Oh the Humanity! | a DC United Match Reaction

There were some positives. Let's get that out of the way first. Back in the friendly confines of RFK, United controlled both pace and possession. They looked much more assured defensively with Pena directing traffic at the back. There was even, for the first 20 minutes or so, a degree of urgency and commitment that was sadly lacking last week. And yet...

And yet the scoreboard still reads 2-0 to the team even more dinged up than us. Nicol is a master at getting the most from what little he has to work with, but he sure had some help. Talking points?

I have a few...

* Five and five makes squat. It took until what, the 65th or 70th minute before we started to see some overlapping play from the fullbacks? We defended with five, attacked with five. Those familiar with the English game would have seen some eerie similarities between this game and the way a similarly stagnant and structured Liverpool struggles against the likes of Stoke. New England were disciplined, United predictable. Our five attackers were able to create little against a compact, organized defense. With neither speed on the front line or width in the attack, it was far too comfortable for the Revs. We had some chances, yes, but considering the possession we enjoyed, we had far too few for my liking.

* The Soehn Plan. The biggest problem I always had with Soehn was how limited he was during the game. He could get the team into leads, but his inability to make tactical adjustments or effective substitutions consistently led to lost leads and predictable collapses. Can we just take a moment to look at what the two coaches achieved with their substitutions? Nicol brought on Mansally and got two goals from him. Onalfo brought on (1) Boyzzz, who did jack all but cut the ball inside and fire balls into masses of bodies. This is the best we can manage off the bench when we need a goal? Followed by (2) a 17-year old kid who, while he did show a couple of moves and (gasp!) made himself available for balls sprayed wide, had about the same effect as Boyzzz. And (3) Julius James, while he got into attacking positions better than any of the other fullbacks in black, didn't close down Tierney quickly enough, allowing the cross that opened the Revs' account. Nicol 2, Onalfo -1.

* The trouble with Tino. Please, please, please, for the love of God, get him wide! Or, baring that, pair him with Pontius up top (yes, I said it, I don't think Moreno should be starting) and let's get some movement to put a little doubt in defenses. In the second half, I noticed him only on free kicks and that one little burst where he actually got a shot on goal. True, he was desperately close to scoring from a free kick in the first half, but he would have been taking that kick as a winger too. But where was he for big stretches when we needed to start generating chances? Get him wide. Get him space. My suggestion? Barklage was pretty average in the second half, but he really started to come on in the second half, notably playing some nice touches in tight spaces along the right flank and hitting a few measured passes to spring attacking players. How about playing Barklage as a deeper central midfielder beside Morsink to mask the latter's pedestrian defensive efforts, thus allowing the wings to play higher and with the freedom to cut inside and confuse defenses?

* A mixed bag. Such are our winter signings. Pena was impressive, both in organizing the defense and distributing. But Castillo was well-nigh invisible, save for when he was playing the ball backward or meandering infield, which wouldn't be so bad if he was doing it higher up the pitch. Perkins had little chance on the goals. Allsopp? I'll stand by the prediction I've made all along: flop, flop, flop.

* What master plan? I generally have no problem with United playing a slightly slower game, particularly when we're controlling possession. But to do so and remain dangerous requires the sort of string-pullers and movement that we lack. This was the heart of my plea yesterday for attacking play that had everybody on the same page and not even needing to think about where to get the ball next. Instead we're treated to the same glacial buildup as last year. Ping, ping, ping, turnover. There is nobody that looks ready to hit the killer ball, and nobody making the runs ahead of him to make such a ball worthwhile in any case. That's not to say that we didn't have good passages of play. Those were certainly on offer. The problem is that they all too often end in either a snatched chance or a loss of possession. Where are the quality chances and the finishers to take advantage? Where are the extra bodies to stretch defenses?

Of course, all of this is made to look much worse by those two late Mansally goals. As the game staggered toward what seemed to be an inevitable 0-0 finish, I did find signs of hope. We controlled the ball, had our moments from set pieces (why is Barklage our danger-man from corners again?), looked pretty assured (though still too casual at times) at the back, and even created a handful of attacking plays that seemed to carry a threat until the finish or final ball eluded us. If this had ended 0-0, my response would have been, "not quite there yet, but building something; let's get a box-to-box bustler who can win balls and distribute, free the wings to push higher with more freedom, and take our chances." But now...

But now I look at our shortcomings on the bench, our lack of pace and movement up top, our inability to stretch play vertically or horizontally, and wonder. Are we just missing that one final stroke that completes the picture of a playoff-bound side? Or are we bearing a palette that lacks depth and variety and a painter without a clue where to begin? Again, those fears for my liver deepen.

