There's a frustrating trend that seems to be developing thus far in DC United's season. Stage 1: Enter the game with few expectations, save those of gloomy foreboding. Stage 2: Encounter a pleasantly surprising turn of events surrounded by a mysterious avoidance of punishment for slip-ups. Stage 3: Aforementioned slip-ups come back to haunt us, and it's beginning to look like all will be lost, thus fulfilling the earlier gloomy foreboding. Stage 4: All is not lost, leaving yours truly confused as to whether...
(a) The meeting or exceeding of pre-match expectations merits a warm, fuzzy feeling about the result.
(b) The inability to maintain the form (and lead!) of early in the match warrants a high tick on D's Angst-O-Graph.
(c) Keeping hold of the point when the tide seems to have violently turned deserves to be regarded as some sort of victory, heroic failure though it may be.
Never a good feeling is it--to be confused as to how you're supposed to feel when the last ball has been kicked in anger? I think I'm settling on vaguely disappointed bordering on mildly angry. So let's hit those talking points!
* Two great tastes that taste great together. Yes, Emilio's dash and finish was excellent, but it would not have occurred at all were it not for the Bearded Bombardier's energy and commitment to not give up on his own heavy touch that set Luci free to charge toward goal. Welcome back Benny, long may you hack, lunge, and snarl!
* Too many touches in the defensive third. Last season, it was usually Martinez who was the guilty party here. But last night I ticked off the boxes next to pretty much everybody save Wallace, who consistently looked to hoof it out of danger when in doubt. Even the forwards were getting in on the act, Moreno in particular having coughed it up in a particularly dangerous spot. But special blame will have to be reserved for Jakovic. I thought the kid was pretty solid in the first half, but he started the second poorly and it only went downhill from there. His consistently laughable giveaways as the last man back set up the mounting pressure that culminated in the Fire's equalizer.
* Still, I have to question if Wicks needed to be racing out on Chicago's goal. I thought Nyarko's angle was narrow, and Jakovic was keeping it so. Wicks just needed to stay big in that angle and Nyarko was going to have a hard time beating him with power. Of course, given that other little dribbler from a tight angle that snuck past Wicks to come off the post and dance along the line, perhaps we have some evidence to the contrary. When does Crayton get back in the net, please?
* Of course, those defensive wobbles wouldn't have been so costly if Pontius had his finishing boots on. A week after scoring a lovely goal given time and space by the Gax (thanks, bdr!), he had two golden chances to finish off the Fire. Both times, he was under pressure, but at least one, if not both of those, should have been in the net. Still, while I level this criticism, I'm painfully aware that Pontius was actually one of our better players. While Wallace brought energy to his flank, his touches were often lazy, his thinking a second behind, and his first look too often backward--unsurprising for a rookie. By contrast, Pontius looked like he belonged completely--confident on the ball, looking to take defenders on consistently, and covering a lot of ground on the right flank.
* By contrast, where was Gomez? I could ask the same of some of our other attackers, but I want to know what he did, outside of the cross to Olsen and a few neat touches to maintain possession that elicited hopeful cheers from the RFK faithful. Were we simply not able to get him the ball enough? Sadly, even with the ball, my abiding memory is the break where he charged through the middle, Emilio to his left and Pontius to the right with the Fire defense in pursuit. Mysteriously, rather than dishing to Pontius, who seemed to have a better angle and was more clear of his defenders, Gomez pushed it towards Emilio, who was closed down. Shades of the bad old days where Gomez trusted only Jaime with the ball?
* Some questions for Tommy. What did you say at halftime? United were on top of the game going into the half. Chicago had only had a couple of looks while DC were controlling possession. But from the whistle to start the second half, we simply failed to answer the bell. Also, I have to wonder why we didn't see Khumalo when we were consistently failing to test Chicago on the flanks, save for the occasional Pontius run. With Ward consistently charging up the Fire right and gaps appearing in United's back three, I would have been tempted to go to a back four, push Pontius/Moreno high on the left to keep Ward pinned back, and bring in Khumalo on the right wing, thus pulling Pause out of that hybrid d-mid/sweeper position that was frustrating our stabs through the middle. But what the hell do I know anyway? Also, Barklage? When you're chasing a result you bring on a rookie midfielder? Frustrating.
At the end of the day, this is still a result I would have been happy with going into the fray. Despite Chicago being hamstrung on defense, they're still a formidable attacking side, and we were shutting them down until the second half collapse. Still, getting outshot at home (9 shots, 3 on frame for DC versus 10 shots, 7 on frame for the Fire) and the manner of the second half letdown coming out of the locker room leave a bitter taste. The entire first half, I felt nothing but confidence, despite the high number of missing pieces in the starting lineup. The entire second half, my confidence continued to ebb away, until I felt it was only a matter of time until Chicago nicked a winner.
So what am I supposed to feel? Am I happy that we got a point against what looks to be one of the strongest sides in the league? Am I disappointed that we couldn't capitalize on our early possession and chances? Happy that our makeshift defense didn't concede more? Frustrated that we couldn't test Chicago's own weakened back line? What's your feeling? Anything I missed? Fire Soehn?
PS: Anybody else think Tim Ward looks more Bradley Jr. than Michael?