EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
For an expansion team, Montreal aren’t bad. Also: for a $5 steak, the one at Denny’s isn’t bad (just putting that compliment in perspective). Earlier in the season, they came to RFK and played us to a deserved 1-1 draw. Of course, United are a much better team now than they were at that point in the season. I fully expect three points tonight. I don’t know how we got lucky enough to get two home games against an expansion team in one year, but between that and the concussion and hamstring injury fairies apparently away on summer vacation, United are enjoying some good luck right now.
Only the Sandman at the Apollo Theatre gives you the boot faster than Ben. Cruz, DeLeon, and Salihi were mediocre last game, so tonight they’re on the bench. I guess Ben is creating a competitive atmosphere the same way the Hunger Games create a competitive atmosphere (Perry Kitchen = Katniss Everdeen). I’m not criticizing, though; it’s working. Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, McDonald, Jakovic, Russell | DeLeon, Kitchen, Najar, Boskovic | De Rosario, Santos.
Here’s kickoff from RFK Stadium, which this year seems to attract bad weather like New York attracts delusional artists.
2’ - While this game’s getting underway, let me mention that I am watching this Sunday night, having just watched the European final. My two cents: Spain is the best international team I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’m too young to have seen Pele’s Brazil, Cruyff’s Netherlands, or Bekenbauer’s Germany, but I’d place Spain ahead of Zidane’s France. They’re just a machine; it’s been four full years and nobody’s figured out how to play against them.
9’ - Wow - Comcast sideline reporter Sebastian Salazar is about to win the Nobel Prize in transitions for this gem: after Davy Arnaud’s bell-ringer causes Dave Johnson to say “he doesn’t know what zip code he’s in”, Salazar follows up with “there are a lot of zip codes in the area that are experiencing severe weather.” That is some world class transitioning, Salazar.
14’ - Nyassi gets the ball on the counter and shoots wide. Robbie Russell had a nice view of that attack. Step to the ball, Robbie.
20’ - United play some nice soccer for the first time this match, and it leads to a Santos howitzer blast from 35 yards out. Santos might have the biggest left-foot-right-foot imbalance of any player I’ve ever seen; his left foot is lethal, his right foot is useless as LoJack on a Kia.
22’ - Pontius gets a look but drags the shot wide. United might be ready to start playing, which is nice because we’re more than 20 minutes in.
24’ - Almost an own goal for Montreal! Off the post! That would have been a bad one, too; on the “own-goal disaster scale,” where having the ball hit you in the back during a goal-line scramble is 1 and Gary Neville versus Croatia is 10, this would have been an 8 — Agoos.
29’ - Boskovic with a nice move, and a goal would have made everyone involved in Boskovic’s new contract look smart, but he drags the shot wide and now everyone will have to wear glasses to look smart.
33’ - Hamid hasn’t had much to do for a while now. With Hamid, I worry that he’ll get Restless ‘Keeper Syndrome and try to do too much.
40’ - United are creating some decent chances but, much like Walt Whitman, they can’t finish.
45’ + 1’ - GOAL UNITED! Chris Pontius with a great move and finish (off of a feed from De Ro)! You know how you can fake-throw a tennis ball to a dog a hundred times and they’ll still buy it? That’s how I am with Pontius’ “one more cut than you thought” move. Great goal. You watching, Jurgen?
Halftime: We were slow to start, but it got better and Pontius made the score look better than maybe we deserved. It’s great to have players like Pontius and De Ro, who can create something from nothing even when the team isn’t clicking.
49’ - Free kick for United. The referee draws a foam line, yet another innovation that FIFA won’t adopt. Italy took a free kick in the final where the Spanish wall couldn’t have been more than 6 yards away (or 5.2 deciliters away, or whatever it is in Europe).
50’ - GOAL! 2-0 United! Boskovic sends in a nice free kick, and Russell slams a header into the corner. Great job by both players; Boskovic sent in a nice ball, and Russell still had a lot of work to do on that header. Two-goal leads are not dangerous, they are comfy, and I’m happy to have one.
52’ - Watching the replay: that free kick was a designed play. Santos picked Russell’s man — that was absolutely premeditated. Great work, Ben.
55’ - Hamid catches the ball but he’s falling into his own goal...was is over the line? (No). Quick: fifth official! Where’s Sepp’s fifth official when you need him? Of course, the fifth official might have missed the call, which is why you need a sixth official. I explain exactly what we need in this article.
61’ - Ben gets interviewed on the sidelines, and in spite of the two goal lead he is unhappy. I hope that Ben’s kids win his approval a little more easily than his team does.
67’ - Hilarious: Montreal has made their third sub. This game happened the day before Italy used their subs early and ended up playing almost an entire half of a European final down a man. Sunday marked the last time any coach will ever make three early subs.
78’ - The teams are exchanging bad calls now but I’m not chronicling them because they’re not going to have any impact on the game.
86’ - United are pressing but can’t quite get the third goal — Najar shoots just wide. I think a third goal keeps Ben from yelling at the team after the match. If they win 3-0 it’ll just be a stern reprimand.
90’ - Goal United! 3-0 - that scoreline will make Ben...well...not happy, but less disgusted. Salihi finishes a rebound after a nice move involving himself, DeLeon, and Pontius.
Full time: 3-0 United. It’s a good sign that United can play not-that-well and still be clearly the better team.
Hamid: 6. When Hamid jumps for a ball and sticks that right knee up, strikers get the equivalent of “alligator arms” in football.
Woolard: 5.5. United have left wingers who like to attack, so Woolard’s “defense first” instincts are probably exactly what you want in that position.
McDonald: 7.5. Center backs shouldn’t have to score a goal to get a high rating. McDonald was a rock — he won everything in the air, marked well, and didn’t make any mistakes.
Jakovic: 7. Great game, but I’ve noticed a habit of his: after free kicks, he is not overly eager to get back to his position. He’s got good skill for a defender; I think he likes being up there.
Russell: 5.5. I thought he gave Montreal too much space, but the goal was very well taken.
Pontius: 7.5. You’re telling me he couldn’t play for, say, Norwich City or Swansea? Of course he could. But apparently lower-level Premiership clubs can’t spring the $80 for Direct Kick.
Kitchen: 5. His best asset is probably a willingness to always stick his nose in and fight for the ball. He never shies away from a challenge.
Najar: 5. He’s not as visible as he was in past seasons, but then again he’s not the focal point of the attack.
Boskovic: 5. Sometimes you describe a player (usually David Beckham) by saying “he’s worth having on the field just for the set pieces”. Boskovic is approaching that territory.
De Rosario: 7. Quality as always.
Santos: 6. He continues to give journeymen a good name.
DeLeon: 5.5. Was active, hairy.
Neal: 6.5. I was skeptical when Ben put him at center mid, but he was great. Save for one bad giveaway, he was very effective at killing off the game.
Salihi: 6. I honestly think the competitive atmosphere is bringing the best out of players like Salihi. You kind of suspected he would find a way to score; he wants to play and needs to impress.