31 March 2009

A Look at Fouls and Defense

Perhaps I am incorrect to do, but I sometimes get the impression that Tom Soehn believes you can evaluate the toughness of a team by how willing they are to foul. Now, I am somewhat skeptical of this idea, but my skepticism should not be taken as Truth. So I'd like to examine this question in a little more detail.

Let's call this the Theory of Hack'em. I'm thinking the rational is that the closer your mark and the more frequently you challenge an attacker. As a result of this, you may have more free kicks conceded to the opposing team, but the overall effect is to blunt your opponent's attacks. When worded this way, it doesn't sound as ludicrous as a surface reading might suppose.

Now, as I said, I'm not sure I believe this theory at all. To me, fouls are far more likely to be a indication that a players is beating you on the ball, and so fouls indicate a weak defense, not a strong one. But this is a hypothesis that we should be able to test. I don't think I do so here, but I wanted to at least provide the overview before we went further, to give people an opportunity to say "I think you're barking up the wrong tree here."

Let's look at 2008. We have a full season's worth of statistics, so let's compare Goals Allowed per game against Fouls Committed per game. If we plot that, we get something that looks like this:

United, for your reference, committed 12.63 fouls per game (7th most in the league) and allowed 1.57 goals per game (2nd most in the league). Chivas led the league with over 16 fouls a game, and LA of course let in the most goals. Now, from this look, there doesn't seem to be any correlation between fouls committed and goals allowed. If anything, there's a weakly positive correlation.

So on a league wide basis, at least confined to the 2008 season, this seems to be bunk. But here's how I propose to really look at this (and it will take me some time, so if you think this is a fool's errand, speak now): This could be something we can only see in a season. Let's take a look at United's games only. We know that, on arithmetic average, they committed 12.63 fouls per game. So on games where they did more than that, did they allow fewer goals? This allows us to control for just the Tom Soehn system, plus we should be able to pull out 30 or so good data points for 2008. Make sense to you? Any takers on what we will find? Because honestly, part of me hopes I am wrong about thinking this entire theory is bunk.


30 March 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.02: Chicago Fire

D.C. United 1 : 1 Chicago Fire

Six Word Novel Recap

Is "Nyarko!" a Three Stooges exclamation?

