Before we get to United and Portland, a few thoughts on Saturday’s Champions League final. I did my share of whining about Barca’s play-acting in the semi-final, but they were back to playing the beautiful game Saturday night. They were suffocating, dominating...borderline invincible. Barca are basically the Spanish national team plus Messi, Dani Alves, and Javier Mascherano, which if you think about it is a halfway decent side. I think that these Barca and Spain teams are classic teams that we’re going to remember for a long time, like Liverpool of the ‘70s or France of the late ‘90s. Manchester United didn’t stand a chance yesterday.
When Barca went up 3-1, the TV showed Sir Alex Ferguson on the bench wringing his hands. “What can he be thinking?” Martin Tyler said. I know what he was thinking. He was thinking: “Is there any possible way I can maintain my reputation as a bitter, cranky SOB by denying credit to this clearly superior opponent? Can I somehow blame this on the referees? Could Arsene Wenger be to blame?” But, in the end...no. “In my time as manager, [Barcelona] are the best team I’ve faced,” he said. That’s just how good Barcelona are: even Sir Alex is giving them credit.
So, now that I’ve reflected on the thick slice of Kobe beef that was Barca’s play yesterday...time for a Slim Jim: D.C. United vs. Portland. Turf. Expansion team. Small field. Daniel Woolard. MLS fever...catch it!
I’m being harsh: the atmosphere in Portland is great, and United are easier to watch than last year (although, Saw IV is easier to watch than last year’s team). If United win tonight, they’ll be at .500, which in this league means you might get to host a playoff game. United are also taking baby steps forward; they’ve begun to forge an identity as a scrappy, hard-working team who can grind out results in spite of not being able to defend set pieces or create chances from the run of play. It’s a work in progress.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, White, Jakovic, Kitchen | Pontius, King, Simms, Najar | Ngwenya, Brettschneider. The surprise is King instead of McCarty; Dave Johnson says McCarty has a muscle pull (50 dollars says it’s a hamstring!). Wolff is also apparently not in good enough shape to go the full 90, though he is on the bench.
It’s a great atmosphere in Portland, and the sun is out (probably for the first time since October). Here’s kickoff...
3’ - Comcast has a million different stats to show what anyone who watches this team already knows: United give up a lot of goals on set pieces. I hate soccer stats; they’re always either misleading or they tell you something so blatantly obvious that you didn’t need a statistic to know it.
10’ - 30 goals were scored in MLS last night, the most ever in the league in one night. Of course, the fact that MLS was only recently a ten team league might have something to do with that. I have a strong suspicion that this match might bring the average back down to earth.
12’ - GOAL UNITED! Kitchen scores off a set piece! Pontius with a long throw in, Brettscneider heads it into the danger area, and Kitchen side-foots it home! That one was straight from the training ground. It is really, really great to get that goal; United probably aren’t going to score a beautiful, flowing, goal-of-the-century tonight, so I’ll gladly take as many of those scrappy, playoff hockey-type goals as we can get.
14’ - I’d like to cite that goal as evidence that I keep these match diaries stream-of-consciousness and don’t edit out the parts where events make me look stupid. Immediately after I wrote that I think this will be a low-scoring match, United scored.
16’ - Hmmm, let’s see if the universe will immediately contradict whatever I type. Ahem: there’s no way that female streaker from the U.S.-Honduras match a few years ago makes another appearance tonight (no, no link. Family newspaper, people).
21’ - Najar wins a free kick deep in Timbers territory (the referee marks the spot with spray foam...sill lovin’ the foam). Najar takes it...great ball in, but no-one gets on the end of it. Well-taken free kick.
22’ - We just learned that Tino is out with a concussion (uh-oh), and Dax was a very late scratch with a hamstring pull. In a way, being an MLS coach is the easiest job in sports: you just play whichever eleven guys can fog up a knife.
23’ - So, here are United’s injuries. Concussions: McTavish, Quaranta, Morsink, Namoff (I still count Namoff). Muscle pulls/strains: McCarty, Davies, Wolff, Burch, Brasesco, Zayner. Ankle ligaments: Carreiro. Carreiro at least gets points for originality.
25’ - Portland with the mirror-image free kick of the one United had a minute ago. They take it and...nice header away by Jakovic.
30’ - Ha! Great demonstration of why we need spray foam. Portland has a free kick, the referee doesn’t use the foam, so Ngwenya sets up at seven yards, encroaches to about four yards, jumps, and blocks the free kick! The referee doesn’t whistle the foul, probably to avoid drawing attention to his blatant foam negligence. Look for that clip on Spray Foam Incorporated’s home page.
33’ - Turf, small field, two scrappy but minimally-skilled MLS teams...this match has all the smoothness and flow of a Slipknot album.
39’ - Pontius with a nice cross, Ngwenya heads from a tight angle, but Perkins with the save. I think that might be the second shot on goal by either team.
41’ - Come to think of it, let me retract that humble admission of infallibility from earlier in this post: neither team can generate any offense! I was right! There’s been one goal and nothing else! I am never wrong! I know all!
44’ - I was wrong! Chance United! Nearly another scrappy goal off a set piece, but Perkins makes the save from close range.
Halftime: 1-0 United. When I was single, I learned to make the most of what I had. I would comb my hair, wear clothes that fit, and try to avoid quoting Monty Python more than five times in an hour. I knew I wasn’t going to blow anyone away with looks or charm, so I did my best to maximize the limited resources at my disposal. That’s what United are doing so far tonight: they’re not going to overwhelm Portland with talent, but they’re being scrappy and honest and making the most of what they have. This is a very Ben Olsen-type team.