Before I send you off to try and enjoy your Easter, I leave you with the observation of my six year old daughter (soon to be seven!) who watched the first half with me as we sat side by side on the couch with a laptop balanced on my knee. She asked me, this veteran player of two youth campaigns that more resemble rugby than soccer, "Daddy, they don't know what to do, do they?" 

From the mouths of babes, my friends. Mouths of babes.



  1. I completely agree. Have read some of the post game comments, and thought they failed to see the positives. I honestly think this is the best defensive pair we've had since we lost Nelson to Blackburn.

    Someone needs to be deadly, and I don't think Pontius can shoulder that burden. It would help if he had some of Quaranta's crosses (when they connect, dangerous).

    Also, Castillo needs to STOP waiting for a defender to juke. Why not take the ball and just start running? You've got the skill and pace to beat them, why don't you?

  2. You nailed it on the substitutions.

    Nicol's insertion of Mansally instantly changed the flow and pace of the game for NE. While Onalfo's changes did nothing more than bring off tired legs and replace them with less competent fresh ones.

    Since essentially the same front 6 players have now scored 0 goals against two teams that no one picked to make the playoffs, Onalfo is going to have to shake things up next week. And while Barklage was one of our few bright spots last night, moving Quaranta outside is a necessity at this point.

  3. According to Goff, the substitutions were pretty much dictated by dings and booboos on Castillo, Barklage and Talley. That meant not making the substitution we needed which was Alsopp for Pontius or Moreno. I at least want to see what Alsopp can bo with those opportunities that Pontius missed or the balls that Moreno got behind the defenders near and in the box only to allow to hold up and allow everyone to get in front of him.

    What was interesting about the first goal against us was that Barklage and Talley were doing a good job of shutting down the wing and worked well together and when they were gone Najar didn't bother tracking back and James couldn't be bothered at all. Once Namoff is back, I think our defense will be fine. Wallace needs to grow in his job, but the upside is so much better than Burch. It's the midfield and the attack that need to improve and I'm not sure we have the guys we need.

    On the brighter side, this performance was 100% better than the last one. That means that if we keep improving at this rate, we'll tie the next game 0-0 and win the one after 2-0!


  4. I thought James was too slow to close down his man on the first goal, but it wasn't criminal. Wallace on the second goal was. First he let the ball drop without challenging in the air. Then he runs back to get in Pena's way and gets turned around like a fool. For all the heat (deservedly) Quaranta and Morsink have gotten, I have not been very impressed with Wallace's defending. I really hope he isn't a Marvell Wynn type, all pace no positioning, type fullback.

    If all the subs were for injured players, as suggested by Goff, then I'll give Onalfo a pass. I would like to see Allsopp start and Jaime off the bench around 60. Barklage looked solid enough and I liked the width and composure Najar showed. I may be biased, but I think he plays smarter than any of the teens DC has ever had by a large large margin. Boyzzz strikes me as the type that is great when you are up a goal late in the summer heat. Down a goal against an organized team, no thanks.

  5. It was a great crowd with tremendous energy and United failed to tap into it. United came out with pace and good possession but there was a conspicuous lack of shoots on frame. The problem with the lack of finishing and the subs definitely worked to NE's favor. NE worked really hard to dictate pace and when United failed to score it truly changed the complexion of the game. I agree with the posts above and while I left the stadium disappointed, I am encouraged. That being said, Moreno looked slow and should be a sub at this point in his career. Finally, United needs to put Tino back on wing and add a true number 10 to work the ball in to the box.

  6. "there was a conspicuous lack of shoots on frame." Should read "shots"...sorry

  7. @Dave
    I thought the "shoots on frame" thing was expressing your surprise that nothing vegetative was growing on the posts, given that United was posing little danger to anything in the goal area ;-).

  8. @sub excuses
    Pardon the French, but...BULLSHIT!

    Let me get this straight. Allsopp is supposedly sharp in training and a veteran with a consistent goal scoring record. Pontius spent most of his rookie year playing on the wing. And you're telling me that you can't bring on Allsopp up top and push Pontius wide? Instead you go with first Khumalo, who would give Fred a run for his money in the choke in front of net sweepstakes, and then with a 17 year-old rookie? The Allsopp-Pontius move could have taken place instead of either of those changes.