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "After taking an early lead and playing a strong first half, D.C. United fell victim to some lax goalkeeping and was forced to settle for a 1-1 tie against the Chicago Fire in its home opener Saturday night."
The Washington Post, Steven Goff: "Although this draw lacked the drama and controversy that overshadowed last Sunday's opener at Los Angeles, it was equally disappointing for United, which took the lead in the seventh minute on Luciano Emilio's strike but faltered defensively in the second half and yielded a 53rd-minute equalizer by former Virginia Tech star Patrick Nyarko. "
DC Sports Box, Abram Fox: "For the first 45 minutes the Black-and-Red dominated the pitch, controlling the flow of the game and winning a majority of loose balls. D.C. outshot Chicago 5-1, with Emilio’s marker the only ball to find the back of the net."
DCist, Aaron Morrisey: "The Black-and-Red's first major move of the game was a sign of that pressure: a nice through ball from Namoff found it's way to the now longer-coifed Luciano Emilio, but his cross through the box to Moreno was neutralized. A few short minutes later, Emilio applied a clinical finish at the center of the Chicago end after a great effort to wrestle possession by Ben Olsen. Calmly shooting from 20 yards away, Emilio struck firmly and beat keeper Jon Busch to his right..."
United Mania, Chris Webb: "The tide indeed did change as the Fire came out guns ablazing to start the second half. A number of defensive mistakes nearly cost United the game-tying goal but it only took eight minutes after the restart for the match to be level. Patrick Nyarko collected a fine pass from Marco Pappa and drove past defender Dejan Jakovic towards goal, but at a severe angle. United keeper Josh Wicks, filling in for injured starter Louis Crayton, mistakenly tried to come out and smother the play and the second-year striker from Virginia Tech easily passed the ball into the empty net. 'The goal that they scored, you know, he should’ve stayed in his goal,' acknowledged Soehn of his netminder."
Examiner.Com, Ed Morgan: "United's best chance to regain the lead came early in the second half, when Pontius was played in behind the Chicago defense for a 7-yard effort. But after nicely chesting the long ball down, his shot went right to Busch, who saved well. Earlier in the game, Pontius had missed high with a straight-on one-time shot in the penalty area. Pontius had an up and down game. Playing a wing in a 3-5-2, he had to get deep on the flank at times to play crosses in, but he seemed to struggle a bit in this role."
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "The Fire adjusted nicely to United's five men in the midfield, effectively marking the dangerous threesome of Christian Gomez, Jaime Moreno and Luciano Emilio out of the game in the second half."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "'It was a tale of two halves' surely ranks as one of the stalest clichés in the game of soccer...Much like the 2-0 lead against the Los Angeles Galaxy that evaporated into a 2-2 final last weekend, Saturday night's result offers Soehn plenty of teachable moments for his younger players. Dejan Jakovic endured several erratic moments in his first start at center back, but for long stretches he and his fellow newcomers supplied vigor and athleticism that complemented the savvy of veterans like Gomez and Olsen." [NOTE: I applaud any writer that recognizes a cliche is being used before then going on to use it. This is not laziness, it is self-awareness. There's a difference. Charles Boehm, I salute you.]
Goal.Com, Steven Streff: "Despite having dropped 2 points in each of its first two games, United's hopes for the season have not been lost yet. As United midfielder Clyde Simms put it, 'we are undefeated, so you can look at it that way.' So while the team may be struggling to win the games in which it is taking the lead, Simms noted that the performance was better this week."
The Fullback Files, Fullback: "Some questions for Tommy. What did you say at halftime? United were on top of the game going into the half. Chicago had only had a couple of looks while DC were controlling possession. But from the whistle to start the second half, we simply failed to answer the bell."
The Offside: DC United, Jon: "Bryan Namoff. What were you doing? I counted at least 4 or 5 times where Namoff carried the , ball way up into the attack and was caught in possession. I apologize to Bryan if Tommy was asking him to do that, but if not…c’mon."
DCUMD, Shatz: "The returns of Fred, Quaranta, Janicki, and McTavish will be a huge help, and Soehn is going to have some real tough decisions to make when he's got all of our regulars available. How do you bench Pontius after the opening he's had? I'm also thinking that we may see Jakovic fall behind Janicki, McTavish, and Burch on the defensive depth chart in no time."
QuarterVolley, I-66: "I actually felt that Olsen should have been subbed, not out of fatigue, but because he was on a yellow card and seemed like he was toeing the line between staying in the match and leaving on a 2nd yellow, especially after his exchange with Cuauhtemoc Blanco where Blanco positioned himself to allow Olsen to collide with him and went down like a ton of bricks. Center referee Mark Geiger, who seemed all night hesitant to call anything on a player in red (see: DC United fouls - 13, Chicago fouls - 6, plus 3 yellow cards for United and 0 for Chicago), motioned for Blanco to get up, and later talked to both players, presumably as a warning. Should Andrew Jacobson not have been inserted for Olsen at that point?"
And still blocked, but I will find a way, and slightly modified from the quite readable original...
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Dig this Soehn quote: 'We gambled a little bit and were too confident in the second half. We took some chances instead of playing it safe. That shows signs of a young backline.' Sounds like a coach hanging his players, yes? Fire Tom Soehn...in an email 'Die. Die, die, die, die, die. This line confirms that, in Soehn’s fat [rutting] head, breaking out to try to score is, in fact, gambling. His implicit approval of the utter lack of “gambling”, of the game of playing it “safe” by backpassing every time they crossed midfield in strength, is [Initially, Knights of Christrianity Unified in Faithing reversed] reprehensible.' He’s a [slang word for kitten]. I’m [intercoursing] done with him."

The Good

  1. Peter Tomarken Has Good Advice: "Press Your Luck." United's first half was as truly excellent as the media reports look above. Now, we must caveat that the Fire was well and truly into their depth chart, but just because a third to a half of a team is subs is no reason to think that United will automatically have an advantage. Indeed, I seem to recall United having many games where they were owned by bit players who rarely see the field. But this United side made a lot of opportunities, especailly in the first half. And these opportunities were spread out. Gomez, Emilio, Pontius, Olsen and Doe all had decent looks at some point. We need goals, and the early indications are we should see them.
  2. Jilted McBride: While there's legitimate Angst about the back three vs. Nyarko, Brian McBride was marked out of the game. Which, if nothing else, provides some hope given that United has often been troubled by people who have a tendency to show up, relax with a lime cooler for 85 minutes and then head one or two into the goal.
  3. Wallace, Pontius: Look, I'm not ga-ga over the kids yet, but having seen them twice, do you feel bad if you see their names on the line-up next week? Not me.
  4. Wicks as a backup: Look, with Crayton out, I am willing to take Josh Wicks as a substitute. The argument that he is responsible for the goal is well made, and upon review I agree with it, but I also blame the D for letting Nyarko get behind them a few times. And yes, his muff in the dying minutes was bad and very fortunately put over the bar. But as a backup, he'll do.

