23 March 2009

Debriefing for Match 14.01: At L.A. Galaxy

Los Angeles Galaxy 2 : 2 D.C. United

Six Word Novel Recap

Two heads not better than one.

Media, Traditional and Otherwise

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

and finally...

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Officiating Watch

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

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

Likert Scale Grade: 2 - Below Average

Karma Bank

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

Man of the Match

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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At 23 March, 2009 13:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now I will turn around and agree with you, in that I also think the age of the offense and the youth of the defense will combine to strictly limit the team's ceiling this year. I really haven't got *any* faith in the defense as currently constituted, early season or late, but since we have Crayton instead of Wells, the inevitable failings should be less damaging.

All assuming no significant midseason acquisitions, of course... anybody know exactly how much room we have under the cap right now, if any?

At 23 March, 2009 18:18, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crap. I forgot that the Fire will be without national teamers next weekend. Well, if it won't be a barometer for United, let it at least be a little easier to get the three points.

At 24 March, 2009 05:43, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting response to my earlier "anonymous" rant. But just to clarify, I meant mismanagement both off and on the field -- and mostly I meant the coach.

At 24 March, 2009 07:49, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm actually concerned about subs. Not the quality, but the number. If Gomez and Moreno both start (is Moreno going to start or will he be a super-sub?), I feel like there's a good chance both will need to be subbed off before the end, particularly as the season progresses. Which is not a huge problem on its own, but who knows how fragile Olsen's ankles are at this point and even when Fred isn't being injured, he tends to run himself into the ground before the 90 are up; Tino had the same tendency last year. Am I the only one worried that DC is going to habitually use all its substitutions to remove tired players, with little/no margin for injuries or tactical substitutions?

At 24 March, 2009 09:55, Blogger lordofthewing said...


Good luck for the new season!!!

Hail Hail


At 24 March, 2009 10:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Am I the only one worried that DC is going to habitually use all its substitutions to remove tired players, with little/no margin for injuries or tactical substitutions?"

Nope. If this were Football Manager, I would be minimizing the "closing down" slider and setting tempo to "low".

At 24 March, 2009 11:37, Blogger D said...

Skippy/Grunthos: In a way, this may be the ultimate issue with moving Jaime occasionally to the bench. Consider that we know Christian Gomez won't be able to give us 90 minutes for every match (or most of them). Moreno can compensate by coming off the bench for Gomez, and start matches where Gomez needs a rest. That leaves us Fred to deploy at CAM, wing, or bench as needed, and all at the price of one-sub.

The concern is well noted. In any match starting Olsen, Moreno, and Gomez, you have to feel that at least 2/3 of the subs will be fatigue related. So while I am okay with one built-in sub for this issue, two or more is very limiting, and may consistently argue against starting all 3 simultaneously.

At 24 March, 2009 13:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been trying to track down 2008 game logs in order to back this up with statistics, but have been unable to track them down.

However, I seem to recall that Moreno played the full match for the majority of the matches that he started last year.

Yes, he needs to be rested once in a while by sitting on the bench, but I think the impression that he will need to be subbed out of every match is mistaken.

I am hopeful that as Olsen gets back into match fitness that he will be able to last for the full match as well, especially if he is playing a more defensive role.

While it is a worrisome situation, that will demand that the coaches stay alert, I don't feel that it is quite as gloomy as some suspect.


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