DC United 2007 Season Review: Consolation Kings

DC United
Record (W-L-T): 16-7-7; 56 GF, 34 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Somewhere down in the mid-summer recesses of this blog, I dubbed DC United the best team in Major League Soccer (MLS).  Just to suggest, at least, that I’m not a lazy sack, I tried to find that post…and discovered there are several.  The first time it happened came after their August 22 win over Red Bull New York, but the affirmation of that opinion grew and grew.  By the time I wrote the post behind that second “grew,” I was preoccupied with figuring out not so much who could stop them, but where; between winning Eastern Conference title and how strong they were at home, the conference semifinals seemed the place to stop them.

And, of course, that’s precisely what happened: the DC defense’s penchant for getting flustered as virgins on their first date let in Chicago’s forwards for a pair of goals that were easy as they were well-taken and lethal.  Thus it was the same story for the past two seasons: DC gets the Supporters’ Shield, an award that, at this point, everyone at least acknowledges before dubbing the MLS Cup-winning Houston Dynamo as league champions.  Picking through the comments of a post-loss post (probably on the incomparable DCenters), the refrain that the Supporters’ Shield wasn’t enough repeated pretty often.

So what’s the story for DC United’s 2007?  They played more meaningful games than any team but the Houston Dynamo.  They won a bunch of them, too, all except the three semifinals they reached (e.g. conference, CONCACAF Champions Cup, and Superliga; they lost the last one, incredibly, to the Los Angeles Galaxy).  So, again, what is that?  “Really good,  but not good enough”?  A “beautiful failure”?  Or is it just a failure? Continue reading

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DC Goes Home: Thank You, Mr Simms.

A lot happened in the final 30 of the Chicago Fire’s tighter-than-a-preacher’s-butt win over DC United – as much as the game as I caught after getting home from work, picking up the kids, feeding the kids, etc. While that shortened viewing time limits my ability to speak to big concepts like Justice (upper-case? oh yeah), I can at least speak to the Justice of the last 30.On that score, it’s a wash: referee Jair Marrufo didn’t call a penalty when DC ‘keep Troy Perkins fouled Calen Carr just inside DC’s area, but he also caught a tricky one when Christian Gomez nudged the ball with his left arm with what, for all the world, looked like the DC’s series equalizer. As for the rest, Marrufo might have missed some calls against Cuauhtemoc Blanco – though that serves the bastard right for going down easy as he does often as he does – and he overreacted by sending off Rod Dyachenko at the death, but, fortunately, the ref didn’t turn this game in a meaningful way…at least not that I saw.

But the really amazing thing about this one was the 180 change in tone from the time I started watching to the end of the game. When I tuned in, DC’s body language whimpered “beaten.” The thing of beauty that Clyde Simms knocked into Chicago’s net more than changed the mood, it reminded DC of who they were: the best team in Major League Soccer. From that goal forward, DC piled on 20 minutes of non-stop hurt and pressure – until they finally, and almost invisibly, petered out somewhere between the 88th and 92nd minute. The way I figure it, Clyde Simms’ teammates owe him a pint for every minute of that short life.

Fluky as DC’s in-game equalizer proved to be, the moment I thought they’d clawed back came with a gorgeous one-two that played Christian Gomez in on Chicago’s left; with him behind the defense and a tie on the aggregate seemingly seconds away, it looked like overtime at least. Instead, things wound up as it seemed they would when Chicago was up three goals on aggregate.

Getting back to the notion of what turned this game, I did see something in the highlights from before I tuned in: what looked an awful lot like the wrenching defensive lapses that have killed DC United time and again. As well as Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe took their goals, the shitty thing for DC fans is that both players barreled into the area facing goal and with no one on their backs. It’s like the definition of insanity, those lapses, and I can’t believe that DC won’t focus on correcting the defensive problem between now and the 2008 season instead of, again, bringing in still more offensive ringers. The latter look prettier, but the defensive problem is like a cancer.

