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.

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."


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Announcing Our adidas Contest Winners

Congratulations to Brendan and Josh who won have been adjudged the winners of our adidas contest. Brendan will getting a nice D.C. United long sleeve t-shirt, and Josh will be getting a D.C. United jersey.

Now, it is easy enough for me to give away other people's stuff, which is basically what we have done here. So let me also throw in something to all of the people who submitted an entry that I reproduced in our Finalists post, you have earned publication of a six word novel or special guest post at the DCenters in the future, plus a free beer or non-alcoholic beverage of choice if you manage to catch me at the stadium. To redeem your posting rights, simply send me a six word novel or guest post (not more than 500 words please) at any point this season from the same email address you sent, and I'll put it up with the usual editing caveats (which, although I always express them, I don't think I've ever used.)

My thanks and congratulations to all who participated, and my thanks to adidas and their PR people for allowing us to do this.

And yes, I meant to this Monday, but logistics conspire, no? And, opportunity allowing, I would love to do something like this again someday.

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27 April 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.06: At New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls 2 : 3 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Good day for DC in Nuyawk.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The New York Post, Brian Lewis: "The Red Bulls _ and the MetroStars before them _ have specialized in heartbreaking defeats in their history, but few have been as stunning or as maddening as today's collapse"
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "A 90-degree afternoon on unforgiving artificial turf had taken its toll on mind, body and soul, and considering United's futility on the road the past year, a draw with the New York Red Bulls might have been sufficient...Pontius had just enough left to pounce on a loose ball and score from seven yards in the first minute of added time -- United's second goal in 1 minute 42 seconds -- to cap a stirring comeback and provide a 3-2 victory before 10,303 sun-scorched spectators. "
Goal.Com, Steven Streff: "...when the game needed some drama, United stepped up and delivered a goal in the 21 minute. Bryan Namoff played a long ball up from the back, and Quaranta was able to beat the New York offside trap. After controlling the ball in the box, Quaranta sent a cross to the far post, and Wallace was able to slide in and finish the cross, for his first ever MLS goal, which gave United the 1-0 lead."
NY Daily News, Michael Lewis: " ...the Bulls rebounded behind second-half sub Jorge Rojas before an announced crowd of 10,303. Rojas set up both goals - Angel's header in the 68th minute and Dane Richards rebound conversion off a save of Angel's header in the 74th minute. 'Then the wheels came off,' Conway said. "
MLSNet, Dylan Butler: "In the 90th minute, Pontius switched fields, finding Quaranta, who played a sublime first-time volley across the goal where Luciano Emilio tapped home the equalizer...Less than two minutes later, D.C. struck for the winning goal, capitalizing on a defensive breakdown between Jon Conway and Alfredo Pacheco, who both froze as Thabiso (Boyzzz) Khumalo pounced on Marc Burch's long ball and attempted a shot. The ball found Pontius, who knocked it into the open net for the winner in the first of three minutes of second-half stoppage time."
MLSNet, Dylan Butler: "'I've got no words to describe this defeat,' Red Bulls midfielder Jorge Rojas said through a translator. 'We are professional soccer players. It can't be. We weren't smart to hold the ball, put the ball on the ground, kill the pace of the game, try to slow down.'"
Soccer By Ives, Ives Galarcep: "If there were a crisis prevention hot-line for New York Red Bulls fans (and let's face it, there should be one after 13 years of agony), the phones would be ringing off the hook after Sunday's embarrassing late-game meltdown. The Red Bulls were winning 2-1, in complete control, then they let up and D.C. United made them pay."
UnitedMania, Rafael Crisostomo: "Hasta allí todo era jorgorio y festejo de victoria adelantada en la escuadra newyorquina y lo peor sin mirar que los minutos no se acababan. Craso error taurino, DC United habiá puesto mucho sudor en este reto y sin duda no iba a claudicar hasta el pitazo final.. DC United se fue arriba con todo el aliento que les quedaba y el resto es historia con sabor a hazaña capitalina. ¡Qué manera de voltear un partido en el aliento final! Dos goles sacados de quién sabe donde con esa alma de ganador que solo infunde el amor propio."
DCUMD, Shatz: "I would have started Pontius at forward and Quaranta at CAM, Tom Soehn did the opposite, and it seemed to work out perfectly. Two of his substitutes Barklage and Khumalo made a big impact. But we gave up two goals during the fifteen minutes that Soehn switched the team from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2. In that formation, with Burch at LCB and Wallace at LB, and without Olsen on the field anymore, DC was at its weakest."
The Offside: New York Red Bulls, Dave Martinez: "Let me tell you a story. It was hot out. Really, really hot. I was sitting 2nd row midfield the entire game. 89th minute hits and I say to myself, 'Dave, you have suffered enough. Why not retreat yourself to the shade by the exit door, take in the rest of the game from there, and mad dash to the car once the Bulls win it?' And a plan was hatched. No sooner that I get half way up the section, I here a collective groan from the '10,000' fans in attendance. Yup, that was Emilio juking Pacheco on the flank, and sinking one past Conway. Seconds later, when a cross finds space in the area, and ultimately, a home in the Red Bull net, I downed my water and head to the door. What more can be done at that point?This is one of the most painful losses the Bulls have endured in quite some time."
Fullback Files, Fullback: "Not a match for the purist. Follow the bouncing ball. So should we blame the basketball court surface? The 100+ degree temps on the field? Both? There was an awful lot of head tennis and long ball madness, though that much had to be expected. Any time either side attempted to get the ball down and play, they surface conspired against them. No wonder every goal came from balls over the top or crosses."
We Love DC, Tom Bridge: "What’s that, New York? Is that the sound of crying I hear? Perhaps gnashing of teeth for ruining your weekend? Excellent. Just what were going for."

And finally...

BLCKDGRD, BDR: "But Wallace on the left-wing is a revelation offensively - this is the widest United team since Josh Gros." [Um, is that damning with faint praise? Whatever, the thought is sincere, and true.]

The Good

  1. Keep in Touch I: The concern, for me, was about the first ten matches of this season. With nearly 2/3 of that stretch done, United is still within 3 points of the top of the Eastern Conference. As a big picture view, that's closer than I expected them to be, and a reminder that draws are better than losses, and wins cover a lot of ground.
  2. Keep in Touch II: Chris Pontius seems adept at managing to head a long ball, say, from a goal kick, forward in midfield onto an attacker like Emilio. I do not recall the last time United was actually able to execute this play with anything like consistency. It amazes me every time I see it, and it happened on at least three occasions. This is a small thing, but in a game that was dominated by what happened with long ball over the top distribution, a critical one.
  3. Santino Quaranta: Since his return to DC, this was his most threatening match to date. He tried to set up Olsen, he set up Emilio and Wallace, and while his attempted lob of Conway in the first half ended up not particularly close, it was the right decision. His assist to Wallace was almost a reproach to Chris Pontius. Tino may have been shooting, but if so he made the right shot again by putting the ball low and to the far post, where Wallace or even Pontius could have a chance at it.
  4. Those Who Have Legs, Used Them: The final goal, which was all about a very long run from Boyzzz, whose errant shot fortunately found a similarly long sprint from Chris Pontius, was exhausting to watch in the 92nd minute. That anyone on the team could even think about that sprint was something I haven't seen from, say, Jamil Walker in 2005. That Chris, as tired as he was, finished without putting the ball over the crossbar is a huge relief. Can you imagine the howl if he hand't. By finishing, he regains the status of co-golden boy rookie with Wallace.
  5. Go to the Net: On the first two goals, we saw a lot of players making runs at the net. The first saw Wallace and Pontius both making runs (Wallace to the far post, Pontius as a late arrive coming to the spot). The second goal was more impressive. As Pontius switches fields, Emilio starts to make his move away to the net. Normally, I would expect to see United settle a ball like that, but Quaranta volleys the cross to Emilio, who started his run at the right time to nudge the ball by Conway. Easily the best team goal of the match, but also a surprise to see how well United was making those runs.
  6. Rodney Wallace's Midfield Defense: It was hacktastic, but at the same time, it was tight. He should have had a yellow for persistent infringement by about the 20th minute (about the time he got the "No More" signal) but it was nice to see him playing his marker so tough. If he can improve the technique, I feel a lot more comfortable with him there in front of Marc Burch.

