Not the prettiest image invoked by the title, I'll agree, but then that's appropriate to the way United finished this match, isn't it? I suppose you could argue that Dallas were at home (in front of their fan--no, I didn't miss a plural) and that they were even more desperate than we are for a result, but pardon me for expecting a little more ambition against one of the lesser sides of MLS when we're up a man.
Tommy's in-match interview laid all the cards on the table, preaching patience and caution. Yes, maybe we come up a point shy at the end of the season if we grow a pair and go for the win only to get caught on the break. But it's also equally likely that we still miss out by a point or two by virtue of not having obtained all three playing up a man for half an hour. How much will we rue not going for the jugular then? Managers so afraid to lose games that they don't try for victory are at the root of the cynicism in the modern game, and Tommy's no exception to the trend. Too bad.
Line up the talking points...
* Still rough sketches of a brighter future. Pontius runs hard and fights for the high balls, but his movement off the ball isn't quite there yet. Quaranta needs just a touch more patience on the ball. Wallace has energy and athleticism to burn, but needs to clean up the first touch a bit and bring a little calm to his possession (and finishing!). And Julius James...ah, now there's a light obscured by the shrubbery. In this match, he proved that he's not useless with his feet and prefers to find a teammate rather than booting clearances. That's good. As is his raw athleticism. Unfortunately, his poor decisions played a large part in both goals as he missed a headed back-pass and headed clearance to allow Dallas attackers in on goal. Still, he did manage to clean up a fair few messes as well, and I think he's got long-term promise beside Jakovic.
* Is Janicki still on the roster? Ouch. First Soehn would rather go with three at the back rather than play him in a four against a team that obviously should have been defended against with four (Seattle). Then he gets bumped in this match for a central midfielder to play in defense. Makes you wonder why he's still clogging up a senior roster spot, doesn't it? I can only assume that he's emergency cover while Jakovic recovers from surgery. The question is whether he survives the return of N'Silu (meh, it's a wash either way) and Khumalo (ruh-roh, Greg!). But that raises another question as well, doesn't it? Why didn't Simms pair Jakovic in a back four in the Open Cup final considering Seattle basically ran out the same sort of attack Dallas did, only with more quickness on the wings? Hmmm. You wanna field that one, Tommy?
* Speaking of the boss-man. I though he made the absolute right decision in getting Moreno on for McTavish. I think he probably could have waited until the half, but credit to him for seeing the problem and making the call. We were chasing entirely too much, mostly because we lacked patience in possession ourselves. The introduction of Moreno did go some way to ameliorating the problem. Another issue that was somewhat addressed by the change is that we weren't putting enough pressure offensively on their fullbacks, allowing them to get forward with impunity. Putting Tino wide on the right forced the Dallas left back to stay home a bit more, because Tino's first instinct was to get forward, something that couldn't be said of McTavish. This is where it would be useful to address the need for attacking flank players with speed in the off-season. Keeping the opposition fullbacks from advancing into midfield means our fewer numbers there (after shifting from 3-5-2/3-6-1 to 4-4-2/4-4-1-1) will not be missed so much. Of course, having said Tommy was absolutely correct to make the early swap for Jaime, you've got to wonder what he sees in Fred. Turnover machine. Doesn't stay wide. Seizes up in and around the box.
* Better energy up top. Sure, we were getting caught offsides an awful lot in this match, but so what? The fact that we were getting caught shows that we were actually making attacking runs into the spaces behind the defense, something we rarely do with Emilio up top in the 3-6-1. You saw it when he came on in the late going as well. Too many broken-off runs ending in seemingly aimless through balls. Not enough hard running to drag defenders and clear the traffic in the central areas ahead of their defense. Hell, look how often Wallace was making testing runs down the left flank in his limited minutes out there. Sure seemed a whole lot more useful than Fred's constant cutting inside (only to pass the ball to the opposition) or standing about waiting for the ball.
* It's a shame about Burch. Would that he had some other quality as a player other than his left leg, because it is a pretty useful left leg, particularly when shooting from distance and on set pieces. His raking cross-field balls also occasionally provide moments of danger, though too often they are intercepted or drift long. The problem is that his defensive positioning, marking, one-on-one defense, and closing down of crossers (and shooters!) are all substandard. Much as I complain about Fred, he was tracking back to close down the wide attackers that Burch couldn't seem to make his mind up about. Perhaps as he gets used to having two center backs for cover, he'll start to step out more and apply the necessary pressure. Then I won't have to resort to shouting "close him down, you miserable sack of...!" at my screen...
* Testicular Failure. Having said all of that, much of my frustration from the match has to be directed at Tommy. After watching the US struggle across the finish line last night, it was "double the frustration" with Tommy doing much the same with United. For crap's sake! You have a man advantage and are in the tightest of races for the post-season. You're playing against one of the quartet of sides completely detached from the rest of the league. Show a little ambition, man! Instead, fear of losing, as it does so often, won out over the joy of attacking and taking the game to the opposition. We spent far too much time under pressure from 10-man Dallas, content as we were to pack the midfield and keep numbers behind the ball. Woe unto the lone aesthetic idealist in a field of pragmatic cowards!
So we've emerged from a weekend of fairly light action level on points with the Revs, RSL, and Chivas, though Chivas and the Revs both have two games in hand on us. That means we're right on the border between playoff bliss and post-season blues. Unfortunately, the only tie-breaker that goes in our favor is goal difference versus the Goats, leaving us in that dreaded #9 spot. Which makes it that much more annoying that three points would have put us in sixth, two points clear of qualification and just three back of the Fire, who currently hold the #2 automatic qualifying spot in the East and have played the same number of games as we have. Such are the swings that the Parity Police dictate. With the help of a failure of ambition...