D.C. United doesn’t like Houston’s new stadium. For starters: it’s in Houston, not Buzzard Point. Also, Houston plays in Houston’s stadium, and Houston has been a good team for a while now. In fact, United is 0-8-1 (that’s one tie, Europeans…”tie” meaning “draw”, not “game”…”game” meaning “match”…you know what, Europeans: why are you reading about MLS to begin with?) all-time in Houston, including 0-2 this year. The good news is that United didn’t have to win in Houston on Sunday; it just had to stay alive for the second leg in D.C. I’m sure Coach Ben Olsen delivered a rousing “let’s go out there and not get pummeled!” speech before the match.
United’s lineup: Willis | Korb, Jakovic, McDonald, Russell | Pontius, Kitchen, Saragosa, DeLeon, Boskovic | Pajoy. Still no Najar because of his two-game suspension. I think the suspension was fair. He threw the ball at the ref — not hard, and maybe he didn’t really mean to throw it at him — but you can’t have players retaliating physically against referees. It’s like a relationship: You can express your anger through verbal daggers and passive-aggressiveness, but never through physicality.
Here’s kickoff from BBVA Compass Stadium. From United’s perspective, “BBVA” stands for “Better if Built in VA”.
4’ - Four minutes in and United will surely get the ball past the midfield stripe any second now.
11’ - Oh no. Pontius has to go out. It’s a pulled groin, and I am so devastated by this injury that I can’t even chuckle at the phrase “pulled groin”.
12’ - Both of Marquez’s yellow card-earning fouls last week were on Pontius. Can we get the super-sleuth who uncovered headhunting in the NFL to investigate Marquez? One Hardy Boy with 15 minutes of spare time could crack that case.
13’ - De Rosario, Pontius, Najar, Hamid. Did I just name United’s four best players? Arguably. And those are also the four who are out. No disrespect to Daniel Woolard or Stephen King.
16’ - Nice move from United, and Neal forces a save from a half chance. United has been in “win an ugly match by one goal” mode for more than a month now, so they’ll try to grind out another one of those industrial diamonds tonight.
22’ - Neal with a “would have been a yellow in the 80th minute” foul. But it’s the 22nd, so he gets a talking-to and his name on the board.
24’ - Now Houston’s Adam Moffat has to come off. He’s being replaced by Giles Barnes, which is a name so ridiculously English that I can’t even stand it (Wikipedia confirms: he’s English). You couldn’t have a character on Downton Abbey named Giles Barnes — it would be too cliched.
26’ – GOAL UNITED! Great work from DeLeon and Pajoy! DeLeon played a great pass to free Pajoy, Pajoy made a good decision to shoot (nobody was with him), the shot rattled the post, and DeLeon cleaned up the rebound. Man…1-0 would be an amazing result.
31’ - For the second game in a row, the crowd is screaming for a handball after the ball hits Jakovic in the stomach. Does Jakovic’s stomach look like his hand?
35’ - Boskovic into the side netting! Great movement from United, nice cross from Kitchen. Houston has more of the ball, but United is more dangerous with its possession.
39’ - Now Saragosa has to come off. Three first half subs due to injury, two for United. Raphael Augusto — who has never played for United — is coming on. A player making his debut in the Eastern Conference finals; we are on Plan H.
45’ + 2’ - Augusto is taken down with a clear sight of goal, but no foul is called! How is that not a foul? That has to be a foul and a red card! Terrible, terrible call. I think the ref swallowed his whistle because he knew that if he called the foul, he’d have to decide if a red card was warranted, so it’s easier to just not call the foul at all.
Halftime: 1-0. During half time, we saw a great play by United goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad: He complained to the ref and got a red card. Much better for the goalkeeper coach to take that card than Olsen or a player. Pat Onstad: still contributing.
46’ - How big of a game is this? Olsen shaved before the match. And he still looks pretty smooth, so it must have been right before the match. Like during the national anthem. And then again at halftime.
50’ – GOAL HOUSTON! 1-1. I hate to say this, but it started with a terrible call that went against McDonald. Forgive me for doing the Sir Alex Ferguson thing of saying “I don’t want to talk about the refs” and then doing exactly that, but it really was a bad call. But United went to sleep as Houston played a quick free kick (their second quickly-taken one of the game), and it’s 1-1.
54’ - Now McDonald has to go off, and Dudar comes on. All three substitutions have been forced by injuries – how often do you see that?
65’ - United executes an 18-pass move (thanks, DVR!) that ends with a chance cleared off the line. Every player touched the ball on that sequence except for Willis and Dudar.
67’ – GOAL HOUSTON! 2-1. Giles Barnes drives down the left (the English always drive down the left!) and crosses, and eventually Will Bruin bundles it in. Here’s the main question: Why was Jakovic responsible for Barnes? Russell or Neal should have been there.
76’ - Chance for Houston, but Willis beats it away! By the way, this “Lincoln” movie seems to have inspired a beard trend, and Willis, Korb, and Moffat are caught up in it.
77’ - DeLeon is gassed; he needs to come out. But he can’t come out; United used all its subs on injuries.
80’ – GOAL HOUSTON! 3-1! Off a corner, a non-clearance from Augusto leads to a second chance, and Sarkodie finishes. There’s a huge difference between 2-1 and 3-1 (Nate Silver says the difference is one goal, but my gut tells me it’s more than that).
88’ - Free kick; a goal here would be huge. Pajoy takes an absolutely useless free kick. Pajoy is on a yellow — is it bad that I’m rooting for him to pick up another so that he misses the second leg? It worked with Robbie Findley in the World Cup.
Full time: 3-1 Houston. That’s a bad result, but it does set up Dwayne De Rosario to be Jimmy Chitwood at the end of the next leg.
Willis: 6. And that’s without bonus points for the beard (beard was worth two points). Pretty good match in spite of letting in three goals.
Korb: 6. Active as always, not quite as effective defending as he usually is.
Jakovic: 6.5. Got beat to the end line on the second goal, but like I said: It shouldn’t have been his job to cover Barnes without any help. Good defense and good passing otherwise.
McDonald: 6. I like Dudar, but it will be huge if McDonald can’t play the second leg. McDonald is like sodium in soup: You’ll notice if he’s not there.
Russell: 3. Everything came down the right side. Everything. I know he was trying to get forward and provide offense, but he left too many gaps behind.
Pontius: No rating. Without Najar, Pontius or De Rosario, United might just be missing too much offense to advance.
Kitchen: 6.5. When I saw Kitchen huffing and puffing to get forward and provide offense, I knew United was in trouble. Expecting Kitchen to provide offense is like expecting Rafa Marquez to provide anger management tips.
Saragosa: 5. He looked like he was struggling with an injury at times. I don’t even know who is next on the depth chart if he goes down.
DeLeon: 6. In the first 40 minutes, he and Boskovic were United’s entire offense. And when they started to fade, the offense faded, too.
Boskovic: 7.5. Very good match, although if his last 20 minutes are always going to look like that then I can see why Olsen takes him out.
Pajoy: 5. He remains an enigma, mixing in good plays with bad ones. Fans like a consistently bad player better than an intermittently bad player; the consistently bad player never disappoints.
Neal: 4.5. Deserves some of the blame for not shutting down the right side.
Augusto: 4. Honestly, he showed better than I thought he would. But his defense and passing were slightly spotty.
Dudar: 5. Argentine Chris Isaak might have to start in place of McDonald next match.