30 May 2009

First Impressions -- New England Revolution 2 : 1 D.C. United

I have generally been impressed by the jobs of the center officials in MLS this season. While there have been quibbles and complaints, for the most part the officiating has been iffy at worst, and more often than not decent.

Which is why I hope that Hilario Grajeda was misled by his AR on an atrocious penalty kick decision. If the AR said he saw the foul in the box, then the Center Official should give lee way to that call. It doesn't matter if the AR apparently has the eyesight of a guacomic puffer-fish, supposedly he has the angle.

And it was on a travesty of a penalty kick call that New England won this match. To be fair, Bryan Namoff helped things along. His reaction to Taylor Twellman going down in the box in front of him was that of a blood covered throwing away a knife when the constable walks in the door. "A body? What body? Oh, that body! It was here when I got here. So was the knife. And that letter that says 'I'll get you Mr. Twel, see if I don't!' I'M NOT GUILTY!!!"

And while New England undoubtedly stole this match, they at least brought the lockpicks with them for most of the second half, and United did put a pile of money in the front window under the lamp before casually announcing "We'll be out for the next forty-five minutes, I sure hope no one takes this" and then strolling away.

Still, why I can rationalize that New England certainly had the second half far more their way than United had the first half in its favor, it doesn't feel that way at a visceral level. This feels like a match taken and gift-wrapped for the other team. I laugh when I hear stories from Europe of referees being smuggled out of the country after a controversial call, but a game like this makes me feel a bit more sympathy for the hooligans and has me checking the major thoroughfares out of Foxboro.

What a punch in the balls.

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24 May 2009

First Impressions -- D.C. United 0 : 0 Real Salt Lake

They say some nil-nil draws can be exciting and dramatic as a scorefest. This was not of them. Tedium was an ever-present blanket at RFK, draping fans and players alike in a humid embrace. It was a game where even Clint Mathis running his mouth like a deranged poodle defending his turf from a mastiff was more a pleasant diversion than a source of interest. Forget Tony Limarzi's excited inflections, this game should have been called by Garrison Keillor. "Well, the news at RFK is of the languid summer, the trees venturing towards green. In soccer at RFK, it is considered impolite to score, since most of the forwards are Lutherans and that sort of excitement might lead to rock and roll."

Even Fred's misses were not as exciting as normal. This match was a volley over the bar, a routine miss instead of the glorious and epic miss from last Wednesday. The Barra was displaying a "Sing or Leave" sign to its faithful, and the match made the second option a serious consideration. Part of this was the lack of engagement from United's attack. Jaimo Moreno was silent for 13 minutes. I had utterly forgotten he was in the game until the 14th minute, when he kicked off a stretch of multiple bad giveaways in the defensive third. The great addition of Moreno was his ability to the hold the ball, right? Not so much.

Similarly, Emilio seemed reluctant to pull the trigger on a shot, passing up chances to try and put the ball right on his foot only to find his momentum had carried him to a difficult angle. Christian Gomez showed a few scant signs of passion, at one point pulling off a classic forty yard sprint with the ball that ultimately went wanting. The only first half player demonstrating any desire to score was Santino Quaranta, and even he ultimately was disgusted but what he saw, even rightfully yapping at Jaime after Jaime never made a run on a nicely headed through ball played by Tino.

That being said, the defense was better. While RSL dominated the shots category in the first half, most of these were distance affairs with little traffic to bother Josh Wicks. At the end of the half he made an excellent stop to preserve the deadlock. In the second half, Wicks came alive, pulling out three excellent saves. Wicks is the first keeper to have a game where the presence of the keeper ultimately saved whatever hope United had for points. Similarly, Marc Burch's game defensively was strong. While his marking off the ball remains a little suspect, his tackling was excellent and timely, and was ultimately crucial in thwarting some RSL advances.

Tom Soehn deserves credit for pulling Moreno at half-time and replacing him with Pontius. The addition of Rodney Wallace two-thirds through also at least added someone willing to make the runs Fred was not. But tactically, this team was consistently trying to play over the top against an RSL back line that seemed content to handle it, boxing Fred or Tino to the side and then turning the play back.

If you decided to pass on the Freedom game and only watch the United match, you made the wrong choice. This game is forgettable, a waste of a strong defensive and keeping effort by an attack that seemed to thing their three day weekend had already begun.

Your man of the match is quite rightfully Josh Wicks. Merit awards to Burch and Tino. Censure to Moreno and Emilio.

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22 May 2009

Good-bye Mr. MacFarlane, Congratulations Mr. Chang

The news that Mr. Will Chang has bought out Mr. Victor MacFarlane is, of course, being analyzed for any implication of stadium politics. That's healthy, and I can understand some people's optimism along those lines, but while a simplified stadium approach from Mr. Chang may make it easier, it may also make things more difficult. I'm not sure how this plays out. Yes, there's less of a specter of "look at that give-away of mixed use land to that rich guy" but there's also more of a question of "so what does this stadium actually do for the city/county/locality when it is built? What does it anchor? Why invest in any of this?"

