United got a huge stroke of luck this afternoon: Thierry Henry picked up a first-half red card (not deserved, in my opinion), and the Red Bulls lost 2-0 in Kansas City. We needed the Red Bulls to drop points, and they did. Also, Portland lost on Friday night. So, if we win out, we’re in. But that’s the tricky part: when we’re depending on other teams stinking, results have been going our way. But when it’s our turn to not stink...well, we haven’t been good at that lately. In fact, we have stunk like a wet dog eating spoiled shrimp: we’ve lost our last three. Ah, the MLS playoff chase — find out who stinks the least!
I cannot describe to you how sweet it would be if we snagged a playoff spot from the Red Bulls. There’s a bit of national pride at stake: the Red Bulls’ philosophy seems to be based on bringing in Europeans to show us oafish Americans how it’s done. They have a Swedish coach in Hans Backe, some big-name designated player imports (Henry and Marquez, the latter of whom is obviously not European but played there for many years), and a second-tier Ingerlander keeping a U.S. national team prospect on the bench. There’s a subtle disrespect for American soccer in that team. I would love to see them crash and burn in spite of (or maybe because of) their high-priced stars and their European tactics.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, McDonald, Kitchen, Korb | Da Luz, Simms, King, Najar | De Rosario, Wolff. Burch takes a seat, Simms returns to the lineup. Davies stays on the bench. Some people are speculating that he’s injured, but I’m speculating that he’s terrible (and I have concrete evidence supporting that theory on my DVR). There are obvious shortcomings in this lineup: the back line consists of two rookies and two guys who started the season as bench players. Stephen King is your playmaker, which is like having Freddy Adu as your enforcer. But I challenge anyone to make a lineup out of this roster that doesn’t have equal or greater flaws.
3’ - Those of you who are married or in a long-term relationship know this to be true: your spouse gets bettering looking when they’re away for a while. When I haven’t seen my wife for two weeks, in my mind she becomes a hotter version of Jessica Alba (and in her mind I become average-looking!). I think the soccer equivalent is happening right now with Dejan Jakovic — in my mind, he’s the greatest defender on the planet. But that’s probably because he hasn’t been involved in the junk we’ve seen over the past several weeks.
14’ - A central dribbling run by Daniel Woolard (just like Ben drew it up!) ends with Wolff going down in the box. Wolff begs for a penalty the way I would beg to go to Medieval Times when I was seven — I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I still felt compelled to try.
18’ - The Fire pick up an injury on their back line and have to make a sub. Right now, our attack looks so toothless that anyone who can fog up a mirror would probably get the job done for the Fire back there.
21’ - If they had goals at midfield, we would dominate, because we are great at possessing the ball around the center circle. We are James Bond around that center circle — smooth and deadly. But in the other team’s half we are more neurotic and jumpy than Woody Allen.
23’ - Pappa finds himself deep in the box, but Hamid makes the save at close range! Soccer is weird — we are being beaten pretty soundly right now, but the score is 0-0.
26’ - Prediction: if we score from the run of play, Najar or De Rosario will be heavily involved.
31’ - De Ro tries a scissor kick that might have gone off someone’s hand (from very close range), and Wolff is appealing for a penalty again. Ben’s apparent instructions to Wolff before the game: “try to stretch the defense but more than anything appeal for a penalty kick at every possible opportunity, because that’s darn near the only way we’re going to score.”
38’ - I’m typing this in the 42nd minute because my head was buried in my hands for four minutes after Hamid spilled an easy shot but managed to snuff out the rebound. Bill Hamid, ladies and gentlemen: never a dull moment.
45’ - Da Luz, De Ro and Wolff combine well, but the move fizzles out. We’re at least showing a few signs of life here at the end of the half.
Halftime: 0-0. If Chicago could finish, they’d be leading this match, maybe by a few goals. Dominic Oduro is all speed and no skill — Al Davis would have loved him.
48’ - You know who hasn’t been that good? De Rosario. He’s been active but not sharp. There is no word in the English language to describe just how thoroughly goofed we are if De Ro doesn’t play well.
51’ - Things are pretty bleak. How bleak? I’m thinking we should probably bring in Quaranta. So, it’s come to that.
54’ - Wolff is, yet again, lobbying for a penalty. There are firms on K Street that don’t do as much lobbying in a year as Wolff has done tonight. He’s about one incidental hand ball away from having to register with the Federal Election Commission.
56’ - Quaranta in for Da Luz. I think this is the best move we could make. In related thoughts: maybe we’re not a playoff team.
59’ - Wolff is calling for a penalty again. This time he’s wining and dining Jorge Gonzales over arctic char at Kinkhead’s. “Look,” says Wolff, leaning forward and swirling his brandy, “I think this penalty kick could be good for both of us. I mean, we at D.C. United see big things for you...we see you refereeing World Cup matches. But we can’t make that happen unless we’re all in agreement about this penalty kick project.”
63’ - Nyarko sends a header just wide! He’s got no excuses, because that man has no shortage of forehead. “Fivehead”, I believe the kids call it.