Over the course of the season, I’ve seen the notion that there are no moral victories pop up a couple times on DC fan sites. I suspect we’ll see some of that tonight and tomorrow. Even if I wasn’t pulling for DC (no, not remotely), their team turned in something special tonight, the kind of passion on the field that keeps all of us watching the game. I don’t so much expect DC fans to find solace in that, as I would hope they’d appreciate the pride their team showed in fighting back from what looked a lot like a state of beat-down death.

As for Chicago, who I managed to almost completely ignore in this narrative (so what? they’ll be back), I’m guessing they’re looking at each other in the locker room right around now and, with a quick exchange of glances, acknowledging they just walked out of a war zone. They don’t get closer than tonight very often. Matt Perkins, among others, won’t sleep soundly tonight.

Daily Sweeper, 1/1: Building the Future and (A Little) Playoff Dish for the Saints

It’s All Saints Day, doncha know?

Before getting to the good stuff – e.g. the stuff about soccer – I’ve got to pass on something funny about trick-or-treating last night.  In case you don’t know, I live in Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb of Portland with a heavy Hispanic population.  I did go out as a nun last night and, let me tell you, the looks I got; the Hispanics, especially got a kick out of it; maybe it’s the Catholic angle.  Most people were amused, if to a surprising degree, and I got a few cold stares; some kids looked freaked, but that’s not so weird.  But having spent my entire life in, I dunno – tolerant, adaptive, maybe even “hep” – circles, I can only say I was neither prepared for, nor planning on, being a center of attention with a costume like that.  For Halloween parties past, a dude dressed as a nun is entirely unremarkable, if a little lazy.

Anyway…

– I still love reading this kind of thing, from Sacha Kljestan’s Q & A sit-down with USSoccerplayas.com:

Sacha Kljestan: I grew up watching MLS, so [Carlos] Valderrama, Peter Nowak, Preki, and [Marco] Etcheverry were my four favorite players.”

OK, so lumping “coach” in there may read like a brown-nose maneuver, but the cool thing is, we’re more likely to grow supporters when kids grow up following the league.  This, incidentally, is why getting families to the games matters: they may cramp your style by keeping you from telling the ref what you really think, but if you limit the attraction to the league to the young, the hip, and the barren/infertile, that can bite you on the butt.  Sing it with me….”I believe that children are our future…”  There is a second piece to this: namely, keeping the “fun young adult vibe” in the stadiums; after all, the little critters need something to which they can aspire once they get the yen to separate from mom and dad.

– Another quote, this one from Ryan Hunt’s playoff thinker for Sports Illustrated:

“Just like in 2005, none of MLS’ top four seeds enters the second weekend of the [2007] conference semifinals with an advantage headed into the home leg. And that was perhaps the most unexpected postseason in league history, with three lower seeds advancing out of the first round and the West’s No. 4 team (Los Angeles) rolling to the MLS Cup crown.”

So, you got that, New England, DC, Houston, and Chivas?  Get with it ya deadbeats.  And while you may look at the final regular season standings for 2005 and think, “well, yeah, the lower seeds went through, but that’s because the Rapids were one of the top seeds” (insert double-take sound effect).  True, but the rest of them were the usual suspects: San Jose/Houston, DC, and New England. Continue reading

Fire 1-0 DC: Rugby Meets Soccer

At its worst, last night’s Eastern Conference semifinal between DC United and the Chicago Fire looked like a pugnacious midfield scrum in which every ball seemed 50-50, not unlike an endless series of drop-balls put in play by an angry god. Think a lower-tier game in the English Premier League, but without the skill. At its best, the game pitted a DC team moving the ball slickly up to Chicago’s attacking third against a Fire team hunting for DC’s defensive mistakes.

The final score – 1-0 to Chicago – signals one successful kill, but the echoes from a couple other shots were heard around Bridgeview.

