26 June 2009

OT: Vuvuzela

Please forgive my two non-DCU posts in a row, but you must understand what with the horrible display by our club last weekend and the interesting things happening on the world stage.

I personally don't understand the vuvuzela haters. I guess some people have no ability to filter out these quiet buzzing sounds from the ubiquitous noisemakers in the stands during the Confederations Cup matches. Apparently, they are called vuvuzelas. I want one.

From the very first seconds of the very first Confederations Cup match that I watched this year, New Zealand v Spain, I thought, "what is that interesting sound?" and then promptly filtered it out. In a similar way, when I lived in Rosslyn, under the flight path of the planes approaching National Airport, the noisy planes bothered me for about a week. Then I didn't hear it anymore.

Anyone who has been to a live soccer match knows that it is an event of experiences. There is the game itself, but there are songs, Roman Candles, smoke bombs, drums, horns. Oh yeah, and drunk supporters too.

People are upset about these horns.
The world football governing body, FIFA, wanted to ban the use of vuvuzelas during the World Cup 2010 because of concerns that hooligans could use the instrument as a weapon and that businesses could place advertisements on vuvuzelas. However the South African Football Association (SAFA) made a presentation that vuvuzelas were essential for an authentic South African football experience, and FIFA decided in July 2008 to drop the ban. Vuvuzelas will be allowed at matches during Confederations Cup 2009 and World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

I think Deadspin's take is reasonable. You may think they are annoying or whatever but GET. OVER. IT. because when a bunch of Europeans come into SA and start bossing the "riff raff" around, uh, no. They close their commentary with this:
Why can't South Africans enjoy soccer like normal folks—with racist songs and flare guns!
But be warned before you check out the comments, there is some ignorant shit in there.


Soccer in America

I'm going to gingerly set this down in the middle of the room, careful not to make any sudden moves, and then slowly back away from it so that I can get as close to the door as possible before anyone realizes what I've done. By the time someone notices it sitting there, and wanders over curiously to sniff it and poke it with a paw, I'll have a thick door between us and will have already bolted 3 of the four padlocks.

The Not-so-beautiful game.

You may also enjoy Wonkette's take on this.


20 June 2009

First Impressions -- Colorado Rapids 3 : 0 D.C. United

I suppose the major debate is whether United lost this match or Colorado won it, and the easy answer is both. Fatigue was a factor, altitude was a factor. It showed up in obvious ways like tired legs and players running out of gas. It showed more poignantly mentally: United could not execute this match at all. Colorado's second and third goals resulted from some lapses, from Avery John's back pass/through ball to Cummings, and to Jakovic missed trap that forced him the wrong way. That being said, Colorado's first goal was well executed by Cummings, as he makes a strong run, stays on his feet over Janicki's tackle, and fires far post by Wicks. And once Colorado had that edge, all else was preordained.

There are bright things to consider. It was nice to Olsen on the field in something other than a token role. Boyzzz again showed life and energy in exactly the way N'Silu did not. But the match itself was like watching a tax audit -- it was tedious and you felt at some point United would pay through the nose, and sure enough Cummings would pop up with the ball at his feet saying "now, about this receipt here..."

The shift to start the match in a 4-4-2 was interesting, but it felt like a line-up that may have been more suited to the previous match against Seattle. Throwing Olsen on the right in his first match back seemed to ask a great deal, and Simms and Gomez found linking up difficult. We can complain about Janicki if you desire, but I can't imagine that any other back four performs better in this match.

Write it off, pay the bill, and cross out the footnote that said "United has yet to lose after conceding the first goal."

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18 June 2009

First Impressions -- Seattle Sounders FC 3 : 3 D.C. United

Every time I watch Seattle, I'm entertained. Seattle is essentially an ADHD afflicted six year old, dosed with caffeine and sugar, put on the tea cup ride at Disney World. Then you hand him a morning star and tell him to run around in traffic. It's not beautiful soccer, though at times it approximates beauty the way a swarm of wasps approximate ballet. When I watch Seattle, I feel like an arsonist at a bonfire.

So United comes to Seattle, and proceeds to play a match that manages to maximize that feeling. It was chaotic and ridiculous affair. Two own-goals, one from each team, sums up the natural state of this match. United's defense was vulnerable to shot, sharp passing that pushed them away. Rodney Wallace showed he is not a long term solution at holding midfielder. Seattle scored the first goal on a pure shooter's goal, the second with a chance deflection off of Marc Burch, and the third another with smart ball movement springing an attacker who then finished perfectly. United's first goal took advantage of a nice far post run by Pontius combined with poor marking on Seattle's part, the second was a shooter's goal from Gomez, and the third had a dangerous Pontius cross meet a fortunate Tyrone Marshall head for an own goal. This match had everything you love about football, and everything that exasperates.

