United started the season against Columbus way back about...oh...17 months ago. Those were heady times. The future seemed full of promise, and we were all brimming with optimism. But then reality set in. Mistakes that were made years ago continued to haunt us. Our opponents were tougher than expected, and results were disappointing. Come to think of it, United’s season has pretty much perfectly mirrored the trajectory of the Obama administration.
Actually, what we were all celebrating in the season opener against Columbus was a return to relevance. And United are relevant again: it’s October, and we’re talking about the playoffs. Sure, we’re talking about how we’re not in the playoffs, but there’s at least a discussion. After 2010’s unfathomable awfulness, we should recognize the progress that’s been made. This isn’t a great team, but they’re not bad either. It’s appropriate that we’re sponsored by Volkswagen; this is not a top-tier team, but it’s serviceable, decent. If this year’s team is a Volkswagen, last year’s team was a Ranchero. Let’s be grateful for the upgrade.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Burch, Woolard, Kitchen, Korb | Quaranta, Simms, Najar, De Rosario | Ngwenya, Davies. Brandon McDonald’s yellow card suspension brings Chris Korb out of the Witness Protection Program. Here’s how makeshift the back line is: none of tonight’s back four are the same player in the same position that started against Chivas 11 days ago. You know who might help? Julius James, who is starting for Columbus. I said it when it happened: we should not have let him go.
Here’s kickoff at Crew Stadium, MLS’s first and worst soccer-specific stadium...
3’ - Columbus with a dangerous cross, but Hamid smothers it. Like last game, United are off to a very shaky start.
6’ - I’ve been writing this blog for more than a year now, and it’s difficult to find new angles. For example, I believe I’ve covered the fact that Dilly Duka is a name for a silent film-era cartoon character and that Eddie Gaven would not look out of place if you caught him giving himself a hobo shower in a Starbucks bathroom.
10’ - Up here in New York, I can get all the games via Direct Kick, but I can only get them in low-def. Everyone is fuzzy, so I mostly identify the players by what they do. The guy playing the through ball way, way too hard? That’s Tino. The guy who’s more efficient, reliable, and boring than the car advertised on his shirt? Simms. The guy getting dispossessed the split second that he starts to dribble? Davies.
12’ - Dave Johnson calls matches for several MLS teams including Columbus, but we got custody of him for this match. I always knew we were his number one wife!
18’ - United with a nice...well, not move, but nice series of deflections that bounced our way. In the end, Tino sends a shot way over. Lots of lucky bounces except that the last one fell to Tino.
22’ - This is a very MLS-y match so far: tons of grit and athleticism, but it’s not very pretty and neither team can hold the ball.
24’ - Quaranta gets behind the defense but puts his shot wide. Does it say more about me or him that I never, ever expected him to finish that? For me, there was zero excitement surrounding that play.
28’ - Somebody in the crowd has a vuvuzela. Worst African export since Somali pirates.
29’ - Ngwenya starts a move that De Ro and Davies can’t finish. I was not thrilled to see Ngwenya in the starting lineup, but he’s been okay.
36’ - GOAL UNITED! You’re not going to believe this...it’s Daniel Woolard. You’re not going to believe this either: He had a goal celebration ready! How long has he had that in his back pocket? How many t-shirts with pictures of his daughter or “Jesus Loves Me” on them have grown old and crusty under Daniel Woolard’s uniform waiting for him to score? That guy is an optimist.
37’ - Oh, about the goal: De Rosario played an excellent free kick into the box, and Woolard volleyed it home. Pretty nice take from a guy who passes the halfway line maybe twice a game.
39’ - Simms with a ridiculously cynical professional foul...that I loved. Good play, Clyde; you have to take the man down there.
42’ - Dangerous moment as Renteria gets behind the defense, but Hamid comes out and collects the ball. That’s where Hamid’s size is really an advantage; when a striker hears Hamid’s footsteps, the striker’s reptile brain switches his entire focus to self-preservation.
Halftime, and 1-0 is a very good scoreline for United. Watching Rongen and Johnson break down the half...Rongen wears a bow tie. The bow tie is an interesting article of clothing because it says one of three things, all of them very different. It says: 1) I am a conservative political pundit, 2) I am in the Nation of Islam, or 3) I appear in popcorn commercials even though I am dead. Which message is Rongen trying to send?