If you had any hope of a more soccer-specific, less entertainment multipurpose stadium, you can shelve that right now, though to be honest, you probably should have shelved it a year or two ago. And by "you", I, of course, mean "me."

However, while I have the greatest regard for the engagement and enthusiasm of Mr. Chang, I am sad that United will no longer have an African-American majority owner. Perhaps we really all are post-racial now, and such concerns shouldn't bother me, but it felt good that MLS was able to be inclusive to the African-American community at the levels of players, coaching, and ownership without it having to be a major drama. And, the longer we go in professional sports in general, or MLS in particular, without African-American ownership, the more you sense the smell of cigars and leather chairs in the old boys room. We know that MacFarlane was in this primarily for the real-estate, and that is a fine motive for me, and that once that opportunity looked to dry up, he moved on. We know he wasn't forced out. But part of me mourns this passing anyway.

Yes, I realize that this is probably ridiculous nonsense, a sort of failed utopian vision of racial harmony, or perhaps the illusions thereof. And yes, I recognize that Mr. Chang, not to put too fine a point on it, is not exactly lily-white and that the Asian American community in D.C. is a vital constituency. So what am I missing then? I don't know, but I feel that something has passed on.

Still, to Mr. Chang, I congratulate you on your rise to majority ownership. You are a fan of the team, a man willing to dedicate your heart, your mind, and your hair to this club's success. Get us a stadium, and I could ask no more of you as an ideal owner. Good luck sir.

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20 May 2009

Only Impressions -- D.C. United 5 : 3 New York Red Bulls

There will be no debrief, as this game isn't even a U.S. Open Cup match. It's a play-in, and frankly that's crap. I want games against the Islanders (of Pennsylvania), against the Battery, against some team called Ajax that's from Baltimore. That's the U.S. Open Cup I love. This play-in system against MLS teams that I see twice on other occasions just doesn't move me. So no debrief, as a note of protest.

That said, if you did make it out to RFK, it was a lovely night for a game. The weather was perfect, and the game was bizarrely fascinating. I suppose I'm supposed to say something about how even with the 4-nil lead, I was nervous, but it ain't true. Even when New York pulled within two, I wasn't particularly worried (had they managed to get it within one, I might have been frustrated.) But it was a fun game to watch. It opened with N'Silu and Khumalo putting on a clinic, a series of runs and passes that carved the defense. It featured Fred's most amazing miss of the year, if not this century. After Pontius brilliantly breaks through the back line and received a well weighted ball, he draws out Cepero with amazing patience, and sent the ball square to Fred, who managed with all the space and time in the world to put it over the bar from within the six yard box. If a miss could be a thing of glory, it was that miss. It was epic. Soaring. Pontius promptly gets one in the net on a corner kick (!), Boyzz drops in the goal, Barklage converts on a play entirely set up by N'Silu's doggedness on the left side, and Fred then manages to dribble one into the goal (!!). It was a lovely display of goals you may never see D.C. United score again this season. The only thing missing was Brandon Prideaux being signed at half-time to put one in the net as a second half sub.

And yes, the team was sloppy, and yes, New York got as close as two goals. But if there was a match with a pseudo-exhibition feel that makes you glad to watch it, it was this kind of a match.

So how did they look? N'Silu was strong until he ran himself out. Boyzzz seemed engaged and smart the entire time. Brandon Barklage quietly put together a wonderful game, especially taking the ball away and then beating Jorge Rojas on two occasions. Chris Pontius would easily have had man of the match status if I were to award such a thing for his strong work in midfield, well timed runs, and his two goals which were well deserved.

Problems? Sure. Avery John was exposed at left back on more than one occasion and had to be bailed out by Janicki or Namoff (including one Namoff snap header on a dangerous close cross.) Janicki himself got beat, only to recover well. Wicks was not at fault for the three goals, but was caught out of position on some set plays and high crosses. Center Official Mark Kadlecik apparently left his cards in his other pants and seemed powerless to stop the game from getting chippy at the end. Marc Burch did not look comfortable as a second half sub. And while we used all four substitutions, for which Soehn deserves credit, we did let Chris Pontius and Bryan Namoff, who could both use a little more rest, run more than 60 minutes.

Still, all in all, a fun, enjoyable night out. Could they have made this a little more meaningful? Yeah, it should have counted for the Atlantic Cup. OK, you're right, that would have changed nothing. But man, I enjoyed it.

Now let's see if after running out Gomez, Pontius, Namoff, and Fred for a half or more, if they have enough against RSL.