Oh, and yes: now that I’m married, I’m back to my slovenly ways. It’s all Snuggies and Febreze in this marriage.
50’ - Wolff in for Ngwenya. Once again, Ngwenya is subbed out around 50 minutes. If D-minus is “the gentleman’s ‘F’”, then the 50th minute substitution is the gentleman’s halftime substitution.
53’ - Kitchen gives Wolff a look at goal, but Wolff shanks the shot. But he also doesn’t aggravate his hamstring pull in the process, so...nice play, Josh.
56’ - Jakovic gets a yellow...bad call. Jakovic lunged and won the ball. That’s one of those plays that if it happens in the fourth minute, it’s not a card. But when you get later into the game the referee feels like he’s not doing his job if he doesn’t hand out a couple of cards.
57’ - Portland puts the ball in the net off the ensuing set piece, but Kenny Cooper is (correctly) called offside. Jakovic was definitely not hangin’ with Mr. Cooper there — Kenny was all alone. Let’s consider that play a warning heart attack — the next one could be fatal.
60’ - And right away we have a carbon copy of the set piece Portland had a minute ago. Portland takes it, and...save Hamid! Futty knifes across the box and puts a powerful header on goal, but Hamid is positioned well and collects it. Okay, that’s two warning heart attacks in three minutes, roughly the pace of Chris Farley’s character in the Superfans sketch.
61’ - Futty’s name is Mamadou Danso. But “Futty” — which is a nickname — is on his jersey. Are we allowing nicknames on jersey’s now? What is this, the XFL?
63’ - PENALTY KICK PORTLAND! Terrible call...terrible, terrible call. Cooper was backing in on Jakovic, they both went down. End of story. They were both jostling for position...that was a bunch of nothing. Terrible call.
64’ - Cooper steps up to take the penalty, and...save Hamid! Wait...it’s being called back! They’re saying Hamid was off his line. Watching the replay, I agree. That is something they never call, but it’s in the rulebook: it should be called. Hamid is a bit unlucky there. That’s like getting a ticket for doing 65 on the beltway. I mean, technically you’re correct, but...you’re kidding, right?
65’ - And now this is getting ridiculous: Hamid with another save and is called for encroachment again! Honestly: still the correct call. He was off his line. Maybe I should point out: I was a striker. I have very little tolerance for goalkeepers’ shenanigans.
67’ - Okay, penalty try number three, and it’s going to be Jewsbury this time. Hamid should run way off his line and pick the ball up before Jewbury even touches it. Dare the linesman to call him for encroachment a third time. Actually: can you just encroach like 50 times in a row and then run out the clock that way? I mean, this technically isn’t stoppage time. But before he can try, Jewsbury puts the kick away. 1-1.
69’ - Immediately after missing two penalty kicks and being denied the chance to take a third, Kenny Cooper is subbed out. Geez — maybe John Spencer should pants Cooper and kick sand in his face while he walks to the bench, just to make sure that the humiliation is complete.
73’ - PENALTY UNITED! Karma! Actually, no: Karma would be getting an undeserved penalty, like Portland did. This one was a pretty obvious hand ball. Pontius took a nice penalty last match, and it looks like he’s going to take this one, too. He steps up...GOAL UNITED! Well taken: top shelf. 2-1 United.
84’ - GOAL UNITED! Wolff! Hamid boots the ball downfield, Brettschneider flicks on, and Wolff keeps a cool head and chips the ball home. That’s a great little-field goal. That’s exactly how you’re supposed to do it. Well done Brettschneider and Wolff.
86’ - Fred in for Najar. Najar looks completely gassed. He worked hard tonight.
87’ - GOAL PORTLAND! It comes off a long throw-in, and once again United concede off a set piece. That one went right through Hamid’s hands — he should have had that.
89’ - United have a great opportunity to counterattack — Fred was running free on the left — but Wolff plays the pass right to the defender. Hopefully, that doesn’t cost us.
90’ + 1 - Barklage in for Wolff. I’m guessing that’s a tactical move: time-wasting plus removing a striker.
FULL TIME! 3-2 United! Three points on the road: always a good outcome. Five goals scored, all off of dead balls, making this one of the most exciting area-league matches I’ve ever watched.
Hamid: 5.5. I can’t give him too much credit for the penalty saves, because he was off his line. He had one very nice save, but he definitely should have done better on the second goal.
Woolard: 6. Sometimes fullbacks are like referees: the best games are when you don’t really notice that they’re there.
White: 7. Rock solid, won everything in the air, and was decisive with his clearing headers.
Jakovic: 7. Also won a lot of balls in the air and was smart with his challenges. I’m docking him a bit for losing Cooper on the called-back goal. True, Cooper was offside, but he was also completely alone.
Kitchen: 6. Won a ton of 50-50 balls. Could have been stronger on Portland’s second goal.
Pontius: 6. Once again, he was the primary source of offense.
King: 5. Good defense, no possession or offense to speak of.
Simms: 5. Ditto.
Najar: 5.5. Didn’t have the up-yours-for-not-picking-me-Honduras game I was hoping for, but he fought hard and was aggressive.
Ngwenya: 2.5. He has to be behind Brettschneider on the depth chart at this point. But he’s the first-choice striker for the Rochester Rhinos, or at least he will be in two months.
Brettschneider: 6.5. Good movement, decent passing, and two flick-on headers led to goals.
Wolff: 6. Provided some much-needed quality and finished the third goal nicely.
Fred and Barklage: no rating.