The Bad

  1. Those Who Didn't Have Legs, Didn't: The heat was affecting a lot of players. Clyde Simms looked beat about 2/3 of the way into the match. Emilio was intensley exhausted (though he did fight through it). The back line also seemed to slow up.
  2. Louis Clayton Off the Line: Grunthos wants to caution against too much Louis Clayton bashing, and he's right. But Anonymous later gets to what the concern is. Crayton's keeping was generally solid when it came time to make a save, but his control of the box was extremely suspect. He missed two crosses, once even making the correct decision to punch the ball out of the box but then missing by a good two feet. His save on Angel's free kick early in the game was not easy, and the decision to push the ball over the ball rather than risk a hard rebound was right. Still, there always seems to be at least one aspect of Crayton's game that's concerning in each match. His control is good, but his saves aren't. His saves are good, but the control is lacking. He's got both down, but his distribution is strange and he's wandering out 40 yards. All the aspects of a great game are there, but have yet to combine.
  3. Moving up the Field: I wrote about this yesterday, and still feel the same way. United, when attempting to transition, frequently pushed the ball wide before attempting to move forward, rather than using a wide ball to open up a defense. I'm not sure if this was a tactical decision, to bypass midfield in some way, or a result of Pontius not being where Gomez normally would be, or what, but as a result with the ball on the flank in United's defensive half, the high pressure from New York was more effective as it constricted potential mobility and passing lanes.
  4. Rodney Wallace's Defensive Defense: I'm not sure how this is a long term plan. While I understand wanting to make room for a Boyzz or a Barkledge, Wallace does not make me comfortable at left back, seeming to be indecisive on when to go at an attacker and when to simply contain him.

Officiating Watch

Aside from Wallace escaping yellow for persistent infringement, referee Steven DePiero's calling was mistifying. Again, I was not sure what a fould was, and to me the bias was in favor of New York on the majority questionable calls. However, he did let play continue when Ben Olsen stood his ground in the box like a Duke center looking for a charge (a play that ultimately ended with a United shot off the cross bar.) While I was happy with the result, it seems clear to me that while Olsen was clearly standing his ground, he made no effort to play the ball, and I've seen calls given for less. I think the right call was to play on. Still, that call in favor of United pales to the noncall on Emilio being pushed from behind in the box, which should have resulted in a penalty. Ultimately, I am left unsatisfied.

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Karma Bank

We have a neutral karma balance entering this match. And in a match that could have resulted in a loss, win, or draw for United, it seems like karma burn could be all over the place. However, United gets the win, which means there is no chance Untied earned any karma, so what do we do? United earned one point on the second goal, and that goal was a strong play all the way around, so no karma burn for going from 0 points to 1. So how about from 1 to 3 points? Well, the collapse of New York was fortunate, so that should be a burn of 2 points to get us to the win. But I'm going to say that United was previously owed one karma for the combination of the shot off the post in the first half combined with the outstanding hustle from Pontius and Boyzzz for the goal. In my mind, we burn 1 karma for this game, putting us at -1 for the season.

Man of the Match

Santino Quaranta was extremely dangerous. Two assists, two near goals, and a strong performance up top as a legitimate forward option. Certificate of Merit to Chris Pontius and (2 assists), Rodney Wallace (1 goal), and Bryan Namoff. Censure? Hmm... Clyde Simms is a bit worrisome and the yellow he took seemed unnecessary, Ben Olsen's Left Foot is not about to put anyone in trouble, Fred was provided opportunties but seemed unsure about what to do with them, and while people are talking about the how Barklage made an impact, I'm not sure I understand what it was. So no note of censure to Barklage, just if someone can tell me what he did as a sub that was so good, as I apparently missed it.

Special Certificate of Merit to Tom Poti.

Final Thoughts

There are games that you steal that you have no business winning. One of the thing I was trying to write in the first impressions was that this was not one of those games. New York never, at any point, had a consistent game going for them. This was a game of moments, not a game of cohesive narrative, and as a result New York was providing moments for DC. So while DC does steal this match, it is only because New York practically invited them to do so. I mean, you're in New York, right? Who goes around leaving the keys in the ignition of their Aston Martin DB9, with the door open, and loudly announces "Well, I'm off for a few hours, I know I can trust you fine fellows of the boroughs not to try anything. Toodles!" You know better New York. Or you should. I'm glad you didn't.

And let's see: National take down the Mets in a rout for the Nats first road win. Caps take down the Rangers in a must win game at MSG. And United gets its first road win against New York. This is not likely to happen again, so I am happy it happened at all.

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26 April 2009

First Impressions -- New York Red Bulls 2 : 3 D.C. United

You're here? Quick, inside. Shut the door. Quick! Now down the stairs. Turn on the light. It's just us here, right? Did you bring it? Good, good. Let's see it then, open the bag.

Ahhhh, and it is ours now. What do you mean, what do we say to people? We'll say we earned it. If we all back each other up, no one will give us away.

Yes, I know it's stolen, but if we all agree to ourselves that it isn't stolen, then people will just assume we earned it. And, to some degree, we did. Theft takes work. It may not be the kind of work that others respect, but it is still work.

Tino, we needed your quick reflexes on the passes to gain entry to the area. Boyzzz and Rodney, we needed your speed to race through the guards. Luci, we needed your strength to break down the door. And Chris, we needed you at the last moment to unlock the safe and take the prize. Three points, stolen? Yes, but ours unless others catch wise...

Since it's just us United fans here, we can admit that this was a game that United stole, that through 89 minutes New York had certainly done enough to win the match, let alone draw it. But it was also a very sloppy game on both sides, and when a game is as sloppy as that one is it lends itself to moments. And these were moments where individual talent could, and did, play the critical role. If there is one thing to take from this match for me, it is that this United team, even without Moreno and Gomez, does have attacking talent that can win a match. And they did. That doesn't mean that the talent was successful for the entire match. Consider that of United's three goals, only one (the second) was the result of any sort of sustained possession. The rest were opportunistic play combined with players not surrendering on a moment. At the end, as Boyzzz Khumalo raced in on John Conway to feed the ball to Chris Pontius, there had to be a feeling that Chris was going to put the ball over the crossbar again. And yet he didn't, and United comes back with two goals in the final five minutes to rescue a match that they arguable deserved to get nothing from.

The point, though, is that New York and DC had a sloppy match the entire time. Part of this may have been the turf, which exaggerates the spin on the ball at contact as though Phil Mickelson were playing most shots. But part of it was the willingness of both team to play long passes that would occasionally be brilliant but far more often would fall to a defender stepping up at the right time. This game was made to provide the unpredictable chance, and United simply capitalized on two very late. To that extent, as much as New York felt cheated, they also contributed to a match that allowed this to happen.

Your man of the match, for me, is Santino Quaranta, who played two excellent balls on assists. We'll hit in the debrief about Chris Pontius's skill that isn't his shot, Rodney Wallace hacking people on the sidelines and what it may mean, and we'll have to analyze this match in terms of the flow on the field. To me, without Gomez in the middle, United relied far too heavily on the flanks at the midfield stripe, which constrained their forward options. We'll also talk about Louis Crayton, who did not look good, and discuss how we feel about, yes, Tom Soehn.

A strange match, one that requires me to sleep on it and think about some more. Drop off your comments as well, we'll hit things in debrief.

