17 September 2008

Debriefing for Match 13.D.01: Deportivo Saprissa

D.C. United 0 : 2 Saprissa

Six Word Novel Recap

Pity those sent out to fail.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

The Washington Times, John Haydon: "Undermanned because of injuries and playing with only 10 men for 50 minutes, D.C. United fell 2-0 to Costa Rican champion Deportivo Saprissa at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night."
The Washington Post, the Goffather: "With the injuries and 12 MLS and Champions League games scheduled over six weeks, Soehn could not utilize his best lineup last night. The back line and central midfield remained the same and top scorer Luciano Emilio made his first start in two weeks, but Soehn also inserted rookie Ryan Cordeiro onto the front line, newly acquired Thabiso Khumalo on the right flank, rookie Craig Thompson on the left and Zach Wells in goal. "
SoccerAmerica, Ridge Mahoney: "United contributed to its own demise when Devon McTavish waded into a midfield tussle that prompted referee Marco Rodriguez to call a foul on Santino Quaranta. McTavish barreled in and kicked the ball as well as Alexander Robinson, apparently after Rodriguez had blown the whistle, prompting the official to send him off and caution Quaranta as well in the 35th minute."
MLSNet, Charles Boehm: "While the decision mystified United's players and coaches, their frustration was tempered by fatalism as the team ponders its long-running string of misfortune. Despite the Costa Ricans' numerical advantage, D.C. hauled themselves back into the game in the second half, only to see Saprissa netminder Keilor Navas produce two scintillating saves to deny well-hit free kick blasts by Marc Burch."
UnitedMania, Chris Webb: "It was plain to see why Saprissa are 5-time champions of CONCACAF with their abundant skill and speed all over the field. United were no match and only after falling behind by 2-0 early in the second half did United begin to attack the Saprissa goal."
Goal.Com, Shane Evans: "A bright spot for the home team was the play of recently signed Thabiso Khumalo who showed spark and dedication down the flanks. He also played well defensively, tracking back to the ball on numerous occasions, most of the time all over the pitch."
Caught in Possession, Charles Boehm: "...it makes me angry at league suits who treat the first touches, challenges, hard running etc. of these living, breathing human bodies like just another digit in an equation, a vector on a spreadsheet alongside capital investment, tax incremental financing, advertising revenue and the like. "
Fighting Talker, Aaron Stollar: "United never once stood a chance of winning last night’s match. Nearly thirty percent of this ostensibly Major League team was made up players too inexperienced to even be described as “spare parts.”"
DCUMD, Shatz: "The league needs to set its priorities straight. If the priority is still to make the league and the teams profitable as soon as possible, then I understand the cap restrictions, but then why play so many damn games? If the priority is make the league better respected internationally, then the league needs to give the teams more incentive to try to do so in international tournaments, instead of just rolling out the reserves, and needs to give the teams the tools (cap space, increased roster spots) to do it. "
The Fullback Files, Fullback: "...let's address that "built for international competition" issue a bit. It seems funny that the FO's emphasis has been on success on the international stage, and yet so far we've (1) dropped three matches at home in SuperLiga and (2) pretty much sacrificed our Champions' League advancement for an MLS playoff push. I've got a couple of thoughts on that. First, it seems that SuperLiga and the CCL both fell prey to the injury crisis. An injury crisis that's now almost entering its third month! Ridiculous. If I may, I'd like to make the humble suggestion that perhaps we sink some of Gallardo's $1.9 million into fitness staff. I know, I know, it's all MLS's fault for the pathetic size of rosters and the salary cap and blah, blah, blah. Whatever. The fact is, any craftsman knows you've got to take care of your tools if you want to get the job done."
BLCKDGRD, BDR: "I'm fighting the urge to be reasonable. I'm fighting the urge to give United the benefit of a doubt. I'm fighting the urge to excuse another dismal international failure through the evocation of rinkydinkism, the belief that United's lameness is forgivable by dint of its financial constraints (and concurrent rube's pride at personal loyalty to such a rinkydink institution). I'm fighting and losing."