The Bad

  1. Speed Kills: Mr. Nyarko is fast. Our fullbacks, all of them, are not. You can probably have changed the name of the given opposing forward for most of the last three years, and this comment is true. Mad libs, the soccer writing of the future. To be written with Dippin' Dots.
  2. Dis/join/ted: Anon from the First Impressions: "Our players seemed unfamiliar with each other. Clyde is learning to play with another defensive Mid and a rusty one with a heavy touch at that. Both are learning to play with a center back who got off the plane two weeks ago and has not seen a lot of minutes on the field in a long time. The fullbacks are working with rookies on the flanks." True, but as long as it continues, it must be noted.
  3. There is a difference between gambling and attacking: I want to point out the comments from BDR and Landru above, and agree with the underlying sentiment. This team will give up goals, no matter if they bunker and play conservatively as a Savile Row three-piece (Mr. Namoff, you get to be the coat and watch chain. Mr. Burch, you get to be the best. Mr. Janicki, you're the pants. At least for this match). This team must attack, must gamble if you want to use the term, and must score goals, because we're going to give them up. If he's referring to gambling in terms of odd tackles at midfield, then he has a point, but a point more applicable to the first half than the second.
  4. Wicks as a starter: I would like to see Louis Crayton again. You'd think the media would be asking questions about this. What's that? Ah, right. Forgot.
  5. Free Christian Gomez (By Using the Wings): Right now, I'm attributing this more to Chicago's approach to taking him out of the match than anything else. And yes, Chris Pontius should have seen the ball more, but so should Rodney Wallace, and the fact is that while Gomez seemed clearly willing to pass the ball to Chris (who was making the right runs and showing well) Rodney isn't quite as there yet. Rod, time to join the posse.

Officiating Watch

Referee Mark Geiger is getting some flack for the fould distribution. You could reasoable say it should have been 15 fould on United after a double advantage in the 29th minute. Yet here's the thing: He was right. Sure, he missed a fould here or there, or called a few things a bit sensitively, but all-in-all he was consistent and strong and I actually enjoyed all aspects of his officiating. He didn't fall for Blanco's dives, but did note when Blanco was legitimately fouled. One of the best officiating performances I have seen. If you want to complain about the foul disparity, then perhaps the reason might be that we have a coach who seems to think we can redeem 10 fouls for a goal. And here's my bet. Any match where United fouls less than their opponents, expect to hear a few words questioning the effort of the players.

Likert Scale Grade: 5 - Excellent

Karma Bank

A nice even balance transaction, as both teams traded good opportunities for balls over the bar, so we're keeping it as +1 for the season (we're still owed a lucky break at some point.)

Man of the Match

Just to piss off Jon from The Offside, I'm going Bryan Namoff. Yes, the point that he was caught in posession too often is well made, but he handled his defensive responsibilities pretty well, and how many times will I have to award MOTM to a defender this season. Mr. Namoff, step on up.

Final Thoughts

Grunthos has an excellent breakdown of the match in the First Impressions, especially looking at what Mr. Hameltt did right in terms of tactics.

Our confused play in the early second half was directly attributable to the Fire suddenly getting in people's faces and hounding the ball. We had many more turnovers in our own end, and they tested our defense pretty hard. We caught a break, oddly, when they brought on Mr. White, who clearly isn't match fit and basically killed the energy of their press and the speed of their attack.

True true true.

In terms of my final thoughts, I am still reasonably pleased by how we've come through things right now. Despite the propensity of team focused blogs to always pick their team as a winner by one goal in close matches, if I had offered predictions it would have been LA by two over DC, and Chicago by one. Houston looks to be struggling now as well, and I would love to see United finally notch all three points, but at least I feel reasonably confident in predicting a non-scoreless draw. Since I resumed my duties here, I have written that United as a team will need a third of the season to figure itself out. If nothing else, it feels that process is continuing. If, by the end of the year, we're out of the playoffs, then yes, sign my name on the FIRE SOEHN list and let's move on. And that's still a reasonable possibility. But I also am willing to accept that things might truly get better.

And not just in St. Louis.

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First Impressions -- L.A. Sol 2 : 0 Washington Freedom

Okay, yes, I do plan on writing about the Freedom whenever I have a chance to observe their games. And let's set the ground rules on how covering women's soccer will be different than covering men's soccer -- there will be some differences based on media coverage and availability (Debriefings may not happen for that reason), but I intend to evaluate Freedom games with the same eye I use for United games. Which brings us to last night's FSC debut. It was bad.

Let me rephrase. The quality of soccer issue is a canard, the question is whether the games are enjoyable (they seem to be) and whether the Freedom look smart. The answer is that Abby Wambach should prepare herself for a long season. The Freedom midfield provided the quality of service associated with a Best Buy Extended Warranty. Brianna Scurry gifted LA's first goal by failing to either punch the ball out of the box on a free kick (her best option) or holding on to the ball for the save (what she tried, and failed, to do). The defense had difficulties with Marta, but otherwise was decent.