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21 April 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.05: New England Revolution

New England Revolution 1 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Olsen's head(er) backs up his mouth.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "The statistics are there for all to see. D.C. United out shot the visitors 20-4, including 8 shots on goal to just 2 for the Revs. However, when you play Steve Nicol and his New England Revolution, statistics go out the window..."
Goal.Com, Steven Streff: "D.C. United dominated the game against rivals New England Revolution statistically, as the home side out-shot the the Revs 20 - 4 on the night. But a Shalrie Joseph header in the 50th minute gave New England the lead and forced United to come from behind to earn a point in the 1-1 draw."
DCist, Aaron Morrissey: "United -- in a game that unluckily got away from them -- had the sweetest kind of tie there is."
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "This should have been an easy United win. Its strong lineup faced a depleted New England team missing six potential starters. The home team outshot New England 20-4, but a loss of concentration just after halftime allowed the league's all-time assist leader, Steve Ralston, to set up Shalrie Joseph to head the Revolution into the lead. "
The Washington Post, Steven Goff: "...after squandering several opportunities and yielding an unforgivable goal early in the second half, United needed a late header by Ben Olsen to earn a 1-1 tie before 14,441 at RFK Stadium last night."
Examiner.Com, Ed Morgans: "The goal was the culmination of a second-half battle between Olsen and Thompson, one Olsen told reporters later he was happy to partake in. It boiled over briefly when the two stared toe-to-toe with only an official between them...Thompson also had a couple run-ins with United's favorite referee, Jair Marrufo, regarding fouls and/or cards that should have been called.' He’s a good kid...' Olsen said. 'I figure I’d try to start a fight with him to get things moving. It’s a heated game. He’s a competitor – there are no hard feelings.'"
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "'It's just one of those games where you can outshoot them 20-4 and they can come away with a win -- they've just got to put one ball away,' said United rookie Chris Pontius, a downcast figure after missing several scoring opportunities. 'They put the ball away first, which gave them a little bit of momentum, too. We didn't finish our chances, especially me.'"
MLSNet, Kyle McCarthy: "'We have to do a better job of killing the game off,' Ralston said. 'There was one stretch where we kept the ball. Instead of trying to go, go, go, we brought it back out and passed it around. It was great, but then we didn't do it again.'"
DC Sports Box, Abram Fox: "That [New England Revolution] defensive-minded formation offered D.C. plenty of room in which to operate, and midfielders Christian Gomez and Rodney Wallace relished multiple opportunities to work the ball down the pitch as the Revolution defense collapsed in front of back-up goaltender Brad Knighton. For much of the first half D.C. was forced to take outside shots on Knighton, but nonetheless the Black-and-Red had several fantastic opportunities off the feet of Olsen, Gomez and Luciano Emilio among others."
Fullback Files, Fullback: "Tommy lays the blame on Simms for the double swap at halftime, claiming he wouldn't have made the Quaranta for Burch move if he knew Simms couldn't go in the second half. Fine, that gets you off the hook for not having a sub available when Jaime came up gimpy ... But that still begs the question: why Burch?...We'll never know."
DCUMD, Shatz: "This looked like Jaime Moreno's best match of the season. Even when playing the final 20 minutes with an injury, Moreno became the first player in league history to score 100 goals and 100 assists, and will probably be the only player to do that in the next 20 years."
QuarterVolley, I-66: "I was glad to see that it was Thompson who Olsen beat to score the goal, and I was even happier to see that after Olsen and Thompson fell to the ground and slid out of bounds, Olsen got up and stood over a prone Thompson, delivering a verbal message even as Santino Quaranta tugged at him in celebration. Just desserts for Thompson, and the last laugh for Olsen. I don’t know who was elected as man of the match for United, but if it was anyone but Ben Olsen then there was an egregious error."
You Are My Minions, Landru: "Gesticulating wildly at the sideline with the 'sub me' motion, Moreno showed that he was so unaware of his surroundings that he didn't realize that he was on the field with three guys who weren't there when he started. Niiiice. There's a talent shortfall on this team, and I'm beginning to doubt the heart of an awful lot of players not named Benny. And I'm damn sure doubting the testes of any coaches named Tom..."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "...maybe Gomez will round into form (instead of just being round), maybe that was his best game back, but what does that say? It's interesting that after his awful CKs last week he didn't take (m)any last night, certainly none early. And it can't be good that as soon as Soehn made the two half-time substitutes, we turned to each other in 232 and said, uh-oh, Gomez knows there's only one sub left - when does he pull up lame?"

The Good

  1. United Plays, then Plays Some More: It is nice to have questions answered in the course of the game, and one question we had written about more than once in this blog was "What happens when United gives up the first goal?" While United certainly didn't play as well as their first half showed, they still did try to fight back and get the draw. And the result was a game that, as a whole, was the best of the season.
  2. Come out Firing: Ben Olsen from distance twice. A score of shots fired in the direction of the net. United was trying to score. Possession, as is often noted, is a means to an end, and in this match United looked like a team using possession to find different ways to attack the Revolution. Without the shots from distance, does Rodney Wallace get behind the Revolution back line to nearly link up with Gomez? I wonder.
  3. Jaime Moreno Soldiers On: Sub me? Please? What? No subs? Really? Aw... I have quoted Landru's complaint with Moreno above, and I can't disagree with anything he says, except that he stops at the 70th minute. Jaime did appear to be cramping up, and he did fight his way through it, which leads us to...
  4. The Machivallian Tom Soehn: There is an interesting discussion over at UnitedMania's podcast about whether Moreno felt too entitled to "start when he wants, leave when he wants." Ed Morgans wrote a fantastic analysis of Tom Soehn's calling out players, and whether it is good or bad. BDR has repeatedly at his site and in our comments wondered about how the players react to Tom. Now, I am putting this in the good section, but it is not necessarily a good thing, just that if we wanted, we could ascribe a very cynical motivation to Tom. Given the subbing theories that we knew of, even if Tom Soehn only makes one sub at the half (pick Burch or Simms, it doesn't matter) then in essence he still felt comfortable not subbing at least one of the propspective fatigue candidates (Moreno, Gomez, Olsen). Earlier in the season we wondered if Tom Soehn would only sub for fatigue, as opposed to tactics. We can see that, at least in this match, Tom was willing to let at least one player (and ultimately two) go the distance whether they wanted to or not. Perhaps that sends a message -- be ready to play. Don't be comfortable with your spot. That is, perhaps, the best interpretation I can come up with.

The Bad

  1. New England's Possession: Yes, you can argue that New England's B-Team can't be held to the same standard as the A-Team, but even with that caveat, the Revolution consistently made things easier for United by giving the ball away. Further, I would expect a B-Team to be somewhat scrappy in the way they tried to get the ball back, but this team consistently fell back in the midfield. Pressure can't start just outside of the box, it must start, even when bunkering, at just over the midfield stripe.
  2. Chris Pontius: To his credit, he acknowledges that he was awful at finishing. That's all well and good. And to his credit, he was very good at finding ways to put himself in threatening positions. Also well and good. And I have applauded his willingness to shoot many times in the past. But Chris, if you're going to do all that work, you must put the shot on frame. If nothing else, you know how sniffy people get, and soon the rumors will start that people aren't passing to you because you can't finish. Do you want that? Yeah, me neither.
  3. Crediting the Goal: It was an own goal. You and I both know it. Moreno shouldn't have his 100th assist, and we should remember the goal as coming from Ben's effort, but not one that he, as I understand how goals should be credited, should have the notch for.
  4. Tom Soehn Calling Out Clyde Simms: He is right on the facts, but Tom Soehn's comments did strike me as something much better kept in the locker room. It wasn't that he revealed why he made the sub, which was fine, it was the editorializing on "Clyde needed to tell me earlier." It's true, but what benefit is there to talking to the media about that than just having a quiet word with Clyde? Do we have any indication that Clyde isn't mature enough to handle that conversaiton? Not that I know of. If you don't think that Clyde Simms will listen to you in this conversation, haven't you essentially admitted you lost the locker room? Probably not, I think it was, as Morgans indicates, a case of oversharing, but c'mon...

