EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
We’re playing Houston again? I thought there are 19 teams in the league now; this feels like the early days of the league, when you’d play New England 12 times and New York 10, one game against the Crew thrown in somewhere, and that was your season. It feels like it’s all Montreal and Houston this year. And why do we have to go to Houston’s brand new stadium twice? Is MLS trying to rub our noses in it? After our last visit to Houston, I made a joke about leaving an upper-decker in the bathroom; I didn’t realize that we had to come back. That would be an awkward visit.
Teams often play well for a new coach; does the same concept apply for new majority investors? I hope so, because this is United’s first match since Erick Thohir entered the ownership group. Maybe there’s a sliding scale: new coach = 90 minutes of all-out hustle. New majority investor = 45 minutes of general hustle. New travel director = two extra slide tackles. New staff assistant in the media relations department = big smiles during the pre-match photo.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, Jakovic, McDonald, Russell | Pontius, Kitchen, Cruz, Boskovic | De Rosario, Santos. I would argue that we have 14 players who deserve to start (Najar, DeLeon, and Salihi are the other three). Maybe 15 or 16 (Willis and Dudar). That’s where you want to be.
Here’s kickoff from Houston’s new BBVA Compass Stadium. Wow, Houston, we’re really impressed. Yeah, lovely area... jogging trail nearby? You don’t say. Hardwood floors, yeah, great, undermount sink, recessed lighting... lovely, yeah, really great (jerks).
1’ - United attack right away but Pontius picks out the wrong pass. He should have gone near post to Santos.
9’ - United are looking dangerous in the attack early on. This is a good attacking team even though we play a pretty standard 4-4-2. It just goes to show: personnel and mentality determine a team’s propensity to attack much more than formation.
16’ - Oh No! The match just effectively ended. Red card for Hamid, penalty kick for Houston, 74 minutes left to play down a man. This match is probably a lost cause. This is one of those times when I really regret this is a family newspaper: darn it all to gosh! Poppycock. The fiddlesick’in game just balderdash’n ended after 16 baloney minutes. What a bunch of hooey.
17’ - To recount the play: Kandji got in behind the defense, and Hamid first didn’t react, then reacted late, then guaranteed a bad outcome by going through Kandji like grass through a goose. No-doubter red card and penalty kick.
18’ - Readers of this blog know that I think Brad Davis is underrated, and he’ll take the penalty kick against United backup ‘keeper Joe Willis (Boskovic came out — right sub, in my opinion). And... goal! Side netting. 1-0 Houston. I don’t like where this is headed.
19’ - There are high school dropouts with lower back tattoos who demonstrate better decision-making skills than Hamid demonstrated on that play.
20’ - Davis off the crossbar with his... right foot? Replays confirm: Davis almost scored with his right foot, which would be as rare as Beckham scoring with his left. I think Willis got a finger on it.
21’ - If there’s an upside to Hamid’s red card — and I’m not saying that there is — it’s that after a play that bad, I would want to see Willis start the next match anyway.
22’ - Hamid had one of these games last year, where he ruined the match with an early, unnecessary red card.
24’ - United’s job now is to keep it 1-0 until the 75th minute or so. If they can do that, Ben will effectively even out the numbers by putting three at the back. At that point, you can at least fight for the equalizer and if you give up one or two more then who cares?
33’ - We’re down to 10, but even so: we’re not playing very well right now. There is no reason for Russell to be pinched in quite so far.
36’ - Goal Houston! 2-0. Both McDonald and Jakovic got beat to create that goal. Watching the replay, there’s absolutely no reason why Bruin should have beaten Jakovic to that spot; Jakovic had a head start, he just didn’t run with him.
39’ - Uh oh: Russell is hurt. Korb comes in. At this point if you offered me 3-0 with no further injuries, I’d take it.
Halftime: Let’s focus on the positive (and we have to look outside of this match to do so): Ben deservedly selected Chris Pontius for the all-star team. Pontius’ star is rising. But all he needs to do is to look across the field at Davis to know: MLS standout does not necessarily equal national team regular.
46’ - Watching the replay of the red card at halftime, if you didn’t send Hamid off for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity, you could have sent him off for a reckless challenge. So I guess we won that exchange; two offenses, only one red card. We win. It’s the same reason why whenever I have a tail light out I go ahead and speed (that is a joke).
61’ - 3-0 Houston. Garcia heads the ball into the corner. I’ll be honest: right now this game is battling for my attention with Facebook and losing.
64’ - Oh no: lice has claimed Nick DeLeon’s hair. Why else would he have shaved his glorious head of free-flowing hippie hair? Pour a bottle of Garnier Fructis on the curb for the follicles who couldn’t be here.
64’ - DeLeon came in for De Ro. Ben is practical: this game is over, De Ro is old (by soccer standards), so save his legs as much as possible.
69’ - Willis makes a good save, then Ashe goes off the post. The only question now is whether Houston will get a fourth. Can we just leave, please?
70’ - This game reminds me of a night I once had a long time ago at the Baltimore Comedy Factory. I was hosting, and I just bombed. Bombed so hard it would have made Curtis LeMay squeamish to watch. I was supposed to do 10, but I bailed after six. At which point the booker berated me: “When I pay you to do 10 minutes, you do 10 minutes!”, ignoring the fact that four more minutes of that likely would have caused a spaghetti western-style riot in the crowd. But that’s a weird rule of comedy: you’re not allowed to go short. And in soccer, you’re not allowed to say: “Hey, we’re clearly beat here, instead of playing 20 more minutes why don’t we just call it a night?”
71’ - Oh no — Santos is down. Hopefully just a cramp. Now he’s back on the field.
79’ - Now Cruz is down. Please: let’s not add injury to insult and already one injury. Can we get negative-10 minutes of stoppage time?
84’ - Now Santos is down again. OK everyone: criss-cross applesauce for the rest of the match. Let Houston score as much as they want; we just need to avoid injuries.
87’ - Cruz with a bad challenge that leads to a penalty. Ching violates the (stupid) “the guy who suffered the foul shouldn’t take the penalty” rule and slots it home. 4-0.
Full time: 4-0 Houston. Well, Hamid threw this match away; after that play, it was pretty much a write off. I’ve seen two MLS matches get mercy-ruled this year (zero minutes of stoppage time); how come we had to play three?
Hamid: 0. When you pretty much single-handedly lose the match for your team, I don’t know what other rating you can receive.
Woolard: 5.5. Something nobody will notice in this context: Daniel Woolard had a pretty good match.
Jakovic: 3.5. Very bad play on the second goal.
McDonald: 4. Arguably worse play than Jakovic’s on the second goal.
Russell: 3.5. I hope he’s not seriously hurt, but honestly between Russell and Korb I don’t know which is the better fullback.
Kitchen: 5. Played a tough, gritty game in a hopeless situation. To quote the Simpsons: “He embodied Springfield’s never-say-die and never-think-things-through attitude.”
Pontius: 4. So, you make the all-star team and now you’re too good to play defense? Not his best match.
Cruz: 3.5. Probably Najar’s turn next match.
Boskovic: No rating. May not have needed a shower.
De Rosario: 4.5. The attacking players are tough to grade — how do you grade players who barely saw the ball?
Santos: 4. I guess.
Willis: 4.5. Willis learned earlier this year: if he plays well, Ben will keep him in there. This is an opportunity.
Korb: 4.5. He was out-jumped for the third goal. Korb is young and may improve, but I would bet against him getting any taller.
DeLeon: 5. Hopefully his hair was not the source of his power, like Sampson. Or Felicity (I am the only sports writer with the guts to make a 15-year-old Felicity reference).