70’ - If we don’t score in the next 20 minutes, then our season is effectively over.
74’ - Burch in for King. Burch will probably play left midfield, but it doesn’t really matter — he’s in there for set pieces.
79’ - Davies comes in for Wolff. Wolff was pretty effective...as a player. Not at all effective as a lobbyist.
87’ - Penalty kick United! The firm of Wolff, Olsen and Quaranta create a penalty out of sheer force of will! That, plus, Quaranta was tripped. Or at least touched. There were definitely, um, shoes worn and moving of feet and people in close proximity to one another on that play. I’d call it a questionable call — it was about half of a penalty kick. And I guess we had amassed several other fractions of a penalty kick throughout one the course of the match. I didn’t realize you could accumulate portions of a PK and then cash them in all at once like Chucky Cheese tickets.
88’ - Of course, it’ll be De Ro to take the kick. Davies is on the field, but it’s De Ro. And...GOAL UNITED! The season is alive!
89’ - I will never understand how guys convert pressure penalties like that. I can barely stand to even watch them. If I ever had to take a penalty kick under those circumstances, I wouldn’t be thinking about picking a corner or even keeping it on frame; I’d be focused like a laser beam on keeping my shorts clean.
90’ + 1’ - NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Goal Chicago! 1-1! I can’t believe this.
90’ + 3’ - NNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOO! AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGH! 2-1 Chicago! I can’t type right now — I need to go kick some things!
Full time: 2-1 Chicago. I’m writing this after spending about an hour kicking inanimate objects and seeking comfort in terrible, terrible food. That was one of the most gut-wrenching matches I’ve ever watched. I’m trying to think of games that have sucker-punched me as much as that one. Probably both U.S.-Ghana matches, because of the stage and because the first one was decided by a terrible call and the second one was decided by a goal in overtime. The U.S.-Germany Torsten Frings handball-that-wasn’t in 2002. United losing a two goal lead to lose 3-2 to CD Catolica in the Copa Sudamericana in 2005. That’s about it. Getting knocked out in 2005, ‘06 and ‘07 hurt because we were the best team, but the way those matches unfolded wasn’t particularly cruel. The Rodney Wallace shot-off-the-post-in-stoppage-time match in 2009 didn’t hit me as much because that team was on its way down and the playoffs wouldn’t have meant much. But the playoffs would have meant something this year.
I like this team — I wanted them to achieve something. This is a young team, and making the playoffs would have been a real accomplishment. But they’re not going to make it. Forget the math — I know we’re mathematically still alive. We’re not quite going to make it.
Hamid: 5. His best save of the night was made possible by his worst save of the night.
Woolard: 4.5. It’s official: I prefer him to Burch at left back. He’s just less mistake-prone.
McDonald: 6. I keep giving our center backs decent ratings, but they keep giving up goals. Must be some combination of bad luck, good finishing, and me not knowing what I’m talking about.
Kitchen: 6. His ability to move between center back, right back, and midfield is going to give us a wider range of options this offseason. Yes, mentally, I’m already in the offseason.
Korb: 5. Like most of United’s players today, he offered good energy but was lacking a bit of skill.
Da Luz: 4. Seems best suited to a sub role. That injury to Pontius ended up costing us every bit as much as we all feared it might.
Simms: 4. He’s partly to blame for our inability to get the ball to our strikers.
King: 4.5. If we had one or two more quality attackers, none of us would mind Stephen King. You can have two solid-but-unspectacular players in your attacking six as long as the other four can provide a spark. But for some reason, the presence of that third JAG (just another guy) really bugs us fans.
Najar: 5. One of the reasons tonight was so ugly was because he wasn’t really on his game.
De Rosario: 5.5. Ditto.
Wolff: 5.5. Had some good touches, but his main contribution was to guilt Jorge Gonzales into eventually giving United a penalty kick. To revisit the analogy I used earlier: I did eventually guilt my parents to take me to Medieval Times. I was 19.
Quaranta: 5. Would I call that a dive? No. Did Tino know what he was doing? Yes. Look: there was contact. I never support players going down on purpose. But I also think that, in a situation like that, a player isn’t obliged to make an extraordinary effort to stay up.
Burch: 6. Provided some offense as a sub. He’s a converted forward who maybe didn’t ever quite convert the whole way.
Davies: 4.5. I’m writing this late enough that I’ve read Davies’ post-match comments. I don’t think those comments are devastating, coach-killer material (though Davies is probably lucky that Ben is the coach and not Piotr Nowak, since Freddy Adu got benched for a playoff game for saying almost the exact same thing). And I understand that he’s frustrated. But, first, Charlie, shut up. And second: Davies is on the bench because he’s not playing well. It’s just that simple. Watch the games: he stinks. Wolff is better. Quaranta, King and Brettschneider are all arguably better. I don’t think that Davies being on the bench has anything to do with injuries or personal issues or anything like that. I think that Ben is trying to make the playoffs, and he thinks that other guys will contribute more than Davies. And I agree.