Officiating Watch

New England may feel more sinned against here than others, and that's the point. We try to evaluate the officials without bias, and Marrufo's standards for what constitutes a foul were a mystery to me the entire game. While there were no atrociously bad calls I can cite (Marc Burch's fouling Thompson in the corner could have been on Marrufo if the AR weren't a few feet away) I had no idea what a fould was. A heel clip would be called, then wouldn't be called. It was a complete mystery.

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Karma Bank

Bryan Namoff's handball in the box was enough to make sure the draw was within reach. That's one point we would not have had otherwise, so karma change -1 as we burn the favor we were owed earlier. That means we have a neutral (0) karma balance for the season.

Man of the Match

Oh, is there any question? Ben Olsen had the textbook game to show how to be the player that fans of your team will love, and all other teams will hate. We hate yapping and jawing like Olsen does... except when he does it. We can rationalize this as "He's earned it" or "Heart of a Lion" or whatever, but if any other player did the same, we'd want them flayed for our amusement.

Still, he is on our team, which means he's man of the match. Certificates of Merit to Jaime Moreno for fighting through the pain, or at least the exhaustion. To Rodney Wallace for dicing up the right flank of the Revolution midfield in the first half. To Andrew Jacobson, for filling in the second half and recovering his confidence after that goal he helped allow. And to Dejan Jakovic, who had a solid game in the backline.

Final Thoughts

That there is a great disparity of thought on this match is, I think, a good thing. We don't know what to make of this team yet, and certainly that's reflected in this match. I also wonder if this match doesn't have a disparity between watching from home and in the stands. In stands, as all about you share in a mass exercise of depression as the minutes tick away, perhaps the negative feedback was intense as people felt the weight of the team not scoring. On television, at a remove, it was perhaps easier to be appreciate what the team looked like.

It is likely that the above theory is false, but if you want to leave a comment along the lines of "thought United looked bad - was at the game" perhaps we can test it.

We now face Dallas in the U.S. Open Cup. I enjoy the US Open Cup, but feel that again this should be turned over to the reserves at this round. No, there is not the same fixture congestion, but I hate the idea of sending the message that the U.S. Open Cup is the same sort of target that the playoffs, MLS Cup, or Supporter's Shield would be. Let the kids have the playing time and the chance to impress.

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20 April 2009

Vote for Benny

Just in case you didn't see it, Benny's near decapitation is up for GOTW and is currently running 2nd to Ching's improbable, looping header.

Vote now!

19 April 2009

Our adidas Contest Finalists

OK, our contest finalists are presented here. We will announce winners on Monday, and certainly if you have any strong opinions about who should win, please let us know. Remeber, ultimately this is a matter of taste. I want to thank everyone who submitted entries (we had about 20 total entries). Submitted for your consideration:

First, a few non-finalists that I enjoyed. RKE gave us this:

"Lured by swag, D sells out."

Damn straight! If I can get you guys adidas swag, and they're cool about providing it, then hell yes.

Kevin G, our old friend, gave us these two:

"DC United make Celtic Look Good." -- Right, like at that friendly a few years ago?

"Go Washington Freedom. Oh. Wrong Blog." -- No my friend, the right blog indeed.

Also, I admit that "Fenty, Fenty, Fenty, Fenty, Fenty ugh." from Anonymous K had a simple beauty, but I am going to disqualify it because it isn't quite D.C. United explicit enough.

There were also a few adidas themed entries, and since adidas and the PR folk were kind enough to do this thing, I want to let them know how much they were appreciated. Here are some of those:

"Winners wear adidas and watch soccer"

" adidas, soccer unite; take over America" - Kelly

"adidas sells DCU stuff, sales skyrocket." - Anonymous K

So I wanted to share those notes of thanks from our readers to adidas for sponsoring this contest. And now...

The Finalists:

"Mortal enemies: Ben Olsen, razor blades." -- Anonymous K (Personally, I can imagine Ben staring a Gilette Mach 3 Turbo in his bathroom, then challenging the blade with "Oh, you're in trouble boy")

"mozart music shakespeare drama United soccer" - Fabian (Truly, the finer things in life)

"First, adidas store. Second, United stadium." - Kelly (setting a timeline I hope to agree with.)

"Freddy Plays. DC Wins. Pops smiles." - Josh (The backstory? Josh tells us " San Jose @ DC - April 3, 2004. This was my father's last game in person before passing away from cancer on April 13, 2004. We had season tickets together for the previous 7 years." Even at my most cynical has to admit that I, well, got a bit sniffly. Allergies, no doubt.)

"Pontius Scores. Party Boy Celebration Ensues." - Erik (who thinks that this captures the "relation to 'Jackass: the Movie' and goal scoring." Certainly I hope so.)

"Cups and glory, that's our story." - Brendan (as nice a summation as you will see, and a rhyming couplet.)

Those are your finalists. Feel free to share opinions in the comments. Winners will be announced on Monday.

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17 April 2009

First Impressions -- D.C United 1 : 1 New England Revolution

If I am willing to accept ugly wins, such as the one against Houston, then how am I to feel about beautiful losses? Fortunately, the question need not be answered yet, but we were within a few minutes of that scenario, and the answer was: I was willing to accept it. If this match represents the ambitions of D.C. United for this season, then I say give me more.

United played its most complete match of the season. While the Revolution occasionally had moments, they never stretched longer than five minutes at a time, and United ran this match. Now, in this they were aided by a Revolution side that was ineffective at maintaining possession, especially in midfield. So while I want to toast the United effort, we must also acknowledge that it was abetted by the Revolution. But still, the nightmare scenario of the Revolution scoring the first goal occurred. And in a fantastic demonstration of irony, when the Revolution decided to lock up shop and sit on the one goal lead, to play for the oles in our defensive third as opposed to putting in the second goal, it was United that managed to find a way back into the match. It was a match that United played beautifully in everything but the scoreboard.

My fear was that a loss might send the opposite message, that the strategists and generals would look at the result and say "ah, clearly we took to many shots and pushed too hard, and thus we neglected our defensive toughness and lost." The fact that the draw was maintained hopefully sends the opposite message: That this is the kind of game we should play every night.

Debrief is coming, but the Man of the Match is Ben Olsen. Certificate of Merit to Jaime Moreno, Christian Gomez, Rodney Wallace, Andrew Jacobson, and Marc Burch. Demerits to Chris Pontious and Bryan Namoff as a duo, Chris Pontius when he got on his own, and to John Harkes. Harkes? Yes, John Harkes, for his theory of "giving up goals after personnel changes." The changes happened on United's left flank, and yes Wallace seemed pinched too centrally defending a cross that stranded Jakovic between two attacking players on the left, but the breakdown leading to the cross was entirely on the right flank.

We will also discuss Tom Soehn's strategy that lead to Moreno fighting through his pain, for which he deserves all the credit in the world. You may not agree with the move, but it was damn interesting, and when was the last time you can say that? Certainly Rodney Wallace did not seem out of place at left back for the final thirty minutes. And once you made those two substitutions, you knew that between Gomez, Moreno, and Olsen, that two of those three would have to go the full ninety minutes.

Other open questions: Do we pay a karma penalty for the Bryan Namoff handball? Is Jair Marrufo the new Abbey (and Revolution fans, I think you may have been more sinned against by him that United were)? And Avery John -- really? Really?

But overall? I was prepared to be grimly happy, if such a thing is possible, with the 1-nil loss. A 1-1 draw makes me pleased with a touch of wistfulness for the full three points. But you have to take this effort, right? Right.

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Contest Extension

We've gotten a few last minute entries, so we're going to extend the deadline just a bit (say, until midnight tonight). So our posting schedule is going to look like this:

  • Tonight: First Impressions DC v NE
  • Tomorrow Afternoon: Contest Finalists
  • Sunday: Debrief
  • Monday: Contest Winners
Just so you know, we take care of you.

