This will be short, sweet, and even more out of the derriere than usual, seeing as how I haven't had a chance to watch United's 2-1 victory (2-3 loss on aggregate), but did stumble across the result, trip and bang my head on the hue and cry of BigSoccer, and even managed to step in the big, steaming pile of a [slanted] Mexican highlights package. Whew! Well, I guess it's about time to synthesize all that my attention sponge has absorbed and wring it out in a concentrated bout of ass-talking . . .
* So what's the deal with Emiligol? The golden-booted one has looked all kinds of out of sorts in this young season--bad touches, frequent loss of possession, and some oh-so glaring misses. Now, beyond the early explosion against his old club in this very same competition last year, he started 2007 rather slowly as well. So there's always hope that he'll round into form as the season continues. Fat lot of good that does us now though. Wasn't there a lot of supposition that the acquisition of the second DP slot from the cRapids for Gomez was intended as a reward for Emilio if he performed in the same capacity as last year? At the moment, I don't think I'd be particularly inclined to take that option . . .
* Return of the three-back system? Early last year, Soehn addressed our early season defensive wobbles by switching to a four-back system. But the second half against TFC and this last match against Pachuca suggest that perhaps another change is on the cards. Namoff has already proved himself in such a system for United before. Martinez looks like he'll be ideally suited to be his counterpart as the second outside back, and indeed, perhaps some of his talents are wasted a bit at center back. The final piece of the puzzle is Peralta, who certainly seems to have some of the blend of dominating physical presence and organizational skill that made Ryan Nelson such a valuable player for this team. If nothing else, increased tactical flexibility will be an asset going forward.
* Hang the man with the whistle? Sure, it's easy to blame the ref for a job well-botched. My vicarious experience of the game through others' eyes suggests that the official bought into some diving, missed at least one PK call, and apparently just picked a number at random when it came to assessing how many minutes of stoppage time should be played. But this is CONCACAF. The refs are always crap. Hell, MLS refs aren't much better as a whole, so we better get used to the ill treatment. While the officials should undoubtedly shoulder some of the blame, I'm going to take a somewhat higher road and point the finger instead at: (1) the naivete displayed in Mexico that led us to run our legs off in the first half-hour of the game, leading to a second half collapse, and a difficult 2-0 first leg result, and (2) an inability to stick the ball in the back of the net in the first half of the second leg when the chances presented themselves. Are Pachuca a better side? Probably. Are they that much better that we couldn't have won this series? Nope.
* Building a better mousetrap? I was listening to the Guardian's Football Weekly podcast last week and was intrigued by the German correspondent's opinion that Bayern Munich's massive changes this year are focused on creating a Champions' League winning side next year. Why do I mention this? Well, I know of another team that underwent a pretty sizable overhaul in the offseason. We've all heard off the front office's repeated stance that they're building a side that can succeed in international competition. Gallardo said that one of the things that convinced him to come to DC was the ambition of the club on the international stage.
It's hard for so many new pieces to fit together immediately, so I'm wondering if the United staff was looking at this competition as a test run. I know they want to win every competition, but did they realistically expect the team to gel quickly enough to be a force in this competition, or was this just a teaser? We've got that extra DP slot just floating around, and we've got ownership that's willing to invest in the team's success. Now we've got 3-4 months for the team to knit together, and for the front office to address any weaknesses that they see in the roster before we're back on the international stage. I'm just sayin' . . .
So, all in all, disappointment reigns over the Fullback household for what might have been. We've been tripped up in our first competition, but it was against a better side, and I was encouraged by the fight that we displayed. At this time last year, we were in a similar situation. Out of the continental cup one step too early and not exactly setting the league alight. But the difference is that last year's early season was marred by worrying signs from the defense and a one-trick-pony attack. So far, this year's edition has generally looked a more impressive beast. Let's hope that the beast finds its footing and starts to dish out some real punishment.