MLS probably has the most parity of any league I’m familiar with (in any sport). The distance between the Supporter’s Shield and whatever the last place team gets (two thousand Danny Allsopp bobbleheads collecting dust in a supply closet, maybe?) is not that great. Even though United did their best to expand the gap as much as they could last year, they still didn’t fall so far behind the rest of the league that it would take years to catch up. MLS isn’t like baseball, where a bad team’s only option is to draft a bunch of pre-teens and then wait five years to see if they turn into ballplayers. In MLS, if you do well in the draft, supplemental draft, expansion draft, re-entry draft, allocation lottery, swimsuit contest, and feats of strength, you can return to respectability in a short amount of time.
United have clawed their way back to respectability: they’re 4-4-4. San Jose are also 4-4-4. Both teams are unbeaten in their last five matches. But United are the favorite tonight because they’re at home and because San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski is with the U.S. National Team. If you’ve been in a coma for two years: Chris Wondolowski is a national team player now. A lot of other stuff has also happened in the last two years, but nothing more surprising than that.
Here’s tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, Kitchen, White, Korb | Pontius, Simms, Fred, Najar | Wolff, Brettschneider. This is the exact same 11 that started against L.A., which makes sense; we played well in that match. Brettschneider, who was drafted in the second round of the supplemental draft, is preferred over Charlie Davies, who was a national team standout in 2009. Fortunes change quickly.
1’ - Already a shot from San Jose and a save from Hamid. Pretty nice save - that ball was moving all over the place. It’s worth mentioning: MLS uses the same Adidas “Jabulani” ball that was used in the World Cup. Adidas says that the ball flies straighter than other balls. Bullcrap. I’ve used one; it moves like those red kickballs you used in elementary school.
12’ - GOAL UNITED! Wolff plays a ball that somehow goes through all eleven San Jose players before being slotted home by Najar! Good ball from Wolff, nice finish from Najar, but it’s weird how many San Jose players had a shot at that ball before it got to Najar. I think they each kept thinking that the player in front of them was going to deal with it.
14’ - GOAL SAN JOSE! Lenhart scores before United can enjoy the lead, and before I can get around to making fun of his curly blonde baby ‘fro. Several not-too-great decisions by United players led to that goal: Simms was too far in front of the back line, White stepped out too passively, Kitchen didn’t cover the man White left behind, and Hamid didn’t make things too hard for Lenhart once it was 1 v. 1. Discouraging.
15’ - Let me not forget to make fun of Lenhart’s hair, though, because you don’t see that that kind of curly blonde perm too often these days. Some comparisons for Lenhart’s hair: Will Ferrell in Step Brothers , the kid from Bad Santa , Lisa Simpson.
19’ - Fred needs to find the ball. He’s supposed to be pulling the strings, but he’s not getting into the game.
21’ - GOAL SAN JOSE! Lenhart again! Stephenson with a vicious shot that is stopped by Hamid, but Lenhart follows up and powers the ball home. Both goals have left United players looking at the linesman, but I think that’s just wishful thinking; it looked like Lenhart was onside both times.
29’ - Apparently the field has been re-sodded, and you can see players kicking up sand with every step they take. That ball is taking some weird hops, and Pontius just shanked a cross and kicked up about a pound of sand in the process. What happened, RFK grounds grew? A few years ago, RFK was one of the best playing surfaces in the country. Then the Nationals moved out, a new “hybrid” field was installed, but instead of getting better the field has gotten progressively worse. Last year we had football lines on the field all year in spite of the fact that only one football game was played at RFK. At the opener this year, the field looked like the national mall. And now it looks like we’re hosting a beach soccer tournament. Get it together, grounds crew.
33’ - GOAL UNITED! Brettschneider! Korb plays it to Brettschneider who collects the ball at the top of the box with his back to goal, then turns and fires a left-footed shot past Busch. Wow...I’m impressed. Very well-taken goal. He should not have scored from that position.
39’ - Fred is getting a bit more involved now, and United are controlling the game.
44’ - Several players are wearing the new Adidas cleats, which are bright purple, yellow, and pink. What focus group recommended those colors to Adidas? Was it a group of pre-adolescent girls from 1991? Those cleats have a very Milli Vanilli vibe to them, if that makes sense.
HALFTIME. Apparently, soccer is like golf: sand leads to high scores. Four goals, and now the players have a chance to go in the locker room and dump the beach out of their shoes. The stadium crew are setting up some beach volleyball nets on the field so that the Arlington U-12 boys and girls can play a quick first-to-15 during half time.
48’ - GOAL SAN JOSE! They take the lead, 3-2! This comes from the exact same situation as the second goal: a knockdown from Lenhart to the withdrawn striker (it’s Simon Dawkins instead of Stephenson this time). And, just like before, nobody picks up the withdrawn striker, and just like before, United players are left looking for an offside call that didn’t (and shouldn’t have) come. Lenhart did well to play in Dawkins, who did well to hold off Kitchen.