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16 April 2009

Don't Forget, We're Giving Away adidas Stuff

We're still running our contest for the best six word novel related to D.C. United. Right now, we've gotten a few entries (but only a few!), but I know that many of your haven't sent in your ideas. Click this link for the contest rules (or guidelines, at least). And all this because we're willing to plug the new adidas store opening at Tyson's corner, featuring L. Emilio, C. Pontius, and R. Wallace. Plus other stuff. So get those entries in, and we'll let you know. Entries will be accepted via comments, but that may make it a bit harder to confirm your identity if you win. And below, the details on the adidas store opening:

DC United players Luciano Emilio, Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the new adidas store at Tysons Corner Center on Saturday, April 18. The athletes will meet and greet fans, sign autographs and compete with costumers in a free throw shooting and penalty shot contest.

It is going to an exciting day at the adidas store and I thought your readers would be very interested in this special event. See schedule of events below and attached media alert. Thanks for considering.

Saturday, April 18
12 P.M. – Grand opening and ribbon cutting
12 P.M. – 1 P.M. – Gilbert Arenas autograph session and free throw contest
2 P.M. – 3 P.M. – DC United autograph session and penalty kick competition

adidas Store
Tysons Corner Center
1961 Chain Bridge Road
McLean, VA 22102

What We Do, We Do Rationally (We never ever go off half-cocked, not we!)

Or, "In Defense of Tom Soehn"

It is a general rule that I tend to give links and space to the pessimistic, the cynical, and the doubting. The worst thing you can be is the chump, the easy mark, the naive idealist. In many ways, this sort of behavior sets in at high school with its faux-jovial pep rallies, school spirit weeks, and armed robberies outside the old gym. How can someone not conclude that the entire concept is flawed in this environment, that only the airheads smile. No, much better to sing along to Bela Lugosi's Dead. Right?

Regardless, let's list the things that are going right this season, including with Tom Soehn. I have given, and will continue to give, space to the "Fire Soehn" crowd. Tom's got no goodwill carryover this year, and everything must be about his results. But his results are not uniformly bad. In fact, here's a list of the things going right:

  1. Rationing: We were an old, old team last year, and injuries were a natural outgrowth of United's reliance on veterans. Tom has regulated the starts of Ben Olsen (and regardless of the result, the impulse to give Ben a break is a good one) and Jaime Moreno, and regulated the minutes of all of the above as well as Christian Gomez and Fred. While we can bemoan the lack of Olsen's presence against Real Salt Lake, I'd rather him miss the occasional start if it improves the liklihood of us keeping him all season.
  2. Depth Management: We're not deep in the back, we haven't been in years, but Tom has recognized this and moved to deal with it. We seem to have at least three options and defensive midfield, so if we swap out a back for a CDM, that seems to be a logical move to improve the quality of the team we put out every week. Moving Olsen back to the middle also helps.
  3. We're Trying New Things: I consistently railed about Tom Soehn not trying out new ideas from week to week to see what best can happen, but United has shown an ability to vary its attack style (we've gone long, through the middle, and down the wing at various times) as well as its line-ups (Forwards have included Emilio, Moreno, Pontius, N'Sulu, and Doe this season). These are not moves of desperation, but of a coach tinkering, more comfortable in his style and trying to fine-tune. This should be applauded. Furthermore, Tom has identified what he sees as weaknesses, and tried to address them to the team. Not finding Gomez, not involving Pontius enough, these are both criticisms Soehn made after performances. These criticisms are related to overall strategy, not, for the most part, in selling out one player. To that effect, they are also self-criticisms, since Soehn is ultimately responsible for directing the players on how to interact as a team on the field.

The complaint about us looking for a draw remains valid. I still share the concern that Tom looks for one goal victories that he can lock down with the talent to do so. But even here, there is some indication that he's aware of the problem. His comments post RSL indicated that he wasn't happy with the passivity of United. It looks like he hasn't told Chris Pontius "Hey, look for a better shot" but instead wants the team to fire a little more.

So, after four games, I am not in the Fire Soehn camp, even if we all think that such a decision won't take place until the end of the season. If anything, I am a little more optimistic that United is not doomed, that Tom Soehn can find the right players, right tactics, and right strategy for the year.

Of course, I reserve the right to utterly change my mind after Friday night's match against New England.



Sometimes you face the principled opposition. Certainly there are and will be principled opponents to whatever stadium deal comes forward. But it is also a useful reminder that some stadium opposition will simply be "We're against it because they are for it" people. Citizens whose anger searches for an issue, the same way I simply search for a drink when I'm thirsty. It's not about the particulars, it's about generalities. It's worth remembering because there will no doubt be opposition to whatever stadium deal United arrives at next, and politicians may fear a grass-roots backlash of some sort. But the people lining up at the microphones may not hate the deal so much as the politicians, and without a stadium to complain about, they're still going to line up.

Just a reminder.

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14 April 2009

Contest for Free D.C. United adidas Stuff! Really!

Oh, this is very cool. Here's the deal: The new adidas (all lower case, they're big e.e. cummings readers over there) store is opening in Tyson's Corner, and a representative from Adidas has offered to give away free stuff to our readers if we'd help promote the store and its opening. Now, normally I shy away from being a corporate shill, but this is a special offer to our readers, it is D.C. United related, and they're serious about promoting United as part of this deal. That's all good stuff.

So, here's the deal. I'm going to promote the store opening on this blog, and I'll try and make it out there on Saturday. You should go out as well. Talk to the MLS MVP and the two rooks. Get that kit signed.

And, we've got loot, merchandise, prizes to give away. Which we will do in a contest format. Details on the contest after this message on the D.C. United stuff going on, and where to go. Per the e-mail I got:

DC United players Luciano Emilio, Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the new adidas store at Tysons Corner Center on Saturday, April 18. The athletes will meet and greet fans, sign autographs and compete with costumers in a free throw shooting and penalty shot contest.

It is going to an exciting day at the adidas store and I thought your readers would be very interested in this special event. See schedule of events below and attached media alert. Thanks for considering.

Saturday, April 18
12 P.M. – Grand opening and ribbon cutting
12 P.M. – 1 P.M. – Gilbert Arenas autograph session and free throw contest
2 P.M. – 3 P.M. – DC United autograph session and penalty kick competition

adidas Store
Tysons Corner Center
1961 Chain Bridge Road
McLean, VA 22102
Got all that? You going to go? Good. Now here's the contest:

You are familiar with our six word novel recaps. Well, we want you to write one. Select a topic, and write a six word novel for it. For instance, here's Bob's six word novel:

On what should happen at the Adidas Store Opening: "Gilbert, Emilio new BFFs. Go drinking."

You can pick any D.C. United related topic for your six word novel. Here are the rules:

  1. All entries to be e-mailed to thedcenters(at)gmail(dot)com, so we have an email address we can mail you back at. Entries must be received by Friday, 1PM. Please put the phrase "adidas contest" in your email subject line. We ask that you limit yourself to five submissions. Include any details of how you'd like your name to appear, and any links to websites you'd like to accompany your submission, in your email.
  2. We will post our finalists, and our winners, on Friday. Which means that by submitting you agree that we can publish your entries.
  3. We hope to give our one or two prizes, one for our winner and a runner-up. Not sure what'll be in them, it is whatever the adidas PR people decide, but they have said things like "jerseys" and "t-shirts." Winners will be chosen by, well, us here at The DCenters by whatever process we decide. Yes, it's totally subjective.
  4. Winner(s) will be contacted by email, and we will ask for mailing addresses for your prize packages or figure out if we can actually give them to you at the adidas store opening
  5. We reserve the right to edit your submissions for grammar, punctuation, spelling, or taste. Not that such a right means our grammar, punctuation, spelling, or taste is any better than yours.
Since this is a kind of neat thing for the adidas PR people to ask us to do, and it's nice of them to volunteer to give away stuff to our readers, I beg your indulgence as I may revisit this over the course of the week. Let's see those novels.

