Reality Check on Memory Lane | a DC United Match Reaction

I'm going to keep this mercifully brief, or at least I'll try. Why brief? Well, I could pretty much point you to a couple dozen match reaction posts from last year that would sound almost word for word what I'm going to say here. Defenders who didn't appear to speak the same language? Check. Lots of possession but no idea what to do with it? Check. Excessive vulnerability to the counter? Check. Big zilch in the finishing department?

Big ... fat ... check.

They're all there. All of last year's squalid crew. The stench of 2010 was all over this abomination. You remember the feeling? That one you got 5-10 minutes into the match when you realized there was no way United was going to get a result, no way they were even going to find the net? Damn if I didn't have that feeling. Normally when I watch a team I'm heavily invested in, I've got this fluttering combination of excitement and nervousness playing havoc with mind and body. This match? Not a flutter to be found. Much like last year, the result felt pre-determined.

Talking points? If I must...

* Our fullbacks suck. Suck at marking/positioning. Suck at crossing. Both were caught wrong-side of attackers on the opening goals. I think Korb even managed to lose an aerial "battle" to the tiny Luke Rodgers...with Rodgers winning the ball with his foot. Ugh. Now Korb is a rookie and probably #3 on the right back depth chart, forced into action by injury. What latest excuse can we dredge up for Burch? You'd maybe forgive his defensive shortcomings if he could contribute to the attack, but my abiding memory of the first half was hearing Olsen shouting "Burchie! Forward!" after yet another pause, survey the field, cut it back, negative pass sequence. He's the "ugh" that keeps on giving, and no one's willing to put the lame horse down (at least I assume he's lame, why else would a professional soccer player only use one foot?)

* No cutting edge. Sure, we've been scoring at a decent clip thus far, but here, against decent opposition (much like against LA), we were found out. The dual problem? Lack of ideas and quick feet in midfield combined with some mis-timed runs (or runs not even made though the space and ball were on) by Davies (though he was mistakenly called off on what should have been a one-on-one when United were only down 1-0), who still isn't all there yet. Wolff had the opposite problem. Great runs, but nothing to show for them, even on those few occasions where the ball was delivered. There comes a point when, for all of his useful hustle, off-the-ball work, and connecting play, he needs to step up, be a forward, and put the ball on frame. Too many times he got caught with the ball at his feet or couldn't pull the trigger soon enough. Ngwenya? Runs a lot, I guess. Didn't ever feel like he was going to be a threat. And Pontius? Lots of endeavor, but was it him who whiffed on that glorious crossed chance at the back stick in the first half? Still, he's the only guy in a black shirt who looks like he really wants to take defenders on, and, until Boskovic arrived, the only one who looked like he might pose a threat to Condoul's net.

* Molasses on the passes. Last year's big bugaboo, the slooooooow play, not only in the build up, but on those occasions where United actually mounted something resembling a break. McCarty had a few positive switches of field, but those were completely overshadowed by his dwelling on the ball in useful positions. Of course, the other thing that was too slow was another that haunted us last year—the closing down, particularly of the opposition midfield. Sure the spacing and communication of the back line were sub-par, but with the opposition midfield and fullbacks given ages on the ball, it looked much worse as they were able to get their heads up and pick useful passes.

* What does Boskovic have to do to get a goal? If there was anything positive to be taken from this dire match, it was how dangerous Boskovic proved after his introduction at the half. Unlike in the opening stanza, where the ideas in midfield were limited to Fred, who often arrived at said ideas after spending a few long moments with the gears sparking and spinning, Boskovic came in looking to get the ball moving into dangerous spots. That said, he often as not failed to connect. But he more than made up for it by having his shooting boots on. Only the crossbar, post, and a strong hand from Condoul kept him from finding the net in a performance that really deserved a goal.

I suppose I could point out here that the referee seemed to have missed the "call anything physical and card half of it" memo, but both teams were hurt by that. I guess if nothing else, it made the 2010 bad vibes resonate even more strongly. I think I just want to bury this hurt now and move on, so let's wrap this up.

United had their reality check delivered in painful fashion. They're firmly in the third of four tiers of teams in MLS, that group of 4 or 5 that are probably going to be scrapping for those extra two playoff spots come season's end. Could they step up a tier if Boskovic really started asserting himself, Davies got his sharpness back, and the defense got organized? Quite possibly. Until that time, there are going to be some painful lessons, though hopefully none so painful as this.



  1. The slow buildups and ensuing backpasses are really exhausting. I had hoped we were rid of that after the departure of the departed, and until tonight, the incidence of enthusiastic backpassing had been dramatically reduced under The General's regime.

    I would also add to the molasses problem the idea that 11-year-olds know enough not to stand there and hope that the ball arrives at their location, unlike, say, Dax McCarty. About whom I have nothing more to say here--we said it offline, and I'm not going to badger you. I am very confident that you'll get there. Excruciatingly confident.

    On a related not-exactly-Dax note, I had a spirited bicker with bDr during the game regarding Branko's ability as a 10. My point is that we haven't seen him play there for more than 20 minutes at a time--we won't know until he actually gets the job and goes with it for a time. While my point is valid, it wasn't exactly championed by the amount of time that Branko spent playing in back of Clyde Simms.

    I would be happy, at this point, to turn over organizing the defense to you. Someone's got to, and my personal record in that area is somewhat astonishingly horrible.

    While the referee's incompetence had nothing--maybe even less--to do with the result, his failure to book Luke Rodgers, let alone send him off, for punching Korb(?--I think it was Korb) was appalling. He obviously saw it--he ran down the field to chastise Rodgers, and it was Rodgers' second warning.

    I'll be less polite at my place.

    (Note: There's something strange about my browser's interaction with your comments--same thing happened again, but I was prepared and had copied my text before committing--hah! Weird.)

  2. It was Jakovic that Rodgers took a full swing at. It's heavily underlined in my notes with an added scrawl (cleared of obscenity here) regarding the inconsistency of issuing a warning, then failing to follow through with punishment (any parent knows the consequences of that ;-). Rodgers didn't connect, which probably kept him in the game, but with that ref who knows? I agree that he didn't much affect the result, but I found the disparity between this ref's calls and what's been going on in the rest of the league vis-a-vis the rough stuff pretty remarkable (so I remarked on it).

    Good point as well on not moving to the ball. It wasn't just Dax. Way too many guys were waiting around, not just for the ball to arrive, but to make runs into forward space as well. Instead, they just hung out in existing pockets, where the Bulls were more than content to let them have the ball, as long as it was in front of them and easily defended. Shades of late Soehn-era stagnation there.

    As for Boskovic, I'm in the "not a #10" camp. He doesn't demand the ball enough to be a true puppet-master. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. True #10's are a dying breed. Boskovic is more of a complementary player than an orchestrator. I still worry that his languid approach isn't suited to the hurly-burly of MLS. That said, he certainly was more effective than McCarty and really should have had a goal.

    (Out of curiosity. Are you using Internet Explorer?)

  3. I'd agree that Branko's not a #10; he could be a deep-lying playmaker, though, in the Pirlo mode, with Simms as his destroyer partner (the Gattuso role).

    Playmakers keep moving away from the goal to find space. How long until we're talking about whether a sweeper can pull the strings?

  4. It was the far corner of the field from me--I was so incensed that I never actually looked at who Rodgers swung at, so I stand corrected (and will update and credit over at home). Thanks.

    You're right, it's not just Dax standing around. I singled him out because he's standing at the center of my mental picture of things that suck. The one guy I don't think is standing around is (kill me) Fred.

    You're all right that Branko's not a pure 10. My point is that he's a better 10 than the guys we're using as one.

    My troubles with the Google have been through the latest Firefox--I have unrelated trouble at work, where the browsers aren't kept updated and there are bizarro filters.

  5. @Sean
    Return of the libero? This, combined with my unrepentant love of the Ajax/Dutch 4-3-3/3-4-3 hybrid, is what sets my heart all atwitter when Jakovic steps out from the back line with the ball. Of course, half the time he tries too much and coughs the ball up in bad spots. But still...

    True about Fred, though he doesn't make the forward runs (to get in scoring positions he'll predictably blow) as often as he did the first time around (part of my complaint about the Metrobulls being able to keep everything comfortably in front of them).

    I saw a little more of the old style movement in the second half when he was getting wide and behind Miller (before he got pushed into the middle when Quaranta came on), and it stretched the Bulls (both vertically and horizontally) more than in their relatively comfortable first half, opening those gaps that allowed Boskovic to unleash his series of tries.