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.