29 April 2008

Rumination on a golazo

If you watch the highlights of Gallardo’s goal, you’ll hear two quotes that I’ll reference in this post. The first is Dave Johnson saying, “Surely that’s the one!” He’s referring to the fact that a 4-1 score line is likely to stand with only 10 minutes left in the match. I prefer to think, however, that Johnson was speaking more broadly, meaning that when Gallardo buried Burch’s high cross, that goal would certainly rise to the top as an eventual Goal of the Year nominee.

I was so impressed with Gallardo’s goal on Saturday night that I feel like it needs more discussion, dissection. It certainly needs your vote for Sierra Mist Goal of the Week.

When I was watching the match on Saturday night, in real time, and I saw Burch’s cross, I immediately felt that the cross was a poor one. It was lazy and seemed too high and when I saw Nat Borchers coming over to play it with his head, I figured United might at best win a corner. Gallardo however, seemed to not even notice Borchers running on to the ball. He didn’t seem phased at all when the defender jumped to try to head the ball out of danger. He just cocked his leg back and hit it as hard as he could.

There are many similarities between United’s 4th goal of the night and the 3rd goal by Quaranta. Both came after crosses to the right wing and in both occasions the goal scorer hit the ball first time past Nick Rimando. But watching and re-watching Gallardo’s goal makes me a little embarrassed that I had been so impressed by the quality of Quaranta’s tally. Quaranta did well to control the cross off the inside of his right boot and touch it just out of reach of Rimando, but still keep it inside the left post. It was a very tough angle and he achieved that deft touch with his body fully in midair. I believe he had the Goal of the Week for about 13 minutes.

But Gallardo blasted that ball and buried that ball. He crushed it. It was an absolute bomb. [And let me now apologize to my wife, who was sleeping next to me on the couch at that point, for exclaiming loudly at seeing the strike, and waking her most rudely.]

One more point: Guevara’s free kick was a brilliant one, no doubt. So I don’t want to say anything dismissive or negative about it in order to try to help Gallardo’s cause for Goal of the Week. But if I have to, I will.

As Thomas Rongen summarized the whole thing, “Thanks for coming!”

(4/30 10:13) Gallardo 47%, Guevara 40% (You magnificent bastards...)

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28 April 2008

Get Busy

The nominees for the Sierra Mist Goal of the Week are up. I love that both Quaranta and Gallardo are nominated. I told my wife that if I was doing the debrief for this match, my Six Word Novel Recap would have been "Quaranta GOTW for only thirteen minutes".

For me, personally, Gallardo's goal is easily GOTW and I would think a strong contender for GOTY. But currently, Amado Guevara's bending free kick is leading the voting with 52% of the votes to Gallardo's 27%. So like I said, get busy people!

"Thanks for coming!"

(4/29 15:55) Gallardo 32%, Guevara 51%
(4/29 10:21) Gallardo 34%, Guevara 35%
(4/28 21:24) Gallardo 39%, Guevara 39%
(4/28 16:06) Gallardo 44%, Guevara 34%

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Debriefing for Match 13.05: Real Salt Lake

D.C. United 4 : 1 Real Salt Lake

Six Word Novel Recap

Revenge is best served at home.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Moreno, the league's all-time leader in penalty kick goals, converted two more and assisted on another goal, leading United to a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake at RFK Stadium last night before 23,269."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Though well rested, well prepared and highly motivated, United was plodding and predictable in the early going and lost Brazilian wing Fred to a bruised quadriceps after 22 minutes. His replacement, Burch, influenced the game right away."
UnitedMania, Mike Martin: "Poor Nicky could only shake his head ruefully and wax philosophic after the match. 'He makes a living off PKs. I think he’s made 203 career goals off PK’s. No, especially at home I’d say one hundred percent. I just want to guess the right way and at least get a touch. But what are you going to do.'"
RSL Malcontent, "I know a lot of people will probably complain about the referee. Frankly, the first PK I thought was just an incidental hand ball by Kovalenko and should have just been played, no call. He didn't make a move to redirect the ball in any way, he was sliding and it hit him. As for the second PK, while I thought it was a bit soft, it was still a good call. Any time you slide, especially in the box, from behind a player, and block him from shooting, without really playing the ball, you will get called. It was one of those calls that even the ref probably knew was soft, but it was so clearly in the box and was certainly not something for an indirect kick, he had no choice but to award the PK."
Behind the Badge, The Management: "Winning is way better than losing."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Meaning, all applause for avoiding the horrific, but little credit for beating a team United should have knocked out in the first twenty minutes. All applause for avoiding the crisis another embarrassing home loss would have created, but nothing I saw assures me the crisis has been averted rather than just delayed. Hope, but."
DCUMD, Shatz: "Seriously though, it's strange how starkly different this match was from the match played by the same two teams just two weeks ago. DC United dominated, especially in the second half. Let's just hope this result won't be followed up by a series of letdowns like the last time we had a 4-1 victory at home."
The Offside - D.C. United, Jon: "Gallardo was putting his stamp on the game in the midfield. And his goal HAS to win goal of the week, once they put up the link, I’ll post it here, and make you vote for it under the threat of violence. When he keeps the ball, he’s a force. Right now, there are no forwards who are reading his passes correctly."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stoller: "Now that is what fans expected of this team. I was struck by just how good the attack looked in general and by how much they seemed to do it in spite of Emilio. While he did draw a penalty, he looked like he was in a fog for most of the match. He and Gallardo still do not appear on the same page but, and this is the important thing, rather than just continuing to try the same Gallardo-to-Emilio plan over and over again - they evolved."

The Good

  1. Marcello Gallardo: First off, his goal is the leading candidate for goal of the year. I remember back to the DCU v. Chelsea game when Sean Wright-Phillips dropped and easier one-time side volley into the net. United fans basically shrugged it off as MLS defending, not that MLS defended worse, just they never had to deal with a player who was dangerous when one-timing a cross. MLS is a changing. As for the rest of Gallardo's game, I think Aaron said it best in the part I quoted above. He and Emilio still aren't linking up like they should, but we are starting to see DC adjust its game to Marcello. Hopefully we can see more of these adjustments and the fruits of that knowledge in games to come.
  2. Key Coaching Decision Making: After the first RSL game this blog took Tommy to task for playing a system that just didn't work with reserve players, the 3-4-3. It seemed that Tommy could make changes to the way United played but when he found something that they won with he would run with it until problems arose. It remains to be seen if he continues with the 3-5-2, or if that was just a tactical decision for this game, but either way it worked for this game. Starting Sratford was interesting, but got a young player some valuable experience and helped clog up the midfield to hinder Kyle Beckerman. Taking off Stratford when we lost some of our possession game when Fred had to come out was a good move that many coaches would have waited on too long. Add to this that Kirk got some time at the end of the game and we can't really fault Tommy at all for his in game decisions.
  3. Wing Play: A United with width this year is going to be three times as dangerous as one without. Without Gomez stretching the field vertically United is going to need players stretching the field horizontally so that teams don't key in on Gallardo and Moreno. Though Burch isn't as good as Fred, he played left-mid in a more traditional role and it showed how much of the field Fred leaves unused. Quaranta on the other side really brought a lot more to attack down the right, I don't know if I would play him there all of the time, but against less attacking minded wingers he might be a good choice until Benny comes back.
  4. Jaime Moreno: Jaime played better than he has all season. I think this is in part him and Marcelo understanding each other better. But I also think that this was partly due to Soehn telling the team to shoot more. Jaime doesn't really shoot all that much, but when the rest of his team is the defenders have to respect his shot as well. It is when nobody is shooting that we see Jaime get dispossessed a whole lot more than he should.

