21 September 2008

First Impressions - L.A. Galaxy 5 : 2 D.C. United

The Jordan rules for the NBA were well now. But with Donovan and Beckham on the Galaxy, it is perhaps fitting that MLS adds its own twist, going for the more extreme version. Enter the LA Starfucker rules...

If it were the red card to Burch alone, that would be one thing. Burch probably was guilty of a foul, but given that you see the same thing along the touchline and goal line in every match, a yellow would have been harsh, let alone a red. It came after a yellow to Clyde Simms for a tackle on Donovan, which was harsh yellow. What's more, Terry Vaughn was not applying the same standard to both sides, which meant the officiating was utterly, utterly fucked for this entire match.

I'm not saying DC gets a win or even a draw if the officiating is a bit more rational. Hell, L.A. certainly could still have put five in the net given that our central defense is a gaping maw of suck, and that Clyde Simms was easily outmatched by Donovan (Clyde was burned on Donovan's first goal, and lost on the second). But I do know that after Terry got a few choice words from Beckham, he folded what was left of his spine into a small paper sack and decided to pass around cards like cucumber sandwiches in a Wilde play (or perhaps just Stoppard's Travesties).

There's more to be said about United, but accepting the fact that we're a mediocre at best team makes it difficult to judge. How do you evaluate against mediocre? If the team's upper limit was higher, it is easier to be critical, but if a 100% United effort is an average output at best, what more can be said? This team was better, despite the scoreline, than the Saprissa team. But our defense is shoddy, our attack is patchwork, and there's just not much there to be hopeful for anymore.

Your goat is Simms. Merit awards to Khumalo and Guerrero.

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17 September 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.D.01: Deportivo Saprissa

D.C. United 0 : 2 Saprissa

Six Word Novel Recap

Pity those sent out to fail.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Undermanned because of injuries and playing with only 10 men for 50 minutes, D.C. United fell 2-0 to Costa Rican champion Deportivo Saprissa at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night."
The Washington Post, the Goffather: "With the injuries and 12 MLS and Champions League games scheduled over six weeks, Soehn could not utilize his best lineup last night. The back line and central midfield remained the same and top scorer Luciano Emilio made his first start in two weeks, but Soehn also inserted rookie Ryan Cordeiro onto the front line, newly acquired Thabiso Khumalo on the right flank, rookie Craig Thompson on the left and Zach Wells in goal. "
SoccerAmerica, Ridge Mahoney: "United contributed to its own demise when Devon McTavish waded into a midfield tussle that prompted referee Marco Rodriguez to call a foul on Santino Quaranta. McTavish barreled in and kicked the ball as well as Alexander Robinson, apparently after Rodriguez had blown the whistle, prompting the official to send him off and caution Quaranta as well in the 35th minute."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "While the decision mystified United's players and coaches, their frustration was tempered by fatalism as the team ponders its long-running string of misfortune. Despite the Costa Ricans' numerical advantage, D.C. hauled themselves back into the game in the second half, only to see Saprissa netminder Keilor Navas produce two scintillating saves to deny well-hit free kick blasts by Marc Burch."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "It was plain to see why Saprissa are 5-time champions of CONCACAF with their abundant skill and speed all over the field. United were no match and only after falling behind by 2-0 early in the second half did United begin to attack the Saprissa goal."
Goal.Com, Shane Evans: "A bright spot for the home team was the play of recently signed Thabiso Khumalo who showed spark and dedication down the flanks. He also played well defensively, tracking back to the ball on numerous occasions, most of the time all over the pitch."
Caught in Possession, Charles Boehm: "...it makes me angry at league suits who treat the first touches, challenges, hard running etc. of these living, breathing human bodies like just another digit in an equation, a vector on a spreadsheet alongside capital investment, tax incremental financing, advertising revenue and the like. "
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "United never once stood a chance of winning last night’s match. Nearly thirty percent of this ostensibly Major League team was made up players too inexperienced to even be described as “spare parts.”"
DCUMD, Shatz: "The league needs to set its priorities straight. If the priority is still to make the league and the teams profitable as soon as possible, then I understand the cap restrictions, but then why play so many damn games? If the priority is make the league better respected internationally, then the league needs to give the teams more incentive to try to do so in international tournaments, instead of just rolling out the reserves, and needs to give the teams the tools (cap space, increased roster spots) to do it. "
The Fullback Files, Fullback: "...let's address that "built for international competition" issue a bit. It seems funny that the FO's emphasis has been on success on the international stage, and yet so far we've (1) dropped three matches at home in SuperLiga and (2) pretty much sacrificed our Champions' League advancement for an MLS playoff push. I've got a couple of thoughts on that. First, it seems that SuperLiga and the CCL both fell prey to the injury crisis. An injury crisis that's now almost entering its third month! Ridiculous. If I may, I'd like to make the humble suggestion that perhaps we sink some of Gallardo's $1.9 million into fitness staff. I know, I know, it's all MLS's fault for the pathetic size of rosters and the salary cap and blah, blah, blah. Whatever. The fact is, any craftsman knows you've got to take care of your tools if you want to get the job done."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "I'm fighting the urge to be reasonable. I'm fighting the urge to give United the benefit of a doubt. I'm fighting the urge to excuse another dismal international failure through the evocation of rinkydinkism, the belief that United's lameness is forgivable by dint of its financial constraints (and concurrent rube's pride at personal loyalty to such a rinkydink institution). I'm fighting and losing."