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Crabcakes and Football

Or, Rodney Wallace May be a Dick, and That's Okay

I'm going to be terribly unfair to Rodney Wallace and take one comment from the Patrick Stevens profile in the Washington Times completely out of context:

Wallace lived in Costa Rica until age 9, when work brought his parents to the D.C. area. But he was already instilled with a disdain for losing, even in loosely organized games when there was little on the line.

Now, there's a difference between "Wanting to win" and "disdain for losing." Wanting to win is that healthy competitive nature I can handle, but playing, even at, say age 11 with someone who hated losing always kind of sucked. They'd whine about sides, berate their teammates, call phantom fouls. Maybe it's just the people I played with growing up in Maryland, and perhaps Rodney isn't that way at all, but it does touch on something I've been thinking about.

There's a sort of public persona that many soccer stars, especially rookies, adopt, and trot out for any half-time "talk to a player" segment. It's that sort of quiet, one-game-at-a-time, we need to play tighter, the team out here is real good sort of thing. As if they were all Nuke LaLoosh reading a teleprompter programmed by Crash Davis. As you get more time in the league, you are allowed to develop your own personality that deviates from this standard template. Ben Olsen, for example. But plenty of players stick to the basics. It's safe.

Which brings me to this -- if you were to learn, or see, another player in public acting like a complete prick, would it really bother you? I don't know. If it was a manager, or a front-office type, or a captain of the team, it probably would. Those are probably the only people for whom Character with all that the capital C implies matters. But if Rodney Wallace was someone who hated to lose so much that he would only play Scrabble with the official dictionary next to him so he could challenge "INALIENABLE" when you played it on the double word score, then I don't think I mind. As long as it doesn't affect the team, do I care if someone is overly competitive, or full of themselves, or whatever? Probably not. In fact, to be a professional player, I imagine you would have to have a ton of self confidence, you would have to be someone who others go "Damn, that guy is full of himself" after you meet him. And so the template interview personality is created to counteract a situation that probably appeals to a lot of Type A people.

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18 May 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.10: At C.D. Chivas USA

C.D. Chivas USA 2 : 2 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

"Way to avoid losing!" Now win.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "United staged another stirring comeback Saturday night, scoring twice in the final 13 minutes to earn a 2-2 tie with Chivas USA and extend its unbeaten streak in league play to six. "
Goal.Com, Zac Lee Rig: "A goal and an assist from Santino Quaranta leveled the game at 2-2 after Chivas USA took a first half lead and looked to have all three points wrapped up."
LAist, Angel Magana: "Galindo broke in on the United goal after a missed offside call and easily beat D.C. 'keeper Louis Crayton to give the L.A. side the lead at the 25th minute. "
DailyBreeze.Com, Phil Ball: "In the 43rd minute, after Crayton had knocked away two crossing passes - including one off Braun's head - Harris sent in a cross from the left. Lillingston, charging in, beat defender Marc Burch to the ball and headed it in before Crayton could reposition himself, making it 2-0. "
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "
United subbed in midfielder Fred to start the second half and right away the team started to press the issue. United was unable to take advantage of their new found confidence as Chivas USA’s defense held firm. Christian Gomez was the next sub to come in and he too injected a bit of life into United only to see Jaime Moreno’s semi-breakaway fall away easily when he decided to try and lay off to Emilio instead of taking the better option of going straight in on Thornton."
MLSNet, Luis Bueno: "Quaranta and Emilio combined on D.C.'s first goal as Emilio re-directed a shot from Quaranta off the left post and across the goal line. Quaranta took care of the second goal himself as he fired a shot from nearly an identical angle."
MLSNet, Jeffrey King: "'Once again, we showed the character that we've shown all year,' said United head coach Tom Soehn. 'No matter what happens, we're going to fight through adversity. Sometimes the adversity is the officiating, sometimes it's the opponent. You have to fight through it and today we did a great job of doing that.'"
DCUMD, Shatz: "The more I watch Dejan Jakovic, the more he looks like a top level MLS center back. Yet we give up two or more goals in virtually every match. It sure feels like our back line is better than what we had last year, but that isn't showing in our goal's against column."
Fullback Files, Fullback: "...questions will have to be asked of Soehn about starting Olsen. Maybe if Jacobson was fully fit, he would have started regardless, but you just hope Benny didn't set himself back a couple of weeks by trying to go for this match."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Stirring comebacks are going to end eventually. I'd like United win 0-2 on the road for a change, win 2-0 at home for a change. Stirring comebacks give a team confidence, give ruby fans like me enthusiasm, but needing a string of stirring comebacks is as bad a sign as good, yes? "