The Bad

  1. Emilio: Still isn't in form. Still don't know why.
  2. Wells: Still doesn't have the communication down with his defense. This is probably just the learning curve for a young keeper in his first starting role. However, he needs to show improvement so that United can be confident going into some of the big games it will play later in the season.
  3. Final Third?: I don't know if this should be here or not but it seems like DC really didn't have any good chances until after the PKs were given and Salt Lake was pushing forward. If United is going to be a dominate team this year they are going to have to be able to break down bunkering team, and RSL wasn't even bunkering, just playing high pressure defense.

Officiating Watch

Baldomero Toledo called a very interesting match. Without the PK calls, it seemed to be a very well called match which I didn't have too many complaints about. However he did make two penalty kick calls for United and I really don't know what to make of them. I think both were legitimate calls while both being "soft" at the same time. Frankly if I had called the first I wouldn't have called the second. I would have called the shirt pull right outside of the box on Emilio, in fact that is what I thought he called at first, wondering why it was a PK. Let's just hope this was payback for the 2006 game at RSL and not karma United will have to deal with later in the season.

Likert Scale Grade: 4 - Above Average (Note - I have no idea what this is)

Man of the Match

Moreno. I think I was ready to go with Santino right after the game, but thinking back Moreno really did more. I think he takes it home, but I am still open to discussion.

Adjusted Results

As I said earlier I would have given one of the two penalties. I think the adjusted result should be +1 goal for D.C, for a final score of DC 3 : 1 RSL. For the season, D.C. United's adjusted record is 2-2-1 (7pts); 10GF, 11GA, -1GD.

Final Thoughts

Much better, now just do it again. Basically, I am wary of United's up and down mentality. A 4-1 win is nice, but not if you lose two games right after it. DC needs to show more consistency. I don't know how they do that other than win against Colorado, but I do know that they need to be better over the long term. I hope this is a corner that United is turning, but I fear that this is just a blimp while they let down next game. At the same time I am happy with the performance I don't think that we can use this game to overturn what happened in the first couple of games without more evidence. I guess I am optimistic, but cautiously so.

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26 April 2008

First Impressions - DC United 4 : 1 Real Salt Lake

Well that was better than the last time these two teams played. There were good things that United brought to this game that has been lacking in the past two. United actually shot the ball. Amazing as that sounds you could tell by the 10th minute that Tommy told the team to take more shots. The wing play was some of the best I have have seen this year. Quaranta did very well on the wing and Burch playing the more traditional winger really spread the field for the rest of the offense. I am really liking Santino this year, he has been playing much better than I have ever seen him. His goal was a thing of beauty, and was a welcome respite from penalty kicks (the pks were a welcome respite from being shut out.) Gallardo's goal was just jaw dropping.

I was happy with United's performance but problems still exist. I don't want to be that guy who is unhappy with a 4 -1 win, but the first two were penalty kicks. Those scores changed the game and opened up the field for the goals later on in the game. It seems like United can score when teams are open and pressing but when everybody is back they have a hard time breaking down a defense. I am also worried that the two teams United have beaten so far were the two worst teams last year. Don't get me wrong, DC looked much better. I like the progress, but I don't want to say the ugly is over. I can only hope that it is. We will see what happens against a good Colorado team next week.

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25 April 2008

Soccer in America

On Tuesday evening I watched game 7 of the Caps/Flyers series at the 51st State in Foggy Bottom. Yeah, that's right... I got on the Caps bandwagon hard. And it hurt. It was Chad Barrett scoring at RFK last November, it was the Cavs outpacing the Wiz by 30 on Monday night and then it was an OT goal at the Phone Booth on Tuesday night. And then I went home, turned on the computer and had pocket aces cracked by pocket jacks. Brutal all around. But this isn't the point.

My friend S, who is very smart and observes all, made an interesting comment to me as we made our way through too many pints. He said, "Look at baseball, which is the most popular sport in America, but is, for the most part, a boring game." True. He pointed out that American sports fans seem to have a preoccupation with statistics and that maybe baseball is so popular because there are so many statistics to throw around while you are trying to make your way through three innings of shallow pop flys and slow roller ground outs to the second baseman who has chewing tobacco juice on his shoes. You are always hearing about "on-base percentage after the 7th inning with runners in scoring position by lefties against righties from Spanish-speaking island countries" and "slugging percentage". And all these statistics have fun, convenient abbreviations, like OBP(A7RISPLvRSSIC) and BB and HBP.

So maybe MLS would do well to create (invent?) more statistics for viewers to track with the hope of keeping the American sports fan occupied through 0-0 draws and defensive bunkering. Perhaps teams stats like "most team passbacks from the middle third to the keeper" or individual stats like "percent time of possession spent with back to goal". In fact, in all seriousness, I heard on last Thursday during the CLB @ DCU match that Alejandro Moreno was the most fouled player last year. It wasn't immediately obvious to me what it was about AM's game that would put him in a position to be consistently fouled. I don't know that he is a big flopper.

Do you have ideas for more stats that MLS could track? Is this plenty? Discuss your ideas in the comments and be sure to give some thought to how too many numbers being tossed around may cause Eric Wynalda's head to explode.


Only tangentially related to this topic: Mike and Mike, on ESPN2, spent a TON of time on their show Tuesday morning talking about how Andrei Kirilenko had flopped (OMG!) and drawn an offensive foul call at the end of the Game 2 of the Jazz/Rockets series. The foul call waved off a made 3 pointer and allowed the Jazz to steal a road win. Golic was absolutely astounded that such an injustice could be allowed to stand. Green was more practical, trying to figure out how to punish a player who flops within the current NBA rules of fouls and technical fouls. It was hilarious to see two grown men so upset at how a blown call or slight embellishment by a player could effect something like 3% of a team's total point instead of, as any soccer fan knows, perhaps 50% or 100%!!

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Normally when I go silent, it means I'm on travel, but this week I went silent because, well... Writer's block, to be frank. I mean, do I want to talk about the signing of Francis Doe? I could, but if he gets more minutes this year than Guy Roland-Kpene got last year, I will be surprised. I could take aim at the John Feinstein piece in the post, with a noble sentiment ("give a nod to the past, and the ol' NASL") which is utterly undercut when its writer announces that he doesn't watch contemporary soccer. I mean, he writes "I really want to like soccer again." No one's stopping you man. It kinda reminds me of that Rod McKuen poem that opens with "I try to be a good beatnik, but it's hard..." History has made its judgment on Rod's posturing.

But really, there's nothing to really get me going. United has me in a waiting pattern, wondering if this team actually is going to show up and play 90 minutes of good soccer on Saturday. And even then, even then, what will it mean? Yeah.

