Putting the Knife Away | a DC United Match Reaction

Sure, United's quick jump to 2-0 on the road against the Quakes had more than a whiff of good fortune surrounding it. A soft penalty call. A generous deflection into the path of a waiting finisher. But that fortune was self-made. From the first whistle, United were playing calm, controlled stuff, spreading the play, and putting the ball into dangerous areas. By comparison, the Quakes were a disjointed mess, their few chances coming from quick balls to aggressive, athletic runners rather than the result of any coherent buildup.

But then, perhaps as a result of not really believing in the lead they had amassed, United let San Jose back into things, with a flurry of corners leading to a deflected cross that took a flick and found a willing foot to finish it. This is where you break out the "most dangerous lead in soccer" stuff and witness the accompanying change of fortunes and momentum with a jaded eye, right? But that ignores the chances United had to find a third. That ignores the fact that San Jose are nearly a broken team, wallowing at the foot of the Western Conference with a defense held together with chewing gum and paperclips. They had nothing resembling confidence and appeared to be resigned to their fate. So what went wrong..?

* Fred the wastrel. How many times did the ball find Fred in acres of open space on the flank approaching the box? It was happening with alarming frequency (for the Quakes anyway) in the first half and even happened a few times in the lackluster second. But in these dangrous moments, Fred more often than not elected to pause, either to set up a dribbling run, wait for a runner to go into space ahead of him, or play it backward. If his first touch is more aggressive, you've got to figure that, at the very least, he pulls defenders away from the middle to free up runners for a cross, or, more likely, gets a chance on goal himself. Of course, it takes a player better than your average MLS bear to take advantage of these types of situations with technique and quickness, both of throught and foot. Is your average MLS wide midfielder so blessed? Not always, but when you're pulling over $200k, I'd say the expectations of what you are able to do in these situations needs to be higher.

* Putting the knife away. If I'm an MLS attacker looking at that San Jose back line, I'm licking my chops and ready to get after them. And United did that to a certain extent. Granted this was a road match, and maybe there's an eye towards the Champions' League qualifier on Tuesday, but with a fragile back line, a midfield that wasn't generating anything resembling a passing sequence, a stunned crowd, and forwards relying of sheer athleticism to create half-chances, San Jose were exposed, necks bared for United to deliver the killing blow. But for some reason, the knife was put away, and the Quakes got up off the altar, shook off their stupor, and, but for some horribly wasted chances of their own, might have gone on to win this match quite easily.

* No late heroics. Much of United's success this season has come from last-gasp winners and equalizers. It's a testament to the spirit of the team that they've always seemed to have the confidence that they could pull a result out of the fire. And while I didn't share that feeling for the opening months of the season, I've started to take it on board. Sadly, I saw little evidence of it last night, either from players or coaches. True, the response wasn't completely without teeth, and there were some half-chances created after the Quakes' opener and in the second half, but there was none of the fire that I've been pleasantly surprised by this season. Is this a result of the young players hitting the wall? Not having Quaranta's energy and passing? The crowded summer fixture list catching up?

Quick hits...

* Moreno looked awful in his sub appearance. No energy, consistently stripped of the ball or passing to nobody. He did create one moment of danger that, of course, Fred managed to squander.

* We miss Simms' mobility. Jacobson had some nice moments in possession, Benny was (as usual) giving it his all, and I was impressed with Szetela's holding and distribution, but none of them can cover as much of the field as Simms can defensively. When San Jose's confidence started building, they were consistently able to outrun our midfield, either on or off the ball.

* What the hell was Rodney Wallace thinking on that handball? There was nobody behind him. Was he just feeling guilty about how soft United's PK was?

* Testy Emilio made another appearance though not quite as egregiously as the bottle-kicking version of a couple of months ago. But he sure wanted to take that PK. Tough to blame a goalscorer for wanting to take the kick, but did he have to be so vehement?

* Was it just me, or did it seem like Jakovic was playing at times like he had more cover in the middle? Perhaps this feeling was colored by my expectation that it might take him a game or two to get used to the switch back from a four-back set with Canada to United's three-back set.

So what to take from this match? Obviously, there is severe disappointment that we couldn't make a 2-0 road lead against the second worst team in the league stand up. But parity dictates that there will be few completely one-sided games in Major League Soccer. And at least we didn't suffer as complete a road let down as Dallas did against RSL. Here's hoping the return of Quaranta and Szetela working himself into game shape bring a renewed spark to United's play, because flat performances over the long road-haul that awaits might see us struggling for a playoff position rather than approaching the post season from a position of strength and confidence.


  1. Fred...where attacks go to die.

  2. Anthony The GreatJuly 26, 2009 at 1:27 PM

    Well, at least we got a point. 1 point, especially in the tight Eastern pack will be significant - but we deserved two more...

    Our Brazilians Fred and Emilio better take a huge salary cut for next season or they are both out the door.