Shellacking or Softball? | a DC United Match Reaction

So the question runs something along the lines of … Was this a big response after a challenging week or were we pitched a softball by a TFC side that’s clearly struggling tactically and was coming off a mid-week tilt? I’m going to split the difference and take a little from both piles. United clearly came ready to mix it up and put pressure on a back line that TFC head-man Winter has been coaching to play things short, controlled, and on the deck. That gets them into trouble, a familiar scenario for United fans over the past couple of seasons.

Let’s round up the talking points, shall we?

  • Two of last year’s biggest issues (amongst the wealth we had to choose from) were final balls and finishing. We’re still struggling a bit in the former, some evidence from this game to the contrary, but the latter seems to have been addressed. Pontius took his two goals beautifully. During his initial campaign, many, yours truly included, were urging him to put in extra time on the finishing drills. We saw some flashes during an injury-plagued 2010, but if he can consistently finish (and make damaging runs) like he did tonight, he’ll take some of the opposition’s focus away from Najar and Davies, making both of those players more effective. Speaking of Davies, his goal tonight was exactly the sort we’ve been lacking since Emilio was firing them in: the predatory strike. Right place, right time, beat the defender to the ball and hit the net. 
  • One of my frustrations with the midfield has been how narrow it is. Tonight, that worked in our favor. With Fred and Pontius consistently pinching in from the wings, we were winning the numbers game in central midfield against TFC’s central three. Normally, that hurts us when the opposition punishes the exposed flanks. That didn’t happen here. TFC’s fullbacks didn’t get forward much in support of their wing forwards. Part of that was due to the movement of the United forwards pulling into wide spaces, but I can’t help but think it was a TFC tactical failure as well. 
  • There is a glaring weakness in this United side, and pretty soon everybody’s going to be exploiting it: we can’t defend set pieces. Every long throw, every corner, every free kick swung into the box. They all set the alarm bells ringing, particularly when we fail to pick up runners at the far stick. Think I know what I’d be focusing on in practice this week … and the week after that, and the week after that …
  • Did Jakovic pick up a knock? I was more than a little confused by Olsen bringing on Kitchen for Jakovic at 2-0. Sure you’re up a man and up two goals, but that left two rookies with a handful of MLS starts between them in central defense. Hell, three out of four on the back line were rookies. Throw in second-year keeper Hamid and (sigh) Marc Burch, and that looked either like a huge show of stones or suicide from the Bearded Bombardier. At 3-0? Sure. But after nearly conceding twice at 2-0, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one starting in on the fingernails.
  • McCarty is gritty. He wins balls and gets around the pitch. But he was so, so wasteful with the ball, and it’s part of a larger pattern that I’ve been cutting him some slack on as he settles with the team. I can’t ignore it any more. The most noticeable was the break just before he was subbed off. Four black shirts with numbers on the counter. McCarty runs with the ball towards the middle and the pass is on to an open runner steaming into the box. Result? McCarty holds it too long, can’t get the pass off, loses possession, and TFC break the other way. That’s crap for a guy who’s supposed to be pulling the strings. And it wasn’t the only occurrence. I’ve got at least four heavily circled “McCarty, bad pass, bad spot” notes on my pad from this game alone. That’s bad news if we’re relying on him to be the engine that drives the team.

Some Quick Hits?

  • Made an early note of my surprise at how well Ethan White was passing out of the back … in the first five minutes. Things rapidly sank back to normal from that point on. Solid play cutting out passes and runners plus goal line clearances in back to back games? I think Brasesco just got bumped as the #3 center back option.
  • Wolff with some creative flicks in the build up play, particularly to set Pontius free to draw Harden’s red. I’m still not sold, but I’m seeing his value. Still should have finished when Charlie played him through though. Also, is it mandatory for DP’s to clatter him from behind now? Does he have a bullseye on his ankle?
  • Fred looks slow and doesn’t cover as much ground as he used to. Still does some magic in tight spaces with the ball though1. Useful option, but wouldn’t want to depend on him as a starter. Reminds me a bit of Andy Williams for RSL. Wonder what he’s doing to justify starting over Boskovic?
  • Can’t believe TFC couldn’t exploit Burch more. Martina screwed him into the ground a couple of times, and I’m shocked they didn’t go to that well more often. In Burch’s defense, he did make some solid stops. (Great — now I feel unclean for defending him.)