Freezer later today, and I think Kinney may be handling the First Impressions/Debriefing duties over the weekend. SUBMIT YOUR OPINIONS TO THE FREEZER IN THIS COMMENT THREAD! Yes, DC is going down a bit farther.

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18 April 2008

The Freezer for 18 April 2008

The US Soccer Fragility Index, known as the Freezer, is the anti-power poll. Each week, Oscar, Kinney, Bob and D have a frank discussion over email and chat to rank the most feeble, the most tenuous, and the overall weakest things in US Soccer, and we check our results with commenters in our pre-Freezer solicitation post. And really, that actually happened this time, which is kinda cool.

And really, we're a year ahead of the curve, as even Slate magazine has decided that the Power Poll concept is tired. Should we put power polls themseleves in the freezer. And then, couldn't you still argue that this is a power poll, just one with a goatee saying things like "Your agonizer, please." The mind boggles.

Regardless, once again we plunge United into the Freezer, but we're keeping them near the top for easy retrieval in the event they stop playing to our dark fears. Monsters of the id that they are. Anyways, let's do the damage:

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...and while I'm at it...

A quick email back and forth with Mr. Horia of Soccer Art...

He's like "Let's have a link exchange"

And I'm all like "Yeah, well, make with the D.C. United schwag."

And he's like "What? Check this out!"

And I'm like "Yeah, that's tight, but let's see something newer, what?"

And he's like "Dawg, in a few weeks, I promise."

And that's good enough for me.

Note: Our emails did not use any of the dated slang used above. In fact, I think the words "pursuant" and "aforementioned" may have been the actual text, but I have a bad memory.


Quick Admin Note

Freezer will be out before I go to bed tonight. Also, I'm redoing many of our links, so please welcome some new additions (Goal Scoring Robot for one), and a quick note of overdue thanks to Ben Olsen's Beard, ThroughBall and Marking the Referee, fine blogs that are now passing into the good night. The best thing for a blog isn't necessarily the best analysis, or hottest rumors, but to have a clear and enjoyable voice, and these blogs had that, which makes me sad to see them go.

That being said, there's now a ton of new blogs I need to link to, so I'll be getting to that. And, of course, there is DuNord and SoccerBlogs (hosted by proud papa Oscar), which almost between the two of them manage everything you need to know. Additionally, I need to redo the Washington Nationals Links, but a special salute to Blogger of Month Mr. Needham of the always indispensable Capitol Punishment.

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Debriefing for Match 13.04: Columbus Crew

D.C. United 1 : 2 Columbus Crew

Six Word Novel Recap

Never understood why Goldilocks preferred lukewarm.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

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


The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Officiating Watch

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

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Man of the Match

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

Adjusted Results

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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17 April 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 1 : 2 Columbus Crew

It was better than the match against Real Salt Lake. Then again, having my testicles eaten by fire ants would have been better than the game in Salt Lake.

First, let's address the key thing: I have no issues with the formation, the substitutions, or much of the reasoning behind this match. Certain players played very well (Gonzalo Martinez, Gallardo) and others did not (Wells, McTavish, and Emilio). Everyone else was sort of in-between, neither awful nor amazing. But there are things that worry me.

The particular involved Luciano Emilio and his inability to take the ball with his back to goal and not fall down. The general is a feeling that this team has not settled on a coherent theory of attack. Gallardo has amazing vision, but what he sees isn't what people are doing. Gallardo doesn't anticipate Moreno, who doesn't quite get Quaranta, who sends the ball into the Emilio, who falls down. And that's... dis-heartening. It's as if they're playing a pick-up game, which at times can produce great moments, but other times just seems disorganized with everyone taking about one to two seconds two long to figure out where everyone is around them.

So it's a tough game. Not a debacle like Salt Lake, certainly a better match, but hardly a ringing call for hope. It is a game that fits my mood: Dark, Disjointed, Drunk. Perhaps tomorrow I will have a better sense, but right now it's just sad.

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Morning Coffee out of the Freezer

FREEZER CALL: Okay, so thinking about it, it makes sense to publish the Freezer on Fridays. There are a few reasons for this, but mainly it allows us to consider the midweek games for the Freezer, and set the table nicely for the weekend. Your recommendations in the comments are most appreciated as we go forward. The previous week's Freezer is here.

OVERSEAS REPORTING: Congratulation to Hoops for keeping the Scottish race alive. Kevin G and his gang have been good friends to us, so we're glad to see some good fortune go the way of his lot. Further, the official Unibond Premier League team of the DCenters, Gateshead F.C., are solidly in with a shot at promotion, as they currently sit third in the standings, which puts them in the playoff (if I understand the promotion system at this level correctly).

SEE ANYTHING YOU LIKE? Sideline Views reports that Chivas is interested in a D.P., having traded away their D.P. rights to New York. Let's see, what teams haven't used their Designated Player allocations? Oh wait, didn't we get one from Colorado for Christian Gomez? I'm not sure if we could trade it, but if we could, and this is just speculation, is there anything you might want out of Chivas? There's some talent on that squad...

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16 April 2008

How to Learn

There are several excellent arguments toward thinking it is too early to really evaluate Tom Soehn's performance this year, and I am sympathetic to all of them. I urge you to read those comments, but I also want to make clear why I don't think it is too early to seriously evaluate Tom Soehn's performance in a way that I wouldn't have one year ago. And again, let me re-affirm that I am not calling for Tom Soehn to be fired, but rather saying it's not too early to think about how to evaluate his performances.

Let's start with sample size, the issue I think most of you take issue with. As one anonymous commenter vividly put it: "...you don't start icing the cake and then complaining about the taste when it's only been in the bleedin' oven for five minutes." That's a fair argument. I would counter, however, that it is somewhat silly to consider 2008 and 2007 to be completely discrete elements. In 2007, Tom Soehn was a new head coach with a team he inherited, and I was more than a little willing to extend a learning curve excuse to him. In 2008, the team is much more one that he has designed (in coordination with Kasper and Payne). And while it's tempting to say that 2008 is a discrete instance, I prefer to analyze coaching (as opposed to the team as a whole) as a continuation of 2007.

My largest concern is this - To the extent Tom Soehn changes tactics, it is as a response to immediate events before. That he is willing to change is to his credit, he shows more flexibility that Piotr Nowak did during Nowak's tenure at United. But I also think he inherited a mind-set from Nowak that I find troubling. I think Nowak all too frequently would search for a system that would function as a pass-key to the season, and then try to ride it as long as possible. Soehn is better, but I think he suffers from a milder form of the same misapprehension. Soehn is willing to change his line-ups and formations in response to recent events, but if those changes work he assumes that they will continue to work even in disparate situations. And that's the problem. It may be illusory, but I think it bears thinking about.

For instance, there were two significant points of inflection to the 2007 season. The first was after a similar string of disappointments, which caused the change from a three to a four man backline. The second occurred shortly before the away game at New England, when United juggled its defensive personnel. In both cases, Tom Soehn accurately identified a problem, and took moves to fix it. And in both cases, the moves were correct, and things improved. The problem was that improvement seemed to be a validation of a newly established Status Quo, and things wouldn't change until the system broke down. Which isn't, in my mind, what I want from my manager.