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Everybody Talking to Their Pockets, Everybody Wants a Box of Chocolates and a Long Stemmed Rose

The question is not whether you are cynical, the question is "are you cynical enough?" In revisiting Don Garber's exclusive interview to Steve Goff, the natural cynical reaction is to start the countdown clock to St. Louis United. However, if you move your cynicism from a detached worldview in which the Laws of Man are dominated by the Law of Murphy to a more bitter one where the world is one where those of power have all been handed a script, and play their parts, and no one bothered to let you know that you were an extra, then the Garber interview takes a new perspective. The Don has come forward, in media res, and performed his role as the exposition fairy to try and bolster MacFarlane and Co.

Now, some people are calling this sort of thing "extortion." I disagree with the word choice, but the point is well made. What Mr. Garber has done can best be understood by considering what would happen if he had said, well, the opposite. If Garber comes out and says "Well, we're disappointed in the progress on the stadium front, and if something can't be worked out, we'll just have to keep United in D.C. anyways," can you imagine how MacFarlane and Chang and all would react? Garber would have completley cut them off at the knees. Instead, he says the only thing he can say to plausibly bolster United's posiiton: That the league thinks relocation is a viable option. But the relocation is theoretical, not actual. In essence, Garber has produced his firearm of choice, but left it conspicously unloaded. There are no good relocation options, even in St. Louis at the moment. For Garber to really make this a reality, he needs to have one of two things -- Either another city proposing a stadium deal acceptable to ownership on the table, or a new ownership group with a stadium deal in another city who would be willing to take United instead of an expansion team.

Both couses of actions face problems. The first would be negotiating a stadium deal for a team that does not necessarily exist. In essence, these would be contingent negotiations, which is an awkward situation to be in. So it seems that having an ownership group that has their own stadium deal would be an easier position, but this too has a problem. MacFarlane paid $33M for the rights to United as an IO team, and an expansion fee is around $15M to $20M. So any ownership group might face an addition 50% more in costs to get into the door than otherwise, assuming MacFarlane simply would sell at a break-even point (a dubious proposition at best).

So, while you may panic at Garber's comments, to me they change nothing other than making explicit the only leverage MacFarlane has, and only when you don't really think about it. For us to really panic, we need to see the depleted uranium bullets laid on the table. Otherwise, all Garber has done is state what everybody knows already.

Am I optimistic? No, not hardly, but I am far from pessimistic. Either a new stadium deal gets worked, or it doesn't. But if it doesn't, MLS needs a good option on how to deal with the team in another city, and I don't see that yet.

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13 April 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.04: At Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake 2 : 1 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

United plays to not win. Doesn't.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, The Goffather: "United showed promising signs again Saturday, going ahead for the fourth straight game, but by halftime the lead was gone, and when Javier Morales scored in the 80th minute, D.C. was headed for a 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake before an announced crowd of 11,793 at rainy Rio Tinto Stadium. "
Desert News, James Edwards: "RSL was forced to fight for 90 minutes against a quality opponent in sloppy conditions, but somehow the players found a way to get the job done even when a draw or even a loss seemed inevitable"
Examiner.Com [DC], Ed Morgans: "United got a goal in the 38th minute from Luciano Emilio - his third of the season - when he headed home a well-placed cross by Chris Pontius from the right side. The goal was one of just two shots on target for United all night long."
Examiner.Com [Utah], Brian Shaw: "Real Salt Lake would answer quickly, however, doing the only thing that seemed to be working offensively for them in the first half, and that’s swinging the ball wide to onrushing midfielders. Will Johnson raced down the left flank, crossing a perfect ball into the middle of the six-yard box, where Jamison Olave awaited, redirecting the cross past the wobbly hands of D.C. goalkeeper Louis Crayton to tie the match at 1-1 going into halftime."
Goal.Com, Randy Davis: "In the 62nd-minute defensive substitute Raphael Cox whipped in a cross from the left wing that Findley was able to get his head on, but the ball popped straight up in the air. Findley was able to head the ball again as it came down, but the ball went well wide of the goal. Findley had another great chance off of a pass over the top by Nat Borchers a minute later, but couldn’t get a shot off with any power as the defender caught up to him and nudged him off the ball. Real Salt Lake was the aggressor from that point on as DC United appeared content to play for the draw."
MLSNet, John Coon: "RSL finally found its game-winner in the 80th minute when Kyle Beckerman tried to find Robbie Findley on a long pass to the top of the box. The ball deflected off Findley somewhat, but Javier Morales -- who trailed him -- managed to track it down. He sliced a shot right past Crayton to give Real their first lead -- an advantage the team never relinquished."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "United didn’t mount much of an attack after that energy draining goal and their game long tactic of playing for the draw fizzled out and resulted in United’s fourth loss in a row in the state of Utah (three of which ended in 2-1 losses)."
MLSNet, Jeremy Horton: "Early in the second half, D.C. enjoyed a fair amount of possession, but had trouble turning that possession into scoring chances... Added Soehn: 'I don't think we created enough in the final third.'"
Fullback Files, Fullback: "Gomez looked more active than in the previous matches, at least in the parts of the match I saw. That's encouraging. Where he fell flat on his face for me was in dead ball situations. I'm well and truly aware of the DC United Corner Kick Curse, but come on! At least get the ball high enough to clear the first defender, won't you? By contrast, RSL always looked like they were a danger from corners and free kicks."
RSLBoz, Truhlk: "With the rainy conditions and the ref not making much of an effort to keep up with the run of play, the second half turned into a very ugly game of soccer."

The Good

  1. Luciano Emilio, Starting with a Streak: At four matches into the season, Emilio is currently sitting second in the league with three goals. The thing about Emilio is that you can tell when he's feeling good, and you can tell early when he's feeling bad. Right now he looks very good, and a combination of Pontius and Emilio on United's best worked goal as a team this season was a very nice move.
  2. Christian Gomez Will Pass to X, Where X is a young D.C. United player: Remember the "Jaime won't pass to Freddy", "Christian won't pass to Freddy" discussions of yesteryear? There was always some truth to those arguments, though not as much as the makers of those arguments pretended. What I like this season is that I don't have any sense of that at all, this team is willing to play everyone in at the appropriate time. Which is good, since the last thing we need is to tie one or two hands behind our backs. Bootsy in the first impressions wondered aloud at "Why the merit for Gomez?" This is why -- if his job is to run the offense, this is the first match where he really seemed involved at using all of the tools at his disposal.
  3. Marc Burch: After criticizing him early in this season, a more stay-at-home Burch did well against RSL. Both goals had attacks down United's right flank, and while Burch perhaps should have helped cover on the first goal, his blame is tertiarary as opposed to primary. For the most part, this was his best game as a defender (as opposed to a set piece taker) that he's had. Part of that was the quality of opposition, but overall I was pleased.
  4. Jakovic = Erpen: My poor spelling from the First Impressions decide, remember that one thing Erpen did very well was recover. I frequently remember him making a ridiculously poor pass to an opposing defender, but then recovering with a difficult tackle to atone for his mistake. Jakovic has that same ability to recover.