But, oh, the midfield. Couldn't pass, couldn't carry, couldn't create. Maybe it was being on the road, maybe it's the lack of time for the team to gel, but this loss is theirs and theirs alone.

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29 March 2009

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

Every fiber of my being says to be taken seriously, I should embrace the cynical. And yet, well, I can't. If, like me, you consider United to a perpetual work in progress for this season, then while the picture remains incomplete it does seem like a few corner bits were filled in during this match. Yes, United took a lead. Yes, United gave it up. And yes, United emerged with a draw when a win seemed within reach. I know, this all argues for me to be annoyed and frustrated. I know all the cool kids right now are writing their FIRE SOEHN posts. But to me... To me, here's what I saw that makes me happy to look for the next episode of our favorite running melodrama.

First, the defense. They were embarrassed on the goal surrendered to Nyarko, and they gave up some chances, but... they only gave up one goal. And yes, to me, that's as much as I hope for from this defense in any season. Namoff has an exceptionally good game (exhibit 1: An excellent tackle in the box on Nyarko in the 29th minute), Burch didn't look abused, and Jakovic was beaten by Nyarko's speed but was otherwise better than what he was against L.A. This was a better performance by a defense. Simms and Olsen seemed more comfortable in midfield, though this in part may have been the home field advantage. Wallace and Pontius were not run at all night on the wings, but part of that seems to have been the way Chicago was running their offense. Still, they weren't a defensive liability, which I think you might have wondered about. I'm not expecting a consistent upward trend from night to night, but if this is what we get on any given match with the defense, then one goal allowed will be enough.

Let's talk keepers. Last week I was happy with Wicks, but wondered about his ability to actually make a save. Perhaps he should have done better on the goal he allowed, but in general this game showed good things. When he came off hish line, he got the ball. And in the 89th minute he saved a point for United with a quality save. A difficult save. So as a keeper, I don't feel like all is lost if I see his name on the roster sheet.

United generated chances. Emilio scored one nicely, Olsen's header, had it been about seven inches to the left, might have iced the game, and Chris Pontius skied a shot over the bar. I would have liked more finishing, but I'm willing to accept only one goal provided United generates some chances, which they did.

Do I have concerns? Yes, I do. Despite the results to date, to my eye United looks like a team that players better with a lead. Really, I know I'm writing this after two leads have been squandered, but in both games United's best stretches of play came after their goal was recorded. With the match level, they seem more nervous, tense, and less creative. I worry about how this team would respond if they were to go down a goal in a match. Of course, that would be a situation to never see tested. But it does concern me a little. How will they respond?

I know. It's a draw, and that feels ugly, and United has yet to win a match this season. But this is a team that had the fewest number of draws in the league last year (only 4). In my mind, these are games that United lost last year, not drew. If we are drawing games instead of losing them, and working towards winning instead of drawing, then I think there's a reason for hope. Of course, this mean's I'm a sap for the man, an easy mark, but given that my expectations were to be wallowing in darkness, dread, and despair, I will accept being the patsy. For now, it feels nice to risk naivete.

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28 March 2009

Request for THE FUNNY

D's last post was rich with visual aids that informed and enlightened.

For me, I'd prefer a photoshopped Rodney Wallace playing that ball with a third hand coming out of his thigh. Or reaching out from inside of his shorts. Or even creepier: a Rodney Wallace covered with hands.

If anyone has the skillz, you can send it to me at rmontcal AT thegeemailz.com and I'll post it here. (Although you might need to standardize that e-mail address a bit.)

Let's hope that tonight's match isn't as wet as that one last year...

25 March 2009

Valuable Football Tools: The Angst-O-Graph

As promised, I give you the wonderful innovation that shows you concisely how to map the depths of your despair. See, when analyzing United, it's helpful to remember that there are two dimensions to the nihilism that threatens to overwhelm any football fan. There's the depths of the abyss to which you've fallen at any given moment. But this game can be a game of moments, so just as important is the duration through which this existential angst must be endured.

Now, if we were to indulge our dorkier sides, we might create a graph upon which to plot the angst we feel. Let's have a semi-logarithmic scale for time, and a normal Cartesian scale for the angst. Time is self explanatory, but let's set the boundaries for angst: No angst is the equivalent of running through a magical meadow where the bees sing songs from Rogers and Hammerstein and the flowers bloom $100 bills. Ultimate angst is having an eagle arrive every day to tear out your liver, which regrows overnight, while Diane Rehm yammers in your ear about the delightful new tea cozy on which she embroidered the greatest blog comments appearing at FireDogLake. Ok, that's settled. So if we were to graph that, this is what it might look like.

