EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
So far, D.C. United is pretty much what we thought it was: good, a playoff team even, but not on the same level as the league’s top teams. Its results are getting pretty darned predictable. Away at West-leading (at the time) San Jose? Yeah, that’s probably a loss, and it was. At Toronto? Everybody beats Toronto (it’s the anti-Wiz), and we should, too. And we did. At the opening of Houston’s new stadium? Houston’s desire to be the center of attention at the big party they threw for themselves (they did everything but sing “Zou Bisou Bisou”) trumps our desire to wipe the smug smiles off their faces, so they win. Now United is in a stretch of three home games in 11 days against Colorado, Toronto and New England. Actually, that’s about 2.6 games – I’m not sure how much the one against Toronto counts. Even with injuries and the packed schedule, my prediction for this home stretch against two mediocre teams and one terrible one is seven points. Honestly, if United get less than six points on this homestand, I’ll be surprised.
Depth comes into play when injuries hit and the schedule gets packed. Well, both those things are happening now, so it’s time for United’s presumed depth (its two designated players have barely seen the field) to kick into gear. And Coach Ben Olsen is putting out a lineup with some seldom-used players. For the Colorado game, it’s Hamid | Korb, Woolard, McDonald, Russell | Neal, Kitchen, Najar, Boskovic | De Rosario, Salihi. I have to say: That’s not a bad lineup. That’s a lineup that can win. Kitchen completes his Lazarus-like return if Lazarus had just kind of tweaked his knee and Jesus brought him back with a really effective deep-tissue massage.
For seemingly the first time this season, United is playing a home game not in a monsoon, and we’re underway . . .
10’ — United isn’t a possession team like it was in, say, 2005-2006, but it holds the ball more than it used to. It’s kind of a possession team that occasionally loses discipline and resorts to the long ball. It’s like someone who is a very healthy eater until they pass a Popeyes, at which point they break down and undo all the good work they’ve done up to that point.
20’ — Conor Casey with a hard shot, but it’s well over the goal. Casey has grown what I can only describe as a Captain Jack Sparrow goatee. It looks villainous. Which makes sense: Casey has a reputation as a big, brutish target man, so he might as well embrace the role.
22’ — Salihi with, well, not a half chance, but maybe a three-sixteenths chance. My column is all about precise measurement.
24’ — GOAL UNITED! A nice finish from De Ro, but an even nicer through ball from Lewis Neal – he took four defenders out of the play with one pass. It’s crazy that just a few weeks ago some people were rumbling about De Ro not scoring goals. Well, he was playing in the midfield. Now he’s back at striker, and . . . goal. Happy now?
27’ — United with a flurry of chances, but Pickens makes a couple very good saves. Actually, I guess he made exactly one “flurry” worth of saves. Apparently, my obsession with precise measurement is over.
39’ — If the game keeps going like it’s going now, United is going to win. The field is tilted in its favor. It’s winning all the corners, getting all the chances. Unless something changes, it’s only a matter of time before we get a second.
44’ — Great mazy run by Najar leads to another save from Pickens. Najar has a little bit of Pele in him: whatever direction you think he’s going to go, he’s not.
Halftime: 1-0 United. I’m probably asking for a massive jinx here, but I think it’s worth pointing out: United hasn’t had a game ruined by a referee yet this year. Sure, there have been a few sketchy decisions, but nothing out of the ordinary. Actually, the fact that the referees haven’t done anything out of the ordinary is out of the ordinary for MLS.
48’ — Can we get a shirt sponsor for the Rapids? They’re playing in plain white shirts right now. I’m sure they’re holding out for someone good, but couldn’t they line up a small-time sponsor in the meantime? I’d love to see a professional team sponsored by Doggie Steps for even just a few weeks.
53’ — For the first time tonight, Hamid has to make a save. And he does! This is the part of the game where announcers are contractually obligated to praise the keeper for remaining alert, even though he’s a professional athlete being paid to perform and not a narcoleptic 3-year-old.
56’ — I’m getting nervous. United deserves to be two or three up by now, but Colorado is hanging around.
58’ — Russell is hurt and has to come out. United now officially has fewer than four healthy defenders. Najar will fill in at right back.
60’ — GOAL UNITED! 2-0! There’s the goal United deserves. Here’s the full buildup: Korb > De Rosario > Neal > Boskovic (shot saved) > Salihi. It’s always a good sign when several players touch the ball before you score. The typical 2010 United goal went: Mis-hit clearance > Allsopp.
61’ — Oh, and I’ll go ahead an say it: Salihi was offside. But it was one of those ones that was so close that you can’t be surprised when it doesn’t get called.
71’ — Boskovic is coming out, so it must be King coming in (it is). I say “must” because United only has two healthy guys on the bench.
74’ — Pickens and his defense have been fighting all night. If Pickens and his defense were hosting a dinner party, I would have made up an excuse to leave an hour ago.
80’ — Another United substitution that literally has to be Josh Wolff (and it is). Geez, if Kitchen’s injury had been serious, United wouldn’t have even had three players to substitute.
86’ — United is making this game nice and boring, which is fine by me. Good teams get boring wins sometimes. Bad teams have nail-biting wins and blowout losses.
89’ — There are probably about four minutes left in this game, which is the amount of time it took Manchester City to score two goals and win the Premier League title. Not that I think Colorado is going to score twice here; I just want to mention that game because . . . how amazing was that? I was floored. That was one of the most intense sporting events I have ever seen. When I meet a sports fan who doesn’t like soccer, I always think, “Hey, fine, your prerogative, but you’re missing out.” If you like sports, I don’t really understand why you would willingly miss out on what happened last weekend.
Full time: 2-0 United. If I were a Colorado fan, I would not be happy; they were off for 11 days and got smacked around by a team playing on three days rest.
Hamid: 5.5. I never know how to rate a goalkeeper when he has one of those Maytag Repairman kind of games. He did well in the air and didn’t trip over his own feet, so . . . 5.5 I guess?
Korb: 6. Remember to send him a card on National Serviceable Backups Day.
Woolard: 7. He’s been great as a center back – just great. He won a lot of big challenges today.
McDonald: 6. Steady as ever.
Russell: 5.5. Regular readers know that I’m not really enamored with Russell’s play, but United needs him and I hope his injury isn’t serious.
Neal: 5.5. Decent game, excellent assist.
Kitchen: 5.5. He’s a “does the little things well” kind of player, and the team is usually worse when he’s not out there.
Najar: 6. Contributed to the attack and didn’t dribble himself into too many corners.
Boskovic: 6.5. He lives! And he provided some excellent service on corner kicks.
De Rosario: 7.5. He got a full 10 minutes of rest tonight! How would that go over at your job: “Wow, you’re our top sales rep for the quarter! Take the next 10 minutes off – you deserve it.”
Salihi: 6. His look at the linesman after he scored was one of the most blatant “I’m guilty” looks I’ve ever seen. Three-year-olds who steal cookies look less guilty than Salihi looked in that moment.
Cruz: 6. Did a good job helping to kill off the game.
King: 5. The only players I’m not rating above average are the ones who came in at the end and didn’t have much to do. It was a good team effort tonight.
Wolff: 5. We’re only one or two injuries away from some weird lineup where Wolff plays left mid or something like that.