24 May 2008

First Impressions - D.C. United 3 : 2 Toronto F.C.

No, it doesn't make things better, but it does start to make things better. If United was truly to start reassembling this season, this is the kind of game they needed. Not a competent 1-nil victory, not a 5-2 thrashing of someone, both of those would lend themselves far too easy a comfort to a team to fall into self-delusion, to dismiss the first third of the season as just a bad dream.

But a game where the team plays well, and fights back twice to ultimately take a victory, that's one that might mean something in a way that keeps us all realistic about how far off we are.

I'll admit this, had we had the same game we'd had the last three, then that was it for me with Tom Soehn. But this game had more interesting moves to it. Remember what we said about toughness not being about fouls? This game saw Toronto vastly out-foul United, but we say United fight and dig and scrape for more balls in close space. This game had Gallardo, especially in the first half, switching balls diagonally from one wing to another. This game saw United truly use width to attack. And there was a goal on a set piece, a corner no less. I mean, really? Really? Yeah.

Maybe I'm dizzy from not having seen a win in a long time, but this game did feel better, didn't it? Not perfect, even in this euphoria I'm not that delusional, but better. Smarter. Tougher. Even when down 1-nil, this team seemed to have its head on straight. And perhaps the seeds of that were in the previous Toronto game, a game that we could see was better, but one that didn't feel better. Now what we see and feel are aligning in a more harmonious I-Ching hexgram, and that is refreshing. Emboldening, even.

No, this game was not perfect, it had plenty of flaws, but it feels like the first solid step up on a long staircase, and not simply falling forward on the stairs and claiming we've gained ground. This works for me. Yes, I know, we all want to discount a game where a penalty was involved in the margin of victory, but it was earned. Solidly.

Preliminary returns say merit awards to Martinez, Gallardo, Fred, and Moreno. Man of the match is probably from that group, and I'm leaning towards Fred who has been something of a catalyst of late (when he isn't depressed about heading a ball directly at a keeper). A quick snark at Mr. Wells is probably still in order, and Perralta seems to have scored a goal and missed a marker with similar dignity.

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At 24 May, 2008 22:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was better, significantly better. We outplayed Toronto for most of the match, and didn't let our mistakes unsettle our overall play.

My MOM was Martinez. Having Simms play a pure d-mid role and funneling the initial offensive development through Martinez hugely improved both the quantity and quality of our possession. The offense was still hit-and-miss, but every upfield move had a chance to turn into something good.

There was better midfield communication, too. Nice to see Gallardo tell someone to put the ball HERE (*points*) and have them actually follow instructions.

Two major, major issues remained hanging over the team, though:
1) Zach Wells is not an MLS-grade goalie, and cannot continue as our starter. He is frequently out of position, sometimes indecisive, and occasionally borders on clueless.
2) Emilio still had to track back into midfield way, way too often. We need more and better balls in behind their D to open things up so Luciano can operate up front and facing goal.

With a different goalie and some more time to gel, I could see this team developing one of the better defenses in MLS. The offense still hinges on the results of the engine change (Gomez to Gallardo), and I can't tell from this match whether that will become a consistent plus.

As you say, it is a game to build on. Unfortunately, we just completed the easy portion of our schedule, so it's all uphill from here.

At 24 May, 2008 23:31, Blogger Unknown said...

DC did outplay TFC, but your margin of victory was slim indeed... if Sutton holds that ball we have a tie..I am hoping, as Danny Dichio is hoping, that you hold onto Zach Wells as your starter. Pull up your socks and see you in the playoffs

At 24 May, 2008 23:35, Blogger jason said...

I want to Joint MOM to Martinez and Quaranta. But in the end Quaranta's runs up the side were a substantial portion of our offense tonight.

Part of the difference I saw tonight was that the frustration level didn't spike as it has in the past. They just got back to work.

At 25 May, 2008 01:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since this is a first impression post and there was copious amounts of alcohol since 3:30 until 30 minutes ago, I'll keep it short. I agree, this match was far from perfect. But fighting back from a deficit, that was a first this season, no? And I do hope that that says something about the team and its outlook. Some skill and play has to be improved, but if United can keep its head in the game the way they did tonight, it is already a vast improvement. Again, I'm not drunk enough to think tonight was pretty. But I do feel like it built off last week.
Oh, and I noticed Tino trying to rally the crowd like Benny. Here's the thing: I appreciate the effort, but if Tino really expects us to accept him as a team champion, he's got to play 100% for 90 minutes and really work to reduce his teamwork errors. Don't get me wrong, I liked him tonight, and have other games as well, and I like that he encourages us, but he's not earned my undying loyalty like Olsen.

