D.C. United’s game Saturday night against Real Salt Lake had more red flags than a Soviet parade. Road game, quality opponent, short rest, key injuries, altitude: red flag, red flag, red flag, red flag, red flag. Maybe I’m a pessimistic person — actually, there’s no “maybe” about it — but I’m not loving United’s chances tonight.
This game was delayed by lighting for 84 minutes. It was a little like having a fire drill during a math test; for a minute you wonder if some way, any way, you can somehow get out of this. Don’t things close early in Salt Lake City? Maybe if we get past 9 p.m. they’ll send everyone home. I mean, a lot of the crowd don’t drink caffeine, so we need to wrap this up early, right?
But no, they’re going to play. United’s lineup is: Hamid | Korb, Jakovic, Dudar, McDonald | DeLeon, Kitchen, Saragosa, Pontius | De Rosario, Pajoy. Tonight’s right back is Brandon McDonald. Forty percent of United’s outfield players have played right back for United within the past year.
Here’s kickoff. You have to hand it to the RSL fans: there are still good numbers in the crowd despite the delay. Salt Lake is a very religious city; I guess they’re not worried about getting struck down by a bolt from the heavens.
5’ — Match the player with his reason for not being in United’s starting lineup: 1) Najar, 2) Boskovic, 3) Gaetjens, 4) Woolard, 5) Maurer, 6) Salihi, 7) Santos. A) Pulled hamstring, B) Abscessed tooth, C) Not good at soccer, D) Concussion, E) Virus, F) Toe Soreness, G) Dead for four decades. (answers: 1-B, 2-E, 3-G, 4-D, 5-C, 6-A, 7-F).
9’ — Espindola with a hard shot from distance, Hamid makes a good save and then punches away the ensuing corner. I really hope Hamid plays well, because — in case you didn’t hear — he and I are now Twitter BFFs. I do not want to criticize that guy — he’s huge. Why couldn’t it have been Chris Korb, who is listed at 5 feet 9 (5-9? Was he wearing stripper heels at the time? See: that’s the type of joke I feel comfortable making about guys who are smaller than me and don’t know what I’m saying about them).
11’ — Pontius gets the ball in the left half of the penalty area and tries to cut back to his right, but it’s blocked. I think it was Beltran. Congratulations, Tony Beltran: after four seasons and about a dozen far-post goals, you are the first defender to figure out that Pontius likes to cut back to his right foot in that situation. Other teams fell for that move with Washington Generals-level gullibility.
21’ — Here’s my take on Pajoy: he’s fine. He does a lot of things well. He holds the ball, his movement is good, his touch isn’t bad. He’s above-average in the air. I have no idea how he finishes because I can’t think of a single chance he’s had to finish with his feet. He seems like a third striker on a good team.
23’ — After a call goes against him, De Ro slams the ball down and is lucky not to get a card. That was very lucky; that’s a yellow four times out of five. And with one more card, De Ro has to sit out a match. I’m looking at the schedule now, and . . . hmmmm. I would bet the farm on a yellow card for De Ro late in the match against Philadelphia on Sept. 20, three days before we play Chivas at home. It’s unlikely De Ro goes the whole rest of the season without a card, so . . . Union players be on your toes Sept. 20.
24’ — Now Morales gets a card for a foul on De Ro. It’s late, players are cranky. It’s way past their bedtime.
27’ — Pajoy hustles to corral a long ball, plays it to De Ro, and De Ro sends a shot off the post! Rimando got a touch; we can’t seem to play 90 minutes against Nick Rimando without him providing a moment that makes us regret that trade.
39’ — This has been a well-played game for two tired teams playing in the rain after a long delay. These MLS-ers are earning their $16/hour.
42’ — Johnson with a long shot, Hamid does well to not give up a rebound. It’s wet and windy out there — perfect conditions for a goalkeeping error.
43’ — I’m often hard on John Harkes, but he’s making a good point about United’s back line dropping too deep. They’re pushing up slowly and inviting Salt Lake into the box; I’ll bet that’s a symptom of tired legs.
Halftime: 0-0. It’s not fun cheering for a 0-0 tie; kind of like watching a kung fu movie and cheering for everyone to solve their difference through rational discourse. But 0-0 would be fine; I’ll take a point.
48’ — Well, that pipe dream is over: Goal RSL! Will Johnson stuck his $5 haircut into the mix and headed home a cross. Well, great: now we need a goal, and that’s looking pretty unlikely at the moment.
56’ — Good work from Pajoy creates a chance, but the afterthought in the Freddy Adu trade makes the save.
60’ — Salt Lake have a goal called back for a pretty obvious push. It must be lawyer night at Rio Tinto, because the crowd is pushing their case hard on every single play.
66’ — Real Salt Lake calls their color “claret.” The Redskins are “burgundy.” Washington State calls it “crimson”. I guess “maroon” doesn’t do well with focus groups; nobody says “maroon.” I’m not sure what Boston College calls it; probably “Cabernet” or “Moroccan sunrise.”
74’ — Pajoy gets a ball behind the defense but he can’t decide whether to control or shoot. At least I assume he couldn’t decide; I have to believe “let the ball roll innocuously off your foot” wasn’t an intentional decision.
76’ — De Ro strikes an outstanding free kick, but Not Zach Wells (remember Zach Wells? No? Yeah, I wiped that memory, too) gets over and makes the save.
79’ — Maicon Santos comes in to the game — welcome back! Man, do we need him. Toe injuries are lousy injuries because you sound like a wuss - “Oh, your widdle piggy is hurt? Which one? Roast Beef?” But in reality they’re very painful, and there’s a lot of feet in this version of football.
80’ — Hamid makes a great save to keep United in it! Between Hamid and Rimando you have two of the best reflex ’keepers in MLS playing tonight.
84’ — Some pushing between Johnson and some United players on the sideline. Ha, go for it! Red card Robbie Russell, he’s not even in the match! United should keep one unavailable player on the sidelines at all times just to stir up trouble.
90’ + 2’ — Corner kick, last chance for United. United has played tough but it’s just too tired and don’t have the right personnel available. And . . . the corner kick is cleared and the game is over.
1-0, Real Salt Lake. Five points in six games. That’s not really “free fall,” but it is tumbling down the mountain head over heels and hoping your skis don’t whack you in the head.
Hamid: 7.5. And that’s an honest 7.5, not a “please don’t read this and hunt me down” 7.5.
Korb: 6. Part of the reason I am not afraid of Chris Korb is that I have been very positive on him in this blog. I think he’s a good player.
Dudar: 5.5. Solid defense, positioning was slightly spotty.
Jakovic: 6.5. Anticipated the game well. Send him back to us in one piece, Canada.
McDonald: 6.5. Did well as a right back. He actually got forward and played a few crosses.
Pontius: 5. The past few matches haven’t been his best. It could be that defenses are keying in on him, it could be fatigue or it could be coincidence.
Kitchen: 6. He’s racking up a lot of mileage very quickly. Young soccer players don’t get the same kid-gloves treatment as, say, Stephen Strasburg.
Saragosa: 5.5. I’d like him to return to his role of helping lock things down after we have a lead.
DeLeon: 5.5. Decent game, but grown your hair back, Sideshow Samson.
De Rosario: 6. United either needs a more creative midfield or needs De Ro deeper in the midfield.
Pajoy: 5.5. He’s serviceable; I am not anti-Pajoy. But I think Santos gets his spot back.
Santos: No rating.
Neal: No rating.