The Good

  1. Giving it all: I don't disagree with Tom Soehn's comments that the team put out its all. While I can complain about any number of giveaways, botched passes, and meandering moments of possession, every player on this team who started went out and gave a good effort. They did not surrender, they did not roll over. They just weren't cumulatively any good.
  2. Zach Wells: If you want to be cruel, you can say he was slow getting over the line on the first goal, which ignores the fact that his view was obscured when Marc Burch lost the ball at the top of the box during what should have been a defensive clearence. Other than that, he did make two big saves, and only had one "Moment of Panic" when he completely misjudged coming off his line to take out a through ball. The most recent starts for Wells have been, really, not that bad.

The Bad

  1. Devon MacTavish Sees Red: Yes, the red card was harsh, but not undeservedly harsh. If the whistle blows, and you take out someone's legs, red is a completley legitimate outcome. It doesn't matter if you didn't hear the whistle. It doesn't matter if you took out the legs softly, like a kitten marking someone's shins. It's a red, and even if it had happened in the run of play, it would have been a yellow.
  2. D.C. United Contingency Planning, Defensive: Let's say a few things about injuries and forced subsitutions. The idea is that you'd like to have at least one credible player extra for each position. Tino has actually managed to do well once Gallardo went out. It's early, but Khumalo has done well as the third option after Jaime and Emilio. Vide and Guerrero have done well filling in for Fred and Olsen. But on defense... well, we've got nothing. Right now MacTavish and Burch are not particularly great CB options, and Burch is playing out of position for the position he usually plays out of (please, diagram that sentence). MacTavish should be a last resort, not a starter. And right now, we have one defensive injury that is forcing two difficult decisions in the center of defense. That's simply not acceptable.
  3. The worst successful season ever: As I said, any season that you get silverware is a success, but this may be the most pyrrhic victory in United's season long campaigns ever. Reading the blogs, you get the sense that people are finally losing it. It may be bad luck, and injuries, and roster restrictions from MLS, but it has finally come due. You can play above your head for only so long.

Officiating Watch

N/A for international matches, but I will say that it was interesting to see what a very, very tightly officiated game looked like. It was consistently tight, as well. This is almost the referee I think that would benefit United in league play, provided United had their starters. Just something to keep in mind before blasting away.

Likert Scale Rating: N/A

Final Thoughts

I write first impressions posts, in part, to capture the moment of feeling just after a game ends, and to examine if that feeling changes. Also, to force myself to write something, anything, on every game.

I was angry last night, and after writing the First Impressions post, it was a bit cathartic. Okay, not really. Anger has been replaced with sadness. An overwhelming feeling of "So, this is what it has come to for this team." A team that stitches the word "TRADITION" on the back of their jerseys, a tradition that includes credible efforts in the CONCACAF Champion's Cup, instead decided to play the tactical retreat card. It may be sensible, but how can this not be galling? How can you possible be reasonable after this? If this match doesn't upset you, at some level, then I credit your powers of zen-like imperturbability.

I wrote earlier that this team reminded me more and more of the 2005 L.A. Galaxy. And that's a best case scenario. This season, even if United manages an MLS Cup win, is not a great season. It might be a testament to grit, or determination, or duct tape improvisation, but to place it in the TRADITION of the great United teams is to dishonor those teams.

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16 September 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 0 : 2 Deportivo Saprissa

I will never be ashamed of being a D.C. United fan.

I have never been ashamed of a D.C. United team.

