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Posted at 06:59 PM ET, 05/07/2012

Soccer Outsider: United vs.Toronto match diary, player ratings


Well struck, Hamdi Salihi. Well struck. (Chris Young - AP)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.

After being flattened by a good San Jose team last week, it was a good time for D.C. United to have Toronto on the schedule. Actually, there’s no bad time to have Toronto on the schedule, because it’s terrible at 0-7-0. I was depressed that Toronto ended up being MLS’s last team standing in the CONCACAF Champions League. (How did it qualify to begin with? Did it win an essay contest?) I was about as happy to have Toronto represent MLS as I am to have Snooki and the Situation represent my current home state of New Jersey. It’s just embarrassing — you want to yell to the world, “We’re better than that!” And even Snooki probably would have played better defense than Miguel Aceval did in that second leg against Santos Laguna.

I’m watching this game on the Toronto feed via Direct Kick, and United Coach Ben Olsen’s lineup has completely baffled the graphics guy, who put Perry Kitchen at left back and Andy Najar at attacking mid. To be fair, this is an unorthodox lineup. But I’m pretty sure they’ll line up this way: Hamid | Korb, Woolard, McDonald, Najar | Kitchen, Neal, Cruz, De Rosario | Pontius, Santos. I’m telling you: Olsen is reading my blog. I said Bill Hamid should start this match over Joe Willis, and he is. I questioned Robbie Russell’s spot in the lineup, and now he’s on the bench (though that may be because of a hamstring issue). Clearly, I have the coach’s ear. So let me capitalize on that fact: Ben, you should make sure that your beard is all nappy and scraggly before the Columbus match just to stick a finger in the eye of Barbasol, their sponsor. Make sure you plan far enough ahead to make that happen. You know, a day and a half or so.

Here’s kickoff from BMO field. Remember when Toronto were a new team and it liked to brag about how great its fan support was? Well, after five years of losing soccer, the atmosphere at BMO appears much more tepid.

6’ — Pontius is pushed in the box, but no call! That looked like a penalty to me. The offender: history’s greatest monster, Torsten “Handball” Frings. Don’t ever forget.

17’ — United is in a stretch where it’s defending well but can’t clear. Toronto need a win — it came to play.

23’ — Kitchen needs to be just a little sharper with his passing. He’ll often play it to the right player on the wrong foot.

25’ — Having Najar at right back is generating a lot of offense. A lot of United’s forward movement is coming through Najar.

34’ — First real chance of the game for either team as Ashtone Morgan gets behind the United defense, but some bad decision-making by Toronto plus a good save by Hamid snuffs out the threat.

35’ — Straight to the other end, and Santos has a shot saved by United draftee Milos Kocic (another save for Milos!). Santos has a Howitzer for a left foot and his right foot is, um . . . the stand for the Howitzer.

41’ — After watching Lewis Neal this half I want to say that he should fade back into obscurity, but he’s pretty obscure right now. It’s hard to imagine him being more anonymous or irrelevant than he is on the left flank at the moment.

42’ — Toronto gets a gift free kick 30 yards out, but it’s polite enough to put the shot right into the wall. Canadians.

Halftime: 0-0. Bad teams are like negligent parents: they never dole out any punishment for mistakes. And United is making mistakes: going into challenges weakly, sloppy in possession, not clearing the ball well. If United was a child at the mall you’d want Toronto to step in and take control, but it keeps letting D.C. get away with everything.

46’ — I ripped on Neal, and Neal comes out at halftime. Boskovic is in. I’d like to point out that I’m not serious about thinking that Olsen is taking cues from this blog. Although if Olsen is running low on Nick DeLeon hair jokes he could do worse than to check this space.

50’ — From what I saw in the Champions League, the weak part of Toronto’s team — I’m sorry, the weakest part of Toronto’s team — is the defense. It’s a shame that United isn’t really pressuring the Toronto back four.