Call ‘keeper Troy Perkins DC’s man of the match. His defense left him for dead on the goal, but he saved two other dead-certain goals at least, most notably his brave challenge when Calen Carr broke through late. Given the way DC essentially controlled two-thirds of the field, that one goal disadvantage keeps them well within the margin for recovery for the home leg; emphasis belongs on the word “essentially,” though, because the brittleness of Black and Red’s defense wound up gifting Chicago more clear-cut chances than DC created at the other end. That’s a worrying sign because those breaks came under minimal pressure.

Against that, Chicago’s advantage doesn’t feel all that safe. Their collective struggle to generally connect left them facing relentless pressure, too often close to their own goal. To their credit, though, they limited DC’s chances to a near-range header here (Christian Gomez should have done better) to long-range efforts there; Fred took a number of these and Ben Olsen lashed in low crosses from the right, but neither approach really threatened Matt Pickens’ goal. DC had the rhythm, while Chicago’s rare moments came from smart dribbles out of danger by Wilman Conde, Chad Barrett’s energetic chasing, and Chris Rolfe’s tight control. Speaking of Barrett, losing him for the second game strikes me as a significant loss; who can see Paulo Wanchope causing the stir Barrett did in DC’s back line?

It says plenty about this game that Chicago looked the more menacing side in spite of being hemmed in for long stretches. The rare occasion when things opened up in front of goal, it happened in front of Perkins; when DC reached the Fire’s defensive third, players in red shirts looked so thick on the ground one might think the Fire fielded 15 defenders; Dasan Robinson, in particular, played like two men. And he had to due to Chicago’s repeated problems with playing out of the back.

The second leg should look roughly the same – a somewhat dreary notion that we should all hope doesn’t pan out. About the only escape from a second game of rugby posing as soccer (or is it soccer posing as rugby?) comes with DC scoring – and more than once. I don’t see Chicago leaving its shell for anything less than two unanswered goals. But if the second leg winds up fighting last night’s war a second time, that’s fine too; last night made up in tension what it lacked in grace.

The weekend should be good.

I don’t know how many DC or Chicago fans visit this site, but I’m curious as to how last night’s game looked to you. What do expect for the second leg? Are you approaching with a knot in the stomach or the sun on your back?

10 Bright Spots of Week 23: Benny O thinks he played RBNY, the Argies barge in, and Angel keeps pace

from Because I Think Way Too Much About Soccer…

DC Routs RBNY – On a Roll? (I Think So)

Watching last night’s game has me feeling a lot like right about Red Bull New York and DC United – though more about the latter than the former. As you’ll see in the (barely coherent) notes transcribed below, I’m thinking DC is rounding into their formula.

On a very basic level, the secret of DC’s success boils down to having good players playing a simple and correct game; the crucial thing comes with getting the players singing from the same sheet – as DC is doing right now. They get into this rhythm and, every time the other team presses – as Red Bull tried to do late – DC, down to a man, can cope. It’s the combination of passing and moving. You can teach a fucking monkey to do this, but too few teams do.

In a moment of some extravagance (what can I say? I get a little, um, “loose” when I watch a game…or is it tight?), I wrote, “This is the future of American soccer: teaching these basics – e.g. passing and movement off the ball – to the players.” That’s not it, of course: we’ll take the next step, as a league and as a national team, when players can build from those basics, but kind of nuts and bolts of that kind matter to the point of being fundamental.

As for Red Bull, I’m back to thinking I had them pegged a week or so ago; this simply isn’t that good a team. They struggle to use the good parts they have, against decent opposition at least. More significantly, Red Bull didn’t look all that different in last night’s loss than they did in a recent(-ish) win over Toronto: actually, they kept more passes in play last night, but the passes out of the back failed to find their mark, while DC’s pressure kept them from playing through the midfield.

Moving on to my notes…which are amended in parentheses where necessary…which seems too often by far… Continue reading