I apologize for the lateness of the hour. I had a birthday party to attend with the little one, and while I'm thankful to Match Center for having the archive available so quickly, I'm not best pleased that the 800k stream included 10+ minutes of the end of a movie and then proceeded to end midway through the second half. This necessitated jumping to the 400k stream and allowing it to play through (with frequent fast-forwards) in order to finish the match. Despite the streaming media pain, the joy was well worth the effort...
Enough of my sob stories. Let's hit those talking points!
* Not a match for the purist. Follow the bouncing ball. So should we blame the basketball court surface? The 100+ degree temps on the field? Both? There was an awful lot of head tennis and long ball madness, though that much had to be expected. Any time either side attempted to get the ball down and play, they surface conspired against them. No wonder every goal came from balls over the top or crosses. I still wonder why, knowing that such a match was in the offing, Osorio started with Oduro up top. Rotation policy? Regardless...
* Thank whatever deity you so choose that Kandji didn't start. After the defense looked relatively solid in the first half (yes, even Burch), Kandji created all kinds of problems and opened up space for his teammates as Burch and Jakovic struggled to contain his power. Having to split the focus from negating Angel to negating both Kandji and Angel left Angel free to score one and create the opportunity for the Red Bulls' second.
* Crayton is rapidly approaching liability status. His flapping at crosses was frightening to behold...and I've beheld Rimando! True, he had a couple of decent saves, but this has now become my biggest worry on the roster. Crayton doesn't look good. Certainly not worth the cap figure he commands. Wicks strikes me as third-stringer material at best. And Kocic didn't seem to be the answer from what I saw of the Open Cup highlights. Maybe it's time to toss Kocic in the fire and hope he survives, much like Guzan's rookie season. Crayton is simply getting paid way too much to not be among the top 5 keepers in MLS. We could use that cap money elsewhere and get more bang for our buck. Summer transfer window?
* Quaranta the creator. Speaking of bang for our buck, we've certainly had our faith in Tino repaid with interest. Witness the two moments of class that created the first two goals. Situation #1: killing a bouncing ball on the break with a touch off the sole of his boot before crossing hard to the runner on the back post. Situation #2: an instinctive, first-time lobbed cross on the volley. Luck? Perhaps a bit, but he got the ball into a dangerous area where the predator could do his work. Anybody else you'd hold up as man of the match?
* Pontius' secret weapon. I noticed last week that we started letting Pontius take long throws late in the match as we chased the game. We did the same this week. I have a question. Why aren't we letting him take all of our long throw ins from the first whistle? The dude can launch them. Why not exploit that throughout the match? Are we too proud of our feted "possession football" approach?
* Great never say die attitude. Not only by Khumalo and Pontius in grabbing the stoppage time winner, but by the whole team in fighting back through the heat, fatigue, cramping, and pain. That will be my abiding memory of this match. After last week's dramatic late equalizer, we're seeing stirrings in this team of the sort of heart that was mostly absent last season. Now, if we could just figure out how to instill a killer instinct, because...
* We should have been at least 2-0 up. Quaranta and Emilio both squandered golden opportunities to pad the lead. At least this time, the Bulls' comeback was more down to their forcing the issue than our sitting back, but I still worry about this shortcoming. We need to be able to finish teams off when we're in position to do so. Part of this is continuing to attack. Part is some of our really wasteful finishing. At least last week's most obvious goat in the finishing sweepstakes managed to redeem himself this time around with the winner.
Those boos raining down at the final whistle were sweet music indeed. Maybe I'm being too hard on this club, expecting too much by looking for some nebulous "killer instinct". Let's face it, I wasn't hopeful going into this season, and our current position is somewhat surprising to me. Much of that is down to how well the rookies and new signings have blended in to the team. There was hemming and hawing about a "rebuilding year," but I'm tempted to want the future now. Christian and Jaime have given us great years, but we've got some kids who play with skill and heart. There is a core of young players here, led by the phoenix that is Santino Quaranta, that give me hope.