53’ — A bad giveaway by Kocic, and Cruz nearly chips him for a goal! Like I said: I think Toronto’s defense will crack under pressure.

54’ — Handball on the line! Or I should say: Handball on the line? I’d need to see the replay. But it sure looked like one. It wasn’t Frings, but on the other hand (wordplay!) — arrest Torsten Frings! Seriously: if someone gets eaten and Hannibal Lecter is around, you’re not question witnesses and collect forensic evidence — the man has a record! Guilty! Guilty!
54’ — GOAL UNITED! Pontius with an outstanding left-footed shot into the upper 90! Great goal! That’s the main difference between Toronto and United: D.C. has players who can provide moments of real quality and Toronto doesn’t.

55’ — They showed the replay of the sequence that preceded the goal, and yeah: that should have been a penalty kick and a red card on Reggie Lambe. Actually, it was a carbon copy of the Torsten Frings handball (have I linked to that recently?). Lambe should have a red card, and just for the heck of it: they should give Frings a retroactive red card for 2002. What’s the statute of limitations on a red card?

64’ — Stephen King comes on for Pontius. That’s a strange substitution — I wonder if Pontius picked up an injury.

66’ — Frings is coming out with an injury. It looks like a collarbone . . . which is kind of close to the arm. Hmm . . . could that be a Tell-Tale Heart sort of injury brought on by guilt over Lambe’s handball?

72’ — GOAL UNITED! 2-0! It’s Hamdi Salihi (who came on for Santos) with a well-taken scissor kick. That’s a great goal — a real fox-in-box kind of goal. That’s the player we thought that we bought.

79’ — Toronto played hard and yet it's still going to lose this game. It’s a miserable time to be associated with Toronto FC. And yet I have no empathy for their team or their fans whatsoever. Seriously: I am exhibiting a lack of empathy that Stanley Milgram would find disturbing. Maybe it’s because United went through its own horrible stretch so recently, or maybe it’s because I’m a terrible person. Either way: cry me a river, TFC. These are our three points.

90’ — I should probably mention that Toronto have come close to scoring several goals in the past few minutes, but I believe it’s going to score about as much as I believe that Charlie Brown is going to kick that football.

Full time: 2-0, United. It was a pretty even match, but the bottom line is that D.C. has players who can finish and Toronto doesn’t.

Player ratings

Hamid: 5.5. Did well except for his habit of punching everything instead of catching.

Korb: 6. He’s a quality sub — on some teams he could start. I don’t have visions of impending doom when he enters a match.

Woolard: 6.5. Did much better in the middle than Russell or Kitchen.

McDonald: 6.5. Toronto’s attackers are small and speedy, but thankfully McDonald’s isn’t just big: he’s fast as well.

Najar: 6.5. I would rate the Najar-at-right-back experiment a big success so far. But it’d be interesting to see if it works against a better team.

Neal: 3. Not a good game, but he’s obviously showing something in training because Olsen uses him more than any of us expected.

Kitchen: 4.5. He normally wins a ton of balls in midfield but was a little off his game vs. Toronto.

Cruz: 4.5. Was tied up with defensive duties and didn’t provide much offense.

De Rosario: 5.5. He had an off game — honestly, much of the team had an off game. But it came at the right time and United still won.

Pontius: 6.5. Fantastic finish. His goals reel doesn’t include too many tap-ins.

Santos: 3.5. Again, an off game from a key player, but it didn’t matter.

Boskovic: 5. His biggest contribution was some pretty effective service on set pieces.

King: 5.5. Like Korb, he’s a good role player. But in 2010 he was the linchpin of the attack at times.

Salihi: 6.5. That was a very well-taken goal. Let’s note that Josh Wolff was probably United’s best striker last year, and he’s not getting minutes. Suddenly, D.C. has some depth up top.

By Jeff Maurer  |  06:59 PM ET, 05/07/2012

 
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