Huge. Three. Points.
Off the mark, but—and there's always a but—there are still big, big problems to deal with here. And make no mistake, this isn't exactly a confident KC team that's on top of their game at the moment. And they still almost managed to sucker-punch us at the death.
But let's begin with the positives, shall we? Most of the attention—and rightfully so—will fall upon the two obvious stars of the show, Danny Allsopp and Bill Hamid, though I'll give honorable mentions to our Bolivian duo as well.
Let's begin with Allsopp. He had three big chances and took two of them clinically, almost netting a third only to be foiled by a terrific save. But worryingly, all three of the chances came from garbage. Cristman's hustle (and though I won't sing his praises in this reaction, his work rate did not go unnoticed) forced two defensive errors, while Allsopp managed to fashion the third for himself and should simultaneously have cancelled Jimmy Conrad's South African dreams. And yet...and yet...and yet I'm still not convinced: one trick ponies and all...
So how about Bill Hamid, the kid of the hour? About the only nit I have to pick with him was how much he stuck to his line. Still, it's hard to fault a kid in his first professional start for that, isn't it? Mostly I was impressed with how confident his takes were when he did come for the ball. He didn't control much of it, but the areas of the box he got to, he dominated. He also showed strong hands to parry an Espinoza drive, fantastic reflexes to keep Jewsbury out from close range, and made himself big to block an early chance (though he really should have come and cut out the chance earlier...again—nits. I can't imagine him stealing the job permanently, but Perkins will be rightly worried.
And let's pause a moment for our timeless Bolivians, shall we? There were so many little things that Pena did to impress me, mostly through positioning and anticipation. He cut out a number of balls or managed to check attackers' runs, putting out fires before the sparks even started to fly. Of course, he was clearly gassed by the 75th minute (though it took Onalfo 10 minutes to get him off after that), but I'm willing to chalk up some less than stellar early outings to coming back from injury too early because we just didn't have any options. And speaking of options, Jaime Moreno proved that he's a terrific option coming off the bench, but then, we all knew that was always going to be where he excelled this year, right?
So what caused all the worry?
Let's begin with possession and chances created. True to what we've been hearing early in the week on the Goffblog, United's play was more about hoofing and hustle than style. Sadly, despite trying to make ourselves hard to play through, we were still conceding good chances to a KC attack that's been pretty stale of late (and playing without Arnaud, and with Kamara coming off the bench). In fact, where luck has sometimes abandoned us this season, tonight it abandoned the Wiz, who could so easily have had a couple of early goals themselves. And though some recognition has to be given to the fact that our pressure and energy led to chances, our play in possession created very little.
Can I ask a question? Just how much are you pining for Namoff? The positional play of our fullbacks is terrible with a capital "T." They're athletic, yes. And both are good with the ball at their feet going forward. But ask them to pass and it's either a Fred-like turnover (Graye) or a hopeless hoof (Wallace). And how about getting caught out of position? The number of times Graye bombed forward and then jogged back boggled the mind. That's not such a big deal if you have somebody like Quaranta covering. But Khumalo or Castillo? Get on your bike, son! Actually, those starting wingers have to absorb some of the blame in that they left the fullbacks high and dry without ever managing to create the consistent offensive threat that would justify their defensive laxity. United are hugely fortunate that the KC wide men couldn't exploit the time and space afforded to them. Sheesh, I almost miss Burch. Almost.
And finally...I understand that 0-5 means it's time for Plan B (the "B" stands for Brit-Ball!), and I have no problem with that as a temporary solution. Desperate times call for ugly and conservative measures. But if we're going to approach anywhere near respectability this season, we need to improve our transition from defense to attack. True, there were too many fouls, too few good chances, and Onalfo not yanking Castillo when he was clearly playing frustrated had me pulling my hair out. But my biggest problem was that I wouldn't have needed a second hand to count the number of coherent passages of play that saw us move the ball from defense through midfield and into attack. It got slightly better, of course, when Moreno came on, and beggars can't be choosers and all...but holy amateur hour, Batman!
Frankly, even with as little as KC were offering, I'm a little shocked that we didn't blow this one. The signs were all there, and they're worrying signs indeed. There have been excuses, some even marginally believable, that the big problem is that we weren't burying chances when we were carrying the play, leading to the inevitable late scalping by the opposition. But what I saw in this match was that, even with a couple of early chances taken, we're still wide open for that late scalping. Sure, it might result in draws instead of losses, but there's a fundamental problem there that needs to be addressed. Is it conditioning? A failure of concentration and motivation? Personnel?
One thing's sadly for certain: the problems go much, much deeper than player acquisition.