This is my first opening day as a New Yorker (or, technically, a New Jerseyan — I live one block away from J-Wow and Snooki. That is not a joke). I miss D.C. I miss being in a city with trees, I miss being able to park. Sometimes I even miss the tourists. I’m feeling a bit homesick tonight; this is the first home opener I’ve missed since 2005. So, to all of you at the game craning your neck to see around a gigantic flag, having beer thrown on you, and fending off random RFK-raccoon attacks: that all sounds great. I wish I was there with you.
We get our first real look at Hamdi Salihi tonight against Sporting Kansas City. Let’s not all look at once, though — we need to play it cool. Let’s take turns doing the “oh I was just looking at something else on your side of the room and you happened to be there” thing. It works for checking out attractive people — it’ll work here.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, McDonald, Jakovic, Russell | Pontius, Kitchen, Boskovic, Najar | De Rosario, Salihi. It’s the lineup that everyone thought we would see, except that McDonald is in Dudar’s spot. Although I guess I should refer to it as “McDonald’s spot” — he certainly played well enough last year to earn it.
Here’s kickoff, and the 2011 season is underway...
1’ - First touch from Salihi, and he wins a corner kick. What a player! Great signing! Cheering for a new signing is like cheering for your child: you so want them to succeed that you overemphasize every good thing they do. I guess the main difference is that I would turn on a new signing after a couple bad games, whereas it would take at least seven or eight bad games for me to turn on my child.
10’ - McDonald has gone full-Djibril Cisse with his hair, thus breaking the unwritten rule that crazy hair is reserved for attacking players.
15’ - United are having a terrible time playing the ball out of the back. They’ve also played a few 40-yard back passes, known ‘round these parts as the “Erpen”.
19’ - I’m used to Robbie Russell having hair and a beard, but he is completely clean-shaven tonight. Fashion choice, or adult-onset alopecia? Hard to say.
21’ - I like Tony Limarzi; I think he knows the team and calls a good game. But he speaks with the speed and rhythm of characters in a 1930s Frank Capra film.
26’ - Najar gets free in the right channel, and United follow up by playing it backwards and then losing possession. Frustrating — like making a nice dinner and then just giving up and eating Spaghetti O’s straight out of the can instead.
39’ - Nice combo from De Ro and Pontius leads to a shot just wide. That was the first real soccer of the season for United.
44’ - Great save from Hamid! Strange save — he jumped and ended up making the save with his feet. I, however, remained firmly planted on the couch, in perfect position to type this sentence with my hands.
Halftime: 0-0. Don’t worry folks: it’ll get better than that. It has to. That was a scruffy first half, but it’s the very first half of the season. I mean, who am I to criticize: the jokes in the first half of this recap weren’t that great, either. We’re warming up here.
46’ - I actually have a show after the game tonight (the city that never sleeps - or gets up early for work - folks). I’m not used to doing shows after matches. If United lose, I’ll be in a bad mood during my set, and soon afterwards the audience will be, too.
51’ - United can’t play the ball out of the back to save their lives. Most of the blame goes to the back line, but Kitchen also needs to do more to make himself available.
54’ - From certain camera angles I can still see lines on the turf from the annual Burn The Yardlines Into The Grass With An Industrial Strength Laser Bowl.
58’ - I hope everyone watching enjoys grit and hustle, because that’s all that’s on display in this match. If this match was food it’d be potatoes on noodles on rice — all foundation, no flavor.
65’ - Wolff in for Boskovic. We’ll see if that makes a difference — United didn’t hold possession with Boskovic in midfield, but I’m not sure how much of that was his fault.
70’ - Kamara with a great chance for a header, but he somehow misses it. United are only staying alive due to Kansas City’s poor finishing.
72’ - Cruz in for Pontius — it’s Cruz’s D.C. United debut. Najar will play on the left for the first time I can remember.
79’ - Salihi comes out and Maicon Santos comes in — it’s Santos’ D.C .United debut, as well. Ben can swap the attacking players around all he wants, it makes no difference. The defense can’t get the ball to that part of the field.
83’ - Santos takes a nice free kick, but Nielsen holds it. I think that’s United’s first shot on goal.
87’ - United free Maicon Santos, but he fires it over the VW Pavillion. He may be just a little amped up.
90’ + 2’ - GOAL KC! I knew it — I knew it. United were playing way too poorly to not get punished. Sports karma won’t allow you to get beat that badly without actually getting beat. What an crappy way to start the season.
FULL TIME: 0-1, United lose. This won’t be published until Monday, so my retroactive apologies to anyone who saw me at Triple Crown on Saturday night - I’m about to deliver an angry and ragged set.
Hamid: 8. Was two minutes away from a stellar fantasy league game, but had to settle for a very good actual league game.
Woolard: 3. He got beat badly for pace, but we knew that was going to happen as soon as we saw the lineup cards. What I didn’t expect was so much trouble playing the ball out of the back and losing his man on the goal.
McDonald: 4. Resorted to long balls too quickly.
Jakovic: 4.5. He’s normally an excellent passer for a center back, but he played a lot of bad balls tonight.
Russell: 4. A bit of a jittery start; lots of tiny mistakes. Was as responsible as anyone on the back line for not linking up with the midfield.
Pontius: 5. If there’s one positive to take from this match, it’s that Pontius looked healthy.
Kitchen: 4. He has to do more to help United keep possession.
Boskovic: 4. His first touch was rusty, though he was one of the few players whose passing was decent.
Najar: 3.5. Way too much dribbling — he would sometimes beat two men only to be dispossessed by the third.
De Rosario: 4.5. The down side of moving De Ro closer to goal is that he can disappear if we can’t control the ball.
Salihi: 5. Looked lively and sharp. Would have been interesting to see him touch the ball more than three times in 90 minutes.
Wolff: 5. Like Boskovic, he couldn’t create chances for the strikers, but at least he was active.
Cruz: 5. I remember him playing some good defense; I don’t remember him having the ball.
Santos: 4. I think that shot in the 87th minute might have hit the Frank Howard seat in the upper deck.