superliga at .500, in which case his job is safe for the season. But, having shown that this team is capable of fighting through good teams (Chicago) and not so good (Toronto) it's clear that he does have the personnel he needs, the question of coaching is still not academic.

And right now, we're basking in the glow of a wonderful come-back win against Chicago, and a strong performance against New York. Still, that shouldn't discount from just what a big hole United dug for itself at the start of the season, and some of the abominable performances that were seen in that time frame. If, and I hope this doesn't happen, but if United is made to look silly by San Jose and Los Angeles, doesn't that have to factor into our opinion? Still, I've said that if a move were to be made, it should be made earlier rather than later, and after L.A. is as late as I would be willing to leave it. After that, the season should be his, and all the indications are that he has weathered the storm and started actually varying his tactics accordingly.

To be sure, part of that was the circumstances of this match. With suspensions to Gallardo and Namoff, Tom couldn't just play the same as he did against Chicago, he was forced by the roster to move things around. However, with them coming back, I expect him once again to adjust to the demands of that game. San Jose does have some threats for an expansion team, and we simply can't expect to use the United Form Letter game plan against them. The big thing will be the use of space. Frank Yallop, coming into RFK, is going to try as much as possible to make things as narrow as possible, and United must play wide in a way they didn't have to against New York. If that happens, and United continues to solidify results, then we can say that this team is in full recovery.

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14 June 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 4 : 1 New York Red Bulls

Finally, two steps forward. For weeks United would allow us to flirt with hope, only to step backwards with another game where you left wondering if anyone learned anything.

However, United came out of Chicago and managed to put together a win that helped consolidate the progress that they had been making recently. And this was a comprehensive win. If the scoreline flatters United, it is on the defensive end, as United certainly did enough to earn all four goals scored. New York still had chances, and perhaps it should have been closer, but United deserved the victory. Lowlights happened at the start of each half, with United conceding a goal early in the second half on some haphazard defending, and starting the game with one of the poorest opening kick routines I have ever seen. However, that's about it in terms of things we can take them to task for. The Martinez-Burch combination proved effective as outside backs in the absence of Namoff. Dyachenko's biggest influence may have been the help he gave Simms in terms of pressure and release points, but the playmaking to make up for Gallardo came primarily from Tino, Jaime, and Fred, all of whom had strong matches.

Which brings us to Emilio's three goals. The first was the culmination of one of the best team moves I have seen this season. Quaranta's through ball to Fred was the best pass he's made all year, and Fred putting in the low cross to Emilio on the first touch was picture perfect. The amazing thing was that New York technically had numbers back, but it was a classic case of three men using momentum to carve up five defenders.

Emilio's second goal was helped by Quaranta not sending a ball over the post, but instead trying to place the ball far post and getting the rebound you want to see if you can't have the ball go in the net. The third goal for Emilio was a strong finish, made possible with strong running from Mediate who held the ball not too long, but also didn't jump the gun when he saw Emilio in space but held it long enough to minimize any chance of a defensive recovery.

There's something about wins against New York that just make me feel better about this team. Thinking of all the wins over New York over the past three years that helped convince me a United team was for real, most recently last year's Ben Olsenpalooza. New York Red Bulls... It's good for what ails ya.

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12 June 2008

Euro 2008

Wow. 4pm on Thursday and AUT v POL is in progress now at 0-1. I'm 50% Polish, so "yay!" I'm also 25% Austrian, so "boo!" I'm also 25% French, with last name Montcalm, so "go France!"

And I'm the proud new owner of an Olympique Lyonnais jersey after my wife's trip to Paris. "Why no PSG jersey?" you might ask? Not sure, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

So what's the point? Not sure. But DC United plays on Saturday night, and by then I should be almost ravenous to see our team attempt the quality that I've been seeing from Austria and Switzerland in the past few days.

