“The game is opening up. Harbour is getting their chances.”
I wrote that into my notes sometime in the late 50’s, thinking it spelled the beginning of a period when Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC) would threaten DC United’s lead and survival in the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quarterfinal. Instead, not much more than 10 minutes later, DC had extended their lead by three goals – not the prettiest things, but they all count – leaving the Jamaicans completely demoralized. I turned off the game before DC scored their fifth, but saw plenty ahead of it. HVFC had actually lost their way just before the half, but, finding themselves four goals down in abrupt fashion, they hesitated to go forward for fear of suffering another dizzy spell in front of their own net.
And, to think, DC owed so much to Devon McTavish. Without his first half goal – a goal allowed by fundamental errors that don’t belong at the professional level – HVFC would have had less need to compress the field and send players forward. Once exposed, they defended desperately and, unfortunately, not so well. A fortunate bounce here – I mean, how often does a back-heel carom off a defender directly into the path of your star forward? – and defenders chasing the play everywhere, it took only well-placed finishes to put the game to bed.
Mark Rogondino said sometime after the fourth goal that DC’s performance put the rest of Major League Soccer (MLS) on notice. I don’t buy that. They played well, but also benefited from HVFC’s struggles with possession and their players’ preference for too clever play; I can’t count the number of times, when, presented with an easy pass, HVFC’s players opted for another slick, individual maneuver; this threw a wrench into the team’s rhythm and stranded players – the wide ones who proved effective in the first leg, especially – when they made useful runs. At any rate, the analogy rings false because I don’t think many MLS teams, organized and energetic as they tend to be, will shower them with so many give-aways.
To give DC credit, their outside defenders essentially shut down HVFC’s flank attack. I convinced myself they accomplished this by setting Clyde Simms deeper, which allowed “The Gonzalos” – Martinez and Peralta…no relation – to play wider. I’m also guessing I imagined this. Whatever they did, though, it worked; count this the reason HVFC lost their way well before losing the game. Speaking of Peralta, he looks very confident back there, not to mention strong and smart; he seems like a good acquisition.
Turning to DC’s other new toys, how about Marcelo Gallardo? After being nowhere for the first 20, 25 minutes, he settled in, slowly and subtly taking over the game. When he wasn’t hefting near-perfect passes to Luciano Emilio over the top of the HVFC defense, he was wrecking havoc with runs at the heart of it. Franco Niell, another newcomer, didn’t show as well – at least not as one might expect. To his credit, having Niell up-top is like having a tireless terrier-midfielder in your forward line; he hounded Jamaican defenders throughout, but, unfortunately, didn’t offer much for the first line on his job description – scoring goals.
The old guard did its job and none of them more than Fred, the player I admitted to “not getting” after the first leg. In my defense, and to Fred’s credit, he’s not much of a winger, which is more of what I was expecting. He’s at his best cutting inside and running at defenders. This worked very well last night and he threw in some “fancy-pants” to boot. Yeah, Emilio scored a brace, but he put away a pair of comparative sitters. Hell, even Santino Quaranta looked all right…so, is he back in the fold, DC fans?
So, that’s a trip to the semifinals; DC will learn its opponent tonight. For what it’s worth, I think they can play with Pachuca Mark 08; the final isn’t out of the question and that’s not just down to last night. Still, good game, guys. You done the league proud.