At the beginning of last season, I defined “success” as making the second round of the playoffs. Inspired by my challenge, D.C. United went all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. True, I can’t take all of the credit, but just being a major, completely essential component of the team’s success is all the credit I need.
We reached the conference finals with a young team last year, so we should be a championship contender this year, right? Yes, we should be. But we’re not. United has decided to follow Arsenal’s sell-your-players-and-replace-them-with-nobody strategy. Najar, Salihi and Boskovic are gone. That’s a lot of money coming off the books, but we’ve used it to buy the remnants of Carlos Ruiz and a spare Rafael. Unless there’s a hidden gem in the grab bag of players we acquired, we won’t win a title with this roster. I would define success this year as adding at least one quality attacking player and making the conference finals.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, Jakovic, McDonald, Korb | Pontius, Kitchen, Saragosa, DeLeon, Thorrington | Pajoy. De Rosario is suspended for headbutting Danny Cruz. You could kind of tell Cruz is a guy who some people might really want to headbutt. DeRo probably got off light under the league’s that-dude-was-begging-for-it policy. If DeRo had headbutted Thierry Henry, he’d be in a secret CIA prison in Moldova.
Here’s kickoff from Houston.
2’ — Nice bit of tracking back by Pajoy. That’ll earn him goodwill from Ben, equivalent to three wasted chances at the other end.
5’ — Arlo White: “There are one or two question marks about Pajoy’s finishing ability.” Only one or two? This blog alone has provided nine or 10. Check this out: ????????????????????? = Pajoy’s finishing ability.
7’ — Adam Muppet (real name: Adam Moffat) with a strike wide! He should have finished that — we were lucky.
9’ — The only true striker on the field is Pajoy. Your attacking midfielder tonight is John Thorrington. Saragosa is a no-doubt-about-it starter. Is someone from the front office willing to look me in the eye and tell me that they’re done shopping?
14’ — Woolard – who is wearing a saucy piece of haberdashery from the Peter Cech fall line — gets a yellow for taking down Garcia. That’s a good card; Woolard was never going to win that foot race.
19’ — Suppose you’ve got the ball 40 yards out from goal. Pontius is open to your left and Thorrington is marked to your right. Who gets the ball? If you’re Pajoy, the answer is “Houston.”
27’ — Houston’s goalkeeper uniform is so white it looks like Tally Hall The Chaste is between the pipes.
33’ — Pontius gets free but can’t get it to Pajoy! That was a great chance. Most of our offense is coming from bad giveaways by Houston.
37’ — Penalty kick Houston! Bad call: the foul was outside the box. Also a bad call: if that’s a foul (and it was), it has to be a red card. Referee Baldemero Toledo pulls an amazing double play in which both teams feel wronged. He’s in midseason form.
39’ — Brad Davis will take it for Houston…save Hamid! Davis telegraphed it. Can we update that expression to “Davis dial-up modem’d it”?
41’ — Pontius off the crossbar! If I’m Houston, I put two guys on Pontius; he and DeLeon are our only danger men.
43’ — United survive! Korb clears a header off the line, and Hamid makes an outstanding save! We’ll be lucky to get to halftime at 0-0.
Halftime: 0-0. Houston is good, we’re not. I’m rooting for United to somehow get a point while continuing to look crappy enough that there’s no denying that we need another attacker or two.
46’ — James Riley is in, Woolard is out, either with an injury or with Slow Defender With a Yellow Card Syndrome.
46’ — Nice reporting by the NBC crew: on the penalty, Toledo pointed to the spot, and then conferred with his assistant. My guess: The linesman said “it was outside the box”, and at that point Toledo decided to show Korb yellow instead of red to even things out. I would love to see a referee botch a call, then come back and say: “Hey guys, I got that totes wrong. So you know what: pizza party! Pizza on me guys, just to balance things out. My bad.” It’s the same logic.
47’ — By the way, that’s the worst half of soccer I’ve ever see McDonald play. If I was scoring just the first half, I’d give him a two, and you have to receive a red card, a felony conviction, and a Condemning Resolution from the UN to get a one.
55’ — Giles Barnes is a contender for the Most English Name in MLS award, along with Ian Westlake and Winston Butterscone.
59’ — Pontius has a chance but doesn’t score! And if Pontius doesn’t score, United doesn’t score.
67’ — Bruin easily beats McDonald on a corner but heads it wide! Could someone at the UN get started on that Condemning Resolution for McDonald?
71’ — Riley cleans up another mess made by McDonald! Guys, here’s some language: “Resolved: The person in question did repeatedly find himself of the wrong side of the attacker…”
75’ — Houston are wearing blank “your ad here” shirts. United should take that Najar money and put a big D.C. crest on Houston’s shirt.
80’ – Goal Houston! Riley heads in an own goal off a corner kick! That header was so nice that you could edit it into a Riley montage and make it look intentional.
88’ — Goal Houston! 2-0, but it was already mostly over at 1-0.
Full time: 2-0 Houston. United has still never won in Houston. With De Rosario out, this was the most predictable outcome since Steve Irwin was killed by an animal.
Hamid: 8. Ben on United’s first half: “Bill was good.” Yep…that says it all.
Woolard: 4. Let’s not focus on the negative; it’s good to have Woolard back.
Jakovic: 7. Made several crucial tackles, which was necessary because his defense partner was — as far as I can tell — trying to achieve “so bad it’s good” status.
MacDonald: 2. It’s just a bad game. I don’t think there was any reason for it and I’m not worried about it.
Korb: 5. Had he been given a red card, it wouldn’t have really been his fault — you have to try to make that tackle.
Pontius: 7. The good news: His set pieces were great. The bad news: With Pontius taking set pieces, he can’t get on the end of them.
Kitchen: 6. Kitchen is slowly getting better at distributing the ball.
Saragosa: 4. Not enough of a defensive presence.
DeLeon: 5.5. One of only two consistent sources of offense (Pontius was the other). DeLeon has gone blonde, which makes him both easy to spot and infinitely more likely to date Hugh Hefner.
Thorrington: 5.5. Credit to Thorrington: He actually played the position to which he had been assigned, even though it’s not his natural position.
Pajoy: 4. United’s midfield needs to create more chances for him to make glaring misses.
Riley: 3.5. After his own goal, he should have lifted his jersey to reveal a “Support the Sequester!” t-shirt, just to make the worst possible start in D.C.
Sanchez: 4.5. A bit invisible on his debut, but Riley showed us that being visible is not always a good thing.
Porter: 9. Because I visited Montreal recently and the people there were very nice. Go Canada!