The Bad

  1. Christian Gomez, Dead Ball Specialist: Several places will note that Christian Gomez's corner kicks were fairly atrocius. They were. I count three that didn't clear the first defender, your count may vary. Also, how does Gomez pick up a yellow for dissent? Shouldn't that be the Captain's job?
  2. Louis Crayton: Ah, we were all worried about him wandering about on the field like an absent-minded greek philosopher in a bath towel, and now he gives up a goal by pushing a ball into the side netting (that'd be the wrong side netting from our perpective).
  3. Playing for the Draw: Here's what I want you to think about, and it's important that you do. Playing for the Draw is a Conventional Wisdom tactic, one that United fans that lived through the Rongren and Hudson years can well remember. If Tom Soehn decides to not play for the draw, but to go for the win, then he is likely to give up more goals, and consequently may lose several games where we can say "Why didn't Tom Soehn play it safe?" So if we're going to criticize the play for the draw, or play safe with the one goal lead strategy, we must be willing to accept the consequences of letting some games, and some points, get away from United. Now, there's a potential compromise -- Play safe with the lead, but don't be happy with the draw. I can get behind that. Just so long as we're consistent, right?
  4. Jakovic = Erpen:Where Erpen would simply distribute poorly, Jakovic tends to have difficulty on anything in the air, a huge liability for the single central back of a 3-5-2. Now, he's young, which helps, so perhaps Jakovic's huge problem can be tought out of him. This is a positioning problem, not a brain-fart problem. I tend to think training can help more with the former, and a psychologist more with the latter.
  5. Rodney Wallace: While I've been mostly positive, his poor touch on Emilio's back heel made me cry. What I think excites people, including me, about Rodney are his attacking instincts, his willingness to make some smart runs off the ball. What's frustrating is the execution of the same when the ball comes.
  6. Francis Doe, Santino Quaranta, Come from Behind Subs: One thing that we still haven't seen this year is what happens to United if they give up the first goal. Now, ten minutes is not a particularly long time to see how a team will respond to being down a goal, but can you say you were comforted in any way? Doe for Gomez (and moving Pontius back into the middle) did not seem to be particulary effective. Tino seemed marginally better, but if I rate players, I doubt I would have rated either. There just was nothing going on.
  7. Clyde Simms, On-Field Leader and Captain: There is a place for a cerebral leader, typically on a young team that's impulsive and undisciplined. However, on a team with Moreno up top, earnest rookies like Pontius and Wallace who seem to be focusing on keeping their heads down, and Bryan Namoff in the back, Ben Olsen's fire seems like the appropriate leader, one who'll yap and step up and play the role of a larger ego on the field. Clyde, and I love Clyde, is just too quiet. He needed to be the one yapping at Kevin Stott, not Christian Gomez. He needed to be the one to bring the fire with Ben Olsen out. Clyde's a capable player, and I can see him credibly as a leader, just not sure he's right to be the leader on this team at any given point.

Officiating Watch

I was all set to give Kevin Stott a positive rating, but the more I think about it, the more I think he may have been a tad trigger happy on the early yellow to Javier Morales. The Wingert and Borcher yellows both seemed legitimate as cynical fouls. For the most part, I feel pleased with the officiating this season. Really. That's kind of stunning.

Likert Scale Grade: 3 - Average

Karma Bank

Was United unlucky to lose the point at any time? Not particularly. In fact, United may have been fortunate that Salt Lake didn't notch a second or third goal earlier. As a result, had United earned a draw or win, there would have been a karma transaction, but with the loss the account was settled in the game. No change, +1 for the season.

Man of the Match


Final Thoughts

It is interesting to think that a DC fan with Fox Soccer Net will now have seen twice as many Washington Freedom games on TV than United games. I have no commentary on whether this is fitting or not, it's just a side note. I'm sure others have noted this already. CSN is, I am sure, keeping their schedule open for the Caps post-season run, and more power to them.

I still feel the same about this match as I did when it occured -- Ah, there you are 2-1 loss. You're overdue.

The interesting thing about New England this Friday is that New England seems to be the kind of team that United wants to be. Get a goal early, lock it down. They probably will do that better than anyone else in the league this year. When looked at it from this perspective, the idea of giving up an early goal is chilling.

So, as a fan, here's what I say. If United starts cautious, then so be it. But if they get an early goal themselves, or the match stays level, it is time to throw caution to the wind, right? I mean, really, do we want to be the Revolution?

And doesn't this make the Revolution the most poorly named team in the league? If anything, they conservativeness is shocking, it would be like the people rose up and asked, no demanded, that khakis and polo shirts be our national uniform and that we all allocate 6% of our pre-tax earnings to our IRAs. A revolution of young Republicans. Steve Nicol, as played by David Spade.

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12 April 2009

Everyone calm down...

I didn't get to watch or listen to tonight's match, but here's what dcunited.com is telling me when I just got home...

I don't know what all the negativity is about, because apparently we scored twice as many goals as our opponent. Sorry RSL, but you get the "L".

11 April 2009

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.

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09 April 2009

Did I make this happen with my mind?

Oh wow - this is so awesome...

I do not like Chad Barrett. It goes something like this on my list of most hated MLS players:
  1. Chad Barrett
  2. Landon Donovan*
  3. Taylor Twellman*
  4. C. Blanco

Anyway, I saw this on ESPN Soccernet's weekly MLS Power Rankings and about lost my sh*t.
Toronto's strikers still fail to show any signs of a threat. With Chad Barrett leading the way, this isn't exactly a surprise.
Thank you ESPN.

* Step it up in South Africa and we'll be alright.

08 April 2009

Oh Give Me a Home

The news that United has lost its stadium suitor in PG County will no doubt be greeted with gnashing of teeth, a pre-millennial apocalyptic foreboding which, once descended, can not be lifted by any sort of rational thought. I can understand this frustration. United simply can not continue to pay the rent at RFK with MLS footing the bill, the other Investor/Operators/Owners-in-all-but-name won't simply let that continue. But, well, the absence of a good plan right now doesn't equate to doom and despair and St. Louis United. So when should we worry?

Quite simply, we worry when St. Louis or another non-expansion city announces they are putting a stadium deal on the table and backing it up with legislation. At that point, we can assume the back channel deals have gone down, the pieces are in position, the threat is real. While United can not stagnate in stadium limbo indefinately, MLS also can't risk alienating a reasonably faithful fanbase without a certain stadium deal in place somewhere else. In a way, expansion benefits United, as most potential locales are working with expansion groups for stadiums.

The other concern would, of course, be indications that Mr. MacFarlane intends to sell the team, perhaps to a consortium that thinks they can get a stadium deal together. Most believe V-Mac intended to use the United stadium deal as an entry point into a commercial real-estate development in the greater DC area, and I'm not sure he has an interest in real-estate development in, let's say, St. Louis. His focus is on this region. But he is, ultimately, a business man, and if this area is telling him "no deal that way" then we're a sunk cost, and he knows how to deal with sunk costs.

So, while I'm not concerned now, either of these developments would concern me. Significantly. And that's when I cover myself with a burlap sack and dust off my "THE END IS NEAR" sign.

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06 April 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.03: Houston Dynamo

D.C. United 1 : 0 Houston Dynamo

Six Word Novel Recap

The answer, Mr. Webb, is "Undefeated."

