13 June 2009

First Impressions -- D.C. United 2 : 1 Chicago Fire

This post was going to begin with an apology to Chicago for having the misfortune of being the first team to face United after US Soccer apologized for ridiculous penalty awarded to New England. Center official Baldomero Toledo seemed to want make amends immediately by awarding a just as atrocious penalty to United in the 23rd minute. Still, Toledo promptly turned around again, awarding a penalty to Chicago on a Dejan Jakovic foul that seems, well, not particularly worthy itself (though, to be fair, much more worthy than Twellman's.) United's other goal came on a free kick by Gomez outside the box, and the symmetry of the halves was reflected again as Chicago got a similar free kick which rattled off the woodwork. It was as if Toledo was so impressed by Dave Gibbons work in Watchmen #5 ("fearful symmetry") that he decided to see if he could officiate a match in symmetry.

That being said, the halves were not symmetrical. For all the goals of the first half, the second felt somewhat more engrossing, as Chicago pushed for an equalizer, and United looked to possess for time, strike on the counter, and bunker when necessary. If all games United had played with a lead this year ended like this one, it would not be the frustrating nail-baiting soccer we had earlier in the season, but the high tension engrossing soccer that makes even 45 scoreless minutes fascinating to watch.

I was not ready to award Josh Wicks the starting job after the match against RSL, or after the match against New York. But a PK save on MacBride and two other point blank stops, well, now I am late to the party but willing to say "OK, even if he has a bad match, it's his job for now." He did the best a keeper can do tonight -- he gave his team a chance to win the game they might otherwise have drawn or lost. His command of the box on corners was also the best it has been this season, as he took at least three crosses out of the air and held them. It was beautiful to watch.

For all the praise being heaped on the defense, and 1 goal allowed is a decent result, I am uncomfortable with their performance here. Every defender had a moment, but Chicago was able to play long balls forward a tad too easily. More damning, once played forward, they were able to start to set up possession, buying time for players to run up behind the ball and support the attack. Clyde Simms and Rodney Wallace were both being bypassed, which would be okay for one or the other at times, but not both. The back line was immediately under pressure, and Chicago's goal resulted at least in part on Fred not coming back fast enough to help out on the perimeter of the defense. Of course, the rest of Chicago's goal was the result of good ball movement, a neat dummy move that forced Wallace out late, and a hell of a shot that left Wicks with nothing to grab.

I do not like Fred on the wing, his skill in the middle is minimized in that position. I understand Christian getting the start, and he certainly had, for the first game he started that I can recall this season, more than one moment where he neatly kept the ball at his feat, ate up a ton of ground, and finished his possession with an intelligent pass. Tino was decent, but not astounding, and Moreno/Pontius/N'Silu were also competent, but the first half saw a significant number of possessions in the final third result in general bafflement.

Boyzzz looked his most credible ever as a late sub, no?

In general, this was a match where I enjoyed the second half much more than the first, and love the result more than either. Your man of the match is Wicks, but Jakovic was coming close until that penalty.

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At 13 June, 2009 22:54, Anonymous Grunthos said...

Back where we belong.

What, Jakovic was the one called for that penalty? Wow, the things you miss when watching live. But why mark Dejan down when it was a poor call by the ref? I only saw two errors from Jakovic tonight, and he recovered immediately from both. He won't get into the rookie of the year discussion, but he ought to. Our defense would be simply nonfunctional without him.

Wicks still gets the MOM, though.

Did anyone else notice the coaching staff gathering the midfielders (and only the midfielders) together on the field right after the halftime whistle? No bet on the discussion subject. We're doing excellent work with possession and movement, but not so much with positioning. I don't think we can keep going with this Wallace-in-the-middle experiment, I love Rodney but this is far from his best use. He's too box-to-box, too energetic to play a responsible ball-winning game there. I'm not sure how McTavish ended up this far in the doghouse, but he's the guy we should be playing next to Simms.

We are edging closer to having a best XI. Unfortunately, right now that best XI doesn't produce a balanced formation; we have four defensive players (Namoff, Jakovic, Burch, Simms) and six attackers (Emilio, Pontius, Wallace, Fred, Gomez, Jaime). The deep bench (Tino, McTavish, Jacobson, N'Silu, Khumalo, Janicki, John, Olsen, Barklage) gives us lots of energy and flexibility, but I don't think we can be consistently dominant until we rebalance the talent pool.