However, I am ashamed at this game. Not even at the players, and how they played it, but rather ashamed that it has come to this. With a home match that is crucial to United getting out of the group stage of the CONCACAF Champion's League, D.C. United put out a line-up more suitable for the opening rounds of the U.S. Open Cup. You might even argue that Tom Soehn didn't really have good options, that he had to focus on keeping a rotation for the MLS league matches and a playoff bid, but that still means that this team that brought in Gallardo for international aspirations is now sacrificing everything. And if you want to argue that right now D.C. United needs to keep people fresh for points in the league, then perhaps they should have gotten 10-15 points in the first ten matches of this year, as opposed to 9. That might have made things a little easier at this point, no? Every game matters...

As I said, I don't begrudge any player their individual performance in this match, but it was hardly a team. These players didn't know where each other were, and when they did they couldn't always get a pass out in the right area. They were outclassed by Saprissa at almost every position on the field. They were sacrificed like Nick Van Sicklen against Pumas in 2005. Despite that, they still managed with 10 men to generate some good chances on goal: Clyde Simms header, the two Marc Burch free kicks... that wasn't bad kids.

If I do have a problem with a player, it is Devon for getting sent off. Go ahead and make the argument that the red was harsh. Really, I understand where you're coming from. It doesn't matter. Apparently Martin Kove walked up to Devon after the referee had halted play and said "Sweep the leg." And while you might have given a yellow, it was such a blatant challenge to the order of the game that I can see the red as a fair, if tough, decision. It was insanely stupid.

Still, I am ashamed of what happened in this match. Ashamed on behalf of the fans who were more dedicated than I and got out and paid money to sit in the stands, only to see United field the reserves. Ashamed on behalf of the players who were stranded in a situation that primed them to fail.

This match was a betrayal, and it's just a matter of figuring out who the traitors are. Was it Tom Soehn for putting out this line-up and having this team in a point where we're scrounging for points for a playoff run? Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper for getting so many of the early season acquisitions wrong? Lady Luck for damning us with injuries to Olsen, Peralta, Vide, Gallardo, Guerrero, Emilio, and Fred recently? The League with its unmanageable roster rules when it comes to international competition? Pour a shot for each of them, and down them all, and maybe it'll make tonight feel better. Or, at least, more difficult to remember in the morning.

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13 September 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 2 : 2 F.C. Dallas

This is a frustrating way to drop two points that were well within grasp. United had a 2-1 lead, and looked marginally the better side. Still, Dallas was finding moments of slicing through the defense, and so it was that Eric Avila slipped down the left side of the defense and send the ball outside of the diving Crayton to Rocha, and United found themselves settling for one point instead of taking all three.

Still, I suppose, it's important to remember that if Zach Wells was in goal, United loses this game. It's not much in the way of comfort, but it is something. What I find somewhat mysterious was the final substitution of Dyachenko for Guerrero. Guerrero can actually provide some defense on the flank, he's been showing more in every game. Rod... not so much. Why not sub in someone more defensive minded? Let's take a look at the bench:

Cordeiro, Doe, and Thompson. Yikes. Okay, so that explains it -- there isn't any defensive depth to sub in and help lock the game down. Which is pretty damning. At this point, Perralta and Vide were scratches, but Pat Carroll and Mike Zaher were both unavailable? What would have happened had Martinez or Namoff gone down early?

Which says something. Even with new acquisitions, the need for defensive depth has never been so clearly demonstrated as in this match. It cost us two points today. And, perhaps, a playoff spot in the future.

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07 September 2008

First Impressions - San Jose Earthquakes 2 : 1 D.C. United

So Moreno is hanging out with Butch and Sundance, and Emilio's hurt, and I'm thinking, "Well, with Crayton in goal and the steadying presence of Bryan Namoff, Peralta and the new infusion of energy from Joe Vide, perhaps we can eek out a goal on a counter while keeping San Jose at nil." Except, of course, we have neither Namoff nor Vide nor Peralta, and Martinez was clearly watching his "Best of Facundo Erpen" highlight reel. Well then, perhaps some creativity in the midfield from Fred? No, he's gone too? Well Gallardo is back. Sort of. And Tino has been playing well... and... we're going to get killed, aren't we?

And to be fair, San Jose did everything they had to do. They got up two goals, and were almost on the verge of turning this into a rout. One more goal from either O'Brien or Huckerbee, and I think San Jose could have put up five on us. But instead, United kept trying to withstand their own mistakes, and San Jose's occasional surges, and claw their way back. Rod Dyachenko, who really I rarely talk about except to talk of how useless he is... well, he had a good game. Really. So did Tino. And right now I'm higher of Zaher than McTavish (of course, I'm vindictive that way. When the analytical part of the mind kicks in, I realize that Martinez caused the first goal, but Zaher didn't help to cover the second run into the box.)