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "Luciano Emilio scored less than two minutes into the second half and, despite playing short-handed for the final 19 minutes because of Jaime Moreno's red card, United upended the Houston Dynamo, 1-0, in an MLS game before just 12,594 at RFK Stadium...In the 47th minute, Namoff dropped a long ball over the Houston defense. Emilio maneuvered around crossed-up defender Bobby Boswell, the former United standout, and cleverly chipped the ball over on-rushing goalkeeper Pat Onstad...'I just tried to play into that space and luckily Bobby missed it, which created a one-on-one for Emilio,' said Namoff, who preserved the lead five minutes later with a goal-line clearance of Ricardo Clark's stab off a corner kick. "
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "Namoff returned to his area of expertise five minutes later, clearing a well-struck Ricardo Clark half-volley from 11 yards off the goal line, after it somehow had got through a maze of players during a mad scramble in the United penalty area."
The Washington Times, John Haydon: "United goalie Louis Crayton played in his first competitive game since late October and made four saves, including three in the last 10 minutes...Forward Ange N'Silu made his league debut in United's starting lineup. The Frenchman showed confidence on the ball and got behind the Houston defense a number of times in the first half. He was replaced by Moreno in the 65th minute. Moreno's night ended six minutes later when referee Baldomero Toledo issued him a straight red card for a tackle from behind on Brad Davis. "
DCist, Aaron Morrisey: "For the first forty-five minutes at RFK Stadium last night, it felt like there was something missing. Maybe it was the team's shooting boots, maybe it was the initiative. Possibly that little extra oomph which the team usually comes out of the tunnel with. It might have been the intricate touch and innovation in front of goal."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "Seventeen minutes in, D.C. right winger Chris Pontius cut inside and almost set up his roommate and fellow rookie Rodney Wallace with a deep, teasing cross to the far post, but Wallace's angle was too tight and his touch floated harmlessly above the goalmouth. Such scoring opportunities were all too few and far between in the early going, however, as both teams struggled to settle the ball and build sustained possession."
Goal.Com, Steven Streff: "After a first half failed to produce many chances for either side, the teams displayed more energy in the second. "
Examiner.Com, Ed Morgan: "Moreno’s red card: The play started in the midfield, with Moreno being dispossessed. Moreno, having been on the field just six minutes after Ange N’Silu started in favor of him, then raced back to defend (which is good), but when Houston midfielder Brad Davis cut to the left to try and set up the attack, Moreno caught him with a tackle that looked to be mostly from behind. Live, it appeared to be a yellow card infraction, and that Toledo was harsh with the red. Certainly, it’s rare that a player comes into the game as a sub and his first tackles results in an ejection. In watching the replay at MLSNet several times, Moreno makes contact with his left shin on Davis’ right foot. Moreno’s right foot may have also made contact with Davis as the Houston midfielder was falling to the turf, but it’s difficult to tell. While Moreno can argue he was attempting to play the ball; but the way Davis had it controlled, Moreno was never going to win it or even so much as get a touch on it. What’s worse is, the tackle came barely 12 yards inside the United half. A common foul is fine there, it’s too far out for the free kick to present much danger. But a sliding, lunging go at an attacker from behind with no chance to win the ball is going to be seen harshly by many an MLS referee. Put it this way. If Davis had fouled Moreno like that, I would have wanted Davis sent off." [Note: Sorry to steal so much of this Ed, but your analysis of this is about as good as it gets (and happens to agree with mine.) One other thing I would add is that seconds before, Ben Olsen had slid in on a tackle which was neatly avoided, and Moreno may have felt that with Ben out of the play, he had to do something. Which doesn't make what he did any smarter, but still...]
DC Sports Box, Abram Fox: "Houston came within inches of tying the game in the 82nd minute when Davis unloaded a booming shot from straight on, about 20 feet above the penalty area. The line drive kick nailed the crossbar and went up into the air and back down in the goal box, where Crayton punched it away and was fouled in the process, ending the Dynamo threat. Three minutes later, Houston had another excellent opportunity when midfielder Stuart Holden got a centering pass at the top of the penalty area and fired a low shot just a couple feet wide to the left of the net, and two minutes after that midfielder Ricardo Clark got a clean shot off from just above D.C.'s penalty area but sent it about five feet wide right.
Fullback Files, Fullback: "Another MIA week for Gomez. Marked out of games or past it?"
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Gomez, who knows? He isn't getting the ball, whether denied by marking or service I'm not sure. He calls for the ball, waves his arms, flaps them when he doesn't get the ball, and the few times he gets the ball his touches are good. His free kicks are still terrific."
The Offisde: Houston Dynamo, Jeremy: "The Dynamo may have been better served by starting Corey Ashe and giving Brian Ching extra time to rest after national team duty. But hindsight is 20/20. Maybe Dominic Kinnear, had he not been suspended, would have pulled the plug on Ching a little earlier in the match."

The Good

  1. A Clean Sheet: I seem to recall waiting a long time for one of these last year, so it was nice to see one, especially given recent history.
  2. Everyone has a moment: Certainly, some performances were better than others, but everyone other that Jaime Moreno had a moment on the field that made me think "Yes, this person can belong out here." N'Sulu, Wallace, Pontius all had moments of goodness, although none of them sustained it. Gomez had some nice touches and flicks early in the match before fading. Namoff had some good tackles plus an unwitting assist, Jakovic nearly misplayed the same ball Bobby Boswell did (although he misplayed it in a completley different way) but settled down nicely. Burch had one nice ball in (more on this later).
  3. Louis Crayton, the Anti-Weeble Wobble (all he does is fall down!): He kept us in the game with the key save at the death. Oh, and while people may complain about Josh Wicks, plan on seeing him again at some point. Louis will miss a game for accumulated yellows at some point, all for delay of restart. Man, dude looked like a dying flounder the way he would flop to the ground with a ball.
  4. Luciano Emilio: The revelation, for me, was watching Emilio run for 80 minutes in this match and do everything, on both sides of the ball, that you can ask for. The final 10 minutes he was sucking wind, completley beat, but he had earned that fatigue with excellent effort.

The Bad

  1. Marc Burch: His body of work from the back line was the weakest of all three. I know some criticize Namoff's distribution (See last week) but Marc's first crosses were miserable, and his free kick never made it over the first defender. I will forgive all of this for good defense (see last week) but of all three starting defenders, Burch's body of work was the weakest, though perhaps it didn't have the near highlight gaff Jakovic had.
  2. Jaime Moreno: Dumb tackle, we'll address in the officiating watch.
  3. Christian Gomez: BDR wrote above about the lack of service Gomez was getting. This is true, but I don't recall Christian showing for the ball after about the first 15 minutes. That I think was the difference. Early in the game, he was checking back around the midfield stripe. Later, he was looking to put himself in space. Part of this denial may have been Houston, but not all of it.
  4. Pontius in the Middle: After Fred's introduction, where the entire stadium thought it was a straight up swap for Gomez, I was stunned to see Pontius slide into the middle, and then function as a combination attacking-mid/withdrawn forward. It was awkward looking. Maybe they're still feeling out what they have, but I want the kid to have a chance to settle into a role.
  5. The Bunkering Prior to the Red Card: Hard to argue with the decision later, including keeping Fred as almost our fourth defender on the back line, but man, we were looking like a team trying to lock it down before that. Maybe my mind is tricking me, but that's what I recall.
  6. Clyde Simms: After he took the Captain's armband from Ben Olsen, I don't think he made another tackle. While it is not in his temprament, is it wrong to wish for more bite from Clyde? If he had that, I think he'd be everything I want in his role.
  7. Houston Attacking Tactics: Yes, Holden is no DeResario, but I don't understand Houston's final 15 minutes. The idea, from what I can tell, was to attack Fred and United's right. But given Holdern's natural tendancy to drift to his right, why not attack United's left more? Burch is still out of position, Wallace is a rookie who is improving, but far from intimidating, and you've had some success down that flank.

Officiating Watch

Baldomero Toledo called a fair game, and I love Ed's breakdown of Jaime's red card above. At the time, and in the first impressions, I thought it was a harsh red, but not entirely undeserving. After a rewatch, I can say that it was a tough red, but not harsh. He had the rest of the match under control. The ARs seemed to have missed an off-side or two, and Toledo missed one hand ball and called another phantom, but overall I was pleased.

Likert Scale Grade: 4 - Good

Karma Bank

No change in the karma. The red is legit, the saves were real, the lucky breaks were evenly distributed.

Man of the Match

Luciano Emilio. Certific of Merit to Mr. N'Sulu, Rodney Wallace, and Ben Olsen. Mild note of chastisement to Mr. Pontius for not putting more of his shots on frame, but I am glad he took the shots.

Final Thoughts

A win is a win. Straight up, if you offer me 15 more of these types of games, complete with the dreary first half, bunkering, and all of that, but United gets the same result, I take it. Hands down. We have a win, a clean sheet, and more points then I thought we'd have at this time. Good stuff.

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