So the take home message here? We were good. TFC was bad. No matter how bad they were, 3-0 on the road in MLS is a big result, and you’ve got to be delighted with that as a United fan, particularly with the clean sheet despite finishing with three rookies on the back line. I was worried that there would be a let down, first after the two early goals, but more so after the sending off. There were certainly wobbles, but the intensity2 remained. With a little more quality on the break, we might have had more than three.

Oh, it’s going to feel so good to say this without any quibbles or equivocation …

Vamos, United!3

  1. And with passing. Best quote pulled from my notes (after the third goal and McCarty’s subsequent substitution) … “Fred shows McCarty how to provide on the break, and Olsen shows McCarty the pine.” ↩
  2. Rhymes with “in Ben’s city”? ↩
  3. Be even sweeter if we can repeat the trick on Thursday against the Metro-hiefers. ↩


  1. Goff suggested Jakovic is coming down with same bug that's sweeping team.

    McCarty: you say gritty, I say dirty. He sucks.

  2. From what we have seen of McCarty recently, I would think he would be more suited as a D-mid, competing with Simms for a position. I would like to see Boskovic given the nod next game as CAM. Your thoughts?

  3. Yeah, if "gritty" equals "filthy, bitchy, whiny, and inept," then gritty it is. Seriously, FB--Dax sucks, a lot, and he was the offseason mistake. That was pretty clear by game 2. He has no business being this team's captain, no business being any team's 10, and Saint Benny needs to man up and take a look at that real fast, before we play any more real teams.

  4. So what are the options? Simms plus who?

    Morsink? Fail. If you think Dax sucks, Morsink is exponential Dax in both the bitching and passing departments.

    King? Has his own problems, notably finishing, and I'm nowhere near convinced he's better than McCarty in any department save not being McCarty.

    Boskovic? Not in isolation; central midfield would be overrun against a typical MLS midfield. Maybe atop a pinched diamond, though that has the knock-on effect of negating Najar's effectiveness in wide areas (should he ever recover his form -- those not familiar with his 2010 work might be tempted to say how much he sucks based on 2011 evidence if we're going on current form ... just saying). I'd lump Pontius in here too, but he seems more dangerous pinched in. With mobile forwards to provide width (it sure as hell isn't coming from our current set of fullbacks) this might be the most palatable sans-Dax option.

    Now, with that out of the way ... did you read past "gritty"? I was highly critical of McCarty, agreeing that he's past the point of forgiveness for settling jitters. Additionally, I'll agree that he's sucked thus far, at least in the possession & creation department.

    What I keep wondering about was that Coffee Cup pre-season game (against MLS opposition, no less) where he was masterful -- breaking up attacks, switching the field of play, hitting through balls. One game wonder or is there quality lurking amidst the turd of a season he's having? Am I delusional to think he might find that type of form again? I'm also not going to dismiss the fact that Benny wanted Dax, and I'm going to trust that he knows more about talent and players than I do.

    Also, and I say this knowing it's sacrilegious and bound to draw vitriol, but ...

    I grew up in the same neck of the woods as Benny, and though I'm too old to have played against him, I know a few who did. Universally, they describe him as one of the dirtiest and bitchiest players they ever shared a field with. I hear the predictable, "Yeah, but he was good!" response and agree ... for now.

    There's a "beauty in the eye of the beholder" thing going on in not being willing to entertain the fact that McCarty's not playing his best ball at the moment. In the long run, he may suck, and maybe you're more prescient than I, but I think there's a valuable player hidden in there who's maybe trying to do too much, too soon, putting pressure on himself to justify both the risk we took to acquire him and the armband. He's not a flashy playmaker type; he's most effective in a box-to-box linking and supporting role. Right now, the linking and supporting isn't happening. I think he knows that and is trying too hard to make an impression rather than letting things flow.

    We shall see.

    If I can come around on Wolff (somewhat ... still not entirely convinced), then maybe there's hope for McCarty.

    Now, allow me my blindfold and cigarette ...

  5. Dax will be fine, and will prove his worth by seasons end... we didn't give this guy the #10 for no reason...

  6. For the record, I think he will prove valuable in the long haul. However, there's this to consider before rushing to such judgement.

  7. Well to that I have to sheepishly respond with this: