Familiarity Breeds Contempt | a DC United Match Reaction

You want me to recant? To say that Wednesday’s Reaction Post was a mistake?

Keep waiting.

I suppose if I were going to be really cynical, I’d point out that our first team could absolutely dominate the MLS Reserve League[1]. I’m not going to go there. I’m going to give United credit for finishing chances, for learning their lessons from last time around, and for generally answering the challenge Olsen laid down.

So why no backtracking? Why no crow on my platter?

Because results in single-games are not United’s big problem[2], sequences of positive results are. I’m not even going to consider the case for optimism until we see if the Back to the Mean Express pulls into the station come Thursday night in Philly. String together back to back results and then we’ll sit down to the table for a discussion about the post-season and the damage to be done there.

Instead, let’s hit some talking points, shall we?

  • Repeat after me: De Rosario is a forward. I will grant you that he’s also our best attacking midfielder, playmaker[3], what-have-you. But, as I’ve harped on before, he’s also our most clinical and unpredictable finisher and needs to be in and around the goal, particularly with Pontius out of the equation. Combine this with the evidence that United look both more organized defensively and more potent going forward with a second holding type (King) playing with Simms in the middle, and the best option for where to play De Rosario should be obvious. Though King doesn’t technically sit deep next to Simms, he does contribute more defensively, particularly in snuffing quick transition sequences, and doesn’t bomb forward as often, thus screening Simms’ increasing lack of wheels and freeing the wide midfielders to make storming runs off the ball.

  • Was Burch taking notes during his spells on the sidelines? Long-time followers of FBF will know I have absolutely zero love for Burch, but he didn’t do the things that normally launch me into fits. His positioning was solid, he wasn’t looking to immediately hit 50-yard balls to nowhere as soon as the ball landed at his feet, and he was committed defensively. Still probably not a long-term solution as the starter at left-back, but probably an upgrade on Woolard.

  • Better possession. Not perfect, mind you. Some of the hold-up play was lacking and the distribution from defense, particularly the center backs, was inconsistent. But compared with the constant hemorrhaging of possession against Chivas, United were miles better in this game. As a result, there were only two real wobbles (around minute 35 and again around the hour mark) where United seemed to lose their way and allow RSL to start dictating affairs.

  • Good response to harsh criticism? You’ve got to figure that the better energy and focus were the direct results of Olsen calling the team out after the Chivas fiasco. You could see players, particularly Brandon McDonald in the post-goal scrums, issuing reminders. The real test though, won’t be this match, where the bitter taste of the Chivas collapse was fresh in their minds and Olsen’s words were ringing in their ears. The real test comes Thursday. That’s when we’ll see if the focus and energy and commitment remain, when we find out if the slide Back to the Mean (TM) can be avoided.

Quicks hits?

  • Wolff killed another couple of counter chances with terrible passing. He does bring fire (no pun intended) and effort, but the technical failings grate.

  • Can somebody please work with Najar on finishing with his left? How many times did he cut onto his left in the box and not have a whack at goal? Still had an excellent game.

  • Much better width in this match, though the over-riding tendency from the wide players continues to be to cut inside. Still, there was more and better flank play on offer.

So at the end of the weekend, despite a potentially huge win and games in hand, United still sit outside the playoff positions. I imagine, though I haven’t made my rounds yet, that there is a certain amount of post-season optimism being enjoyed in the United blogosphere at the moment. Unfortunately, I can’t yet look beyond all of those points coughed up at home and the late let-downs, can’t rid myself of the memory of previous encouraging results followed by absolute face-plants.

And that’s why I’m standing pat with my pessimism. That’s why I can’t get carried away despite the flush of victory and the favorable mathematics of the table. Nevertheless…

Vamos, United!

  1. Yes, yes, I’m aware that RSL fielded a few starters, and that many of their scrubs have picked up significant minutes. I’m also aware that they’re among the deepest teams in MLS. Still, I see a front line of Saborio/Espindola both causing many more problems and finishing more chances than the bench dregs. See the danger (and eventual goal) the introduction of Saborio alone caused.  ↩

  2. Chivas USA result (among others) excepted.  ↩

  3. See the defense-splitting ball to Najar for the opener.  ↩


  1. Sorry, fella, still feels much more like 2004 than 2008/9.

  2. Let me clarify: I submit that The Mean™ is good enough to get DC into the playoffs if it means being able to produce a command performance like this.

    I was pretty pessimistic about the playoff chances after the Chivas game, but that was based on the assumption that we didn't have a prayer of taking 3 points from RSL. Going into this week, the target to stay on track for the playoffs was four points, which is exactly what happened.

    On to Philly.

  3. I'm sticking with FBF on this team needs to win consistently before any looking to the postseason. Many people got all uppity after the win in NJ and then again after the win at Chivas but this team remains inconsistent and is still in 11-13th place.

    United at its best may at times equal or even better some of the East Coast teams above they rarely do their best.

  4. With all that's been said taken as read (meaning, I don't disagree with the premise at all) ... you'd have to say that a performance like Saturday's certainly puts DC atop the list of teams that no contender wants to face in the playoffs. If DeRosario can lift his game in that fashion, DC becomes terrifying.

    Could DCU follow the path trod by RSL and Colorado - sneak in and get hot? Sure they could. Will they? As Mike has demonstrated, signs point to 'no.'

  5. RE:
    "command performance"
    "a performance like Saturday's"

    ...against a largely reserve side where everything De Rosario touched turned to gold. Not sure that's a formula/scenario we can consistently rely upon.

  6. My point, though, is that DeRo has provided a potent reminder (if any were necessary) that he could seriously f*** s*** up for a real contender in a knockout game or short series scenario.

  7. Hard to imagine said contender fielding an under-strength side in the playoffs...

    But I take your point.

  8. Maybe a brief "I told you so" post is in order? Heh.

  9. Tempting.

    I started something, but it fizzled. Getting tired of writing the same damn thing over and over and over and over...

    Think that stone's been bled dry.