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Posted at 12:51 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Soccer Outsider: United-Red Bulls diary, player ratings


Chris Pontius 3, Red Bulls 1. (Patrick Smith - GETTY IMAGES)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.

Allow me to comment (and in the digital media age nothing — including ignorance or the bounds of good taste — can stop me from commenting) on Steven Goff’s recent article about United Coach Ben Olsen’s tough lineup decisions. My comment is this: boo hoo. This is the problem we dreamed about having back in the days of the King-Morsink engine room. I just looked back at United’s 2010 roster and had the soccer equivalent of a Vietnam flashback. The horror. The horror. I’m all for a Darwinian locker room; competition leads to better, more motivated players.

Right now, United is working the way the rest of the world should work: performance is rewarded, not money or pedigree. True, there’s a lot of subjectivity in evaluating soccer players (except for my player ratings, which are mathematically unassailable and I have the two-column proofs to prove it), but I don’t think most fans are baffled by Olsen’s decisions. Hamdi Salihi is not playing well, so he sits. Joe Willis is playing well, so he plays. Salihi is apparently not sitting well, which — counterintuitively — leads to more sitting. This isn’t a career-decisions-of-late-period-Marlon-Brando situation here, where the logic behind the choices is a mystery to all except the fevered mind pulling the strings.

Olsen could have made me look like a real moron by turning in a bizarre lineup for Sunday night’s game against the Red Bulls — perhaps with Josh Wolff in goal and his 3-year-old daughter at striker — but instead it’s more or less what we expected: Willis | Woolard, Dudar, McDonald, Russell | DeLeon, Kitchen, Cruz, De Rosario | Pontius, Santos. I’m a little surprised to see Pontius still in there; I didn’t think he played that well against Montreal (though I do think he was our second-best player last year, so I’m glad he’s in the lineup). Dudar is apparently healthy enough to go. Note: all that depth we’ve been talking about does not apply to the back line.

It’s free hypothermia night at a rainy RFK Stadium, and we’re underway . . .

1’ — Adrian Healy starts the match by noting that United is on a three-game unbeaten streak, when actually the number is five. Great job, ESPN! Who does your research — King Arthur from Monty Python’s Holy Grail?

5’ — DeLeon has cornrowed his hair, probably in response to the brutal taunting I have been giving him. (Five minutes in and already it’s Brando references: 2, Python references: 2. I sense a high-scoring match).

7’ — GOAL UNITED! 1-0. It’s Pontius with a great individual effort, picking Henry’s pocket in midfield, surging through the Red Bulls’ defense and firing past the keeper. I can hear Albanian curse words coming from the bench.

12’ — No jokes in the 12th minute, as we observe a moment of silence for Barra Brava’s Chico Solares, who passed away this week.

16’ — Taylor Twellman on the United-Red Bulls rivalry: “History . . . it’s what MLS is all about.” Um, sorry Taylor — no. MLS is one of the youngest leagues in the world — its oldest moments are concurrent with affordable cellphones and dial-up internet.

25’ — United is dominating this match. Where was this team on Wednesday? And by “this team,” I mean the Red Bulls and their crappy, apathetic defense. Montreal was much better.

31’ — GOAL UNITED! Here’s where stats are misleading: Pontius gets the tally, but it’s Santos’s goal. Santos did great work holding off several Red Bulls defenders — who for some reason chose to attack one at a time like ninjas in a kung fu movie — and getting the ball into the box. Red Bull defender Connor Lade — who has one of the best rich-kid-in-a-slobs-versus-snobs-comedy names I’ve ever heard — was unlucky to deflect the ball right into Pontius’s path.

35’ — GOAL UNITED! DeLeon! It’s getting ugly as the weather for the Red Bulls. Nice work by our Ds — De Rosario and DeLeon — on the goal, but terrible work by the Red Bulls D, whose work on that play should have been accompanied by cartoon slide-whistles and old-timey car horns.

36’ — In one way, 3-0 is not what we deserve; United has been good, but not three goals better. In another way, 3-0 is exactly what the fans of this team — who have suffered through a lot of bad soccer and maddening losses in the last few years — deserve. It’s fair that this is happening on a rainy night when only the hardcore fans are in attendance. They’ve stuck with this team through the bad times, so now they’re getting the reward.