55’ - Simms plays in Wolff, who has a great look at goal but can’t find Brettschneider! That’s a big missed opportunity. Wolff has not been sharp today.
57’ - No! Wolff is called offside as Najar runs onto a long ball even though Wolff was not involved in the play! Bad call — Wolff was passive, the linesman made a snap decision and got it wrong. He also made the call right in front of Ben Olsen, who is giving him an earful, and rightly so.
59’ - Goal San Jose! 4-2. Ugh...this is a bad one. Hamid comes after a completely innocuous long ball into the box and doesn’t get near it, allowing Lenhart’s flowing golden curls to head into an empty net. Very, very bad play by Hamid: if he just stays on his line, there’s absolutely no way Lenhart scores from there. And he really wasn’t close to that ball.
60’ - What a gut-punch: Wolff misses a great chance in the box, then we get a bad call, then a goalkeeper error puts us two goals down, all in the space of five minutes.
61’ - Davies comes on for...Brettschneider? Really? Wolff hasn’t been good today, but Brettschneider has. I’m a bit surprised that Brettschneider is the one to come out.
63’ - Some more comparisons for Lenhart’s hair: Burnadette Peters in The Jerk, Willy Wonka, a giant schnauzer.
67’ - Barklage in for Korb. Seems like a bit of a strange sub — I guess Barklage will play an attacking fullback role.
72’ - Najar cuts inside and blasts a shot over the bar. Najar’s been excellent today — very active.
76’ - Davies is in the game, right? I don’t think he’s touched the ball yet.
78’ - McCarty comes in for Woolard. United will go to a back three. Kid of makes that Barklage-for-Korb sub seem all the more strange.
81’ - Davies has now been on the field for twenty minutes and I honestly am not sure that he’s touched the ball even once.
83’ - Know this about any Frank Yallop-coached team: they will know how to organize themselves. If Yallop coached a team of five-year-olds, they’d probably be well-spaced and know their assignments.
87’ - Dax is not impressing me with his set pieces.
FULL TIME: 4-2 San Jose. Well, that was maddening. United didn’t get played off the field, but they did have four moments of slack defending that really cost them. Ben is not going to be happy.
Hamid: 2.5. His over-aggression finally cost him. Remember Louis Crayton? Remember how he would always play around with the ball at the back, and you’d think “that’s going to cost him eventually.” And then he got his pocket picked for a goal against Chivas shortly before he was released? We kept saying that Hamid coming out when he shouldn’t was going to cost us, and today it did (though I’m not implying that Hamid is about to be released).
Woolard: 4.5. Did pretty well covering for some lapses by his teammates early on, but he probably bears some of the responsibility for the third goal and he didn’t get into the attack much.
Kitchen: 3. Didn’t outright stink, but had several “probably could have done better there” moments. He’d benefit from putting on a little muscle.
White: 3.5. If you’re going to step, you need to really pressure the ball. If you’re just standing there, all you’re doing is taking yourself out of the play.
Korb: 5. Passing was better than in previous matches, and his defense was fine for the most part. San Jose didn’t do much from their left; that side of the field had their hands full with Najar.
Pontius: 6.5. Created a lot, though he didn’t finish well.
Simms: 3. Maybe the weakest game I’ve ever seen him play. His passing — which is usually reliable — wasn’t great, and he let the game get behind him too often.
Fred: 3.5. When he was involved, United controlled the ball and were able to mount an attack. But he didn’t get involved enough.
Najar: 8. Well-taken goal, and he provided a ton of offense. His set pieces were also much more dangerous than Dax’s.
Wolff: 3. Just not sharp. Wolff has been very hot and cold this year. When he’s good, he’s been very good. But then he’ll mix in a game where things just don’t seem to click for him.
Brettschneider: 7. I think he earned himself another start. He shouldn’t have been taken off; it should have been Wolff.
Davies: 2.5. He spent his entire 30 minutes between the two opposing center halves hoping that someone would serve him a goal on a platter. That works for Chicharito...it didn’t work for Davies.
Barklage: 5.5. Was active and energetic, as you would hope a guy who doesn’t get many minutes would be.
McCarty: 4. Like his hair, he looked rusty.
I-270 exit recommended that I give rankings for the bench players...good idea! Ngwenya: 10 - shoes matched his penny. Stephen King: 7 - wrote an entire horror novel while on the sidelines, though it was derivative of his earlier work. Cronin: 8 - May have moved up the depth chart just by not being Bill Hamid tonight. Zayner: 2 - he’s injured and was probably not actually available to play. What a tease.