    The fact that it didn't says that either (1) Onalfo thinks Khumalo and Najar both carry more attacking threat than Allsopp (gulp) or that (2) Onalfo is even more incompetent than he looks on TV (double gulp). Either way, strap in, folks, cause it's going to be a long, bumpy ride...

  9. FB, I finally got to sit down last night and work on the next (long-delayed) segment of my DCU Challenge ... and lemme say that my performance there is poor, but ... but ... I don't feel so bad now.

    I'm worried that Onalfo's got nothing up his sleeve, and that he knows it even now. I'm worried that United will leave DC after getting dragged under the bus for a few years. I'm worried.

  10. Fullback, good point regarding putting in Allsopp up top and pushing Pontius out wide. That may have offered a much more dangerous attack. I can't wait to see who Onalfo puts on the field in Philly. "Meet the new boss,same as the old boss"...

  11. When I heard that DC had hired Onalfo I was like wtf??? He's record over at KC was...hmmm mediocre and to bring him to DC... Either that's the joke or the punch line??? Either way it's not funny... One thing... When a coach or the front office decide in how to pursue talent make sure it's equal or greater value... None of the signings over pre-season have shown anything... I'm Salvadorian but Castillo isn't cutting it(if things don't change even the Salvadorians WILL stop going to watch DC)... Even pontius!!! Wallace!!! Even Moreno... It's time to move on United... You can't hold hostage "Tradition" especially now that DC is getting left behind from the league. The system, the style is all predictable from United! That's how New England won... Payne and Kasper are the captains and DC is Titanic... so when do we panic... Do we worry when we see water or ignore it and jam to the music... Either way it's worrisome... From 08 til now it's the same DC but different year...

  12. @sub excuses complaint
    Allsopp was up and about to be subbed in, then they changed plans due to injury. It wasn't some insane, random sub that cost us the game and shattered peoples confidence like Soehn used to do. Plus, weren't a lot of people complaining about Pontius moving around too much last season? After dropping him wide once already this season maybe Curt didn't want to make a habit out of it. Pontius also could have been gassed or tracking back poorly and thus would have been a liability in midfield.

    DC has looked awful and slightly below average in two games. They have finished very poorly. But, it has been two games, that is it. Of the players that have played so far this season at least Perkins, Pontius, Castillo, Pena, Morsink, Talley, Najar, Simms, Quaranta, and Allsop all missed time playing together due to national teams, late signings, injuries and/or visa/work permit issues. Give the coach and team a little time to find themselves and get used to each other. For better or worse, MLS teams can suck for the first month and still win the league title or cup. If they still haven't scored by late April then the sky can fall.

    Don't get me wrong, I am not pleased with the front office and am starting to get worried about the coaching, but the amount of doom and gloom seems over the top.

  13. Pontius better not have been gassed considering how little service he was getting. As for Pontius not tracking back...since when does Boyzzz play defense? Actually, my complaint really shouldn't have been so strong about Boyzzz, though I do think it's frightening that he's one of the first options off the bench; speed and energy are nothing to sneeze at, though arguably they'd be of slim use against a packed, deep defense. What worries me more is bringing on Najar instead of the guy you brought in to score goals when that guy supposedly looked good all week in practice. That seems like a failure of judgement (and testicular fortitude), but to each his own.

    You're right, there's still plenty of time to get the ship turned around, but when looking for encouragement, I've found little in these first two games to point to. Yes, we controlled the first half against New England. If we'd managed to stick one in the net, we might have romped to victory, though we were creating far fewer chances than our possession meritted. I can see that, can feel that the statement smacks of truth...or does it?

    There's something surrounding this club at the moment: a stagnation and mediocrity and willingness to capitulate that keeps battering my intuition, demanding recognition. Maybe I (and numerous others) are overreacting. But that wasn't a good New England team we lost to (at home no less). And there's no way the KC team Vermes has patched together from substandard domestic parts and cheap imports should be spanking us silly.

    My initial reaction to the Onalfo hiring was to give him five games before getting the knives out in earnest. I even hoped he might have learned something from his time in KC and would be a pleasant surprise. And he still might, though I doubt it given current evidence. What worries me more are the folks who signed him up. Onalfo's just a symptom of a deeper rot, and it's that continuing rot that I think is perpetuating much of the despair.

    I hope you're right, but I fear your not.

    Besides, isn't a large percentage of the fun of fandom the constant sturm und drang? Chest has staked his claim to the Vulcan/analytical-blogger high ground. I'm on a less even keel...but I like it that way! In fact, before I forget, thanks for commenting. Honestly, I really appreciate the back-and-forth. If we all agreed, this would be a pretty dull rock.