Tonight: MLS Cup 2007 redux take 2. Although the Revs lost to the Dynamo last year 2-1 for the league championship at RFK, they handily beat the 1836 in their first game of the season by a count of 3 to nil. Should be a good one. Set your Tivos and then meet me at Kitty O'Sheas.

UPDATE (4:41pm): Oh. My. God. How do you give a penalty in stoppage time for that infraction? Horrible decision.

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07 June 2008

First Impressions - Chicago Fire 1 : 2 D.C. United

The win, make no mistake, is a surprising one. And yet, I don't quite feel like this is the continuation of a corner somehow being turned. Just as Chicago's goal in the first half arguable came against the run of play, so certainly did the goal that put United ahead in the second half.

What's more, to extent that United was playing well, it was when the attacking players had space, time, and could play the equivalent of a high-level pick-up game. At ten men, this certainly became more and more of the situation, as Jaime and Fred and Martinez enjoyed the extra space they were afforded. Which is great, but doesn't really argue that our coaching was good, but rather that our players improvise on the field well.

If you want to be charitable you can say that Tom Soehn allowed the players to play creatively. Yet somehow I'm not even convinced of that. Not yet, at least. What's more, we had the advantage after both Gallardo and Prideaux left the game, but that advantage seemed to slip away as Dyachenko, Cordeiro, and Burch entered the game. I felt like we became less dangerous as we substituted, and not more. To the extent that we won, it was because Emilio discovered one of the moves we thought were left behind in 2007.

So it is, I know, a good win. Against a good team. On the road. All of those things are true, and yet I somehow don't think this means all is well, even if you can say "unbeaten in three games." Now, maybe this is just a point of inflection match, a game where slow progress is made. And that's entirely possible. But right now, this game almost raises more questions than it answers.

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06 June 2008

Even as you attempt to win, please accept a list of our demands

Perhaps the news coverage of the Democratic Nominating Process has gotten to me, but even as it seems D.C. United has inching closer to making a deal with either DC or PG County for a stadium, now it seems time for me to present a list of what I would want to see in a new stadium. Yes, I realize that I have little clout in this matter, but if Barack Obama in Virginia can shamelessly steal from Star City Mayor Oliver Queen* in calling out the "corporate Fat Cats," then I can shamelessly steal from Hillary Clinton by enumerating my conditions when the other parties have most of the power.

The fact is, until now, we've pretty much been in complete lockstep with the entire stadium argument from DCU and Victor MacFarlane. We've tried to approach it with our best efforts at intellectual and public policy honesty, but ultimately we do believe that D.C. United needs a stadium, just as a matter of financial survival.

However, as we begin to move to a phase where the idea of a stadium plan moves to "there will be a stadium" (though yet to be geographically determined) let's start talking about what kind of stadium we want to see. I should, of course, note that some have started this conversation already, so I don't pretend to be a pioneer. Still, the point he makes is well made - United's home field atmosphere comes primarily from the loud side, and protecting a boisterous loud side is important. This means privileging the Supporter's groups even in a new stadium. Let's face it, supporter related ticket activity will still be a large percentage of ticket sales, so this is in United's interest as well.

These concerns are distinct from Geography, and distinct from other architectural concerns (I don't want a stage-end, but it's not a deal breaker. I like bouncy stands, but it's still not a deal breaker if we don't have them.) Atmosphere and game-day experience are what I am all about. I want that protected in a new stadium.

