EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
Mentally, I’ve already given D.C. United three points for tonight’s match against Toronto. I know that I shouldn’t — there’s no such thing as a sure thing. I’m sure Bayern Munich didn’t think it was going to lose a home match to the sixth-best team in England. And even an “easy” win will require United’s players to expend more energy than I do in an average week. But I can liken the probability of United winning tonight to other things. The probability of United beating Toronto is equal to the probability of seeing an ad for rascal scooters during a rerun of “Monk.” The probability of United beating Toronto is equal to the probability of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got a Feeling” being played at a Bar Mitzvah (“mazel tov” is in the lyrics . . . the Peas are marketing geniuses). The probability of United beating Toronto is equal to the probability of somebody at work making that “can you hear me now?” joke whenever anything goes wrong with a conference call.
United’s depth pays off again, as Coach Ben Olsen is constricted to about 13 fully fit players but puts together a lineup that is still pretty good: Hamid | Korb, Woolard, McDonald, Najar | Boskovic, Kitchen, Cruz, De Rosario | Wolff, Salihi. Russell is injured, so Najar plays right back once again. But it’s against Toronto, so now is a good time to continue that experiment.
Here’s kickoff . . .
0’ — GOAL! The national anthem is still echoing through the stadium, and United is up 1-0! Boskovic with good service on a free kick and De Rosario heads it home! That’s the way it goes if you’re a Toronto fan this year: you’re not allowed even literally one minute of hope.
17’ — Andrew Dykstra, not Joe Willis, is the backup keeper today because Joe Willis has an eye contusion. Was Willis vodka eyeballing? Probably, because it is a new trend that is totally real and parents should be concerned about it.
24’ — Uh oh: Cruz is hurt. Obviously a hamstring pull. This is interesting: He’ll be replaced by the crown prince of hamstring pulls, Dejan Jakovic. The circle of life, people.
26’ — Actually, that is an interesting substitution because I did not think Jakovic was match fit. But, as with the Najar-at-right-back experiment, if you’re going to try something kind of iffy, tonight is the night to do it.
27’ — Outstanding bit of possession by United leads to one of the goals of the year if you were allowed to use your hands — Salihi punched the ball into the net. He’s trying to argue his way out of a yellow, but what do you really say there? “I forgot the rules”?
36’ — I think there are two big questions for United in this match: 1) Is Jakovic match fit, and 2) Will anyone else have to leave the match for United? If the answers are “yes” and “no,” then I think United is going to win.
38’ — Ole from Najar! He starts a sequence that, if Woolard had found Salihi, would have been a great goal. United is really playing some excellent passing soccer, although part of that is due to the fact that Toronto isn’t pressuring the ball well.
42’ — GOAL UNITED! 2-0! There’s that nice team goal that we’ve been building toward! The magic of DVR lets me recount the sequence: Hamid > McDonald > Korb > McDonald > Jakovic > Woolard > Salihi > Jakovic > Wolff > Korb > De Ro > GOAL! Eleven touches. In the category of focusing on the negative: Jakovic, Najar, Kitchen and Boskovic, where were you guys on that play?
45’ — The ball bounces to Toronto, but Terry Dunfield shoots wide. Toronto is very forgiving of mistakes. Very forgiving. It is downright Christlike in its forgiveness.
Halftime: 2-0 United. Some people say that a two-goal lead is the worst lead to have, but advanced statistical analysis has actually proven that the worst lead to have is a one-goal lead. The second-worst lead to have is a two-goal lead. The third-worst is a three-goal lead. The 347th-worst is a 347-goal lead.
46’ — Danny Koevermans, aka the Only Guy on the TFC Roster Who Can Score, is in for Toronto. So he’s either healthy again or Toronto is playing super fair because United has a not-quite-healthy player on the field in Dejan Jakovic. Those Canadians . . . so polite.
47’ — Speaking of politeness, can you imagine the treatment Toronto Coach Aron Winter would be getting if TFC was located in any other country in the world? TFC is 0-8, probably about to be 0-9. If TFC was in Scotland, Winter would have had a caber tossed on his house by now.
48’ — Is Ryan Johnson related to Eddie Johnson? Because he seems to have impressive physical tools but his touch is atrocious.
51’ — Houdini didn’t escape from small spaces as well as Dwayne De Rosario.
69’ — Now Woolard might have to come out . . . but no, he’s staying in. He kind of has to stay in (and let’s take a moment to point out that Woolard has been excellent lately). I don’t know if United has an equipment manager-cum-player like Ollie from Hoosiers, but if it does, he’s only one or two injuries from seeing the field.
70’ — Goal Toronto! 2-1. It’s The Only Guy on the TFC Roster Who Can Score, Danny Koevermans. The ability to score is a trait like blue eyes: You kind of either have it or you don’t.
72’ — Goal United! 3-1! Hamdi Salihi! Let’s mentally go back to 2010 and remember what it’s like to be a terrible, terrible soccer team. Part of being a terrible team is that the second you have even the faintest glimmer of hope, that glimmer is stomped on repeatedly by muddy jackboots.
75’ — De Ro starts a nice counter and Salihi could have ended it, but it’s another save for Milos! It’s a good thing United only plays TFC twice this year, because I have no problem going back to that joke at least once per match).
81’ — The game is opening up now. United is tired and Toronto is desperate. United has brought on Saragosa and King to help kill off the match.
88’ — And United is, in fact, killing off the match. It has the pillow firmly over TFC’s face at the moment. This is another sign that United is becoming a better team: When it has a lead, it’s learning how to keep the ball and work the clock.
Full time: 3-1 United. United looked like a good team again tonight, if only in relation to the train wreck lined up on the other side of the field. Toronto needs to at least work a tie in there — right now a non-MLS fan would probably look at Toronto’s 0-9 record and think, “Oh, I guess MLS brought back shootouts.”
Hamid: 6. I’m boosting his score a bit because of a save he made on a play that was offside, which probably shouldn’t count, but he had so little to do that I’m looking for any data points I can find.
Korb: 6.5. Was right in the middle of the nice second goal.
Woolard: 6.5. Has become an invaluable part of the defense.
McDonald: 5.5. Played well but should have been with Koevermans on the goal.
Najar: 7.5. He was a menace, both from right mid and right back. He seems to be getting his confidence back (I won’t say “groove” because I am not a sassy middle-aged woman).
Boskovic: 6. Nice to finally get some production out of him, but it’s yet to be seen if it will be enough to keep him around when his contract is up this summer.
Kitchen: 6. He’s like shellfish at a cheap restaurant: gritty.
Cruz: 5. I’ve learned not to try to diagnose hamstring injuries based on how much a player hops around or grimaces the second after it happens. But if we were diagnosing that way, then Danny Cruz’s career is over.
De Rosario: 8. He plays well against his old teams. Good thing that two thirds of the league are his old teams.
Wolff: 5.5. Nice to have him as a fourth striker — he can still play.
Salihi: 6. Strikers are weird: it’s not that they play better and start scoring; they start scoring and then play better.
Jakovic: 6. It seems that the Jak is back (or “the Jakovic is backovic,” if you prefer), which is huge not only because he’s a good player, but also because now Olsen can actually put together a back four where everyone is playing his natural position.
Saragosa: 5. Effective in killing off the match.
King: 5. Ditto.