46’ - It’s good that we’ve got the goal, because two of our main attacking options — Davies and Quaranta — have been beyond awful. Quaranta has connected as many passes tonight as I have. Davies has more giveaways that Publisher’s Clearinghouse. I don’t see United generating much offense tonight.
47’ - Goal Columbus! Sickening, sickening own goal. It’s Woolard again; but there’s no celebratory dance for this one. The ball pinballed to Woolard, and for some reason he swung at it and put it in the back of the net. You know when you’re falling asleep and suddenly your brain says “there’s a ball there...kick it!”? I have to believe it was that part of the brain that caused Woolard to try to kick that one.
53’ - If Wolff’s available, he has to come in. United need to change things up in attack. Honestly: I’d take Davies out instead of Ngwenya. Ngwenya is at least playing good defense.
54’ - Well, it’s going to be King in for Ngwenya instead of Wolff for Davies. At least Ben sees what I’m seeing: something has to change offensively. De Ro will go up top.
55’ - Rongen: “De Rosario is — no offense — more dangerous than Ngwenya.” Um, Thomas, no apology necessary. My grandma’s kite-flying club is more dangerous than Joseph Ngwenya.
57’ - Mendoza with a header just wide of the post! Suddenly, 1-1 looks like a pretty good scoreline for United.
59’ - Goal Columbus! Complete breakdown on United’s left side, finished by an excellent diving header from Eddie “dude, can I bum a ride to the folk festival?” Gaven. What is United’s second half goal differential? Negative a jillion?
61’ - Da Luz in for Quaranta.
72’ - Davies gets a one-on-one but is easily dispossessed by United’s jilted lover Julius James. Davies simply cannot dribble; he can’t beat anyone on the dribble, and the minute he faces goal the move is essentially over.
75’ - Wolff comes in for Simms. So the back line will be Woolard, Burch, and Korb (that is a lockdown back three), Kitchen moves to the midfield, and De Ro, Davies, and Wolff lead the attack. Ben goes to three at the back more quickly than any coach I’ve ever known, and I like it. I think most coaches are way too slow to go all-in.
78’ - Tonight’s attendance: 15 thousand plus. Um...are 12 thousand of them in the bathroom?
83’ - Najar with a hard shot and Hesmer makes the save, though he almost Robert Green’d it!
90’ + 3’ - Najar off the crossbar! Ugh...not quite! I’m starting to worry that that might be the season in a nutshell: “not quite”.
Full time: 2-1 Columbus. I don’t know what “jack squat” really means, but that’s exactly what those games in hand were worth. The value of jack squat must be pegged to the Euro.
Hamid: 6. In the match before his last national team call-up, Hamid got a red card eight minutes in. This match was better.
Burch: 4. Didn’t shut down the left flank, though Tino bears some of the responsibility for that.
Woolard: 6. How do you assess a guy who scores a goal and an own goal? Fantasy soccer would call it pretty much a wash, and that’s how I’m evaluating it, too. I’m also giving him half a point for having a goal celebration dance ready in spite of the fact that he hasn’t scored in years, and I’m giving him another half-point because the dance wasn’t the Macarena.
Kitchen: 6. I’ve said before that I think he’s a central defender, but when he stepped into midfield at the end of the game he was actually pretty good.
Korb: 5.5. Ben doesn’t seem to rate him, but I think he’s been pretty good.
Quaranta: 2. Here’s what I wrote about Tino in my last match diary: “Tino was really, really good after coming in for De Ro. Probably good enough to earn a start on Sunday and then stink really hard.” Sometimes I hate it when I’m right.
Simms: 5.5. The .5 is for the professional foul. I’ve said it before: I like it when Clyde is mean.
Najar: 5. Wasn’t involved much, but was good when he was.
De Rosario: 6. United are one attacking player short: when he’s in the midfield, we’re missing a guy who can finish. When he’s up top, we’re missing a guy who can create.
Ngwenya: 4.5. From the Damning With Faint Praise Department: his best this year.
Davies: 2. Instead of saying “like taking candy from a baby”, people are going to start saying “like taking the ball off of Charlie Davies when he tries to dribble.” A bit of a mouthful, but more accurate.
King: 4. When I said “missing a guy who can create”, I meant King.
Da Luz: 3.5. A bit sloppy with possession.
Wolff: 4. He needs to play more — he’s the only striker we have who is a legit starter in this league.