So how can we do that?:

  1. Seating: I'm sure that United knows this, but having the main supporter's groups on the sideline in the middle of the field is a huge impact. Not just to TV cameras (though that helps) but also to the quiet side. When I sit on the quiet side, I still appreciate looking across the field and seeing the rowdies tear the place up. So don't stick them in the corner, away from lost lines of sight. Which leads to...
  2. Unity: Here's where I may get into trouble. While I'm sure that both La Barra Brava and the Eagles both want good sideline seating, it's not clear to me that they want to sit next to each other. In fact, I know that some people in both groups would prefer a little more distance. This should be resisted, even if the Supporter's Groups themselves ask for it (and I hope they don't). On a macro level, even if the tifo isn't some beautifully orchestrated symphony, having the interaction between the two groups is more important to the United experience, and to the experience of the United fans. I know, and understand, the feelings on the separatists for both sides, but to my mind having two supporter's groups, different, but none-the-less in close proximity and occasionally in unison, is a wonderful thing.
  3. Prices: I'm hoping that the biggest impact to United's bottom line with a new stadium is a reduction in day-to-day overhead costs. And while several of the loud United supporters are wealthy individuals, the fact that you can get a good ticket for $20 or less means that you get a good economic spectrum of support. That has to be protected, and should be in line with United's mission of "serving the community." While I can apprecaite the need to raise prices for some areas of the stadium to increase profit (or defray construction costs) I would hate if we say an across-the-board increase of 20% for most tickets. That's not going to fly with me. With a smaller stadium capacity and smaller costs for overhead, and the revenue that United will obtain from concessions, parking, and advertising, and with the new sponsor deals, I hope United will keep any price increase for most of the existing 100-level seating areas to no more than 5% in the first three years of the stadium.
  4. Tailgating: You want atmosphere, you have to let us tailgate. Just that simple. There important... preparation... that needs to be done pregame.
For me, those are the important demands, but of course, I'm sure I'm missing some. Feel free to point out my oversights.

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04 June 2008

First RAIN Impressions - DC United RAIN : RAIN Houston Dynamo

I know, the game's not canceled yet. But having been out of DC for pretty much the last month straight, I was looking forward to this as a way to reintegrate myself back into the thick of things. To get right back into The Now. Instead, the rain, combined with Bruce Arena's presence in the Comcast Sportsnet studios, has turned this into a nostalgia fest for the 1996 and 1997 cups. Which is great, don't get me wrong. I love our tradition. But doesn't it kinda rub it in... you know... that there was a time when this team was really, really good.

I'm going to give this game as long as possible to get started, but if it's after 2AM, I'm afraid I may have to plead that I have to go to work tomorrow.

But really, I'm back in town. And this town in rain is pretty than most in the sun. So let's get this game going.

2nd Update: From DCUnited.COM: "D.C. United's match against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday was delayed before kickoff because of lightning, stopped when a torrential downpour made the RFK Stadium pitch unplayable in the 16th minute and eventually postponed. The teams will announce a make-up date on Thursday." Sleep well everyone.

UPDATE: Game postponed. Which may prove to be a blessing, by which I mean that we're at the point where I feel that if Soehn stays around, he may as well stay around for the season. So, in other words, I want to make a decision after this game or next, one way or the other, myself. And how could we really evaluate a damn thing in this weather, even if we won? Yeah. And while I applaud all the fans that showed up, I think commenter Grunthos was pretty smart to bug out when he did.

And I kinda like seeing Russ Thaler (who in the last five years is probably the media personality who has learned the most about soccer) vamp with Bruce Arena (who I do not want to be head coach of United). And seeing Dave Johnson and Tommy Rongren padding the show in Dutch. And the nostalgia, all that nostalgia. The rain feels good, it refreshes, but it disappears and this game will need to be played.

One side note, since in a way I love the rain and thunderstorms. There's a theater warm-up game I played with my improv troupe in college called "Limelight" The premise of the game was simple. You got a bunch of people in a circle, and one person would sing a song in the middle of the circle until they somehow reminded anyone else of a song that might be related to how they were singing. Then that person would sing their song until they were replaced. Repeat.

Somehow Peter Gabriel's Red Rain, no matter what the starting song was, was always the third or fourth song someone would sing. No idea why, or why I am compelled to talk about it.Perhaps it was a mark of college radio tastes in those days. Or perhaps it was just we weren't sophisticated enough to go to Cohen's First We Take Manhattan.