This story line is getting stale. You remember the one? The one where United commits some unbelievably amateurish defensive blunder to put themselves in an early hole. At the beginning of the season, we managed to fight our way back into a few of these. Hell, we're managing to fight out way back now as well. The problem is that we can't seem to hang onto what we've snatched from the slavering jaws of defeat. Of course, having said that, we did run out a largely reserve side against the best team in our group and managed to look pretty respectable for most of the second half, so there's some positive buried in there, right?
* Amateur Hour, Part One. Hey look, stupid defensive mistakes again for the Toluca opener! Again with the miscommunication. If Wicks comes, he's got to get that. I can forgive Habarugira somewhat because he's the new guy. Sure, you could say that he needs to clear it first time, but if your keeper calls, you leave it. Did Wicks call? He should have if he's coming hard, and it wasn't like you could blame crowd noise if he wasn't heard. If there is a criticism of Habarugira (on this play), it's that he didn't body the Toluca forward off enough.
The larger issue with Habarugira seemed to be his positioning. I counted at least three times where he was breaking up attacks in central defense, and on a handful of occasions he was wide right as part of a counterattacking trio or quartet. All this as a notional right back. The question is: does his positioning just suck, is Tommy not communicating where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to be doing, or is he being thrown in a position he's not used to playing (I've seen him referenced as a left back and center back, but never as a right back) and consequently making the usual errors you'd expect when trying to adapt? Not that he was alone. At times, Simms seemed to be playing left wing or pushed on the high side of midfield. WTF, Tommy? Do you have team talks about your tactics? And didn't Tommy say something about Habarugira looking very "polished" in his trial?
* Amateur Hour, Part Two. What a gaping hole of no-talent suck our left flank was! Credit Tommy for trying to make a change, first by swapping Allen and McTavish, and later by getting Allen out of there in the first half. The problem is that maybe it would have been more astute to get Avery John out of there. Christ, but he's a liability! Not that the addition of Fred made much of a difference. Oh wait, I almost forgot the mandatory "Fred blowing a golden opportunity" moment, when an offsides McTavish (more on the refs in a moment) crossed for the onrushing Brazilian, only to see Fred make lame contact and dribble his shot wide. $200k? Really?
* Amateur Hour, Part Three. Do we really need to waste pixels talking about the shameful state of officialdom in CONCACAF? Yes. From the moment I saw that asshat Campbell walking out to the center circle, I knew trouble was a-brewin'. The dude smirked his way through the Gold Cup, treating players and coaches to his Warner-esque condescending smirk and demonstrating a frightening inconsistency in his calling of fouls and use of cards. But while he did have his moments of idiocy in this match (Avery John's penalty-that-never-was comes to mind), the teams, thankfully, didn't get out of hand. What should have been "out of hand" was the far-side linesman's flag. The dude missed four offsides calls (two each way, so I guess he cancelled out), only one of which was even close. I've seen better judgement by 12 year olds running lines, and this is the best CONCACAF has to offer for their "Champions'" League? And I say this in full recognition that we probably benefitted more from the whistlemen's mistakes.
* Amateur Hour, Part Four. This one also goes without saying but...FSC! Please remove your noggins from your sphincters and put together a reasonable soccer broadcast! I thought the days of showing replays during play were all but past, but no! The quintessential moment of failure here was Fred pushing down the right flank and hitting a cross in to the top of the box, only to have FSC cut to a replay of some inconsequential moment just as the ball is about to touch down. Of course, maybe somebody in the control truck had sussed out that Fred is where all promising attacks go to die, but doesn't it seem a bit premature to just cut away before a dangerous attacking moment has passed?
* Bombs Away! What was with some of the shooting from distance? I know Jacobson can crank them, but I wish that McTavish and Quaranta had been a bit more selective in their shooting. Instead of firing one off whenever the slightest gap appeared, why not try a bit of possession to open a bigger window of opportunity? Toluca has fitness concerns and a congested schedule as well and were playing more of their first team. Why not make them run a little? Why not let the pressure build? And how about all of those dumped balls over the top or wayward through balls that just gifted possession back to the opposition? This is one of the ways Toluca outclassed us: patience (see Burch's flailing defense on their second). And what was with our complete inability to do anything remotely dangerous from set plays?
So were there any positives to be taken from this boondoggle?
* Build the attacking future around Quaranta and Pontius. Quaranta's energy, passing, running, and crossing cut a sharp contrast to Jaime, who didn't look as poor as he has over the past month, but was still a step too slow for my liking. As for Pontius, he did what he does best--he got to balls in the box. Heck, he even managed to throw in some efficient hold-up play and buried the one big chance he was given.
* I like James. He's a bit reckless, but he's quick and strong and not afraid to make a tackle. He'd be pretty decent cover for Jakovic's wanderings and opportunistic challenges, as demonstrated by his recovery run that spared Avery John after an incredibly lame header back to Wicks. Unfortunately, I don't see Tommy being able to mold reliable young defenders. That's why we're importing pre-programmed Euro-youth castoffs, right? Speaking of young center backs, does the lack of Janicki, even for bench duty, mean that he's being prepped for cutting?
* Tommy the Tactician? At first, I credited Habarugira's turning up in the right wing position as poor positioning and reckless enthusiasm, but then Namoff was doing the same thing when he subbed on for the former. Is Tommy working out a system on the right flank that involves the backs overlapping with McTavish, who can then slot in as defensive cover for the forward-bombing fullback? I'd like to think that it was intentional, but I do wonder...
So, yet another late CONCACAF collapse to add to our collection. I suppose that means that we can punt this tourney, though, truth be told, based on our lineups for these first two matches, I think we're in the advanced stages of severe punt-itis anyway. We've still got an outside shot at advancing, but priority #1 has to be qualifying for the playoffs at the moment, right? At the very least, we'll get to have an extended look at the length and breadth of our roster before making the decision about who we'll leave exposed for the Expansion Draft, and the extra games means everybody should be match-sharp for the stretch run.
Cold comfort, that.