Soccer Outsider: D.C. United-Columbus match diary, player ratings

October 23, 2012

D.C. United hasn’t been to the MLS playoffs since 2007. Let’s think back to 2007: George W. Bush was president, and Hillary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee. HD-DVD players were sold in stores. Companies would still advertise the fact that their latest phone HAD A CAMERA IN IT!!! Robert Griffin III was in high school. You could turn on Nickelodeon and see Chris Brown. Mood rings and disco were all the rage. The Soviets launched Sputnik. A bottle of nerve tonic cost 10 cents. It was a long time ago.

United could change all that with a win or a tie against Columbus on Saturday. There are many other scenarios that would have gotten United into the playoffs, but they’re so complicated that I would hope any athlete — when confronted with numbers and tree diagrams and words like “contingent” — would simply punch his locker and yell: “AAARRRGH, ME NO LIKE NUMBERS! EASIER TO JUST WIN GAME!” Which is the right attitude.

Saturday’s lineup: Hamid | Korb, Jakovic, McDonald, Najar | DeLeon, Saragosa, Kitchen, Pontius | Pajoy, Santos. For what it’s worth: if United makes the playoffs, I think it’s virtually impossible that Ben Olsen gets canned in the offseason. So you know he’s not putting out lineups to send messages or prove a point; he wants to win.

Here’s kickoff from a “sold out” RFK (19,647). Incidentally, I have also capped capacity in my apartment, so I am watching from a sold-out living room of myself, my wife and my dog.

2’ - Jakovic was left out of Canada’s 8-1 flaming trainwreck against Honduras over the weekend. That’s good for United, partly because he’s rested and partly because he doesn’t have eight-goals-conceded stink all over him.
5’ - Looks like this is one of those MLS games where the incompetent cameraman (or incompetent camerawoman — incompetence knows no gender!) frames the game so tight that you can’t see what’s going on. The charitable way to describe this camera work would be “Hitchcockian”: It’s suspenseful because you never know who might be lurking just outside the frame.
6’ – Goal Columbus! Jakovic was at fault there; he let the move develop by keeping Williams onside. Maybe that’s why he was benched by Canada in favor of guys who conceded eight goals.
8’ - Pontius goes down in the box but there’s no call! It was at the top of the box, and I thought Pontius would get that “free kick outside the box” compromise that referees love so much. But we get nothing.
17’ - The ball is pink. Bill Hamid’s jersey is pink. Apparently it is Susan G. Komen breast cancer awareness day. Doesn’t it seem like every day is breast cancer awareness day these days? Obviously, stopping breast cancer is important, but…can can mouth cancer or rectal cancer get a shout-out every now and then?
21’ - Santos sends it through the box but Pajoy can’t get to it! United is finding space on the wings but Columbus is packing the box.
24’ - The energy in this match is intense. I’ve been watching English soccer all day, and this match is probably more intense than Tottenham-Chelsea or Manchester United-Stoke. And those were both good matches.
28’ - The last ball is not there right now for United. Everything else is.
29’ - Here’s a secret if you’re guarding Andy Najar: He’s going to the end line. He’s not cutting it back. Ever. He is going to the end line.
30’ - Eddie Gaven’s beard has progressed from “prospector-y” to “a flat-out affront to Barbasol’s sponsorship of the Crew”. I approve.
34’ - Deflected shot from Santos goes over the bar! United looks likely to score an ugly goal.
38’ – GOAL UNITED! It’s Nick “Kings of” DeLeon (any takers on that nickname? No? Fair enough)! The Crew started the move with a blown clearance, Pajoy collected it and made his first contribution of the night (he’s been awful) by forcing Gruenbaum to parry it into DeLeon’s path! It’s his sixth goal of the year, which Dave Johnson says is some sort of United rookie record that nobody cares about.
40’ - Goal Columbus! 2-1! United is unlucky, as a shot by Arietta goes off the post, hits Bill Hamid in the heel and goes into the net. Great shot by Arietta, but poor job by Jakovic to let him shoot. Jakovic has been fine this match except for the two plays that led to goals.
Halftime: 2-1 Columbus. This match is intense; both teams are going all out. I don’t know whether I should be impressed by the intensity or disappointed that they don’t do this all the time.
50’ - Korb is getting in great spots but his crossing has been lousy.
54’ - Great work from United, but Pajoy misses the header! I’m sorry: get Pajoy out of there. He’s the weak link.
59’ – GOAL UNITED! 2-2! What a game! McDonald keeps it alive and Saragosa hits an outstanding left-footed finish! Higuain is the goat: He could have easily shut down Najar’s cross, but he didn’t put in the effort.
62’ - Complaint No. 537 about Pajoy: When he’s not going to win a header, he doesn’t even go for it, so the defender can head it wherever he wants.
65’ - Perry Kitchen’s play is like his haircut: tight and orderly. He’s been great tonight.
70’ - Pontius is fouled just outside of the box! This is when you wish Boskovic was in the game, because he could provide one of those “awesome direct free kicks that we’ve heard he does in training even though we’ve never seen it in a match”.
74’ - Sometimes the game is so boring that my recaps are mostly hair jokes and me putting together things like the all-guys-whose-names-sound-like-Dairy-Queen-treats lineup (captained by Dilly Duka), but there’s a lot of action in this match.
78’ - Houston is suddenly up two goals on Philadelphia, so a tie doesn’t do Columbus much good, which means things might open up for United.
82’ - Scramble in front of the net, but United gets it away! This is the most exciting match I’ve watched in a while in any league.
90’ + 1’ – JAILBREAK – YES, YES – GOAL!!!!! GGGGOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLL!!! NNNNEEEEEAAAAALLLLLL!!! PPPLLLLAAYYYOOFFFSSSS!!! PLAYOFFS!!!

Full time: 3-2 United, and we are officially IN! That might have been the best regular season MLS match I’ve ever seen.

Player ratings:

Hamid: 6. The goals weren’t his fault, and beyond that he didn’t really have much to do. +1 point for wearin’ the heck out of that pink jersey.
Korb: 6. He could have scored and 8 or a 9 if his crossing had been good, because he was all over the field.
Jakovic: 4. Was involved in both goals conceded, but it was two goals, not eight, so a great match by Canadian standards.
McDonald: 6.5. When Pontius went off, McDonald wore the captain’s armband, which makes sense. He’s been a rock for this team.
Najar: 7.5. I’m pretty sure Robbie Russell is healthy, but Najar at right back is working just that well.
Pontius: 7. When Pontius got injured last year, United faded and missed the playoffs. When De Rosario got injured this year, United surged and made the playoffs. You could argue that Pontius is more valuable to the club than De Rosario. I wouldn’t, but you could.
Kitchen: 7.5. Honestly, Saturday was the first time I watched him and thought “potential national team player.” His passing was spot-on.
Saragosa: 6.5. Saragosa, McDonald, Korb, DeLeon, Neal, Santos…good teams get big contributions from guys who were acquired for cheap.
DeLeon: 6. He’s scored enough “tidying-up” goals this year that it’s time to stop considering that luck and to start considering that something he does well.
Pajoy: 3. Olsen has done a great job this year, so I’m not going to second-guess him, but: Ben, you’re 100 percent sure Pajoy is better than Salihi?
Santos: 6. When Santos is playing, more of our desperation clearances turn into offense.
Neal: 6. I love watching crowd erupt behind Neal in the reverse-angle shot of the goal (starts around 1:09).  
Salihi: No rating.
Boskovic: 6. Played a perfect touch to set Neal free.

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Steven Goff · October 23, 2012

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