Neat enough, but let's throw some examples on there to get the hang of it (the Real Salt Lake game in question is this one):

Now, wouldn't it be useful to actually use this graph for something? Indeed, I think it would be. So let's introduce the concept of the Fire Line. This is the line above which a change must be made, but it varies depending on the nature of what we're talking about. Angst about players is really based on game performance, and they can be benched before they're traded, so the tolerance on a game-by-game basis is lower, with some variation (and leeway) for your established leaders on the field. Coaches don't get fired over an individual game, but within a season if things get bad enough then a change must be made. There's a little leveling off around the season mark (reflecting the desire to give a coach a chance to remake a bad team that was inherited, or to fully implement a season) but after that the decline is steep. Ownership matters have an even longer time scale to consider, and we're all fairly impotent in dealing with them, so it would have to take a lot to have fans rebel on ownership related matters. So, here's my shot at mapping out those lines...

See, this is how I think I tend to view matters when writing about them. Game-by-game decisions rarely discuss coaching matters other than tactics, and when they are discussed it is in the scope of the longer season (reflecting where the Fire Line for coaches exist). Ownership matters are even bigger in scope. But in terms of player performance, the biggest change in their Fire Lines is within a game to a series of games. Which is why talking about effort and ability makes sense here. It doesn't discuss the methodology behind putting a team together, that's not a players responsibility. And during a game, I am not rooting for the ownership, or the coach, but for the players on the field. Over the course of the season I may have a rooting interest in a coach, and over multiple seasons the ownership issues.

So, for me personally, here's how I have plotted my Angst-O-Graph. Please feel free to use the blank provided to create your own, and certainly I do not perceive my opinions as the ultimate arbiter (at least, not in this matter. Angst must be a personal matter, or what else is the point?)

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24 March 2009

Towards a Unified Theory of Blame

I'm thinking there should be a good way of separating one's feeling while watching a game, and figuring out the breaking point of fandom at any given moment. To that end, I will debut the "DCenters Angst-O-Graph" in the next day or so, maybe even later today depending on how things go.

The problem I am attempting to factor is this: How does one properly direct the feelings of antipathy that a moment may evoke. I bring this up to continue the discussion with the Anonymous ranter regarding the Hudson era. It's my feeling that players can probably only be held accountable for feelings within the scope of a game or two. For the players, we can only ask that they perform as well as they can. If the players aren't the right players, that is of course the fault of coaching and management. But the players aren't at fault there. Similarly, if the players screw up a play, that's the fault of a player, but not the ownership (it's the fault of a coach only if the coaching has put the player into an untenable situation.)

So my goal, ultimately, is to create a fancy graph that tells us stuff we already know. But hey, isn't that the point?

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23 March 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.01: At L.A. Galaxy

Los Angeles Galaxy 2 : 2 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Two heads not better than one.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steven Goff: "D.C. United's season opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy was progressing nicely Sunday at Home Depot Center....But in a bloody and chaotic sequence late in the match, United's afternoon took a terrible turn and, two Landon Donovan goals later, theclub had to settle for a 2-2 tie..."
The Washington Times, Joseph D'Hippolito:"Though Los Angeles dominated possession early, United used an unusual play to force a successful penalty kick...Gomez took the penalty kick one minute later and drilled it inside the left post for his first goal...In the 62nd minute, Wallace and Pontius combined to give United a 2-0 lead. Pontius took Wallace's pass, dribbled to open space and curved an 18-yard shot into the upper-right corner of the net for his first professional goal."
L.A. Daily News (et al), Phil Collin:"The first Galaxy goal had United seeing (more) red. The hand must have been quicker than they eye because referee Jair Marrufo ruled that a pass from Chris Klein toward the goal was knocked out of the air by defender Rodney Wallace's hand instead of his thigh. "
L.A. Times, Grahame L. Jones: "When Donovan headed home a deep cross from Kyle Patterson in the 85th minute, it tied the game and earned the Galaxy a point."
Examiner.Com, Ed Morgans: "Going into the match, if you are a United fan and you were told you’d be guaranteed a point at Los Angeles to open the season, you might well have taken it - especially given United’s horrific away form in the league last season (2-11-2, 8 points of a possible 30)."
MLSNet, Simon Jude Samano: "The fact that United went on the road and played the LA Galaxy to a 2-2 tie on Sunday at The Home Depot Center -- despite holding a two-goal lead with 10 minutes to play -- didn't sit well with either the coach or his players."
Goal.Com, Zac Lee Rig: "[Soehn] cited a clash of heads between two of his players as a major turning point. Devon McTavish and Greg Janicki collided craniums as they both went for the same ball. As they lay sprawled and bleeding on the ground, Galaxy continued their attack. According to new FIFA law, only referees are supposed to stop play for injuries, and are to use their discretion about the severity of injury. 'They both have big cuts, deep gashes,' explained Soehn. 'That's why I was so disappointed in the reffing. They've talked about not kicking the ball out of bounds, and it's referee's discretion as to when to stop the game. You could hear that clash. You've got to use common sense and stop the game when there's two guys laying down with bleeding heads.'"
Goal.Com, Andrea Canales: "Noting that both teams were missing key players due to injuries, Arena concluded, 'Maybe at the end of the day, the result is fair.'"
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "DC United played this match with four of their regular starters out of the lineup. Louis Crayton, Santino Quaranta and Fred didn’t even make the trip to California while Jaime Moreno did not get into the match basically because of the late game injuries to McTavish (who eventually subbed out) and Janicki."
The Touchline, Mr. Luis Bueno: "As Goff and others were talking to Chris Pontius, Soehn and Goff had some more words, though it was more Soehn unloading on Goff. Soehn told him to talk about the positives and then dropped this on him: 'Focus on the fucking game,' Soehn said before he stormed off into the coach's office." [NOTE: I'm going to take this with a grain of salt, but it is out there to be read.]
The Fullback Files
, Fullback
: "Let's face it, Wallace was pretty miserable, and Pontius well-nigh invisible in the first half. But from the opening whistle of the second, both started playing with aggression and confidence and increasingly became influential in the match."
DCUMD, Shatz: "All things considered, a point on the road while missing 3 or 4 of our regular starters is nothing to cry about. But in a season where we are bound to be in the middle of the pack among Eastern Conference teams and fighting for a playoff spot, those extra two points sure would have come in handy. I guess United should have thought about that before drafting a guy with a hand growing out of his thigh."
The Offside: LA Galaxy, NathanHJ: "One last note on the game. Despite have the run of play for the majority of the game, the Galaxy rarely put shots on goal."