First, let's argue a fundamental point which is I think both obvious, and yet the ramifications seem to be rarely played out: A System is NOT a Formation. The best manager understand that there is a way they would like their team to play, call that the system if you will, but they adapt personnel, tactics, and formations to events on the field proactively to achieve that goal. In short, I think there's a similar way Arsene Wegner wants Arsenal to play every game, but he'll change his formation and tactics and players to maximize the opportunity to gain the advantages he needs to play that way. The system is a goal, not a starting point.

Now, in MLS, given the salary cap restrictions, deploying specialized personnel may not be as much of an option in other leagues, but tactics and formations can be adjusted proactively. And Tom Soehn has, I think, too often believed that the system is a starting point, rather than something to be established anew each game. We will play the 3-5-2 until it doesn't work. Then we play the 4-4-2 until that fails. Then we play the 3-4-3 in a circumstance where it works well (Pachuca 2nd leg, when goals were in demand and our starting XI minus Ben Olsen was out there) and then we played it again against RSL, with a different line-up, situation, and set of demands. This is, in many ways, a continuation of what we saw in 2007, especially at the end of the season.

Now, I think there are exceptions to this rule: I think we saw two different starting strategies against Harbour View, the result of gameplanning for those games. But I don't see much evidence of a managerial decision to adapt to the game in Kansas City, or in Salt Lake. Or in the first leg against Chicago last year. And that's my concern.

Again, anyone calling for Tom Soehn to be fired now is premature. But I don't think it is overreacting to be looking closely, very closely, at his performance over the next few matches.


15 April 2008

DCenters +3

Um... Wow. We're three years old. In blog years, that's like 21. Which is to say, an excuse to drink. Amazing.

To my co-writers Kinney, Oscar, and Bob, thanks. To our readers, I say "more thanks." To the team we have pledged our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor, I say "You better beat Columbus. Really."

Three years of doing this... Wow.


14 April 2008

...and Chairman Mao he loves the Repitition...

I hate to do this, but let's revisit the Immutable Law of Firing the Head Coach. From not quite one year ago, when I wrote the following on the idea of firing Tom Soehn:
  1. Has the coach permanently lost the team? A team that just doesn't put stock into their coach means you either change the team, or change the coach. One of those is feasible.
  2. Is the coach consistently outsmarted? Even if the coach has the ear of the team, it makes little difference if what he tells them to do will always be ineffective from week to week.
  3. Is the coach adapting and improving when things are bad? There's a time to stay the course, but even if you know what you want to do, and it isn't showing up on the pitch, you need to adapt to get results. The line between persistent and obtuse can be a small thing.
  4. Is the team performing better or worse as time goes on? Changes made in training or personnel must show up in better results on the field, or they are useless.
  5. Is there a better option out there? If you're going to change the coach, you better have a strategy for what comes next.
  6. Are there mitigating circumstances, such as injuries, that might mean we're not seeing a true reflection of the performance of the team? Look, sometimes you're just unlucky, and it is stupid to make a huge change just because the breaks aren't going your way.
  7. Do we really have an accurate picture of how the team is performing? Similar to #6 above,but more of a caution about the danger of small sample sizes.
Based on the answers to the questions above, I would then summarize with the big question: Do you believe it is unlikely that this team will perform at an acceptable level in the future?
My answers at this time:
1. No.
2. Not yet, but let's keep watching this. The worst thing may be if Soehn is outsmarting himself.
3. Too soon to tell, but let's reconvene after Thursday.
4. Too soon to tell, but let's reconvene after Thursday.
5. Some people think so.
6. No.
7. Yes.

Based on the checklist, that's three things not in Soehn's favor (#s 5, 6, and 7) and one supporting him (#1). There are three undecided questions. With that, we come to the big question.

BIG QUESTION: Right now, I am still more hopeful about the season than despondent. We've had two league losses, but we've also seen some good play and good results (two international wins, one league).

So to summarize, it ain't time to start the SOEHN OUT!!11!!!1!eleventy!!!1! posts, but it ain't too early to think about what would need to happen to make that time arrive. And that, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks. My sense is that we get through this, that this is just one of those periodic phases. My concern is a voice in the back of mind saying of course, that's what you'd like to believe...


Debriefing for Match 13.03: At Real Salt LAke

Real Salt Lake 4 : 0 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

It's as bad as it looked.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "...instead of showing depth and versatility, United offered another dreary performance at Rice-Eccles Stadium and was embarrassed by Real Salt Lake, 4-0, in front of 13,193 observers.
The Desert News, James Edwards: "RSL prevailed by scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes and then twice more in the closing 15 minutes. "
The Salt Lake Tribune, Michael Lewis: "Beckerman scored twice, while strikers Fabian Espindola and Robbie Findley each added a goal as RSL handed United its worst loss in nearly four years, and its first 4-0 defeat in nearly seven. "
MLSNet, John Coon: "...in the 19th minute Kovalenko found Fabian Espindola with a long booming lob which he plunked down inside the box. Espindola controlled the ball and fired at the net from a sideways angle and his shot barreled past both Gonzalo Peralta and Carvallo and created a 2-0 lead for RSL. Kovalenko's performance seems all the more remarkable considering he was almost scratched from the starting lineup because of back spasms."
MLSNet, Scott McAlliste: "'We still have a long way to go,' said Soehn. 'It's unacceptable to go down like we did tonight. I constantly question the character of teams, and that character gets challenged not only from the first 11, but it's challenged through the whole roster.'"
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "There was plenty of blame to go around from the bad field surface to the misjudging of bounces all night long and Real Salt Lake was simply waiting in the weeds for United to make the mistakes they made all night long. "
DCSportsBox, Abram Fox: "United coach Tom Soehn inserted forward Santino Quaranta in place of Marc Burch for the second half in hopes of generating more offense to no avail. Rather, it was a Real Salt Lake second half sub who guaranteed the game’s outcome."
Behind the Badge, Doug Hicks: "Not our best effort tonight, to be sure. Kyle Beckerman scored twice and United suffered its worst defeat in regular season League play since a 1-5 loss in Dallas on July 24, 2004." [Note: You know it's bad when they sub Doug Hicks in for The Management]
The Edgell Supporters: "The Ben Cup may have already been put out of reach for another year. This is disgusting to me. My namesake cup, against one of the worst teams in the MLS, how could I go wrong?" [Note: The Ben Cup is now a more worthwhile trophy than the Atlantic Cup.]
Booked for Dissent, Dave Lifton: "I’m not going to lose too much sleep tonight over this result. Just like last year, it’s pretty clear that Tom Soehn wasn’t taking this game too seriously, or else he wouldn’t have put out the lineup he did..."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "...the United brass made the decision that it was acceptable for the team to lose this match...It does no one any good to have MLS teams 'take nights off' like DC did on Saturday. One hoped that would stay in the NBA..."
AYL Soccer, Aaron Bentley: "DC’s locker room was somber. When asked if playing so many games in the last few days had anything to do with his team’s loss, Jaime Moreno, stated, 'We don’t want to look for excuses.' He went on to say that today RSL proved it was hungrier for the win and that his team needed to prepare better."
RSLFM, FM: "And as has been adequately detailed elsewhere, this opponent can in no way be confused with DC United playing at full strength. They were noticeably lacking in terms of both fitness & roster selection."
The Fullback Files, Fullback: "Okay, I get that the 3-back system has been working pretty well as of late, but I've got a couple of questions. One--why was Mediate one of the back three? I get that we're making him a utility wide-man, and I can see him playing fullback, but why wouldn't you play Mediate on the wing with McTavish in the back? Not that Mediate made that many mistakes--I'm just curious. On to question two. Why go with the three backs when the surface encourages pump-and-dump over the top stuff? I understand the need to rest folks due to fixture congestion, but wouldn't Martinez' speed have been pretty helpful back there?"
DCUMD, Shatz: "This game was ugly, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a predictor of anything else that will happen this year. This is the second game this year where the offense has been anemic, but I'm not counting on that happening very often. Just like a lot of other people, I was expecting DC to come up soft in this game, but I'm also expecting them to shoot out of the gates against Columbus on Thursday. In fact, I'll go so far as to predict that Thursday's match will be the start of yet another early season DC United sprint into first place and a considerable lead ahead of the rest of the Eastern Conference."
Poplar Point Perspective, JCM: "Oh, holy shit! This was the worst performance by a DC United team since the 4-0 shellacking in the playoffs by Chicago in 2005. There was nothing redeeming about it. Nothing" [Note: Sometimes I avoid expletives. After Saturday? Not so much.]
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "My bigger fear? The team has no personality, no defining spirit: can the loss of Ben Olsen be over-estimated?"
RSL Malcontent, Donk: "...This game could have been much worse for DC..."
The Offside - D.C. United, jon: "BOOOOOOO."
The Far Post, Thaddeus Byron Aloysius Dopenhopper: "D.C. United announced today that Real Salt Lake will sponsor their jersey for all games played in the state of Utah. 'They totally own us in Utah,' explained United’s management 'so we thought we might as well get something for it.'" [Note: It's funny because it hurts.]

