So, that was a better result than we probably could have expected in light of our sorry history south of the 2-0 crossing. And you could probably have doubled the surprise given the starting lineup that the oh-so-nattily-dressed Tommy Soehn ran out there. I don't think anybody realistically expected us to fly home with three points and qualification from the group stage in the bag. Instead, a 1-1 draw and a highlight-reel goal for Chris Pontius give us a fighting chance to advance (Aarggh! Why can't CONCACAF play these final matches at the same time?!?). Sure we played pretty terribly, particularly in midfield, and have no concept of moving off the ball once we've passed it, making our plodding attack even more glacial, but...wait, I'm suppose to be staying happy about this result, aren't I?
* Party Bomb! The water cooler talk tomorrow will doubtless be about Pontius' rocket volley from 25' to open the scoring. I think there can be little doubt that Pontius' long term future is on the front line. His finishing as a rookie hasn't been as sure as you'd like, and his versatility works against him getting consistent minutes up top since he's one of the better flank options as well, but I'd be building my attack around him if I were in a position to do so. The big problem? We'll be lucky if he's still on these shores in two years.
* Jak at the Back. Jakovic just continues to impress me. His ability to anticipate the play and snuff out passing lanes is almost as much fun for a defender to watch as his calm on the ball, connect-the-dots cool possession passing, and those little feints and wiggles that leave the forwards scrambling for their jocks. Of course, he does have a tendency to take the calm just a touch too far at the moment, but if Pontius is the rock to build your attack around, Jakovic has to be the corresponding anchor for the defense. Sadly, I think he's also not long for MLS...I wonder if anybody noticed the cover he was providing for the gassed Vaughn when he subbed on? Wonder if that might have been helpful a few minutes earlier?
* The Designated Pacer. Yes, yes. I know all about the evils of altitude. But isn't Emilio our DP? Our figurehead? Our designated poacher supreme? Why was he trotting about in the middle third in the closing stages? I can understand doing so when we're defending, but when we got the ball back and broke, the entire team just shot past him, leaving him strolling around behind the attack. Shouldn't he be busting his ass to get in the box? And what had he done in the rest of the game? I know he thrives on service, and that midfield looked singularly incapable of providing it, but excuse me for wanting a little more from a supposedly marquee player. Too often he's been missing in action this year.
* The Case for Cronin. As in: it just got stronger. No, he wasn't without fault. In fact, he had a couple of real "whoa!" moments, but the good far outweighed the bad. He was quick to come for balls, made the stops he needed to make, and generally looked in command. Now we have two questions to pose to the FO. (1) Can you pony up a transfer fee? (2) Can you land a proper left back and possibly a James-alternative in the middle to complement Namoff and Jakovic next year?
* The Wrong Flank. I was worried about the wrong one the whole time apparently. In the first half, I was pretty certain that we'd see that little Toluca winger blowing by Avery John with frightening regularity. By contrast, Vaughn looked like he had his side locked up pretty well. But as the second half wore on, Vaughn started getting tested and toasted, eventually conceding the penalty that gave Toluca the draw. I've generally been impressed by how well Vaughn has filled in for the irreplaceable Namoff, but I think he got bit by the altitude bug here.
Considering how long he's been on the shelf, I think that's not shocking.
* If everyone knows Boyzzz can't play a lick of flank defense, why does Tommy play him there in a game where you know he's going to need to defend? Wait, this is one of those existential Zen questions, right?
* Color me shocked that we didn't see anybody walk for red. That said, the ref was horribly inconsistent (par for the CONCACAF course, right?), though the linesmen did spare our defense a few blushes as they got trigger-happy with the flags.
* I wasn't terribly impressed by Szetela, though the early yellow probably dulled his play. That said, most of the midfield was similarly awful. Did Boyzzz or DiRaimondo complete a pass over three yards? I've got to guess that DiRaimondo never would have seen the field if Jacobson hadn't suffered the Bum Hammy Hammer.
* Can somebody get Soehn a new wardrobe?
* Hey, two matches running where Tommy didn't yank somebody in the first half. Still can't resist the halftime sub though...
There has to be some perspective here. Even if it wasn't the result we needed or a fantastic display of possession soccer, this was a fantastic result for DC United. I could give a rat's ass (several in fact) if Toluca were indeed fielding a less than full strength lineup. What would you call ours? We started John freakin' DiRaimondo, for crap's sake!
Fact is, Toluca play at altitude, sit atop the Mexican league, and we drew in their house. We, who sit 10th in a 15 team league. And they needed a penalty to do it after we scored a tremendous goal from open play. That's cause for a little celebration, isn't it? Sure, we were outplayed for most of the match, but they weren't so terribly dangerous that our goal was under constant threat, was it? If nothing else, we put a marker out there that Marathon must exceed if they want to advance. Baby steps.
Now we need to match this effort in the significantly less demanding environs of KC's little ballpark against another team with little to play for except saving face.