The Good

  1. Going for it all the way: If, in the past, I have written in anguish about Tom Soehn packing it in, especially on the road, I must take it back here. United did come out to play this match, perhaps knowing that Chivas was too good not to score at some point, and knowing that it would be damned difficult to come from behind. That United managed to come from behind anyways is, at least, partially a product of attacking early. This team knew what was working in attack, and pressed it harder the second half.
  2. Santino Quaranta: A goal and an assist is a good evening, but the nature of both were excellent. The cross in to Emilio was a classic dangerous ball even had Chivas been able to get a foot on it. The goal, which despite Gomez's protestations I'm pretty sure was Tino's alone, was excellently placed. Tino's season seems to get better as time goes on.
  3. Dejan Jakovic: Really, he was placed in intense pressure, and held up. It is very conforting to see. I want to see more of Janicki, but I also realize that Dejan was won the role he has now, and you just can't sit him down.
  4. Fred: It could have been coincidental that his substitution for Pontius (who had a decent, but not stellar match) led to start of United turning the heat back up. It could have been, but Fred was doing quite a bit of good posession and short passing work. He was holding balls exactly where Pontius was having trouble, and for that alone he deserves a rare call out this season on the good side.

The Bad

  1. Louis Crayton, You're Not Getting that Call: Mark Geiger was more than willing to let incidental contact go from the first whistle. So even after legitimately taking an elbow in the box that should have been ruled a foul, you need to get back up again. Which Louis did, but only after flopping for a good four seconds, a four seconds he needed back.
  2. The Ben Olsen Start, and the Ben Olsen Injury: Bootsy from the comments: "Put simply, even if Klestjan was playing, even if playing w/o Olsen meant we had only a 1% chance of coming away with any kind of a result, you *still don't play him*. Getting a result in this match was never so important that it was worth sacrificing Olsen for a month or more -- something eminently predictable from past history." This is not even old history, this is last season. United had a dependence on old players at pretty much every position. And the injuries and missed games killed United. If anything, this entire season has been somewhat of a reaction to last season, and rightfully so. To miss that for this game is utterly ridiculous. And, what's more, this comes after the Clyde Simms substitution debacle from earlier in the year. At this point, it's hard to see how this doesn't become a running trend.
  3. Christian Gomez: Just as I wrote above how it wasn't coincidental how Fred improved United, I think it is something coincidental for Gomez. He didn't seem to provide anything that hadn't previously been on the field. Yes, you see the substitution, and yes, the minute marker for the sub is before the two goals, but I don't see any causation there.

Officiating Watch

So, we know the AR missed the call that led to the first Chivas goal. And Mark Geiger didn't call Crayton getting fouled in the box. So I should be livid, but I am not. Geiger's call was completely consistent with the rest of his match officiating, so his own performance would rate a "3 - Average" I'm knocking it down one point based entirely on the AR performance.

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Karma Bank

According to my unpublished notes, United burned one karma in Toronto when the hand ball against Wynne was called. Not that it wasn't the right call, but it is a call that United was still fortunate to receive. Now, United could have lost this match, or won it, so the karma is pretty much free to go in any direction. But given how the first goal of the game so clearly shook things up, it's hard for me to say that it doesn't merit the full change from a 1 point draw to a three point win, so I'm going to say that Karma bit us for two points in this match. With a 2 point defecit, we have paid back the previous fortune received. +2 for the game, EVEN for the season.

Man of the Match

You want me to pick to Tino. I do too, but ultimately I'm not awarding a MOTM for this game. Yes, Tino had moments, but the defense also did well in conceding only one legitimate goal. The comeback was spurred throughout the field, so I will instead award Merit to Tino, Jakovic, Fred, and Tom Soehn for the style of play and second half moves. Notes of Censure to Crayton, Burch, Namoff, and Soehn, for the move of starting Ben Olsen in a bad position.

Final Thoughts

What does depth for this team truly mean? There was a long discussion at the Untied Mania podcast on whether Tom Soehn knows what his Best XI are. In my mind, he should purposefully never think that way until August. Injuries, suspensions... something will change it, and if you get set on a best XI you may not have the mental flexability necessary to adjust to adversity. Instead, keep the rotation on, keep the roster moving. It may alienate someone at some point, but the wheel turns all the time. By the playoffs you can have the luxury of determining of the best XI, but not now.

Further, while United has depth in terms of numbers, I'm not sure that equals depth in terms of talent. We have a lot of players that are viable starters, but not a lot of players that you can consider prime players at any position. Moreno has had both good and bad games, Emilio may be less streaky than in years past but can also be taken out of a game, our midfield, much as I love Benny, does not strike me as fantastic, our backline is acceptable at best, people are worried about the keeper situation, and our rookies are fine, but not worldbeaters. We have depth in terms of players that are average to good, but no one I would say is in the top 5% of MLS players right now. We may see more players at positions because no United player is truly dominant at any position, to the point of being an everyday starter. I think that's important to remember. It isn't, to may way of thinking right now, a bad thing at all. But we see competition, in part, because our best is not as clearly better as other teams, either within the squad or in comparison to those teams.

