That's it. DC United's 2010 is over from a competitive standpoint. Dead and buried. All that's left now is to count the bodies and figure out who survives until next season. In fact, I think that's what we'll be taking on in the weeks to come. But in the meantime, let's play the blame game, shall we?
They Pay You For That?
Who was that myopic wombat posing as a professional soccer referee? I'm fairly certain that just grabbed some dude from an Ultimate Fighting cage, tossed him a whistle and a rulebook, and let him go nuts. How else to explain the number of hefty challenges that went unnoticed? On several occasions, you could see an obvious foul committed, players from both teams slow, anticipating a whistle, heads turn towards the dude, and he—as if realizing that he's supposed to be officiating, not spectating—makes the advantage gesture.
And let's take a moment to consider the case of poor Pablo Hernandez. Granted, he did get the call for the PK in the first half (even myopic wombats could see that one, apparently), but this game just further enhanced my intuition that he's pissed in the US soccer referee fraternity punchbowl (or something). In his time on the field, as has been the case since his arrival, he was shoved, hacked at, and tripped (including a possible second penalty shout) with no whistle forthcoming. Then, when he's had enough and makes a slight kick out at Danny O'Rourke (and, be honest, who wouldn't have that kick?), the fourth official (myopic wombat with the whistle ignores the UFC stuff remember) gets him sent off. It's true, he did have a bit of a kick, but I'm not sure you can give red for that. I've seen it given before, but not often for as little oomph as Hernandez put into it. In fact, Andy Najar had a more enthusiastic stab in just about the same area of the field, but I guess intent wasn't what that fourth official was looking at (Najar didn't connect).
Inexperience on the Bench
But though the officials changed the course of the game, they can't be solely to blame. Sad as it makes me, I need to call Benny out for not making subs earlier. Was Cristman dinged? Because Najar was gassed with 15 minutes to go and foraging alone up front where every United clearance, goal kick, and punt found an unchallenged Columbus head (Najar's strengths are many, but fighting Chad Marshall and Andy Iro for headers isn't one of them) that sent the ball right back down United's throat. If nothing else, Cristman can hustle and fight for balls in the air. His energy could have applied pressure rather than allowing the Crew to lob balls into the box without challenge. Hell, even the slow and not pressure-intensive Moreno might have been a decent introduction to hold the ball. Or Pontius to win some headers. Instead, United thumped clear, regrouped, and prepared for the next ball to be lobbed forward.
I'm also going to withhold judgement on the Talley for James sub since I'm unsure if James was injured, but if it was for anything other than injury, that was a stupid swap. Was anybody surprised when Talley (admittedly manhandled by Lenhart in the buildup—with a predictable lack of whistles) conceded the penalty that ended United's last interest in this season? I sure as hell wasn't. And wasn't Morsink on the bench? I know most reading this are not huge fans of his, but we had subs to burn and could have used his energy in midfield, particularly with the amount of chasing United had to do when down to 10 men.
Even with the officials tilting the field and the Bearded Bombardier failing to pull the sub trigger, United still had chances to win this game. Arguably United's two most talented players (currently—stow the Moreno historical talk), sad to say, had the two biggest chokes of the evening. Najar could have won it just after the equalizer, but dinked wide when one-on-one with the keeper. And Jakovic had the chance to equalize in stoppage time, but blazed over after Najar fed him a beautiful ball on the break. That said, it sticks in the craw trying to apportion too much blame to either because they contributed so much to the cause save for those single moments of failure. I'd still have both in my starting eleven, for whatever that's worth.
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How about some quick hits?
* Tino + Burch = least patient flank in MLS? How may hopeless long shots or massive cross-field balls to nowhere did you count? The thing with Tino is that, for every one moment where you really admire his play, he tosses out three that make you want to strangle him.
* Jordan Graye's rookie wall misery continues. I still say let him play and make the mistakes now when it doesn't matter. He'll learn and be better for it. He has all the tools to be a quality fullback in this league.
* God, but we could use some genuine speed up top.
* Hamid's a great shot stopper, but he needs to work on coming for crosses and high balls. That said, he's still a better option than Perkins at this point.
* * *
So that's it then. The season is dead, and it's time (I suppose some would argue well past time) to start building for 2011. I think I'll let the misery steep for a few days before launching a post series running the rule over the current roster and perhaps dusting off the old polling machine to vote some folks off the sinking island that is RFK.