There was a spell there in the second half where I couldn't see us surviving the blitz. United seemed completely unable to hold the ball or even advance into opposition territory. Instead, we suffered wave after yellow wave, forced back into our own box, waiting for the inevitable to kick us in the nether regions. But a strange thing happened on a night when you'd expect a wet ball to do some funny stuff on the slick turf...
It never ended up in United's net.
* Artistic expression. I'm going to draw a rather tortured analogy that doesn't quite fit in all respects, but bear with me. To me, the Crew looked like they were an artist with a paint by numbers set. Sure, they weren't making brilliant art, but they were consistently making art, in the form of keeping the ball in our end, moving off each other with confidence that the ball would be on the other end of the movement, and generally getting the ball into dangerous areas to fashion chances. United? They were up in their loft in a black turtleneck and beret, smoking a clove and waiting...always waiting for inspiration to strike like a bolt from the blue. And it did. Once. Hard to consistently take that approach and be a winner though...
* Keeper #4. First, we have to say that Tommy's obviously been justified for his inclusion of Cronin. The biggest difference between Cronin and Wicks/Kocic? He came off his line quickly and with confidence, both to punch and to intercept balls in behind the defense. Sort of like Crayton used to do...you know, without being quite so scary in doing it. In fact, I almost didn't know what to do with a United keeper that wasn't constantly making questionable decisions and/or mishandling the ball. I do wonder what this does to Kocic's confidence though. When Wicks went down, he must have thought, here's my chance to prove myself. Couple of games later, he's back rooted to the bench. More Soehn Man Management Magic?
* Tommy's Choice. I guess we've got to give him props for getting the critical win, but was anybody really satisfied with how the 3-5-2 played? We didn't control possession, which numbers in midfield should have given us. We were under constant threat on the flanks. We produced little of our own in the wide areas. Pretty much everything that was wrong before is still wrong. But somehow the result stood. Even in the wake of the Garey substitution where I was screaming at Tommy to get four at the back because Garey was going to play right up next to Big Bird. Sure enough, within seconds, they've got three guys queueing up against two defenders as a ball floats into the box.
And then I thought he saw the problem and made the change when Moreno came on for Gomez. Surely, I thought, Moreno goes up top, Khumalo to right mid, and Vaughn to right back. But no! Instead, we persist with the 3-5-2, coming under increasing pressure, unable to even find the Moreno-shaped safety valve to gain some possession. Sadly, when we went to four at the back, we looked even more completely disorganized, just waiting for the Crew to pick their way through. The fact that we always managed to get a body in the way of the final shot is small comfort in the face of a defense that often doesn't seem to know what it's doing. And that is the major reason Tommy still needs to go, regardless of what sort of post-season gold he may shockingly pull from his derrière.
* Priority #1. This offseason, we need a speed/athleticism transfusion in attack. Though the rain played to our advantage in mitigating the Crew's speed advantage, they were still noticeably more dynamic than we were. That's a huge problem when it comes to 50-50 balls, aerial battles, and flat-out foot races. And it looms over our slower than slow offense at all times. Khumalo showed in spurts, but we need more able bodies in constant motion to start to really worry defenses.
* Szetela pretty much justified his regular exclusion. Passes to the opposition are one thing, considering he doesn't have many matches under his belt. But lightweight challenges for 50-50 balls when your team is fighting for its post-season life? Unforgivable.
* How often did we pass our way around a Crew defender (or defenders)--one-two and go--leaving them with mouths agape? Oh, I'm sorry, that was the guys in yellow doing that to us. Pass and move. Pass and move. It's not a hard concept, so why can't Tommy instill it?
* In a shocking turn of events, Tommy made it to halftime without making a substitution. Obviously the trigger finger was getting mighty itchy, thus the switch at halftime.
* Good for Emilio getting the goal. He certainly seemed excited about it. It's just too bad that he's a one-dimensional predator, and a one-dimensional player in general, who contributes little else to the team as a whole.
There's one aspect of Comcast's broadcast that really underlined what the last couple of months have been like for United--and for United fans. We were constantly being reminded by Johnson and by little graphics that United couldn't be eliminated with a loss tonight. Talk about setting the bar low..."uh, we're probably gonna drop this one, but that's okay, cause we'll still be able to advance with some sort of miracle combination of results and all the stars aligning in our favor next week." How about, "with a win, United goes level on points for the final playoff spot"?
But can you really blame them for that attitude? I can't. I'm living it. But despite all of the naysaying, the terrible run of results that saw us slip from a comfortable perch, the glacial attack, the coach who's lost his grip on the reins, the injuries, the 800 lb stadium gorilla in the corner, and the lingering sense that it's all going to come to naught in the end...we're not dead yet.