As for resiliency, well, if nothing else I will take it. Keep the ridiculous stat going:

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17 May 2009

First Impressions -- Chivas USA 2 : 2 D.C. United

This is officially ridiculous. United down two goals with 15 minutes remaining, and for the first time this season I actually am thinking "Yeah, but they've come back before from this." Which, if one believes in tempting fate and what not, is exactly when United shouldn't come back. Except, of course, Emilio flips one to the far post, then Tino screams one in from long distance, and United come out of L.A. with a point. And United is the first team to hang a crooked number on Chivas all season.

What's more, of any match this season, this was the match for United to pack it in and throw the pity party. Chivas's first goal was offside. Close? Sure, but we pay linesman to get the call right when it is close, not to screw it up. Then, United has a second goal when Mark Geiger does not call what should have been a clear elbow to Louis Crayton. Two goals that could be put on the officials (the first clearly, the second debatable). Isn't that when you just throw in the towel? Last year, I would have watched the second half in stony faced depression, knowing that we were screwed and there was nothing to be done. Yet this United team fights it all the way back to square. Amazing.

I don't think this can continue all season. Really, I don't. But it's there when we need it, and that's enough.

Now, a word on the officiating. There's a theory that on officiating that "all I ask is that the referee is consistent." Consider this an acid test, as Mark Geiger was fantastically consistent, and very, very loose. To me, it was an acceptable officiating job over all. But is that the right standard? Not sure.

We now have another U.S. Open Cup match, and the match I consider the key to this month against RSL. It is a team that is worth watching all the way through, for every minute. Make sure you pad those TiVo times by 30 minutes... just in case.

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10 May 2009

Pontius's goal

I can't stop watching this goal (starting at 2:05). Not only is it a quality cross from Wallace, but Jaime's dummy is almost diabolical in its simplicity! It is absolute magic from 99 to let that ball go through and how that isn't an assist requires a rewriting of the rules. The main thing that I can't get over is how slowly the ball is moving when Jaime lets it go through. How could Jaime have possibly have imagined that someone, anyone, would be in position to better strike the ball than he was in. I can't get over it.

OK, so, great goal, right? And this is our man Pontius, who could have easily skyed it over the bar, like he did in past weeks. But he didn't; the way he opened his foot and buried the shot was quality. That is why I love the goal so much.

Consider this an open thread for comments.

06 May 2009

First Impressions -- Kansas City Wizards 1 : 1 D.C. United

It's funny. When you don't have wins, draws don't feel particularly good, but if you win two in a row, a draw feels okay. To me, at least. It's not that I am particularly overwhelmed by United's performance, but there was good in it. And if you're offering me a draw, on the road, on short rest, without Ben Olsen and starting left back Marc Burch, well, I'll take it. Tom Soehn threw out a starting XI that bought rest for several players, including a second half only showing for Emilio, and that team was still respectable.

My general rule this year is that if the defense surrenders one goal (or less) than I am happy with the job they did, and so it is here. While Kansas City did look dangerous, and had some nice moves on the counter, their goal was on a deep turnover by Rodney Wallace and then a nice tip by Josh Wolff. And Kansas City did manufacture some chances, but not an overwhelming number. Louis Crayton made the saves he needed to make, and on a few he was careful not to spill the ball. Greg Janicki had a very strong game in his first start since he and Devon McTavish attempted a hair and skull transplant. Avery John was capable in his first minutes, but I will say that we missed Marc Burch on some set pieces later in the match.

If there is a complaint, it has to be with the offense. After Rodney Wallace and Moreno combined to bust down the middle of the Kansas City defense, our attack was well kept in check for most of the night. Part of this must be attributed to some strong work by the Kansas City midfield and backline, but part of it just seemed that United couldn't find the right way to manufacture the chance once position was gained.

Still, all-in-all, I will take this result. A 1-1 draw, and while United grew cautious (and indulged in a great deal of time wasting at the end), they never forgot that they could still attack. Good.

I'm leaning towards awarding a Man of the Match to Janicki, Certificates of Merit to Jacobson (who had a decent start for Ben Olsen), Quaranta (who was displaying wonderful vision for the first 60 minutes), Avery John (who at least proved that #5 on the depth chart isn't a gaping maw, and that would be a wonderful thing for this team), and Louis Crayton (he did his job right).

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I understand, I really do. Like many folks from these areas, I rooted for the Caps before United existed, and since I've been alive and aware of my fandom, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the team that quickly became associated with playoff angst and agony. So it would appear that tonight, with Penguins v. Caps on the "VS" network and Wizards v. United on CSN, that there might be some form of conflict. "What should I be watching?"

Folks, there's no conflict. Tonight, you watch United. If you can, you flip over to the Caps games at halftime, or tape it on TiVo, or whatever, but tonight is a United night. It's that simple. This is our second match on CSN, and if we want away games to get televised, you need to do your part (especially if you're a Nielsen family). Watch tonight's game, catch the Caps later. It's not even an elimination game, and Alex Ovechkin timely supplied his highlight hattrick for Game 2. No, tonight is a United night.