and finally...

BLKDGRD, BDR: Is now apparently blocked at my work. Hmmm.... Dissent still carries a price, apparently. I will check in again later.

The Good

  1. The Pieces Aren't Spare: United is going to need players to fill in at times this year. So anything that indicates any sort of depth at any position is a needed positive. To that end, Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace both showed well in the latter half of the match. They both need work. Chris needs to be more confident in his pressure. Rodney needs to learn how to hassle an opposing wing player better on defense. But they didn't look like they needed to be hidden by the rest of the team, and if both get better, as rookies should in an ideal world, then both look to have more than enough opportunities to contribute as the season goes on.
  2. Chances Can Be Created: I'll get to the defense in a bit, but United will have to score goals this season to have success. This team is not going to post a lot of 1-nil victories. So even if United only managed one goal in the run of play, they still did enough to have made 2-3 goals in the run of play look possible. Yes, this is against an L.A. defense that I would not hold up as an example of the best in the MLS, but that's the point. There are more mediocre and poor back lines in MLS than there are truly elite teams, and United was able to attack from the wing (as on Pontius's goal) and down the middle (Emilio's breakaway off of Olsen's off-side dummy run, the Gomez penalty.) They will need to do this against every team that doesn't boast a top tier defense.
  3. Ben Olsen: The captain's armband looks nice on him, and he will try to lead by example. His play did not lack for effort, though I will say more about this later.

The Bad

  1. Getting to Know You: A new three-man backline is going to have some problems in the beginning. Namoff, Janicki, and Jakovic aren't exactly the most intimidating line-up you can put out there. In this match, it felt each had their moments of being exposed with not enough cover behind them (though, in order, I'd say it was Janicki, Jakovic, and Namoff in terms of culpability.) Distribution from the back line was a consistent problem in both halves. The hope is that they will learn to play together, and whomever is behind them will help keep them organized. However, I should also note that Simms and Olsen aren't quite on the same page yet. Clyde still seemed to have a single holding midfielder mentality, and Olsen as a result wasn't sliding to cover as well as he should have when Clyde was moving forward.

    Similarly, both McTavish and Wallace had difficulty closing down the wings, with Wallace being the more noticiable problem if only because of Chris Klein's consistently dangerous crosses. The hope is that this will get settled after seven to ten games, but that's a hope, not a projection. Still, it is something to be prepared for.
  2. Josh Wicks, Keeper: Josh seems like a nice guy, and he did seem to at least communicate with his defense, but two notes: As active as he was coming off his line, I felt that he could have been even more active. Also, if you are coming off your line and Alan Gordon is bearing down on you, you must get to the ball even if it means going through one of Gordon's ears and out the other. Finally, I can't think of any actual good saves he made. He was woefully mistimed on the penalty, making it far too easy for Landon to go the other direction, and while he may not have had a chance on Landon's second goal, I'm not sure he can make saves at any point. He's in the bad for now, but it wasn't atrociusly bad. Just unconvincing. His distribution was at least not awful, and sometimes decent.
  3. Defensive Depth: Let's inaugurate this feature for yet another year. I remain skeptical of Devon McTavish, especially as a fourth option for a three man line after spending most of a game on the wing. Marc Burch, poor man, is a left back, and it showed on the way he was fed to the wolves off the bench.
  4. Makeshift LA: While I am pleased that United was able to compensate for its injuries, all joy must be tempered by the fact that LA faced the same problems. Chris Pontius's shot even against proper marking is a goal, but with proper defensive pressure from L.A. it is doubtful he's able to shape that shot. With call-ups to the national side, Chicago may not even show a test of United performing agianst another team's Best XI. Still, take these opportunities to ease into the season, and hope we use that time productively.

