Much of DC United's surprising early season form (surprising, at least, from the vantage point of the "woe is us" pre-season) has been attributed to the consistently impressive displays of the new youth movement in United's locker room (Jakovic, Wallace, Pontius, et al). But last night, with Wallace starting on the bench, Jakovic away with the Canadian national team, and Pontius cutting a frustrated figure for much of the match, it was United's core of veteran players who stepped to the fore. Moreno and Gomez combined to create the Moreno PK that took things level, Gomez dropped one on Namoff's noggin for the second, and Gomez' hustle, combined with Fred's calm in the box, set the table for Emilio to slot home the third.
Talking points? Sure, I've got a few...
* What name do you see ever-present up there in the goal summary? Gomez wasn't particularly dangerous in the first half, but his fingerprints were all over the goals, whether from good running (the PK), quality delivery (Namoff's header), or sheer hustle (Emilio). And you'll note that he went the whole match as well. I don't know if you can say that he's back to his best in a United shirt, but he's consistently involved and looks hungry. Was there any particular extra "oomph" in his effort against his old side and the coach (Smith) that benched him? Perhaps. But it's something that's been building over the last couple of months as well.
* Worrying signs at the back again. Last season was marked by consistent defensive fiascos, and while this year's model has continued to throw up the miscues more than I'd like, the rate hasn't been nearly so alarming nor as prolifically punished. Of course, you can put some of that down to having Janicki in the middle rather than Jakovic and can probably add a generous pile of "how didn't the ref see Casey shoving our guy in the back?" And indeed, the majority of the questionable decisions/plays at the back can be laid at Janicki's boots. But with that said, both Namoff and Burch were not entirely blameless either. That transfer window wish-list still has a big box marked "left-sided defender" that is just begging to be checked.
* Tommy--genius or just lucky? When Fred, already on a yellow, went in late on a defender in the latter stages of the first half, I jotted down a note about Tommy needing to pull him sooner rather than later to avoid a second yellow and subsequent red. When he did the same on Gibbs in the second half, sending the Rapids defender to the locker room (knowing his history with assorted leg injuries, lets hope it's not serious), he probably should have seen red, and my notes were really littered with calls to "get him off, Tommy!" Of course, I'm not sure Pontius or Wallace has the patience or experience to pull off the assist that Fred laid out for Emilio, thus taking the score to a comfortable 3-1. So was Tommy right to keep him on? You be the judge. I did like Tommy (seemingly) explaining his decision to a clearly upset Fred after the substitution.
* While the veterans certainly did get the result in the end, I'm a little worried that we looked so plodding and toothless for large stretches of the match. By contrast, Colorado didn't waste any time in stringing together a number of quick, one-touch passes to set up chances. Not that I'm saying we were outplayed, but we certainly seemed to need a lot more time and effort to get into threatening positions, and our insistence on playing patient possession got us into major trouble a handful of times.
* I've commented before on Boyzzz's finishing prowess, or lack thereof, so I won't belabor the point, but other than his impotence in front of goal, he turned in a pretty decent performance both through his hustle and his running/passing. A useful squad player, to be sure, but you can see why it took him so long to get a shot at top-flight ball.
* Unleash the Namoff! Great finish. When Gomez hit the corner I thought, "Damn it! He didn't clear the first defender again." Well, no...but fortunately the first "defender" to get his noggin on the ball was Namoff.
* Jaime's PK was beautifully placed. Great effort for a guy who'd only been on the field for a minute or so and was still stretching the aging quads. But then, there's that "veteran" quality that permeates this post.
* Fred holding and dishing for Emilio with Perkins drapped all over him showed the kind of "ice in the blood" calm that I wish (and I'm sure we all wish) he'd have when he gets into the box facing the other direction.
* Simms holding court with assorted medical sorts after he was subbed out didn't look promising. Perhaps we picked up Szetela just in time?
One final note to wrap up this reaction. Sure, revenge is nice, but wasn't it refreshing to see the team not become deflated after dominating the early stages of the match, only to suffer an own goal? They could have pressed hard for the equalizer immediately and been caught on the break again. But instead, they continued to play their patient game, knowing that there was plenty of match left to be played. That's the kind of confidence a team doesn't have when it's desperate--a mode that United found itself in for far too much of last season. I'm not sure I'm prepared to go on record as saying I felt that confidence myself, but I certainly didn't feel the game was lost when we went behind, and that's a refreshing change.