The Good

  1. Giving it all: I don't disagree with Tom Soehn's comments that the team put out its all. While I can complain about any number of giveaways, botched passes, and meandering moments of possession, every player on this team who started went out and gave a good effort. They did not surrender, they did not roll over. They just weren't cumulatively any good.
  2. Zach Wells: If you want to be cruel, you can say he was slow getting over the line on the first goal, which ignores the fact that his view was obscured when Marc Burch lost the ball at the top of the box during what should have been a defensive clearence. Other than that, he did make two big saves, and only had one "Moment of Panic" when he completely misjudged coming off his line to take out a through ball. The most recent starts for Wells have been, really, not that bad.

The Bad

  1. Devon MacTavish Sees Red: Yes, the red card was harsh, but not undeservedly harsh. If the whistle blows, and you take out someone's legs, red is a completley legitimate outcome. It doesn't matter if you didn't hear the whistle. It doesn't matter if you took out the legs softly, like a kitten marking someone's shins. It's a red, and even if it had happened in the run of play, it would have been a yellow.
  2. D.C. United Contingency Planning, Defensive: Let's say a few things about injuries and forced subsitutions. The idea is that you'd like to have at least one credible player extra for each position. Tino has actually managed to do well once Gallardo went out. It's early, but Khumalo has done well as the third option after Jaime and Emilio. Vide and Guerrero have done well filling in for Fred and Olsen. But on defense... well, we've got nothing. Right now MacTavish and Burch are not particularly great CB options, and Burch is playing out of position for the position he usually plays out of (please, diagram that sentence). MacTavish should be a last resort, not a starter. And right now, we have one defensive injury that is forcing two difficult decisions in the center of defense. That's simply not acceptable.
  3. The worst successful season ever: As I said, any season that you get silverware is a success, but this may be the most pyrrhic victory in United's season long campaigns ever. Reading the blogs, you get the sense that people are finally losing it. It may be bad luck, and injuries, and roster restrictions from MLS, but it has finally come due. You can play above your head for only so long.

Officiating Watch

N/A for international matches, but I will say that it was interesting to see what a very, very tightly officiated game looked like. It was consistently tight, as well. This is almost the referee I think that would benefit United in league play, provided United had their starters. Just something to keep in mind before blasting away.

Likert Scale Rating: N/A

Final Thoughts

I write first impressions posts, in part, to capture the moment of feeling just after a game ends, and to examine if that feeling changes. Also, to force myself to write something, anything, on every game.

I was angry last night, and after writing the First Impressions post, it was a bit cathartic. Okay, not really. Anger has been replaced with sadness. An overwhelming feeling of "So, this is what it has come to for this team." A team that stitches the word "TRADITION" on the back of their jerseys, a tradition that includes credible efforts in the CONCACAF Champion's Cup, instead decided to play the tactical retreat card. It may be sensible, but how can this not be galling? How can you possible be reasonable after this? If this match doesn't upset you, at some level, then I credit your powers of zen-like imperturbability.

I wrote earlier that this team reminded me more and more of the 2005 L.A. Galaxy. And that's a best case scenario. This season, even if United manages an MLS Cup win, is not a great season. It might be a testament to grit, or determination, or duct tape improvisation, but to place it in the TRADITION of the great United teams is to dishonor those teams.

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At 17 September, 2008 10:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess for me, TRADITION does not imply that we are entitled to a great season every year. I don't think management generally made stupid decisions approaching the season, and I don't think Tom Soehn has been a horrible coach. With a few exceptions, the players have given their all this year as we would expect them to.

Sometimes, things don't work out the way you planned or the way you want, and it doesn't mean that incompetence was to blame. We could talk at length about the team's planning and foresight, with lots of arguments pro and con, but in the end I don't see how management can be faulted for their effort in trying to put a successful team on the field this year. Some of it worked and some of it didn't. Some injury problems were predictable, but this extent was not. The offseason reserve choices (Stratford, Kirk, Niell, Dyachenko) were failures, but the midseason acquisitions (Guerrero, Vide, Crayton) were excellent.

I can sympathize with being angry about the game last night, and the poor start to the season, and a number of other things besides. But real failure is not what we've seen from the club this year, and our outlook for next season is by no means poor - in fact, it's very good. Get a starting-grade center back in, get people healthy, and trim the failures (especially Kirk and Dyachenko) from the roster to make room for new growth. We're way, way better off than Colorado or Columbus. We're in a good position to field a Cup-competitive roster next year. And when we have something akin to the starting lineup on the field, the team is still recognizably DCU in style and commitment.