Saturday? There may not even be a game Saturday, but we can talk about dispensation for Saturday later.

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04 May 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.07: F.C. Dallas

D.C. United 2 : 1 F.C. Dallas

Six Word Novel Recap

Ponce de Leon should check Bolivia.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Dallas Morning News, Frank Servalli: "Despite being outshot, outmuscled and outplayed, FC Dallas somehow managed to escape the first half Saturday night against D.C. United with a 1-0 lead.Rather than take advantage, FCD (1-5-1) coughed up the lead in the first minute of the second half and allowed another goal 10 minutes later and fell, 2-1, at RFK Stadium."
The Washington Post, Steve Goff: "[Moreno's] goals 10 minutes apart and all-around brilliance helped United (3-1-3) overcome a halftime deficit and validate a mostly dominant performance by the home club in front of 14,225 spectators. "
The Washington Times, Patrick Stevens: "It was Moreno's first multigoal game since April 26, 2008, against Real Salt Lake, and came on a night he was honored for becoming the first player in MLS history with 100 goals and 100 assists."
DCist, Aaron Morrissey: "Moreno was far from the team's only contributor on the evening. Add Milos Kocik to the long list of rookies who have played a vital part in the opening salvo to D.C. United's 2009 season. The 23-year-old Serbian-born keeper -- who recorded 29 shutouts in his last two seasons at Loyola (MD), and had an undefeated record in 2008 -- made several key efforts in the last fifteen minutes to preserve the victory, his second over Dallas in two weeks."
Washington Examiner, Craig Stouffer: "Moreno... put in a vintage performance even before he settled Bryan Namoff’s long ball at the top of the box, beating Dallas goalkeeper Ray Burse with a left-footed shot to tie the score, 1-1, in the 56th minute. Ten minutes later Christian Gómez, who came on as a substitute immediately after D.C.’s first goal, put Moreno through once more. This time MLS’ all-time leading scorer executed a deft chip over the onrushing Burse for the game-winner and his 124th career goal."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "United continued to pour on the pressure and almost scored the go-ahead goal in the 60th minute. Luciano Emilio was sent through all alone on Burse. The Brazilian pushed the ball to the right of Burse in an attempt to round the keeper but his touch was too strong. Emilio got to the ball before it rolled over the endline and managed to get a good shot at goal but it too was blocked off the goal line.
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "United's 2009 squad seems to grow in confidence and fluidity with every passing week and against Dallas the Black-and-Red controlled play from the opening whistle, carving out one scoring opportunity after another and eventually directing 11 shots on goal."
DCSportsBox, Abram Fox: "D.C. tried to get out to a quick start, attacking Dallas relentlessly in the first half. They notched 4 shots in the first 10 minutes of play, but connected on none. The trend continued for much of the half, with the ball remaining on Dallas’ side of the field much of the time. Despite the power of their attack, D.C. was unable to score on any of their 10 shots. In the 28th minute, a Dallas corner kick from Dave van den Bergh set up midfielder Andre Rocha to head the ball past D.C. keeper Milos Kocic, giving Dallas the 1-0 lead. They held the lead going into halftime."
MLSNet, Chris Snear: "'I'm not surprised; not surprised at all,' said McCarty about giving up the early second-half goals. 'It's pretty much the story of our season so far. I think we have gone into halftime tied or in the lead in most of our games and in the second half for whatever reason we come out flat. We don't bring the needed energy or desire to get the three points.'"
QuarterVolley, I-66: "I felt like I was watching blond #9 Jaime again..."
DCUMD, Shatz: "That wasn't quite as productive of a match as Chris Pontius is used to, but I just like the fact that we've got a guy who can fill in at central holding midfield when necessary, in addition to also playing on the wing, CAM, and withdrawn forward."
Fullback Files, Fullback: "Emilio, on the other hand, didn't exactly justify his DP dollars tonight. He had two golden opportunities, a one-on-one with Burse and a point-blank header. Neither of which were finished. And finishing is what we pay him the DP bucks for. Those are the goals we need to kill off games that the opposition has no right still being in as we come down the final stretch... The question becomes: if this is indeed the start of another frigid streak from Emilio, do we have the depth in attack this year to overcome it?"
3rd Degree, Jay Brownlee: "FC Dallas Head coach Schellas Hyndman would attempt to counter DC United’s 3-5-2 by playing David 'the Gnat' Ferreira deeper, effectively positioning Dallas into a 4-5-1, leaving Kenny Cooper alone up top. It didn’t work. Dallas was throttled in the midfield all match long as United kept possession and kept pouring on chances."
The FCD Blog, [FCD] Front Office: "[Hyndman] on goals coming early in the second half: 'I think the opposition is trying to play quicker balls through the center. They are trying to unbalance us with the diagonal balls. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out where are weaknesses are; I think right now we are not able to handle pressure real well.'"
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "Burch and Wallace are the side every team will attack until it's not the best option, every team will cross to the dot until United proves it can mark in the box, and good teams are going to score on United until the defense better communicates and coheres, but lordy, a 3-5-2 clicking on offense is a beautiful joy. Koton, Craycic, oy. I've read criticisms that United should have taken Stefan Frei instead of Rodney Wallace, and Wallace has so far justified his selection, but United has a keeper problem, yes?"