The Good

  1. Dema Kovalenko: C'mon, you know when we let him go that there would come a day. It just happened to be Saturday.
  2. Getting Rest: I don't argue the decision to give Gallardo, Martinez, Wells, and even to some degree Quaranta a breather. I wonder if he had to do it all at once, but hey, this is something we'll have to get used to. Rotation will be important especially later in the season, so let's get used to the bitter taste of that medicine right now.
  3. The end of RES?: Everytime I see that stadium, I think of My Cousin Vinnie... "The two Utes..."

The Bad

  1. Tactical Disaster: As I wrote in the First Impressions, I have no problem with key starters resting. I do have a problem thinking that Dyachenko is a one for one swap with Gallardo, or that Mediate is a one for one swap with Martinez. There is a time to blame players, but this one really feels like it falls at the feet of the coaching staff's decisions. Players are supposed to be the ones that decide the game, but there's no excuse handicapping them. I want to write a seperate post about something this game also illustrated, but I'll summarize it this way: You system is not your formation. Formations are tactical, systems strategic. Confusing the two results in games like we saw Saturday.
  2. Backline Organization: You can choose to excuse Carvallo the individual goals. That's fine. But the backline also looked woefully disorganized, which is not. Whether the key force on the backline is Martinez or Wells (or the byplay of the two combined), it is clear that someone was not in command. And that is inexcusable.
  3. Gonzalo P | Gonzalo M: From commenter RKE in the First Impressions post: "Martinez is the quieter Gonzalo, but he's essential. Those two work so well together, making up for each other's weakness. Paralta was only half there without him." Agreed 100%.
  4. "Burn the Tapes": I'm hearing this, even from people who I respect (or whose podcasts I respect, as the case may be.) This is a game worth getting mad over, if only so we don't pretend it didn't happen and do this again. Which we might. Not even next year, or at the end of the season, but in a few months when the schedule congestion accelerates. This is a warning shot fired directly across the bow.

Officiating Watch

It wasn't a poorly officiated match, but it wasn't a particularly good one either. I have two problems: Center official Richard Heron was inconsistent in his foul calling, and I got the sense that he was harsher on RSL than on United. I'm not about to let an official off the hook for calling things our way. His decision to award no extra time at the end of the game, simply to save United some embarrassment, is not in keeping with the laws of the game. I'm not saying it's likely, but if RSL is in a tiebreaker situation to make the playoffs with someone, and it comes to goal differential, might they have wanted another three minutes or so.

The more defensible call was the yellow to Rod Dyachenko, which I thought could have been a red. As I looked at it in real time, I think Rod was trying to play the ball, but it looked like both a "serious foul play" and potentially "violent conduct," both a player could be sent off for. The caution was given for a "tackle from behind" rather than what it really was -- a kick in the head. Looking at the Advice to Referees, my guess is that Richard Heron judged the foul to be "reckless" (12.3) but I would seriously have considered sending Dyachenko off under 12.33 for a serious foul play. His boot was very, very high.

Likert Scale Grade: 3 - Fair

Man of the Match

N/A. Merit awards to Fred and Clyde. Your goat is Tom Soehn.

Adjusted Results

No adjustment, though one could see a way clear to adding a fifth RSL goal if one wanted to. Still, I think the four they got is fair enough, and the duck egg for United stands. To date, United has an adjusted record of 1-2-0 with 5GF and 8GA for a -3 GD

Final Thoughts

This is not a game to pretend did not happen. This is a game to get angry about. Not because there wasn't a reason to throw the game, as Lifton or Stollar might argue. I can get that. But rather we should be angry because of our failure to learn. As much as we disparage formations like the 4-5-1, they have their use, and perhaps Saturday night made have made sense. Let our substitutes try and grind out a game. Fine. But what we did instead was put them in a situation where they were destined to be embarrassed. And that's a lesson we should not forget. It was a betrayal of our players. For the rest of this note, I turn it over to Howard Beale: "Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. All I know is that first you've got to get mad."

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12 April 2008

First Impressions - Real Salt Lake 4: 0 D.C. United

Remember what we said last week? The job of a manager is to put his team in the best position to win. And in that job, Tom Soehn failed this week. Against Pachuca, down two goals, he had to press to get goals. Playing three in the back made sense as a tactical change.

Against RSL, Tom Soehn makes a perfectly legitimate decision to give Gallardo and Martinez and Wells a break. However, given the work Gallardo has done on both sides on the ball, and the presence Martinez has been in the back line, and starting a keeper in his first game, the 3-4-3 formation made little sense. You simply didn't have the right personnel to execute the defensive responsibilities that formation required. Especially against a team that beat you over the top a year ago.

The first two goals, the goals that really put this game in RSL's win column, were both directly influenced by the tactical formation chosen by Tom Soehn. On the first goal, Dema Kovalenko takes advantage of the space afforded him and put a ball in to Kyle Beckerman. The line plays off Beckerman, worried about other runners getting behind them, so Beckerman does the job himself. In the second, a long ball over the top beats the defense. Forseeable? I think so. But Jason Kreis --and I know some RSL fans may not believe this, but I think it is true -- Jason Kreis outmanaged Tom Soehn in this game. Once he saw the situation on the field, he shifted his players to take advantage of it.