At 14 June, 2009 02:36, Blogger tucksider said...

I just don't believe Wicks is this good, but I'm glad he's playing like he is. Here's hoping he keeps it up!

At 14 June, 2009 07:41, Anonymous Skippy said...

I'm grateful to Wicks for stopping that PK (I'm also grateful to Comcast for putting the game on-demand so I could watch it when I got home from work). However, personally, I would tend to throw out PK stops as a sort of statistical anomalies unless he starts making a habit of it.
I was more impressed with his focus and determination not to give up another goal, pushing his defenders away and shouting at them to get in position for the resultant corner after stopping McBride's shot. He kept his head in the game and didn't give into what had to be a great moment for him. I really like Crayton, but I think that Wicks earned the top spot, without the blocked penalty.

Yes, they beat Chicago, they are in first in the East and everyone or almost every one had a moment to be proud of that game. But the finishing was still horrible. I'm not saying that all those shots needed to be goals, but seriously, the ball wasn't on frame a lot of the time. I'm foregoing "finishing school" jokes because I'm really worried this is going to become a problem. I'm sick of watching DCU create great chances and then miss the shot while their opponents convert on the one good counter-attack they get in a half (I know, its not that extreme, usually. But seriously, how many times in the last 30 minutes or so should it have been 3-1?)

Six word recap: "Foul the rookie, the veterans score"? (Okay, no, the first one really wasn't a foul)

At 14 June, 2009 10:25, Anonymous Tolik said...


Without the referee clarifying what he thought, everything is just a guess: but indeed, initially it looked like a foul on Wicks, but replay showed that Jakovic WAS pulling forwards shoulder - did not look like much at all, but Wicks in that situation must be blameless.

Speaking about Wicks. I agree with everybody that he deserved MOM and works hard to get the job. I liked him too. What I don't like - and he is far from the only one doing it, Keller for example is guilty of the same - is lobbing the balls blindly upfront. Even if they are not lost immediately to the opponents, out guys have to fight for the possession of the ball that was rightfully ours just seconds ago. Tim and Brad are much more intelligent with the ball distribution, btw. Perkins was too. And Crayton as well.

Wicks needs to be corrected on this, ASAP and stop wasting the possession.

At 14 June, 2009 21:09, Anonymous SKippy said...


Grunthos, I ain't, but I have to agree wholeheartedly with the distribution bit. I think we all first noticed Crayton's distribution after having to watch Wells' mystifying distribution last year. Crayton is the best of the three keepers, in terms of both dead ball and punts and throws, in my opinion. I think, he's actually quite good for an MLS keeper in terms of his vision and ability to catalyze an attack from the back. If Crayton weren't so expensive, I would be far less ready to give Wicks the job just because I think Crayton really is quite good at spotting and hitting players making runs.
Honestly, though, Wicks was a lot worse earlier in the year. More than a couple of his goal kicks bounced all the way to the other end line without touching any players. He's improving, which is good. But also makes me somewhat distrustful of him, just because I cannot tell when he is going to reach his zenith and where his weakness are temporary and where they are permanent.

At 14 June, 2009 23:26, Anonymous Grunthos said...

It seems like Wicks himself doesn't know how good he can be just yet. His performances this last month have been so very *focused*. As if he's entered that Michael Jordan / Wayne Gretzky / Tom Brady / Greg Maddux zone where everything slows down and becomes easier, except that Wicks doesn't have those kind of superstar athletic gifts.

I don't know what his max performance level is, but if he has figured out how to keep himself in that special psychological state, then we just got ourselves a quality starter for zilch. 'Cause that is the single most valuable skill a keeper can have.

At 15 June, 2009 08:59, Blogger Bob said...

I have to give props to Rongen for spotting immediately that the pentalty was called on Jakovic. Otherwise it wouldn't have been obvious to us at home either.

D - I also agree that Khumalo looked good and that run was NICE... full steam, head up, looking for support (that wasn't there) and a decent shot.

Any info on Moreno's injury?


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