First Impressions - Real Salt Lake 2 : 1 D.C. United
Call it the opposite of last week. This was a more entertaining match, with United having stretches of strong possession and creative attacks. At the same time, Real Salt Lake had the edge over the course of all ninety minutes, and the result is a fair reflection of a game where RSL was one goal better than United. This was an enjoyable match, for a neutral. We are not neutrals. Therefore this match is an abomination.
Seriously, if you want to know, this is my nightmare, but this is also my expectation. Part of me felt that this game will be precisely the kind of match I expect to see this year: A game with moments for United, but ultimately a goal down. In some ways, United was fortunate that they surrendered the one goal lead as quickly as they did, as it forced them to play a little longer into the second half to try and get the win. However, once the decision was made to settle for the point on the road, then it fell apart. The final goal is not so much as result of bad marking, or a great shot, though certainly you may wish to argue both of those. No, in my mind it was presaged by the United midfield falling back as RSL took position down United's right flank. United midfielders drifted receded like seaweed pulled in the undertow. We were looking to find our shape in defense, not pressure the ball. We wanted to build the bunker, not stop the enemy from coming to our door. And so it went.
Where there other options, better options? I am a fan, not a coach, so for me the concept of settling for a point on the road is inherently abhorrent. As a coach, I suppose there is a certain attraction. Gregg Easterbrook has frequently made the argument that coaches play the conventional wisdom because they don't get fired for it. Fair enough. And Tom Soehn's choices were inherently conventional, safe choices. Without Ben Olsen and Jaime Moreno, he elected to throw McTavish into midfield and pull Pontius back into center when Doe arrived. Quaranta was a move only after United found itself down, and that too was conventional (a more aggressive move might have been to move Q to withdrawn forward, as opposed to wing, and play a 3-2-2(bucket)-Q-2, but that would not have been conventional play, and to be fair would easily have opened up United's flanks to a third goal.)
So we arrive at United's first loss of the year, and it feels as if an annoying acquaintance has shown up to your party, but an hour late, just as you were hoping that he might not remember the invitation you extended out of some strange social obligation. But in your heart, you knew he was coming, and he'd tell his bad jokes, and hit on your friends, and double-dip into the guacamole. All we can hope is that he didn't bring a sleeping bag, and leaves next week at RFK.
No man of the match. Merit to Pontius, Emilio, Gomez. Censure to Clyde Simms (who deserves the armband, but needs to add more fire), Crayton (some nice saves, but if you thought the odd rebound disappeared with Wicks, well, this game would change your mind), and Wallace. We need to discuss BDR's assertion that Janicow = Erpen (a theory that gained some support tonight, but there is good and bad in that), and we need to talk of Andrew Jacobson as well.