So yeah, this game was pretty awful. Especially when you consider that center official Richard Heron, if anything, shaded his calls towards United. I get the sense I'm just yelling at my computer screen now, so I better end this post. What a mess. What a complete mess.

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11 April 2008

On the Olympics, and Speech, and Tibet

I don't want to get into whether the United States should or should not boycott the Olympics in China. If my country decides to boycott the Olympics, then that's fine. If not, that's fine too. Just don't try and split the baby by only boycotting the opening ceremony. That's weak sauce.

No, the purpose of this post is to muse on the protests that are taking place around the torch relay. And furthermore, how the Chinese government is sending out signals that any athlete that says something about China, or Tibet, or whatever, is going to face repercussions.

This is not surprising. Only a year ago, when RSL played the Chinese National Team, there were some pretty cravenly actions taken by both the stadium staff and others to kick out Tibetan protesters. You can probably read about it in the archives of this blog. And once again, with our team qualifying for the Olympics, the situation may rise again.

Here's what I want to say. Let's say there's no boycott (and there really doesn't seem to be the spine for one right now). Then I hope the US Olympic team goes to China, and plays well. I hope they medal. But even if they don't, I hope one of them scores a goal, and has the courage to unveil a Free Tibet T-Shirt under his kit. I know that US Soccer may not like it. I know that even some US citizens may not like it, or feel that the United States and its citizens have little grounds to criticize any other country. I have a nuanced response to those people, but I'll just summarize it as "Whatever - hypocrisy is not the worst vice." The situation is the one the US U23 team is faced with, and an act of free speech in a land not known for one would make me prouder than a gold. I don't think it will happen. I'm sure the players will be lectured to no end about being "good guests." Screw it. I want it to happen. And if a player, or the US fans who make it to China manage to say something, it will be a small victory in a world that seems very dark most days.

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The Freezer for 11 April 2008

The US Soccer Fragility Index, known as the Freezer, is the anti-power poll. Each week, Oscar, Kinney, Bob and D have a frank discussion over email and chat to rank the most feeble, the most tenuous, and the overall weakest things in US Soccer, and we check our results with commenters in our pre-Freezer solicitation post. At least, that's how it's supposed to work. Like MLS, the spirit is noble if the execution is occasionally weak.

After a hiatus for the off-season, the Freezer returns. Naturally, we had to clean it out and defrost sections with an icepick, throwing out everything past its sell-by date. Hey, who put these half eaten Icee Pops in here?

Anyways, that means it's time to acknowledge some left-over business from last season. First, congratulations to the U.S. Nats, Red Bull New York, Kasey Keller, U.S. Referees, the Chicago Fire, and ESPN, all of whom we bring out of the Freezer. The Nats put together some good showings against difficult teams, RBNY fires Bruce Arena for Osorio (good move) and gets rid of their technical director, Kasey Keller at least has a team now, the Fire made the East finals, and ESPN reworks its line-up to try something new. All good stuff.

Still, that just means we have to fill up the freezer with new less-than-appetizing dishes. And voila, here we go.


How to Construct a Straw Man

I agree with the facts of this post, but I fine the tone off-putting. While I don't doubt that there are those who believe that early-season form would be an issue, I think most of us in DC-land have been pretty clear. Our mantra has always been "there are no moral victories" and part of that is denying any prebuilt excuse for the timing of any tournament. Perhaps the closest we've come for making an excuse was the altitude of the first leg at Pachuca, but even then it was one point among many.

So let me say this to Luis. Yes, sometimes writers are Diogenes with his lamp looking for one honest man, and sometimes you're part of the crowd at a hair metal concert lifting your lighter above your head. The points you make are far more typical for the second group. We all agree that the salary cap is a hindrance to international success, so don't go acting all indignant and righteous. Because it's not that special.

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10 April 2008

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

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

Six Word Novel Recap

A classic match that United lost.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Officiating Watch

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

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

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

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

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

Man of the Match

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

Adjusted Results

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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09 April 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 2 : 1 Pachuca C.F.

Aggregate - D.C. United 2 : 3 Pachuca C.F.
DC United Eliminated from CONCACAF Champion's Cup

That was easily one of the most entertaining and fun matches I have seen in a long time. It was a game that managed to be wonderfully entertaining for all 90 minutes, that had chances for both teams, that had key defensive plays from both back lines, that had midfield combinations that made you smile with all being right in the world. It was, quite simply, one of the best games as an entity I have seen in some time.

In the end, United won the day, but lost the war. At nil-nil it was a wonderful to watch. Tom Soehn did what a manager had to do: He made the moves to give his team the chance to deliver. And there were chances. Emilio's touch wide of the post, the penalty Fred earned but was not awarded, the various bombs by Pachuca players just over the crossbar... Before Pachuca earned the first goal of the night, United had three very good chances to put the ball in the net, and came away empty. When Pachuca scored, putting themselves up three goals, I felt that United would fold the tent after all the effort they had put forward.

But they didn't. They ran like hell. Everyone did. They kept pressuring. Yes, the final ten minutes felt a bit frantic, but that's when they finally broke through. First on Dyachenko's goal (of which 50% of the credit should go to Bryan Namoff, who stepped up, eluded one defender, and then sent Fred in on goal before Fred slotted the ball to Rod). Then on Niell's goal (which was all Fred's touch. You might argue he was trying to control the ball and it got away from him, but I think I saw him look to locate Niell, and that's enough for me to call it intentional.) They fought to the end.

The problem was that too much of this story was written in Mexico. United had to play the way they did, and take the risks they did as time went on, and that invited exactly the kind of goal Pachuca eventually converted. The game was lost then, as we always feared it might be. It is almost sad that we had to make it close so we were reminded of the fact.

Still, I am proud of the effort I saw tonight from D.C. United. They played well. Well enough to earn the result they did, perhaps even well enough to have forced this series to extra time. This is not a moral victory, but this result tonight showed me more than the four goals against Toronto did.

Feel free to comment for the debrief. My sense is the man of the match is Bryan Namoff (though I would love to hear your recommendations). Center official Jose Aguilar was pretty poor, but somehow managed not to ruin the match. And as for the bad, I only have one element I'm planning to talk about in the debrief, but I'm always curious.

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I am pleased to announce that The Freezer will be returning to The DCenters for a second season. We'll try and make it a recurring feature each Thursday, and this year, to allow for greater participation, we'll call for submissions on the Freezer each Wednesday. While I certainly have ideas on where to rank things, I'd like to take into account your thoughts on the matter. Right now, Mo Johnston, Alexi Lalas, the New England Revolution, Frankie Yallop, Carlos Ruiz, DC Stadium Plans, and others are all candidates to make appearances in the debut of the Freezer this year, but feel free to include your suggestions in the comments for a Freezer entry.

Now, two days ago commenter Nick asked the following provocative question, and I will reprint his comment in full:


I would like for you to weigh in on this topic if you get a chance:

DCU is a four-time MLS champ, playing in a decent sports town with a large population. DCU has been successful on and off the feel, and has a huge presence, including media, within the community. DCU puts out a great product every year. DCU's front office, considered the best year-in and year-out works its ass off and achieves season ticket sales in the 9.000 range.

