I Have Always Relied On The Kindness of Wizards | a DC United Match Reaction

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.


  1. As for Allsopp: he was the sluggish recipient of some well timed passes and a good deflection. Nonetheless, the fellow put the ball in the net twice and worked hard enough to and earn an "atta boy." At the very least, his play with Cristman was at least as effective as the Cristman/Najar pairing. Which brings me to my point: you’d be foolish not to acknowledge Cristman’s stellar contributions to a much improved DCU offense. As I’ve said on Goff and Shatzer’s blogs, Cristman deserves a lot more credit than he’s been getting around the DCU blogosphere. I believe that’s because many in the United fan base favor a fancier and overly-nuanced style of play, as opposed to Cristman’s more direct workhorse style - and that’d be fine, if it worked.

    We saw Cristman dominate the attack in the Open Cup by creating opportunities off the ball. The guy worked hard and earned his shirt (and as an aside, please spare me the view that Dallas presented a weak team and that because of this we’d do well to dismiss the result. A win’s a win and at that point in the season, it was a fair match-up between two struggling teams. If for nothing else, it was one less reason to droop already downtrodden heads). As for Saturday, well that was one more reason to droop some heads. And I’ll concede that Cristman didn’t finish some obvious opportunities against NYRB, but the guy created plenty of opportunities for himself and his teammates, which is why he earned his shirt again. The point is that United actually had a healthy number of chances originating w/ Cristman, which was a marked improvement. Tonight, Cristman’s hustle was immediately obvious. The guy was predicting errant passes, getting stuck into tackles, and pressuring w/ blistering pace. His one assist could have easily been three. And if his work ethic alone didn’t impress you, he played a selfless game, often choosing to make an effective (and sometimes clever) distribution to a teammate instead of a poorly timed shot. How was he able to do this? Working hard off the ball, anticipating well-timed runs, and using a calm/collected first touch to settle and control the pace - that’s easily the stuff of a starting striker in the MLS. Now look, I’m not saying the guy is the next Agbonlahor, or the answer to DC’s problems - I’m just saying he’s a good start and he’s hungry to win. Until Cristman showed up on the field, substantive offensive chances for DCU were a novel occurrence. Even the beloved Pontius was marginal and ineffective in the first 4 games of the season. But darn the bad luck, you and I were clearly watching different games.

    I definitely share your praises for Pena. He’s playing extremely well given his injury. Of course, his experience is crucial to his ability to make up for the fitness. As for the rest of the defense, I share your frustrations that Wallace and Graye get forward a little too frequently, but I assure you that the defense is not the problem. Your post glosses over the crux of the issue: the midfield is largely responsible for the transition to attack. Why do we have Wallace (and sometimes Graye) pushing forward? Because we have an ineffective midfield that seems incapable of building a worthy attack. That’s why Cristman is working back so often. That’s why Wallace and Graye are working up so often. I think Simms and Castillo bring some obvious talent, but I’m not sure I see much cohesion in their style of play. I certainly don’t see play worthy of the hype. Morsink is a mess in my opinion, and I think he’d do well to lay-off the whining and bulk up on the playing.

  2. @break away
    I think perhaps you read too much into my Cristman comment. I actually admired the shift he put in and wasn't intending to be dismissive of his efforts. When I said "I won't sing his praises in this reaction" that was because I choose to focus on other topics.

    As for the criticism of midfield...granted, but you'd be ignoring the incredible number of times that Graye and Wallace turned the ball over either through mis-played passes or hoofs to nowhere. In modern soccer, fullbacks see an awful lot of the ball--they are, in effect, midfielders when in possession--and while both have promise with the ball at their feet, their passing flat-out sucked last night.

    It's also difficult for central midfielders (and don't get me wrong, I'm not overjoyed with our choices there) when your wing play is so toothless that the opposition midfield can concentrate on the middle without being stretched.

  3. We won. We won through "ugly ball". We won because of hoofing the ball forward. We won because our strikers took shots and worked hard defensively to cause turnovers.

    We should do that for the rest of the season or until we stop winning. Beautiful play is overrated.

    When our "possession" guys came into the game our team lagged. Tino and Moreno caused a lot more problems for our defense because when they coughed up the ball at midfield, Kansas was in a better position than when Graye or Wallace's long balls went directly to the Kansas backline.

    Moreno failed to pass to a wide open Allsop late in the match to make the decisive 3:0 - instead, he slowed the attack and pushed the ball out wide to Castillo, who then passed to the nearest group of Kansas players. I love Moreno and he remains a hero and legend but this team is not suited to his way of playing. This team is built for Route 1 ball - do that and we can win - don't and we'll continue to end up on the losing end of matches.

  4. Allsopp - turns out that with space and time he can put the ball on frame. Let's see if he can do a little more; but I'm pleased.

    Conrad - did we just see his career go down the toilet? He was awful. Four months ago he was a bubble boy for the world cup squad. Now he looks like he could play for us.

    Hamid - It was nice to see a keeper who wasn't second guessing himself and just went out and did his thing. I think Troy was over-thinking things a bit and maybe this will give him soe perspective.

    Christman - I agree with break away. He works hard for us up front and it creates opportunities - ot the classic five and go opportunities we are used to; but the central defenders are having a hard time with his size and tencacity and that creates some good chances.

    Backline - we need someone who can teach our yong guys how to keep their shape. I don't know where that will come from. Probably not Onalfo - maybe Pena or Namoff but isn't there a coach on staff who can just work with the back line?