Well, color me a little surprised. Not only did Tommy run out a very strong team, but we actually got the result we needed, hanging three on a tired Marathon side to push us to second in the group (first tie-breaker in the group stage is head-to-head, which we shade by virtue of winning 3-0, while they beat us 3-1). So am I a believer? There's still the looming "if." If Toluca send a strong side to Honduras. If they can grab a win. If we can hold serve against Jabloteh at home. We shall see. The priority has to be picking up league wins at the moment, so we'll see if running out such a strong side three days earlier has any effect on our match with the Quakes at the weekend. Talking points?
- A tale of two Emilios. Yes, yes. Full credit to the DP for the two he finished, but how many did he miss, particularly in the first half, when an early goal would have been ideal? He's still a reasonable player, but the first step to accelerate into space or turn defenders is gone, leaving him with only his finishing ability to rely on. Based on said finishing tonight, it would be borderline criminal to allow him to continue on DP dollars next year.
- What to make of Tommy? I was ready to throw him off a cliff when he subbed in Jaime for Shipalane before the half. Shipalane was doing some nice work out wide and his running was creating chances that clearly unsettled the Marathon defense. Pair that with Jaime's first three attempts to take on defenders ending in him losing possession, and I was tearing my hair out. But the second half adjustment to start flooding numbers into the space vacated by Marathon's attacking left back was an excellent call, and Jaime's contributions in the second half justified his inclusion (for the most part).
- The strongest spine. Did anybody else notice how the gaps seemed to evaporate when Jakovic came on in defense and Simms was pushed into midfield? Maybe some of that had to do with Marathon running out of steam, but there was a two-fold positive effect from our end as well. Jakovic's anticipation allows him to always pop up in what seem to be holes, and Simms staying home eliminated the gap created by Wallace and Olsen (1) not having the communication completely worked out and (2) both being too eager to get forward, often at the same time. With Simms sitting in that area between our back line and midfield, their forwards were less able to drop into space to look for balls through.
- Jaime giveth and Jaime taketh away. True, his first few minutes at the end of the first half were less than promising, but in the second he was offering more, dropping into the hole behind Emilio and springing runners wide (I still say he and Gomez should be splitting time as withdrawn, playmaking forwards). His finish was a lovely piece of cool improvisation. But where his cool shone in front of goal, it didn't when he launched the elbow that got him sent off. I don't care what Max and Sulli were saying about him failing to connect, the intent was clearly there (he snuck a peek before the elbow came up), and that's crap your captain can't be pulling in stoppage time when you're desperate not to surrender the goal that would negate your tie-breaker advantage. Not to mention that he won't be available for the must-win at home to Jabloteh in the next round.
[UPDATE: It appears Moreno got one yellow for the elbow and walked for a second yellow incurred during the altercations subsequent to the foul. On the one hand, that's even worse than just launching the elbow in the first place, but from all that I could see (admittedly from television) that second yellow wouldn't have happened if the Marathon players didn't go nuts in the wake of the initial foul. Still, two minutes into stoppage time? Just walk away and let the cards be dished to protesting opponents.]
- Loved Shipalane's running with the ball. That gives us an extra dimension.
- I was pleasantly surprised by Vaughn. His touch looked reasonable, he got forward a little, and didn't have any serious brainfarts. Usually that would be small praise, but for United defensive depth, it's (sadly) saying an awful lot.
- BRRRRRREEEETOOOOS! Woefully uninformed as usual, thinking that goal-difference is the tie-breaker. Is it too much to expect even a modicum of professionalism to do a little research? He also identified DC as being outside looking in for the playoffs. Moron.
- Pontius was doing some extremely interesting work out wide, showing the confidence to take on defenders, and the ability to cut inside and hit a shot. Too bad he's the only forward we have who can consistently win balls in the air cause he can't cross to himself.
- I love Benny. The outrageous full-body feint and the weaving dribbling run that followed in the second half was one of the highlights of the game for me. Too bad Pontius couldn't finish the sweeping move that followed.
- Anybody else catch Avery John catching a karmic body-slam from Wicks?
So that puts us a big step closer to advancing from the group. The next round sees us host Jabloteh, while Toluca travel to Marathon. Here's hoping Toluca take that one seriously and try to wrap up their qualification, because a Marathon loss, coupled with a United win, would make the final week academic (Marathon could catch us on points, but we hold the tie-breaker over them), meaning we could run out the reserves and maintain focus on qualifying for the playoffs.