Seattle FC has no team, no players, no wins, no SSS, and a front office that just began working. Seattle FC will not even play a game until a year from now. Seattle has sold more than 13,000 season tickets.

Philly has no team, etc, two years out, etc. Philly has done no advertising. Philly has sold more than 5,000 season tickets.

Could you weigh in on this and try to offer some explanation as to why we struggle to get 10K season tix and Philly gets half of that 2 years out without spending a dollar on advertising?

That's a decent question Nick. Commenter Skippy in the same thread noted that there is some excitement about a new team, but also concurred to a larger point: "I remember looking at RFK attendance halfway through last year and I think DC's attendance was always 2nd or third, which isn't lousy, but considering DCU's success, I know what you mean."

Now, full disclosure. For the first time in a few years, I did not renew a season ticket package. This is primarily because my paying occupation is sending me around the country more, and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to use all my tickets. But there's another reason why I didn't renew my season tickets: I felt that it wasn't something I had to do in order to attend games and support the team. See, there's a difference between season tickets and regular attendance. Right now, the only way expansion team supporters can do anything real to support their team is to buy season tickets. Quite simply, there are no games for them to attend and sing and chant and cheer. So with only one option to take, they're taking it. But I don't need season tickets to support the team, I can just walk up to the box office, usually day of game, and grab a decent ticket. RFK is cavernous, even with only the lower bowl available, and I'm not worried about getting a place in the stadium. And once I'm there, how does it matter how I got there? The supply of tickets is huge, and while our demand is strong, it doesn't really create a huge incentive for me to cough up the cash for a package. This might change in the utopian future of the Soccer Specific Stadium, but who knows? And given that United draws decent attendance even without the season ticket base of an expansion franchise, I think others may feel the same way. We know the tickets are going to be there whenever we want them.

Now, I do recognize that this approach may indirectly harm the team in terms of estimating cash flows. They can bank season ticket sales in advance in a way you can't with walk-up sales. And I do feel slightly guilty about this, but at the same time it's so much of a theoretical problem (I mean, they're still going to get my money, it's just going to affect their models) that it does not really change my position on the matter.

So that's why I think United's season ticket sales may seem to lag, and once the SSS is up, perhaps they will see an increase (in fact, almost certainly). Then demand suddenly is constrained by supply, providing a greater incentive to part with the cash in advance. And for expansion teams, their fans don't know how to judge demand with seating capacity, and are naturally excited about being able to support their team right now. Good for them.

Now, if United's attendance starts suffering, we may have to reconsider.

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08 April 2008

Speaking Truth From Power

Do you remember BobbyBoswell.Com back when it was all DC related? Do you remember thinking "Hey, Bobby's fine, but The Management is the true star of this blog" and wondering who that pseudonymous personality might be? Well, finally, D.C. United realized that true star was The Management all along, and now The Management has its own "official" blog at BehindTheBadge. And not a moment too soon.

Now, pretty much every other D.C. United blog has plugged Behind The Badge except this blog, though we did blogroll it in the place previously occupied by Mr. Boswell. And so last week I get a quick email from a Mr. Sheldon asking if I'd send a little love over. And I say, "Sure, I'll do that, provided I'm in the right frame of mind to give love to the Official Blog of D.C. United-- you know like a win or something."

And lo, the team performs as it did on Saturday.

Which means it is time to devote The Love (TM) to Behind the Badge as the official blog of D.C. United. It's got a great design and an emerging voice (something so many other official team blogs lack.) Will it work as a good marketing tool? I don't know, but I know I'm going to be reading daily, and hoping for it to succeed. It's a tough job, since I can say whatever the hell I like (in whatever language I choose to use) but Mr. Sheldon has to keep in mind corporate policy and image control and what-not. So I am pleased to see that he is none-the-less writing something that sounds like something other than pure PR Copy. Yes, there are plugs to sell tickets, but using your access to get NCAA final predictions? That's good stuff there. It's not going to be dry, which is always the fear about official type blogs. And it looks like it's going to be informative as well. What more can you ask for?

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Debriefing for Match 13.02: Toronto FC

D.C. United 4 : 1 Toronto FC

Six Word Novel Recap

History and Passion beat just passion.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "D.C. United vented its frustration against Toronto FC, Major League Soccer's worst team last season, in a 4-1 win..."
The Washington Post, Steven Goff: "Santino Quaranta was exceptional in his first start since returning to the club, high-priced playmaker Marcelo Gallardo scored his first goal and Jaime Moreno returned from a nearly month-long absence to add another strike. And because the result was barely in doubt after Kevin Harmse's red card left Toronto shorthanded for the final 68 minutes, Soehn was able to remove three starters in the second half and rest them for Wednesday's second leg of the Champions' Cup semifinals..."
CBC Sports: "Maurice Edu salvaged a touch of pride with a late goal off a nice header to make it 4-1."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "United came out with attacking intent right from the opening whistle and were rewarded almost instantly as Luciano Emilio grabbed his team's first league goal of 2008 with less than two minutes gone."
Behind the Badge, The Management: "...good, solid first MLS win for the team tonight. Obviously, Toronto had to deal with an early red card, but the guys managed the game well."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "After that initial burst United had a few more chances to put away the visitors but didn't convert. Toronto FC then managed to get themselves into the match putting together a few minutes of bothersome possession that resulted in a number of dangerous chances that Zach Wells did well to save. First was a point blank header from six yards out from Jeff Cunningham in the 15th minute and in the 18th minute he dove to his left to stop a well struck 30 yard free kick from Jim Brennan."
DCist, Matt Borque: "United Coach Tom Soehn inserted Moreno for defender Marc Burch. The move paid off, as United's midfield combined with more fluidity; at one point they strung 29 passes together. Their success in the midfield afforded them more confidence as they pushed forward, and in the 52nd, they used their swagger (along with their man advantage) to tally their third goal."
Off-Wing Opinion, Kris Herrell: "Moreno scored …. wait for it….. from open play, to make it 4-0. Wells showed his Pachuca positioning to give up a late goal, but the results were not in danger."
DC Sports Box, Abram Fox: "More importantly than adding to D.C.’s already-lengthy lead, Moreno showed no ill effects from the strained hamstring that sidelined him earlier in the season while demonstrating the ball-handling skills that make him so valuable."
Bleacher Report, Tim Yu: "Talk about two different cities moving in two different directions."
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "Now, let’s not take away from what was a very good United performance, but Toronto was unbelievably bad at the back."
DCUMD, Shatz: "If 'steals' was a stat category in soccer like it is in basketball, Simms would probably lead the league. Had a few dangerous shots too." [Note: While I agree with the sentiment, what usually impresses me about Simms are his choices. He knows when to step up, and when to try and contain his marker. Taking the pass the other way is nice, but it sucks if you miss and suddenly red shirts are pouring into the box.]
The Edgell Supporters: "Niell lost his position on the depth chart to Quaranta. Not just because Quaranta got the start, but because Quaranta did some holding and creating, and Niell still isn't pulling the trigger. I'm still rooting for Niell to do something though. "
QuarterVolley, I-66: "Saturday’s win may not have been perfect, as I really would have liked to maintain the clean sheet, but I don’t think we need to split that hair in particular. A three goal victory, whether it’s 3-0, 4-1, or 5-2 is something to smile about, and smile I am."
The Fullback Files: "Giving up that late goal sucked, but TFC deserved at least a goal. They were fairly wasteful with some good chances, and our defense allowed far too much to get through to Wells for my comfort, particularly when we went up a man"
An American's View..., Brian Garrison: "If we play against Pachuca, they way we played against Toronto FC, we stand a much better chance of climbing out of that hole and making it to the CONCACAF Champions Cup finals, but we still have work to do."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Gallardo needs deliver passes faster, both in release and pace, but he sees the field and makes terrific passes into space. Assuming it's still just a matter of learning his teammates (and visa versa), Gallardo will be able to distribute into space and onto runs. Got the goal-monkey off his back, not that it was an issue yet."
Mistake by the Lake, StillKicking: "Forgive me, but I do not have the heart to go through Saturday's 4-1 loss to DC United with what passes for full analysis around here. If John Carver is a coach with a sense of decency he would not allow his players to watch a replay of this game. Best to treat it as a game already forgotten."
The Offside: Toronto FC, Nicholas: "The Lowly reds would have been further behind the 8 ball if it was not for the great play of Sutton. ( That is the only positive in the game)"
Joe Soccer Fan: "A red card to Harmse for a bap rep! The foul was undisciplined, but considering he was straight-armed on the play, I didn't think it warranted a sending off." [Note: This is probably not the same JoeSoccerFan most of you know around here. It's a different one.]