The Good

  1. 9/99/123/124/100+/100: Use whatever numbers you want, we simply must begin the good with Jaime Moreno. I am glad so many people also noticed that Moreno was involved in this match from the whistle, and playing to his strength. A 3-5-2 is easily victimized if a team can't hold that pivot point in midfield, and Moreno was essential to that mission early. There would have been no talk about United's dominance in the first half if he didn't play that role.
  2. 3: Any game where United's back line surrenders no goals in the run of play is a good one, and Burch, Jakovic, and Namoff played strong defense, complemented by some truly determined digging in by Ben Olsen (at one point winning a ball flat on his stomach) and Clyde Simms, who had a technically strong match. Namoff's assist on the long ball to Moreno was a nice addition, but it should not detract from the team defense.
  3. Soehn v. Hyndeman: Let's not gloss over this fact - Tom Soehn outcoached Schellas Hyndeman in this match, regardless of any personnel issues. Dallas was maligned for playing a 4-5-1, but rightfully so, as United pretty much all service out of midfield to Kenny Cooper. Further, it is a difficult thing to go to the halftime talk after dominating a half but finding yourself behind. You know the opposing coach should try and change things around, but what do you tell your players to change? Instead, Soehn kept his powder dry and his subsitutions and sideline tactics were well played. He bunkered properly and at the right time, he used Gomez effectively, and the flow of attack was dictated by events on the field and not theory.
  4. Rodney Wallace vs. Dave van den Bergh: Again, I was impressed by Rodney Wallace's defense on the wing, and he was even better when the shift to the 4-5-1 United employed at the end of the match occurred. I almost don't quite worry as much about Terry Cooke. Almost. Wallace and Burch still are, as BDR notes, the weak flank for this team, but there are signs of improvement, no?
  5. Resiliency: Commenter Jeremy in the first impressions: "When was the last time that you felt confident that United would come back from a deficit?" To be honest, I still don't. Really, I thought we would lose this match at 1-0, or give up another counter goal. I find my own lack of faith... disturbing.
  6. Beat the Bad Teams: Commenter RKE: "A caveat: Dallas really sucks." True. The thing is, I wasn't sure that United was much better than a mediocre team at the start of this season, and losing to a team that sucks seemed, well, something I should expect. I'm still getting used to the idea that United might, might, be good.

The Bad

  1. Rodney Wallace on the Corner Kick: With Wallace's speed, either he has to beat Rocha to the spot where Rocha notched the first goal of the game, or at least be goal side. I wasn't thrilled by Kocic's positioning on that goal, but even if he was where I thought he should be, that ball still finds the net. That being said, does anyone think Fred defends that better?
  2. Chris Pontius: DCUMD has a nice category of "The Rail" for games like this, where you want to talk about things that aren't quite right, but aren't truly bad. So this is a misnomer, it wasn't truly bad, but it wasn't strong. I am concerned about our willingness to throw a rookie into so many positions. I worry that he won't acquire the comfort with any position should he encounter difficulty, and that will make things difficult down the road.
  3. Milos Kocic: Very nervy start. While I appreciate his ability to punch each ball, I think a friend of mine had the right observation. If you are upset because Kenny Cooper bumped you, then you weren't making him pay enough. Wreck some havoc when you get off your line. Kenny bumped you? He'll stop when you go through him and make him pay a price.

Officiating Watch

Center ref Ricardo Salazar seemed to be playing a "no foul or a card" type of match early on, a style of officiating I am not particularly enamored with. That being said, he blew the whistle more frequently when things started to boil over, and that seemed right to me. The ARs were on top of the match.

Likert Scale Grade: 3 - Average

Karma Bank

So a win means only a potential karma burn, and I don't see much in that respect. If anything, we would have been owed karma with a lesser result, so no change for the game, and we're still in debt at -1 for the season.

Man of the Match

Jaime Moreno. You don't need me to explain this.

Certificate of Merit to Marc Burch, Bryan Namoff, and Dejan Jakovic. Grunthos has this exactly right: "Let me give a shout-out to the defense, which played well as a unit for the first time in 18 months or more."

Honorary Certificate of Merit to Simeon Varlamov.