When United played Chivas, I may have mentioned that I felt comfortable that even down two goals, United could recover. I did not have that feeling this night. Even after Gomez pulls the team to within one goal, it felt that Seattle could have tacked on three more goals and put the match easily out of reach. Namoff and Burch may have had moments, but far too often seemed poorly placed to handle Seattle's attack. Jakovic ran all over the field, a testament to his will but also to how disorganized the back line seemed all night. Fred, and later Tino and Chris both tracked back, but never fit in seamlessly. If United's defense had a shape, it requires higher order mathematical topology to describe it. United looked its best for stretches in the first half, where they played some smart possession football, simply because that meant United was scrambling its defenders all over the field.

I'll admit it, I wondered if the cardiac kids might finally have died on the table. That they didn't... well, it shocks me like a defibrillator to the groin. I'm not sure this was a good game. The more I think about, this game seemed like a bloody, horrible mess. Then again, that's how I like my omlettes. But if we think about this rationally, this game was a barely contained disaster, right? Hooray for saving the point, but does anyone feel comfortable taking this style into a road trip?

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Sorry to step on your toes (Touxs?) D, but I had to say this before I went to bed...

I hope the dude that threw the beer bottle at Wicks deep into stoppage time, got his ass kicked by the 29,103 other fans at Qwest Field. Because he just ruined it for all of them.

What a match.

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15 June 2009

Goalkeeping Impressions

With the win against the Chicago Fire, Josh Wicks should solidify his claim as D.C. United's starting goalkeeper. He made a huge stop on the McBride penalty, plucked a lot of crosses out of the air, and has had, not just in this game, excellent reaction stops. Subjectively, its hard to argue to bench him, and I'm not going to try that.

But, as I was looking at the standings and individual stats this morning, I was a little surprised. With fourteen games played, Wicks and Crayton have bopth played 540 minutes (540, and have identical 2-1-3 records. Wicks does have a statistical edge in goals allowed (6 versus 8), goals against average (1.00 vs 1.33), PK's saved (1 vs 0), and shutouts (2 vs 1).

I know statistics in soccer are less meaningful than in other sports, but I'd say that both quantitatively and qualitatively, Wicks is a better option in goal than Crayton. Once you factor in the salaries of both players, and if Kocis is a credible backup option, then you have to wonder if and why Crayton would be picked up again once his contract expires. Freeing up his salary and roster spot would allow the team to pursue another international player.

What do you think? If Crayton leaves, who would you like to see the team pursue?

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13 June 2009

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

This post was going to begin with an apology to Chicago for having the misfortune of being the first team to face United after US Soccer apologized for ridiculous penalty awarded to New England. Center official Baldomero Toledo seemed to want make amends immediately by awarding a just as atrocious penalty to United in the 23rd minute. Still, Toledo promptly turned around again, awarding a penalty to Chicago on a Dejan Jakovic foul that seems, well, not particularly worthy itself (though, to be fair, much more worthy than Twellman's.) United's other goal came on a free kick by Gomez outside the box, and the symmetry of the halves was reflected again as Chicago got a similar free kick which rattled off the woodwork. It was as if Toledo was so impressed by Dave Gibbons work in Watchmen #5 ("fearful symmetry") that he decided to see if he could officiate a match in symmetry.

That being said, the halves were not symmetrical. For all the goals of the first half, the second felt somewhat more engrossing, as Chicago pushed for an equalizer, and United looked to possess for time, strike on the counter, and bunker when necessary. If all games United had played with a lead this year ended like this one, it would not be the frustrating nail-baiting soccer we had earlier in the season, but the high tension engrossing soccer that makes even 45 scoreless minutes fascinating to watch.

I was not ready to award Josh Wicks the starting job after the match against RSL, or after the match against New York. But a PK save on MacBride and two other point blank stops, well, now I am late to the party but willing to say "OK, even if he has a bad match, it's his job for now." He did the best a keeper can do tonight -- he gave his team a chance to win the game they might otherwise have drawn or lost. His command of the box on corners was also the best it has been this season, as he took at least three crosses out of the air and held them. It was beautiful to watch.

For all the praise being heaped on the defense, and 1 goal allowed is a decent result, I am uncomfortable with their performance here. Every defender had a moment, but Chicago was able to play long balls forward a tad too easily. More damning, once played forward, they were able to start to set up possession, buying time for players to run up behind the ball and support the attack. Clyde Simms and Rodney Wallace were both being bypassed, which would be okay for one or the other at times, but not both. The back line was immediately under pressure, and Chicago's goal resulted at least in part on Fred not coming back fast enough to help out on the perimeter of the defense. Of course, the rest of Chicago's goal was the result of good ball movement, a neat dummy move that forced Wallace out late, and a hell of a shot that left Wicks with nothing to grab.