The Good

  1. Win the Easy Way: I'm not saying we're going to beat Pachuca because we rested our starters after getting an early lead. I'm just saying that I'm glad we were able to do so, and then did it. United has, on occasion, played down to its competition. They did not do so in this match, and that's important.
  2. Spreading the Honors: Everyone who should score, other than Niell, does score. And at least Niell gets an assist, though I agree with everyone who wonders why he won't shoot the damn ball. Winning is nice, but if it were two goals from McTavish, one from Simms, and one from Martinez, it wouldn't be as reassuring as when your goal scorers tally.
  3. Crowd: Good noise. Very good noise.
  4. Mr. Wells: Yes, he couldn't keep the clean sheet. But far more important was his save on Jeff Cunningham in the 20th minute. That was not, as I think some said, a ball headed at him. Close to him? Yes, but not at him. And Cunningham got the ball down, forcing Wells to get low and dive to his right quickly. He did it. A save he should make, but not an easy save. Call it a save of moderate difficulty. But I've seen softer goals given up.

The Bad

  1. Unpowered Play: Everyone is absolutely correct in that the worst stretch for United was the first ten minutes after they went up a man. Part of this might be explained by Toronto suddenly realizing that they had been giving far too much space to United by not simply covering their men, and once they started gambling a little more, it payed off. Part of it was also, I think, a bit of complacency.
  2. The Transitioning Sixth: There are a few areas where everyone knows an errant pass is bad. The defensive third is often cited. However, I think it's almost as bad to have an errant pass in the attacking half of the middle third. At this point, players are starting to join an attack and make runs, the transition is really in play. An errant pass here, as opposed to the attacking third, and there isn't as much space for recovery. And it is here that United is still not as smart with the ball as I would prefer. They got away with some balls simply because Toronto was playing well off the man in this area, but this is the same area where Pachuce will tighten their marking, and potentially be deadly on a counter.

Officiating Watch

First, let me say that I feel, contra the TFC blogs, that center ref Mark Geiger did nothing wrong with the sending off of Kevin Harmse in the first half. It was a dangerous tackle, with the studs over the ball and into the shin at an angle that could cause significant injury, and a tackle which has been a point of focus on the international level. If you read this blog (and even if you don't agree all the time, you should be reading every day), you know that there seems to be two issues that consistently cause wonder in MLS officiating circles - the tendency to ignore the international standards, and the focus on man management. The red card is consistent with international standards. Now, you might argue that a yellow and a stern lecture was more appropriate. And that would also have been a completely legitimate decision by Mr. Geiger. However, Mark Geiger does not have the reputation of the Brian Hall, and you don't earn respect without having established yourself over time. Given that he'd already issued one yellow, I think the red was the right move. The game could have been outside of all management shortly, and he did the right thing. Hell, he could have given a few more cautions to both teams, but overall I am not displeased with this effort.

Kyle McCarthy gets this exactly right in his column this week. He notes that the zero tolerance policy is a positive thing for MLS:

In the long term, it’s a gain. The new policy could mean one less impulsive challenge. It could mean a little extra space for those flair players in midfield. It could mean an extra split second of hesitation or doubt before lunging in with a careless tackle. It could mean one less severe injury.

In fact, it reminds me of something that I saw on For the Integrity of Soccer. When Landon Donovan was asked why he jaws at the officials, he responded (paraphrasing here) "Because they let me." Similarly, when you start allowing dangerous tackles of the borderline variety, you shouldn't be surprised when things get worse and more frequent. For a long time, I felt that MLS officials looked upon US Center Backs and thought "Well, they're physical, so let's call it looser." But that is a disservice to the game, especially for a center back who might harbor thoughts of an international career. They lose technique to power, a dangerous tradeoff at any position.

What worries me is that to be truly effective, this standard should be, must be, maintained for the entire season. If it is just to send a message early in the season, I can tell you that MLS players are smart enough to figure out they can get away with more in July. If called consistently, this is the right move for the league to make.

Man of the Match

Santino Quaranta. To answer a question, all is still not forgiven. But if he's playing close to this well in August, then yes, all is fine. And really, I can't ask for a better performance. One thing I really liked was how well he's seeing the field right now. I can recall thinking "Hey, Tino's got skills" in the past at moments. I don't recall thinking "Hey, Tino is really anticipating the game well." And that is a huge surprise.

Adjusted Results

I don't think either team was overly hurt by poor calls or luck tonight. Sure, there was that one crossbar that Toronto hit, but that's a low percentage shot at best, so I don't think we adjust the score for that one. Similarly, Emilio's shot off the crossbar resulted in a goal anyways, so I think the final score is the right one. 4-1 stands. Taking into account the previous game (where we adjusted by adding a goal to both Kansas City and United), and United has an adjusted record of 1-1-0 with 5GF and 4GA for a +1GD

Final Thoughts

United did all that we could ask for them to do in this game. That is pleasing. And yes, we're all on edge about Pachuca, simply because the task is enormous. But after the Kansas City and Pachuca games, I was ready to close to book on the CONCACAF Chamion's Cup. Any hope of advancement seemed a very long shot indeed. Now they're still difficult odds, but surmountable ones. Pachuca will not give United the time DC had, but United showed good passing that didn't rely on the amount of time as well. If United can find the same positions off the ball as they did against Toronto, and play as quickly or quicker with accuracy, then I think United has a shot. Not a long shot, not a sure thing... Call it a struggle. But doable in a way I wasn't feeling long ago.

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