The only real “must win” games are ones that can end your season. And even then, we shouldn’t say “must” — it’s just sports, no need to be all melodramatic about it. Nobody dies — all that happens is a different team in a different color of uniform gets to keep pursuing a championship and you don’t. And even if that team wins the championship, nothing really changes; the team’s fans don’t become richer or better looking or happier.
Wow, this opening is way more depressingly and nihilistic than I intended. I was just trying to frame the importance of this game, now I’m staring out my window and wondering if it would matter if I jumped. I violated the old rule of comedy: don’t make the crowd ponder the futility of human existence at the top of your set.
The point is this: this isn’t a “must win” game for D.C. United, but it’s close. If we can’t get three points against New England at home, then from where are we going to get points? United’s travels have been Griswold-esque in their incompetency, so you have to think we’ll be collecting most of our remaining points at home. And the Revs are well out of the playoff picture; they’ll be mathematically eliminated with a loss tonight. So technically, this is a “must win” game for them, though realistically it’s a “it’s going to happen sooner or later so let’s end this misery and start booking golf vacations” game for them.
Tonight’s lineup: Not De Ro | Not De Ro, Not De Ro, Not De Ro, Not De Ro | Not De Ro, Not De Ro, Not De Ro, Not De Ro | Not De Ro, Not De Ro. Or, to put it another way: Hamid | Korb, Jakovic, Mcdonald, Najar | Pontius, Kitchen, DeLeon, Boskovic | Santos, Pajoy. Even without De Ro, this is still a lineup that should be able to beat New England.
Here’s kickoff. Ben Olsen entered the D.C. United Hall of Tradition tonight. Good for Ben; obviously deserved. I’ve been a fan of his since the pre-injury days, since before he moved at dial-up internet speeds. I’m getting the Revs commentators on this Direct Kick broadcast, and ex-Revs (also ex-United) goalkeeper Jeff Causey commemorated Ben this way: “Ben Olsen, a man whom many of his peers give...(pause)... (pause continues)...(pause becomes uncomfortably long)... (pause becomes comically long)... (pause becomes Obama-esque in length)...a grudging respect.”
3’ - Nick DeLeon has grown a pencil-thin moustache. Hmm...could the fact that United players are beginning to resemble John Waters be a sign that the team is moving to Baltimore?
12’ - Frantic pace to start, both teams playing aggressive defense. New England have had a series of crosses but United are defending them well.
14’ - Boskovic and some guy (Ryan Guy, specifically) bump heads. Thankfully, both appear okay. The injury gods like to take many players from the same position, so with De Ro out, Boskovic is an endangered species.
16’ - Simms’ shot is blocked, which gives us all a chance to think about Clyde Simms again. Welcome back, Clyde! Simms has inspired me to put together my All-No Hard Feelings team. These are players who played well here, left on good terms, and are still in the league.
Rimando | Wallace, James, Boswell, Barklage | Convey, Simms, Carroll, McCarty | ??, ??
This is a pretty good side, except I can’t think of a single recent striker whose departure wasn’t met with indifference at best and popping champagne corks at worst. Blake Brettschneider? That’s the closest I can get, but he didn’t play much. Adam Christman? He’s got that 2010 stink on him. If you can think of a single recent striker who didn’t thoroughly deserve his walking papers, leave it in the comments section.
23’ - Reis makes a nice save on a curling Boskovic free kick. Does anyone on earth look more like a goalkeeper than Matt Reis?
29’ - Goal New England! The Revs with a good quick counter, and United are a bit unlucky as the ball deflected off of Korb and past Hamid. Jakovic was caught out a bit, but that was more good offense than bad defense.
31’ - Goal United! Boskovic and Pontius combine for a goal, which is exactly what has to happen if we’re going to make the playoffs. Very nice finish. Meanwhile Jurgen Klinsmann is watching Make Way For Honey Boo Boo.
34’ - Lee Ngyu...Nyueg...Nwyegunn...Lee Win cuts inside and shoots just wide. Suddenly there is a ton of space in the midfield.
38’ - How did things go so wrong for Benny Feilhaber? The national team badly needs a possession-oriented, creative midfielder, and he hasn’t done anything to deserve a call-up. He’s on the bench for the Revs tonight.
42’ - Najar with a blistering shot from distance, and Jakovic nearly pokes home the rebound! When Russell is fully fit, I wonder if he gets his spot back.
Halftime: 1-1. If I was giving ratings out at this point, I would probably give everyone between a 5 and 5.5. United have been very punk rock: feisty but not refined.
52’ - Terrible giveaway from Pontius leads to a shot and a corner. That, Klinsmann will see.
55’ - Nguyen with an impressive sombrero — he’s been the Revs most dangerous player. Sports are strange: two years ago, who thought Nguyen would be a better player than Benny Feilhaber?
60’ - Santos gets one-on-one with Reis, but Reis makes the save! Santos has to finish that.
62’ - United are applying a lot of pressure. They haven’t scored, but they’re building up some karma.
63’ - Goal United! Instant karma from the sub, Lewis Neal! 2-1! Pontius set him up, and Neal one-timed a shot into the side netting. Can we hang on for 27 minutes?
78’ - Feilhaber with a shot into the wrong (or right) side of the netting. The defense fell asleep — Ben is not going to like that.
83’ - McDonald with a crucial block! United are playing the soccer version of the prevent defense, ceding the midfield and collapsing into the box.
86’ - Hamid with a series of great saves! Hamid keeping United in it as the defense is falling apart. It’s like a nude beach out there: nobody is covered.
Full time: 2-1. United survive! We got the three points we had to have. The Red Bulls beat Columbus, so now we’re back in a playoff spot.
Hamid: 8.5. Great flurry of saves in the 86th minute. If that happened in the 10th minute of a game that ended 3-0, we’d all just say “nice work,” but given the context, that was massive.
Korb: 5.5. A little ragged, but energetic.
Jakovic: 5.5. He steps forward without winning the ball a little too often.
McDonald: 6.5. New England sent in a lot of crosses, and he won a lot of headers.
Najar: 6. With no De Ro, we kind of have to get offense from our fullbacks, and Najar provides that.
Somebody (maybe more than one person) in the defense: -3 points. There was horrible communication in the last 15 minutes of the match but I can’t tell who was responsible.
Pontius: 6.5. Everyone seems to agree: in order for us to make the playoffs, Pontius has to be huge from now on. Good start.
Kitchen: 5.5. Has inherited Simms’ role of always scoring between 5 and 6. Maybe it’s the position.
DeLeon: 6. He’s playing a crucial role on this team. How many rookies can say that?
Boskovic: 5. He had to come off after 55; he was fading like the Back to the Future photo.
Santos: 5. Looked a bit rusty, but it’s good to have him back.
Pajoy: 4. I don’t know who would play in his place, but there is more than being a striker than tracking back. Ben knows that, right?
Neal: 6.5. That was a huge goal. When he’s not completely anonymous, he’s very good.
Salihi: 5.5. If he scored a bunch of goals between now and the end of the season, he could still justify his contract. But nobody on the coaching staff seems to think that’s going to happen.
Russell: 4. Good to have him back. Or maybe I should say: Good to have him back?