Maybe the above makes me some kind of zen master. I dunno. But I'm not angry about the year overall, and I don't see how I can be. S--t happens sometimes. You pick yourself up and move on.

At 17 September, 2008 11:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll disagree with you on the impression that an MLS cup win (or even appearance) will likely have in our memory of the year. If they make a solid playoff push AND get through the first two rounds, there will likely have to be very impressive performances from some of those currently injured (Ben, Gellardo) or some "over-the-top" performances from others (Burch, Clayton). They'll have to beat some impressive teams (Houston, Chicago, NE) in likely some very memorable games. If they do then the fans will remember those games and forget the one's in competitions that most fans seem to not care as much about. Remember, at least 12,000 fewer fans showed up (likely more since a signifcant proportion were Saprissa fans) for this game and I imagine the TV ratings were even lower.

Many of us are burned out by the other competitions, just like the players. I expected more of the superliga, but this is the fourth "major" competition. If you regard the playoffs separate you have 6 competitions. It's really a ridiculous number for a team that isn't ManU, Real Madrid, Chelski, or Inter that has multiple teams they could field at any point.
Regardless of what KP said at the beginning of the season, I don't think any MLS team can be competitive in more than 2 or 3 of these. Houston is probably the most competitive, making the final of Superliga and being the best of the west currently. New England won Superliga, but both fielded easy teams and dropped out of the Open Cup. NE dropped quickly out of CL and has faltered quite a bit in league play and likely won't win the Shield. Chivas has done more like DC, with more than they can do and too many injuries.
All the MLS teams are a bit like Bilbo, stretched, like butter over too much bread. It can't be done and so they're left with making decisions about priorities with what they have in front of them.

If the team was heathly they likely would stress CL, and try to limp into the playoffs and then focus on MLS cup. As it is, they seemed to just be betting percentages, and given the hand I can't blame them, nor will I expect the best team for the next CL game.

At 17 September, 2008 15:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This year is more or less a bust. I wouldn't mind seeing some deeper analysis of Tom Soehn's coaching abilities at this point and what we can look forward to in the future.

The player injuries aside (and they are a significant reason for our poor and inconsistent play); what qualities does he have that we can continue to build the team around? What's lacking or has yet to be effectively demonstrated that needs to be addressed?

I have to admit that after two years, I still don't know if he is a good coach, an adequate one or not right for the job in the long run.

At 17 September, 2008 16:56, Blogger rke said...

I was at the game and felt we were doomed as soon as I saw the lineup. Then McT's red sealed it.

But to be honest, I was fairly impressed with DCU's play for the remainder of the game. The fact that they gritted out a fair match, looked dangerous throughout the second half, and never looked like a weak team a man down -- all that speaks to that "Tradition" tagline.

DCU had every reason to fold up and blow away, NE style. But they didn't. This is a loss I can live with, given the circumstances.

(The tie with Dallas, on the other hand...)

I'd say more, but I think grunthos said it all already.

At 19 September, 2008 06:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what Grunthos said. My father always told me that "sometimes the bear gets you" (not an positive though considering I am heading out to Shannandoah this weekend) and that's how I feel about this season in general. The beginning was ugly and since then, the team has not gotten the breaks. Sure, there are many points on which the team can and should improve. But from serious injuries to simply unfortunate bounces of the ball, I feel like nothing has really gone right this season. Again, I don't mean to absolve players, coaches or staff of responsibility for bad decisions. I just think that nothing has softened the impact of those bad decisions, making this season seem worse than it really has been.
Having said all that, personally, I would have rather seen DC make a good go at the Champion's League and just try to sneak into the MLS playoffs. It'll never be as big as the UEFA Champion's League internationally, but I would like to see a local tournament that riveted fans on this continent the way the European tournament does. I suppose that really can't be forced or manufactured. But I would like to see it.

At 19 September, 2008 08:10, Blogger Jose M. Burgos said...

Dude, do you think I can get a tryout with the DC United? Check out my goal!


Jose Miguel Burgos


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