I do not like Fred on the wing, his skill in the middle is minimized in that position. I understand Christian getting the start, and he certainly had, for the first game he started that I can recall this season, more than one moment where he neatly kept the ball at his feat, ate up a ton of ground, and finished his possession with an intelligent pass. Tino was decent, but not astounding, and Moreno/Pontius/N'Silu were also competent, but the first half saw a significant number of possessions in the final third result in general bafflement.

Boyzzz looked his most credible ever as a late sub, no?

In general, this was a match where I enjoyed the second half much more than the first, and love the result more than either. Your man of the match is Wicks, but Jakovic was coming close until that penalty.

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08 June 2009

Lack of Quality

Commentor Kenobi in my "Post Tease" post almost had the right answer. He quessed,
"The ability to serve in a decent ball off a free kick/corner kick?"
Actually, I was going to say just the opposite.

In the USA v Costa Rica match, Landon Donovan couldn't get his corner kicks over the 1st defender, and yet he continued to take them. If I had been Bob Bradley, I would have yanked LD from set piece duty immediately. That is unacceptable from a supposed world-class player. He did a bit better in the Honduras match.

Gomez has an ongoing similar problem. His service from the corner is often low and short. It is almost as if he is more concerned about the location of the advertising signage than accurately striking the ball. Tino and Pontius are doing a better job, I think.

And then I watched the SJE @ FCD match yesterday and witnessed two of the most atrocious set pieces I've seen in awhile. DvdB just straight up put the ball into the 14th row. I only put an asterisk next to A.A.'s name because shortly after a botched set piece, he scored a golazo in the run of play.

These are SET pieces. The minimum result should be a ball on frame or into the mixer that necessitates a clearance or a save or a ball that bounces in the box. If you can't do that, if you can't get the ball past the first defender or over/through the wall or if you can keep your attempt from just going into touch - after practicing it all week - then I, as the coach, will find someone who can. There are 9 other field players out there.

07 June 2009

Post Tease

I have what I feel to be some insight into all the bad soccer I've been seeing lately and I want to write something about it for tomorrow. But it is almost midnight, so I'll ask you this for now.

Night Owls: what do the following players have in common?

  • Landon Donovan
  • Christian Gomez
  • Dave van den Bergh
  • Arturo Alvarez*

Guesses in the comments, please.

04 June 2009

First Impressions -- D.C. United 2 : 0 New York Red Bulls

Serious question: If New York were to win the Atlantic Cup one year, would they know what it looks like? I mean, we could give them used Big Gulp with the remains of a red slushy in it, and would they know it wasn't the real thing?

Immature trash talking aside, this was a nice night where D.C. United got the result they deserved. Perhaps not in the way you'd think, but it was a just feeling all the way around. Fred in the middle looks much better than Fred on the side. Quaranta continues to work, Gomez and Moreno both looked decent off the bench, Wicks made a key save on Angel, and everyone had at least one moment in this match to be proud of. Sure, New York has a right to feel hard done that they weren't awarded a penalty when Bryan Namoff tackled Father Ted inside the box on a free kick, but that neatly balanced with the non-call on Tino getting clipped.

Wallace as a holding midfielder seemed problematic early on, in that he didn't know how to drop in with the back three and pick up runners. That seemed to get better as the game continued.

Tom Soehn again fielded a credible line-up, and played the right substitutions at the right time, Emilio's red carded histrionics aside. And that was deserving of a straight red, no doubt. If anything, it reinforced that Soehn was absolutely right to take Emilio out of the match with a yellow.

It wasn't that United outclassed New York... New York had their moments of possession, their moments of attack. But it never became the shooting gallery the way it was in New England. It was a game that would have been a deserving 1-nil win, and the second goal was simply comforting.

I'm seriously thinking of Fred for Man of the Match. Really.

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Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want

After Saturday night's game-deciding PK call in the match against the Revs and then last night's drubbing of the USMNT, my insides have gotten a bit queasy today whenever I have thought about soccer.

I certainly don't want to encourage anyone to look past RBNY, but since we lit them up to the tune of 5 goals two weeks ago in that USOC play-in game, the prospect certainly exists of settling my stomach. I'd like to see Moreno, Pontius and Tino all strike tonight.

Thoughts? We are just about an hour out from game time, so let's hear what you have to say!

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