Officiating Watch

Jair Marrufo is not my favoirte official. Ever. And the penalty to Donovan was a tad ridiculous, but as awful as that call was, he got most of the other calls right. If we was truly looking to settle the score, he could have given penalties twice earlier (on Olsen's tackle in the box, or on Gomez's tackle at the top of the box.) So it's a tad unfair to say he was looking for a way of balancing the ledger. That being said, the call he missed was a howler, and the AR should have called him off of it. At the time, I thought the AR was in his ear that he had seen the handball, so I was even willing to cut Marrufo some slack, but the post-game reporting indicates that Marrufo made the call himself. For everything other than the penalty, he was a good official, even as it pains me to write that. But that call ruined his performance.

Also, I would prefer is MLS officials would understand that the ability to execute a back pass does not constitute an advantage after a foul, but this worked to United's advantage more than against it. Still...

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Karma Bank

We're owed by the gods. The penalty call gives us a pure favor owed to us. +1 for the season.

Man of the Match

Chris Pontius, as a rookie, notches a goal, and assists on the play that led to the Gomez penalty. Much more than I hoped for.

Final Thoughts

From the First Impressions:
"Great! I remember this kind of heady bullshit talk back during the Hudson era. Sure we were crap, but we were a "fist of a team" as Ray used to call that pathetic but headstrong excuse he trotted out week after sorry week. And now I read from you that at least we're "fearless" and "that's plenty"? No, I will continue to hope for more - even if that hope must be expressed in weekly tirades against the mismanagement of this excuse." - Anonymous
This is fair, but I have to draw a distinction between the team on the field and the off-season moves. I am bewildered by some of the off-season movement, so when I look at this team on the field, what I am hoping for is something that makes me think that this team is something other than a bunch of dead men walking. My concern regarding players on the field is that they push themselves to the limit. We can, and should, debate the front office decisions. But the players are not the ones I hold responsible for the front office.

D, you seem to agree with the general commentariat that DCU will be essentially uncompetitive this year. I'm no blind optimist, but I still don't see how we've moved backward overall since the end of last season. The offseason basically traded Guerrero for several unknown players... which is what you have to do in MLS if you want real depth, keep churning the roster with fresh faces until you find people who can stick. Perhaps the total sum of Pontius, Jacobson, Janicki, Jakovic, Wallace, N'Silu, and Peters will equal zero... but much as I appreciated what Guerrero brought to us, if even one of those players becomes a respected regular by the end of the year, then we will have lost nothing on aggregate. -- Grunthos
This is sage and wise. I do not think United will be uncompetitive, but I do not see them as a prohibitive favorite. This team should make the playoffs in my opinion, I just think it won't be a dominating run, and I can't imagine them being a favorite for any trophy this year. Still, New England looks beatable to me, New York appears to be a bigger shambles than DC, Columbus remains a giant question mark, and Chicago look formidable, but hardly unimpeachable. That makes me think 2nd in the east is not out of reach, and 3rd to 4th are more than reasonable.

Still, I have two overriding concerns that will shape my thoughts this season.

On defense, will the team learn a system that works, and how long will that take? We're younger, which is a good thing, but that also comes with a price as we have to allow for mistakes. Add to that a defense that will probably get into card trouble, and we know it's going to be a tough slog later in the year even if the players do get the system down after the first third of the season.

On the attack, Gomez isn't going every match, Moreno isn't going every match, Fred and Tino both can pick up knocks, and Emilio is streaky as high quality bacon. This team needs to score goals, and will have to do it with various players coming into the system. Can it work? I think while I am at least pleased with what I have seen now, I'm not sure we'll have a good sense as to how the season is wearing on players until match day 20. And right now, I'm still more worried in terms of potential success than hopeful.

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22 March 2009

First Impressions - LA Galaxy 2 : 2 D.C. United

Can I see an entire season in one game? Maybe.

This entire off-season, I have been confused. I had no grasp as to the big picture of United's team building. Gomez back, but how can he handle the entire season? A 3-5-2 with a defense of backs that will likely take 10 games to even figure out how to play with each other. We let Ivan Guerrero go, and did we get anything in return?