At 25 May, 2008 08:51, Blogger bond said...

Quaranta does not have the skills to play at this level , either does Wells and Simms and a few others,,,,,,,,,,,,,we were carried by a few good men tonight with a supporting cast that was scrappy at best,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,most of the points so far are right on , we still have plenty of work to do , two additional things bother me 1) Peralta will hurt us more often than not(he almost got an own goal & still losses marks) 2)the skill & speed level is not there to be a real contender this year,,,,,,,,,,,still looks like a transitional year to me , sorry . I was looking for better.................

At 25 May, 2008 11:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skills: The whole team is within parameters of MLS with one huge exception - Wells. I am as generous with benefit of a doubt as anybody, but its simply ridicules. He has no sense of positioning. Any goalie will make mistakes - everybody is human. But this is too much. At least half of the goals DCU suffered is his creation by being in a wrong place and out of the game. If he has promises, and its a big IF, the current situation is only making his chances worse, because he is put into a situation he is clearly unable to handle.

This said, the coaches probably see that his immediate replacement is not better. Otherwise, I don't understand why he is not benched.

Buy a competent (I am not asking for star) goalie promptly!

Its funny to read about Fred. When he was out, the poor play was because he was out. When he is in, he is not getting credit for the running engine he provides. (I am talking about not just this blog, but others, mainly goffmaster's).

Moreno should look the truth into the eyes. He must know himself when he can be useful, and when not, and tell the coaches, at least at the half time. He was a drag in Toronto. Yesterday, he was incomparably better. He owes his teammates this honesty.

Tino is another engine player. I don't see him becoming a star, but its old grudges that let people say that he is not MLS level.

I afraid this post may become too long... There are different expectations about team play, different cultures. Some build it by strict roles, some (since Dutch introduced total football) prefer universalism. To a degree, of course. This means that a forward is expected to immediately begin pressuring as soon as he (or his team) lost the ball, and track back reasonably deep. Such teams are built from players capable do play this way. Some great players are not suited to this play and will be miserable on the team, when other players of much less talent will thrive.

Back to DCU. Some players here can be universal. But the team is not selected this way. Luci should not
go back that far. Tino should not be a defender. etc. IMHO of course.

At 25 May, 2008 18:15, Blogger bond said...

tolik , you just made my point , at this level when the opposition gains control of the ball everyone becomes a defender , not just select players , Quaranta is not capable of this along with a few others............also , skills include creativity and mental toughness , Quaranta has neither , as long as he gets extended playing time this team can't progress towards being a contender........... I'm just trying to point out the front office has done a rather poor job of player personnel this year , they better get it right next year , back to back years like this is going to be tough to watch...........

At 27 May, 2008 10:25, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things to add that haven't yet been touched upon:

1) Amado Guevara should have been sent off for the shot to the face of Devon McTavish.

2) The refereeing in the match was puzzling. Most of the time he was letting the physicality go, and that would've been fine if not for the instances where little middling stuff seemed to be called. I don't care whether the center is calling everything or calling hardly anything as long as he's consistent.

At 27 May, 2008 10:53, Blogger rke said...

Well said, D -- I agree that this was the kind of win that had some substance to it.
The Toronto goals were against run of play, and capitalized on our mistakes. Our goals, on the other hand, were well fought and earned due to constant pressure on their defense. DC clearly owned this one, perhaps more than the scoreboard would imply.

That constant attack has been sorely lacking -- but it's just the thing to give opportunities to a guy like Emilio. Great to see him back in the game. And not just the goal, he finally looked dangerous. Perhaps I was giving up on him too soon? We'll see...

That said, those mistakes are tough. Our defense is at their best when they're pushing outside the box, and breaking plays up early. But when they're inside the box, trying to mark dangerous players, they get very sloppy. We had a few significant mistakes that went unpunished this time. Nice to get a lucky break, but we certainly can't count on it.

So I'd call it progress. Let's hope it continues! A solid win against New England would do wonders for us all.