Halftime: 3-0. Here’s a fun game: rank the following things from worst to least bad. A) the Red Bulls’ defense; B) the Russo-Japanese War; C) That book of poems by Jewel ( buy it now!); D) tuberculosis; E) Brando’s performance in “The Island of Doctor Moreau” (it’s 3-2 Brando!). The answers are subjective, but the Red Bulls’ defense is neither first nor last on that list.

49’ — DeLeon feeds De Ro, but De Ro’s shot is wide. People are starting to notice that De Ro hasn’t scored a goal yet this year, but I’m not worried. He’s playing deeper in midfield, he has a bunch of assists (that’s my research: ”a bunch”) and the team is winning. I’m watching the games — he’s not lighting it up like he was last year, but he’s playing just fine.

52’ — Healy points out Dudar was Swiss defender of the year in 2010. Aren’t the mountains the Swiss defender of the year, that year and every year?

58’ — This game is boring right now — the great kind of boring. It’s great-boring just like being a middle-class, suburban American is great-boring; it’s boring because things are easy and generally positive, which is great.

60’ — Dudar is yelling something at Russell. Does Russell speak Spanish, or is Dudar’s English getting better? If it’s English, I’m sure Russell’s thinking, “Oh good, now it’s not just McDonald yelling at me all the time.” If it’s Spanish, I’ll be it somehow sounds sexy.

65’ — King comes in for De Ro. That’s a 100 percent “this game is over” substitution. Good, save De Ro’s legs. Get King some minutes.

68’ — GOAL UNITED! 4-0; it’s a bloodbath! Pontius gets a hat trick! Another great individual effort by Pontius, similar to the first goal in that he picked up the ball in midfield and sliced through the defense. Could things get any worse for the Red Bulls? We can only hope.

71’ — D’oh! Goal New York. Henry with a very nice free kick. 4-1. Henry puts on his “no big deal” face, except right now I think it’s sincere.

82’ — Healy points out that Russell appeared in Champions League match in 2004 featuring Arsenal and Thierry Henry. What? Really? Was he streaking? (the Google Machine tells me it was when he played for the Norwegian club Rosenborg).

Full-time: 4-1 United. I guy I work with — who may very well be the nicest guy in the world — is a big Red Bulls fan. Man, I can’t wait to rub this in his face.

Player ratings:

Willis: 6. Sorry, Bill: I think you’re on the bench until Willis does something wrong.

Woolard: 6. On a night when the Red Bulls turned in the worst defensive performance since the Maginot Line, we should appreciate a guy like Woolard, who can check the “competent defender” box after most matches.

Dudar: 6. I haven’t been too high on Dudar, but he’s been getting progressively better (makes sense: he had a long layoff) and played his best game for United against the Red Bulls.

McDonald: 6. Did a good job containing Cooper, who’s physical, and Henry, who’s quick.

Russell: 5.5. In that Champions League match in 2004, Arsenal beat Rosenborg 5-1. So things went a bit better for Russell against New York.

DeLeon: 7. I like the cornrows, like the decision-making and like the skill.

Kitchen: 5.5. Kitchen does a lot of dirty work, so here’s the headline of your next feature, Steve Goff: The Kitchen is Dirty. You’re welcome.

Cruz: 5.5. Ooo, here’s another: On Cruz Control. You owe me two favors, Goff.

De Rosario: 5.5. Glad he was able to get some rest.

Pontius: 8. He actually had a kind of hit-and-miss game aside from, you know, scoring three times as many goals as the other team. Great to see him playing well.

Santos: 6. One thing I like about Santos is that he defies stereotypes. He’s not one of those speedy, back-heeling, joga-bonito Brazilians. He’s a big, plodding, target guy. If Jeremy Lin gets credit for breaking the mold, then Santos should, too.

King: 4.5. Glad he got some minutes. I make a lot of jokes about the backups, but backups are important and they need to be sharp.

Salihi: 4.5. Maybe the only negative from this match: Salihi still hasn’t made an imprint.

Neal: No rating. Hmmm, two appearances in a row. Maybe he’s showing something in training.

By Jeff Maurer  |  12:51 PM ET, 04/24/2012

 
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