This game seems to provide a blueprint on all that United offers this season. There's good stuff, as the second half of this match saw long stretches of United looking very dangerous, as young players Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius threw themselves forward. It saw a first half where United barely threatened other than a Luciano Emilio shot low and wide of the far post... until Gomez earned a penalty and put it away.

Defensively, my entire expectations for the first half of the season were neatly encapsulatedin the collision of Devon McTavish and Greg Janicki. It would have been slapstick and comical if not for the fact that both players looked like Mick Foley taking an insane bump. It was sad, but at the same time, it was inspirational. We can take it as a given that this defense will not be great, but if I have a choice between confused and pathetic, and confused but fearless, give me the latter every time. If I have to see United give up two goals, then at least let one of the goals be on a piss-poor call from the center ref. This season may not offer much hope in terms of silverware, but it offers great hope in terms of watching players give their all. And if that is the best I can hope for, that is plenty.

I don't have high hopes for this season in terms of results. But the players on the field gave me a compelling reason to watch. If nothing else, the willingness of Chris Pontius to look like an idiot by shooting three balls over the crossbar shows me that he's willing to shoot, and I will gladly take his three misses for each goal like the one he scored today. I mean, for goddsakes, we want players to shoot more, right? And he did, so let's hope he never learns to dribble it into the net.

If nothing else, let this be a season where even when this team loses, or gives away a lead to a draw, it is a team that I can none-the-less love and cheer and cry for. Let this game be a good encapsulation of all that is to come.

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19 March 2009

Apparently the MLS season has begun...

And what a better night for MLS First Kick than also the first day of the NCAA tournament. A day that friends of mine have marked the beginning of, "The most wonderful time of the year." Yes, to the same melody as the Christmas carol...

After all MLS, you've got a brand new team to debut... With a previously successful coach... In a brand new stadium... Against a team with a big sponsor.

I suppose I might have received an e-mail about all of this. But I was probably distracted by the prospect of Sunday's DCU away match and also, um, the fact that I didn't figure the first match of the season would go tonight. Because, um, for lots of reasons that I mentioned before.

Congrats Seattle.

17 March 2009

Stadium Rally

Dear United supporters,

Earlier this week, Kevin Payne asked for your support in e-mailing and calling state and county lawmakers with messages of support for our stadium proposal in Prince George's County. You responded with a deluge of e-mails that has dwarfed anything Annapolis has ever witnessed. It is truly moving the needle for us and we'll forever appreciate the passion, the creativity and the effort you all continue to display in support of our organization on the field and off.

We're again asking for your support next Tuesday in Annapolis. While we know that many of you have work obligations, we're asking our supporters, that are able, to join us at hearings before the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Our fans will gather at 12 noon at Annapolis City Dock, which is the harbor front park at the end of the boardwalk in downtown Annapolis. People should park at meters or the city garage on Duke of Gloucester Street. Typing Susan Campbell Park, Annapolis, MD into google maps will give you the exact location.

The hearing mentioned is the first and, perhaps, most important step as the state legislature considers the bills that will enable D.C. United to contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority to build a new stadium in Prince George's County. The hearings begin at 1:00 p.m. Our collective presence is hugely important.

Those wishing to travel en masse to Annapolis may gather at RFK Stadium. A caravan will leave Lot 5 at 11:00 a.m. In the meantime, please click here to continue to send e-mails. They do make a difference. We're also encouraging fans to write and call Governor O'Malley, Lt. Governor Brown, and the Secretary of State's office.

What: D.C. United Stadium Rally
When: 12 noon, Tuesday, March 17
Where: Annapolis City Dock, 1 Dock St., Annapolis, MD
Who: D.C. United stadium supporters

Thanks again for all that you do. D.C. United's great strength is the collection of players, staff and fans that make up our family. Together, we achieve great things.


Doug Hicks
Vice President, Communications

I've included this letter to DC United supporters (from dcunited.com) here in its entirety, for reference. The emphasis of bold and italics in the first paragraph is mine.

My legitimate question is this: What did these e-mails say? I need to understand this issue better and hence this post. I'm hoping The DCenters readers will sound off in the comments with what they think about the "stadium in PG Co." issue. For me, personally, a new stadium for its own sake is not as important as a stadium that makes sense. The "makes sense" part means different things for different people. For me, it is a stadium in DC; a stadium that bounces and prominently features the supporter's groups on the sideline.

So why would I go to a stadium rally in Annapolis? This makes no sense to me. If I were going to e-mail the organization about this, it would say something along the lines of "screw off". The rally has probably ended by now, so it will be interesting to hear from Goff or others about how many attended and what they had to say. It occurs to me that trying to organize football fans on St. Patrick's Day is a bad idea...

TIA for your comments.

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