29 April 2009

April 2009 D.C. United Debrief

March 2009: 0-0-2 (2pts, 1p/g, 3GF, 3GA, 0GD, 1.5 gf/g, 1.5ga/g)
April 2009: 2-1-1 (7pts, 1.75p/g, 6GF, 5GA, +1GD, 1.5 gf/g, 1.25ga/g)

We're going to chunk every month of the MLS Season, to see what, if any, insight we can derive from examining a series of games rather than focusing on an individual game. So let's begin...

What Have We Learned?

  • United has more talent than I thought they did. I will admit that I expected almost nothing from our draft, so the positive contributions of 2009 draft picks Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace combined with the work from N'Sulu (new signing), Jacobson (2008 draft pick), and Jakovic (new signing) have pleasently been a surprise. My feeling was a new three man back line would take significant time to work the kinks out. There have been kinks, but United has not been victimized for the 2 goals a game I though we would see. Add in the attacking contributions, and suddenly this team can at least give the illusion of depth.
  • United made a smart move in releasing Francis Doe for Avery John. It may not be a move that sees any minutes on the field, but United needed something for a backline that seemed very, very thin when Janicki and McTavish collided. I'm not saying Avery John is an average level MLS Defender. But I'd rather have a fungible defender than a fungible striker.
  • There is a difference between resilience and consistency. D.C. United is not yet a consistent team. There have been two matches where they put together more than 45 minutes of solid play (New England and New York). But those are the same two matches where they demonstrated resiliency, coming from behind to salvage points.

The Month Was Good To...

  • Luciano Emilio (3G): It used to be we could tell how Emilio was playing by watching him execute a turn and shoot at the top of the box. Low rocket? Things look good. Weak dribbler? Hoo-boy. That may not be the case for two reasons. His goals are opportunistic, but smart goals. He pursues Boswell in Houston, he positions himself smartly in Salt Lake, and he makes a well timed run in New York. Those goals don't require an Emilio that's feeling the luck, but an Emilio that's smart and involved in the game. Add to that the best forward pressure I've ever seen him exert, and he had a tremendous season. Commenter Rob proposed that Emilio is the most improved player on the team, and I think he has a point. He's more involved, and may have found a way to be involved that doesn't rely on the streaky Emilio.
  • Rodney Wallace (1G, 0A, 4GS, 343 mins): His first MLS goal helps keep him out of the "When will Rodney Score" type debates. He shows himself to be dangerous enough to attract criticism when he is moved out of a midfield role and into the back line, a role he has taken willingly. His midfield defense needs a little work, as it is more hack than position right now, but I will accept that. His backline defense needs a lot of work. But a rookie has proven himself this month that he has something to offer.
  • Chris Pontius (1G, 2A, 4GS, 360 mins): In March, Chris looked good for the team as a forward. In April, he has demonstrated versatility far beyond any expectations. I still don't like him as a playmaker in the middle, but he has not been an embarassment there. After some atrocius shooting in New England, he recovered with his 1 goal, 1 assist game in New York that fully redeemed those missed shots.
  • Dejan Jakovic and Bryan Namoff (combined: 0 cautions in April): Dejan is learning the ropes, more and more each day, and at least has made a three back setup seem plausible. What's more amazing is both players took cautions in March, neither has one in April. Consider that Rodney Wallace, Ben Olsen, and Marc Burch both have 2 cautions at this point. This isn't an imtimidating defense, but the ability for both players to learn to cover one another has meant few opportunities for them to find themselves in positions where they have to make a cynical foul.

The Month Was Unkind To...

  • Jaime Moreno (0G, 1A, 2GP, 96 mins, 1E): Moreno played only 27% of the available minutes in April. The worrisome thing is that both Santino Quaranta, Chris Pontius, and Ange N'Sulu have shown the ability to push for Moreno's spot accompanying Emilio. I do want to credit his effort against New England after he could not sub out, but in a dream world you'd want more production from Moreno.
  • Louis Crayton (2-1-1, 5GA, 78.3% save percentage): I should note that MLSNet believes Crayton has a 72% save percentage in the same period, but it doesn't seem to equal the game by game totals which I am using. Anyways, the save percentage would seem to be fairly decent for an MLS keeper, and it is. The concern right now isn't the save percentage as Crayton has only allowed perhaps one bad goal. The concern is the control of the box, where Louis has shown an inability to get to a few crosses in more than one match.
  • Fred (0G, 1A, 193mins): The emergence of Wallace and Pontius and Fred's rehab have meant he did not play a full 90 minute game for United yet. What's more shocking to me is that United has shown a preference to place Pontius in the center attacking role instead of Fred. I am not a Fred hater, and I do want him to get into a consistent role with the team, but it is not happening for him so far.
  • Clyde Simms: Still thinking about that "fouls=good defense" line we occasionally see floated, it is interesting that Rodney Wallace has exactly twice as many fouls and cautions and Clyde. Add to that a game where he gets called out by his coach, and it has not been his best month in black. I think he can recover, and I'm hoping that part of what we've seen was him being affected by his illness and the New York turf. The Red Bull game was especially difficult, as Olsen comes out, Jacobsen and Simms are both on yellows, so they are essentially forced to drop off in the midfield more than I'd like. I will predict that Clyde is back in form soon.

Emerging Questions...

  • With Janicki recovering, MacTavish available, and Avery John signed, is the three man line of Namoff-Janikov-Burch a constant? I would think that this is not a first team set-up yet.
  • At some point, Rodney Wallace and/or Chris Pontius are going to have games that show they are still rookies. I'm not talking about missing a few sitters over the bar, I mean games where they are mostly invisible, and then noticed and cause despair. How will Tom Soehn react?
  • How many minutes does Jaime Moreno see in May? Fred?

May Briefing...

May has the most matches in a month yet, with the fixture congestion front loaded.

Scheduled:
5/2 FC Dallas
5/6 At Kansas City Wizards
5/9 Toronto FC
5/16 At Chivas USA
5/23 Real Salt Lake
5/30 At New England

Key Match:
May 23's Real Salt Lake is the game that I think deserves a significant attention. Given a tough road match the week before against Chivas, and a return trip to a probably more healthy New England side a week later, this is a team DC has been known to struggle against no matter what the location is. The worry here is that United could end up with 0 points in the last three games of May, and that would certainly be worrisome.

Expectations Guide (30 possible points):

Expecting United to improve on the April 1.75 p/g rate strikes me as ambitious, so let's say that anything of 12 points or more is a success. I reasonably think 10-11 points is decent, 9 points would not be a disaster, but the fear would that end of the schedule providing nothing for us, and United managing perhaps only 5 points from this month.

Quote from the Art of War...

Selected at Random:
(2-14) "while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue."

Draught-oxen?

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2 Comments:

At 29 April, 2009 16:18, Blogger Abu Zilif said...

I was on chat with a buddy today and we're of the conclusion that Wallace, given his position and assuming steady improvement, is not only the most promising of this year's bunch but also has potential for a serious career with the Nats. Depending on progress, maybe even for the Gold Cup this year (is there a better viable 3rd/4th string option on the left I'm forgetting?). Which of course would suck for the team, but tt would be great to see a DC player back in that group.

 
At 30 April, 2009 09:26, Anonymous Bootsy said...

Two quick comments:

1. I know your schedule is meant to focus on league matches, plus we don't know the date yet -- but somewhere in the middle, you'll need to add a USOC play-in match against the Metrodonkeys;

2. It's N'Silu, not N'Sulu. No relation to George Takei.

 

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