(Who'd have thought we'd be so happy to eke out a victory over TFC?!)

At 27 May, 2008 14:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a lot of posting. Are we all unsure what to make of this? If United was going to turn the season around, a win like that was important. But then, it doesn't necessarily lead to turning the season around, so it could have just been a flash in the pan. But it was good to see them equalize (twice) and then come back for the win. They needed that.

So, Revs on Thursday, away. Here's what I think:
Blowout in the Revs favor = We're back to where we were two weeks ago.
Loss, but close and with a goal = disappointing, but still better than most of the season.
Tie = acceptable, almost good - it is an away game and the Revs are a good team.
Tie with a goal = good, assuming its a good goal and not a solo effort by Gallardo again.
Blowout in United's favor = good, but it will probably mean that things went more wrong for the Revs than right for United.
Win = I'll START to CONSIDER entertaining the notion that they may be turning over a new leaf (and I'll make a bad joke about it starting against Canadians). Too early? Probably, but United will have as many wins as any team in the West and will be out of the bottom of the East (if only for a minimum of a couple days).

Of course, who knows what the actual game will look like, but that's my thinking going into Thursday.

At 27 May, 2008 14:23, Blogger rke said...

Glass half empty:
We hit a little bounce on our way down. We'll probably start a new losing streak in New England. Look out below!

Glass half full:
We hit the bottom and are finally bouncing back. Look out MLS, DC's finally getting their act together!

Glass too big:
We hit a nice bounce and will continue to have our ups and downs in this rocky rebuilding season. Look for some face-saving opportunities in the tournaments later in the year.

At 27 May, 2008 15:57, Blogger Mark said...

1. This game could be a platform game. One where a little confidence is born, a little belief in each other generated or not. We'll see next game.

2. Zach Wells scares the life out of me and I only have to watch from the stands. I can't imagine having him play behind you.

At 27 May, 2008 18:50, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rke - Your post about expectations is interesting. While I agree that we should expect too much from the team, like Supporter's Shields or the MLS Cup, it seems reasonable that we have some expectations for the team. Steady, but not constant, improvement, I feel, is not too much to ask for. Rebuilding is all well and good, but we should start being able to see what is being built at some point. If the team continues in dead last, perhaps they need some new blueprints. Though I wouldn't hold out hope for the other tournaments - this team hasn't been able to pull it together for big games in recent years; I would be surprised if that changed in an "off-year."

I would love to be wrong and have DC magically become the team D says we were promised at the beginning of the year (shiny new car). But ultimately, I think a successful year will end somewhere in the middle of everything - eliminated in the first or second round of tournaments and finishing third or fourth in the East. Again, having said that, if this team wants to make me eat a large dish of crow, I am all for it.

At 27 May, 2008 20:03, Blogger rke said...

Skippy: Amen to that. I'm all about hoping/wishing for the best. I lean towards the half-full model, with a little dose of realism to keep me sane.

I think it's possible that our sum of parts comes together to romp in the second half. But at this point, a decent showing in the upper-middle of the pack would be nice.

Dreams of a late season return of Olsen still linger. (The announcers at the RFK match seemed to have some upbeat info, FWIW).

I don't think it's unreasonable to think that this team squeaks into the playoffs and then goes on to earn another star. Maybe not the most likely scenerio, but not impossible...

At 27 May, 2008 22:30, Blogger Bob said...

The last couple of comments make it sound like people are willing to snap their fingers in order to fast forward to the Supporter's Shield. For me, I want to see an entire season of games like Saturday night's, where United digs deep into the talent that we all know that they have and then get a win (not necessarily always coming from behind) that includes goals from Peralta, Martinez and Namoff, goals from set pieces, Jaime widening his goal total on Razov, and Benny with another hat trick.

OK, sorry for cutting and pasting my letter to Santa.

At 28 May, 2008 10:34, Blogger Unknown said...

I don't feel that Quaranta is playing extremely well at the moment, but I have to give him this: the effort is there. He is working his ass off, which wasn't always true in the past. He's an asset to the team at the moment because of his effort.

I'm with the consensus: Zach Wells is horrible at the moment. He has to sit. Carvallho didn't impress me against RSL, but Soen doesn't really have a choice: he has to try something else.

At 28 May, 2008 10:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to consider 'Tino for MOTM. It doesn't show up on the scoresheet but he created two of the three goals.


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