So United lost. And the rest of the season will not be an easy fight for the playoffs. Craig Thompson was perfectly adequate, if not exactly good, coming on for Francis Doe, who was also mediocre in the same way. Ryan Cordeiro, Pat Carroll, and Mike Zaher made good use of their time, the same way some bit actors on Law and Order actually manage to make you remember their acting while someone like Roy Scheider or Michael York chews the scenery. Ivan Guerrero and Luis Crayton continue to demonstrate that they were good acquisitions (you can fault Crayton a bit on the second goal, where it seems he was fooled by a bouncing changeup of a shot.)

I will say this: Frank Yallop has proven exactly how good a coach he is. He's worked San Jose from a joke to a threat in half a year, something that RSL is just now becoming. He knows how to shape a team. And whatever he paid Mo Johnston for Darren Huckerby, it was a bargain, as Huckerby has now had great games every time I've seen him on TV (which, admittedly, is only twice now, but the stats from the other games make it seem like that's enough to get the picture.)

It's a loss. It sucks. But unless we fired Tom Soehn and replaced him with George A. Romero, this team was doomed simply because of the losses of personnel, and the fact that San Jose is a better team than either Chivas or RSL were in their first seasons. So we've got two goals right now: Make the playoffs (doable) and make it out of the Champions' League group (also doable). Give me those things, and we'll call the season decent enough, right?

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06 September 2008

What should Coach Soehn say at halftime?

I'm a bit behind at halftime on TiVo. But what can Coach say to the team at halftime that is down 1-0 with no offense on the field?? What good is defense at this point?

I'm brainstorming:
1. "Martinez - push forward at will." Thompson for Doe is confusing me.
2. "Simms - shoot from anywhere." It is like a 10% chance.
3. "Guerrero - stop passing. Just shoot." In the first half he played a brilliant ball to Dyachenko and it if it weren't for replay... ugh, OK, I guess it wasn't as bad as it looked in real time.
4. "I know he missed several easy chances in the first half, but please don't let Huckerby
embarrass us in the second half."
5. "Rod - hit the showers; we'll play with 10 men."

Is this really a 5-5-0?

03 September 2008

First Impression - D.C. United 2 : 1 Charleston Battery

D.C. United Wins the U.S. Open Cup

Well, all along I said the U.S. Open Cup was an important trophy for United to win. Okay, except for that time when I said that I wanted them to start reserves so we could keep a focus on the season. Or the other time when I called it the least important trophy we could win this year. Or...

Okay, I was wrong. The fact is that with any season you get to add a major domestic trophy (even though I admittedly rank it third on the list) to your stash can not be considered a failure of a season. The bonus of international play makes it sweeter, and even worth winning. This may end being the least successful of D.C. United's successful seasons, but it doesn't matter. The fact is the team won something. Not (yet) the international success that this team was supposedly built for. That won't matter when United's website has a graphic saying "Now the winner of 13 major trophies."

But the fact is United came out for the win this game, and earned it. Wholeheartedly. They even dealt with a referee who gave them every reason not to play physically (I personally thought the cards issued to both Simms and Martinez were incorrect, since I thought both were fair challenges.) They played through Charleston's shots with forearms. They kept tackling all night. They did not play perfectly, and Charleston could have gotten a goal or two against the run of play, had not one post been nicely placed. United didn't finish their chances, but they got just enough of them. And that, at the end of the day, is what I wanted to see. United won this game with skill, with passion, with drive, and yes, a bit of luck. And what more can you ask for?

Ah, right. This:

Yes, that will do nicely. You can drink Whisky or Coffee out of it. That's one useful cup.

(Image shamelessly stolen from WashPost)

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CONCACAF Champions League - what a shame for MLS so far.

Much like the Open Cup, I wouldn't be surprised if the New England Revolution did NOT want to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League, so as to focus on the playoffs and MLS Cup. But its pathetic that the two teams who topped their respective divisions last year, were bounced by teams from Panama and T&T.

For all the crowing about MLS being a top regional league, its nigh on inexcusable to have teams knocked out at this stage. In the near future, the league must address the limits it places on roster size, and the number of games some teams are asked to play - let's start by canceling SuperLiga. I'd also like to see them take a break during FIFA international dates so that teams aren't forced to play without players who are called up by their national teams.

Out of Their (Champions) League - Goal - Soccer - New York Times Blog
Both New England and Chivas, like several others in M.L.S. (D.C. United and Houston) have been involved in a number of competitions this year. For New England and Chivas, that list includes the regular M.L.S. season, SuperLiga, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Concacaf Champions League. Fixture clutter has come to M.L.S. and it is especially insidious because the teams have limited rosters that are further constricted by an odious salary budget that hogties coaches and puts incredible strains on the players.

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