Your expectations were low going into Houston, in the heat, with Houston's two best players returning from Gold Cup duty. I was right there with you. But my expectations were nowhere near as low as "shipping three goals in less than five minutes." So what abiding memory are we left with from this game? Do we bemoan a lame defense and a goalkeeper that looked like Han Solo frozen in carbonite? Or do we choose to take comfort from the heart and passion United showed in fighting back to make this a one-goal contest? Instead of reacting specifically to this match, I'm going to break this down into a three-part assessment of United as a whole, with this match as a measuring stick, beginning with...
Tommy Tactics and the Defensive Suck Machine
Look, I'm as pleased as punch that we're alive in the playoff hunt. My pre-season expectations were grim. And I realize that we've had some impressive games in the 3-5-2, but enough is enough. Three at the back leaves us far too vulnerable to speed and width in attack. The only justification that I can find for playing this way is that it allows us to feature Gomez in the #10 role with little defensive responsibility behind two strikers. But that ignores the fact that Gomez is not the player he was and that others, namely Fred and Quaranta in the wide areas, will shine brighter when they don't have to cover a whole damn flank and can focus on offensive production. Likewise, by removing the central playmaker and freeing up attackers in wide areas, we force defenses to make harder decisions than "mark the #1o." Which leads us to...
So would it seem like a massive over-reaction to say that we need to wean ourselves off Gomez/Moreno? I prefer to think of it as a practical move. We've got a solid young core that can play with pace and energy. While they may not have the technical quality and savvy of the old guard, they do force teams to react to us, rather than just waiting us out. And there can be a role for either (though not both) Gomez or Moreno in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 as a creative central pivot around which a dervish attack revolves. But do we schedule the future for right now? Can't we wait it out and focus on maintaining what has been, to this point, a decent, if not spectacular season? Depends. Do you want to watch the last poignant and heroic gasps of great warriors that will ultimately fail, or do you want to see a young and hungry United that may also fail, but in doing so will learn valuable lessons for the future while all the while pruning the dead wood? And that brings us to...
Scrambling for seats on the Bandwagon
Who's going to say it first? Okay, maybe I'll just whisper it. "Hey Will? Kevin? Psst! Tommy's a lost cause." Too dramatic? Perhaps. But it feels like it's time for new blood. Yes, yes, the spirit of the second half performance was tremendous, but it just seems that every time we seem to be making progress, we get slammed back...hard. Was going into the half down 3-0 the reason we rested so many players and got ourselves into a Champions' League hole on Tuesday? Yes, Tommy might navigate the treacherous waters and deliver an Open Cup and a playoff spot, but I don't see us doing any damage once there. The mental lapses are too frequent and too readily punished.
Am I crazy? Does one slack five minute span on the road against the best team in the league mean we should tear down the edifice? Maybe we just need to add another defender, right? Maybe it was the heat? Maybe we just miss Clyde that much in midfield? There are ready excuses. But I'm getting tired of fishing for them. Sure, maybe I'm being too quick to question what seems to be a team full of spirit and camaraderie, and Tommy deserves major credit for the accomplishment, but these consistent "shut off" periods have to be laid at somebody's feet.