Final Thoughts

I'm not ready to start buying post-season game plans yet, but I am starting to believe this team could be a better team than I thought. The Eastern Conference, even without an expansion franchise, does appear to be the weaker conference, which is both good and bad. It means we may have to face easier competition more times, but it also would not surprise me if the East sent fewer teams to the playoffs.

All of this makes May a very interesting month. After the Kansas City and Toronto matches, United gets a strong RSL team at home and plays the current alpha dog away. Those will be very interesting matches to watch. I'm not even assuming strong results in the first two. But if United does manage, let's say, 4 points from Kansas City and Toronto, I'm not sure it will tell us much more about where we think this team is.

So with all this in mind, we're agreed that the U.S. Open Cup match against Red Bull should again be allocated to the reserves, right?

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02 May 2009

First Impressions -- D.C. United 2 : 1 F.C. Dallas

In the realm of statistics that ultimately mean nothing, but are none-the-less fun to write, I give you this: D.C. United has not lost a match in which they have conceded the first goal. Again, there is a difference between consistency and resiliency, but D.C. United have the second trait fully demonstrated in the early matches.

The major storyline from this match has to be Jaime Moreno's two goals. That was impressive. Even more impressive was the fact that this wasn't a case where Moreno was quiet for most of the match, and suddenly snuck free for his two goals. Instead, Jaime had been active the entire match. With no Gomez in the starting lineup, Moreno was very effective coming back to midfield and distributing the ball. United's attack looked potent. Quaranta, Pontius, and Moreno all put balls low and hard and just beyond the far post in the first half. United's possession was purposeful and intense, but ultimately unrewarded when Dallas took the early lead. Still, it was clear that United's midfield had Dallas flummoxed for the most part, and the two goals in the second half were both beautifully executed by Moreno and exquisitely set up by Namoff and Gomez respectively.

Tom Soehn did look to lock down the match, but unlike previous matches where it seemed a switch was flipped to "bunker," this match featured a more gradual transition starting around the 70th minute. It began with Wallace sliding back, then the substitution of Jacobson And as a result, it seemed more effective and easier for United to accommodate. Furthermore, it was clear that United's defense was starting to lose its shape and confidence as the half wore on, and the injection of defensive support was called for. This is the right way to try and lock down a win.

The start of Milos Kocic was a surprise, and he did seem a bit nervy in the first half. However, while he never dominated his box with full control, he does earn points with me for getting to all of his punches.

My first impression is that this was the best match that Jaime Moreno has had all season, even without the goals, and the best coached match Tom Soehn may have ever put forward. We will look at some of the bad in the debrief, but I am overall pleased with pretty much every facet of this match. Man of the match is Moreno. Certificates of Merit to Marc Burch, Bryan Namoff, Santino Quaranta, and Christian Gomez. Or at least that's what I'm thinking as we approach debrief.

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01 May 2009

The Strange Perils of Collective Action

Over at Match Fit USA, Jason posits an intriguing idea, but is it a good one?

"Keep United in DC" Day would work like this: fans attending matches all over MLS, in that aforementioned spirit of solidarity, would display signs or banners showing their support for the march efforts in DC. No matter if you're attending a match in Columbus, Chicago, or Houston, show your support for Barra Brava and all of the other United fans as they rally for their club. If it was your club being threatened, wouldn't you feel better knowing that fans around the league have your back?


Let's be clear: I realize that what people in other cities do will have no effect on DC and their stadium issues. Local politicians aren't really going to care if a few fans in Columbus wave around "Keep United in DC" signs.

But that's not the point. Attention needs to be paid to the United's plight, and the wider the message goes, the better. Don Garber has made statements indicating that the team could be moved, and while many people believe those statements were idle threats (for the time being), the fact remains that United supporters feel the need to rally in support of their club.

Now this tends to be the sort of independent minded call to action I normally would wholeheartedly endorse, but I do have misgivings. As Jason rightly notes, this action would not place any pressure on local leaders, but it might indicate a certain collective voice to MLS and DC ownership. Which is my concern. We've written before that the only real leverage either the league or United ownership has is team relocation. That's it. And so if this action has any positive outcome other than fostering fandom solidarity (which is a useful thing in and of itself), it will be to undercut the bargaining power of V-Mac, Will Chang, and Don Garber. In other words, there's a bit of a zero-sum game at work here. Any power taken away from the owners means that localities have an incentive to be more intransigent, to dare to call a perceived bluff. And I, for one, think that bluff would eventually get called. Maybe not this year, or next, but within five years? Certainly. So the threat of relocation must be real, and perceived as real, a process that Garber just began.

Given that a long term viability plan for United must involve a stadium, we now have a strange paradox: The only way to ensure United's survival is to threaten United's survival.

QUICK UPDATE: This logic, applied the same way, explains why I do support the May 9 rally to keep United in DC. In this case, the pressure would be applied at least to both the ownership and local political power, in a way that a collective league wide action might not.

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