Soccer Outsider: United vs. Real Salt Lake diary

March 11, 2013

Since many of you won’t see this game (D.C. United is still negotiating a local TV deal), I’ll try to make the recap as vivid as possible. I’ll use my skill with words to re-create the crackling atmosphere of 17,000 people and about 600 raccoons in a stadium that holds 45,000. You’ll practically be able to feel the sluggishness as the road team bunkers for a 0-0 draw. I’ll capture the artistry of an MLS team in early-season form using words like “languid,” “laboring” and “inert.” You’ll experience the hollow “thoink!” as a Lionard Pajoy shot caroms off the VW clock and bounces around the space behind the goal.

As I’ve made very clear, I don’t think this team is bad, but it needs another attacking player or two in order to be good. So tonight I’m rooting for United to look terrible and get three points, because I like United and I love being right.

Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Korb, Jakovic, McDonald, Riley | Sanchez, Kitchen, Thorrington, DeLeon | Pontius, Pajoy. Tonight, the role of Marcelo Saragosa will be played by John Thorrington, and Marcos Sanchez gets his first MLS start. Riley is in for Woolard, which means Ben wants more offense from his fullbacks. As some of you noted in the comments from last week’s match, part of the reason using two defensive midfielders worked at the end of last season was because Najar was providing offense from fullback. Unfortunately, Najar is in Belgium with Anderlecht and Sacha Kljestan’s mustache.

Here’s kickoff — the Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles are out in force. All joking aside, it looks like a great atmosphere.

5’ – Alright: let’s talk about Nick DeLeon’s head. DeLeon has maybe the biggest hair-to-beard time incongruence I’ve ever seen; his hair makes him look like an extra from “Blade Runner,” but his beard is very Battle of Antietam. The master stroke is deciding not to connect the beard part with the ‘stache part, which invokes a level of Amish-ness not normally seen outside of a handmade furniture store. Personally, I like it, both because I like eccentricity and because Direct Kick games aren’t broadcast in high-def, so crazy beards and dye-jobs help me tell players apart.
6’ – More notable hair: Lionard Pajoy’s Kid ‘n’ Play cut. Here’s a trivia question: Was it Kid or Play (or possibly “‘N”?) that had that haircut? I’ll put the answer in my halftime notes.
7’ – I can’t finish the crazy hair topic without mentioning Sebastian Velasquez of RSL. What I love about this is that he managed to fit every early ‘90s mistake into one haircut. He’s got the mullet, the rat tail, the Jersey guy spike, and the MC Hammer lines. His hair has more history in one place than the British Museum.
10’ – Alright, no more about hair or this blog is going to get moved to the Style section. Nothing’s happening in the match.
16’ – Not much to report. Um…the field looks okay. Apparently, this year’s Northrop Grumman Military Bowl used chalk to make the lines instead of high-intensity lasers as in years past. By the way: nice branding, Northrop Grumman! Next time I need a stealth bomber, I’ll think of your company first.
22’ – Still not much going on here — lots of soccer being played in the middle third. United are generating slightly more offense than last week but only slightly.
24’ – Nice cross by Kitchen, but DeLeon can’t do much with the header. I’m reporting it because the ball got kind of near one of the goals.
30’ – Hamid gets an important touch on a cross. That’s not a save, but it was a good play. Another example of why soccer stats are mostly worthless.
32’ – Pontius with a left-footed shot, but Rimando makes the save! All of United’s offense is going through Pontius. I’m not sure if that’s because of his position behind Pajoy or because we know he’s our danger man and we’re trying to find him.
42’ – Still not many good chances. Both teams are playing good defense, but that’s not exciting. There’s no such thing as the “Top 10 Well-Executed Clearing Headers” or the “Well-Positioned Defensive Midfielder of the Week.”
Halftime: 0-0. The answer to the trivia question: it was Play. Also: How great is the Internet? 20 years ago, we just would have had to wonder.
52’ – Sanchez wants too much time on the ball. He’ll learn: MLS teams play some serious defense. He’s getting ganged up on more than Bruce Lee.
58’ – DeLeon is not having a good match. Perhaps he sensed my searing critique of his hair and is feeling unsure of himself.
60’ – GOAL UNITED! It’s Pajoy! Actually, it’s John Thorrington forcing Rimando into an acrobatic save, and Pajoy cleans up the scraps. United hasn’t created much, but it has got the lead. Velasquez’s hair kept Pajoy onside.
61’ – Thorrington’s shot didn’t have much power behind it, but it was in a perfect spot in the top corner. Rimando made a great save but put it right back in front of the goal.
63’ – Abdoulie Mansally headbutted Kitchen in the chest, but he only gets a yellow. It wasn’t particularly viscous, but shouldn’t that be a red? Can anyone think of a precedent involving the most famous player of his time in the biggest match in all of sports?
74’ – Thorrington is sore-ington. I shouldn’t joke; he’s limping off, it looks like it might be serious.
83’ – It was going to happen eventually: Carlos Ruiz is playing for United. Since I’m not a professional wrestling fan, I’m not used to athletes going from villain to hero; it will take me awhile to start cheering for Ruiz. Specifically, it will take either three Ruiz goals or seven blown scoring chances by Pajoy for me to start cheering for him.
89’ – United is hanging on. The defense is solid; RSL isn’t creating much.
90’ + 4 – Porter crosses to Ruiz, and Rimando saves me from having to cheer for Carlos Ruiz!
Full time: 1-0. I said that I wanted United to look terrible and get three points, and that’s pretty much what happened. It’s probably a good thing this match wasn’t on TV; it had the aesthetic appeal of a Soviet housing project.

Player ratings:

Hamid: 7.5. Wasn’t under too much pressure, but anything he had to do he did well.
Korb: 4. He’s getting a bit too aggressive trying to play his way out of trouble. Sometimes he needs to just boot the ball downfield.
Jakovic: 6.5. Jakovic has quietly become an above-average MLS center back.
McDonald. 6.5. Seems like his poor game last week was a fluke; he was his normal self tonight.
Riley: 5.5. Bounced back from his own goal with a solid defensive game. For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s such as thing as an own goal-prone player. The exception is Aston Villa’s Richard Dunne, who somehow has nine (though maybe the problem is Villa, not Dunne — Dunne’s replacement Nathan Baker put an OG off his standing leg and past Brad Guzan this weekend).
Sanchez: 4. Not terrible — he showed nice touch — but he needs to play simpler.
Kitchen: 5.5. Gets some of the credit for the shutout. United’s defense was well-organized and cleared the ball well. Exciting stuff!
Thorrington/Saragosa: 5. I’m rating them together because they’re basically the same player and had basically the same game. Though the Thorrington half had the shot that created the goal.
DeLeon: 3. DeLeon had a good rookie season, but I think it’s risky to assume he’ll be a major offensive presence. Adding a better striker and a more potent midfield would take pressure off him.
Pontius: 7. Nice to know he can play the withdrawn striker role effectively.
Pajoy: 4.5. He scored a goal, and no matter what the degree of difficulty, it’s always better to score than to not score. He headed it in, which keeps my “Pajoy never scores with his feet” theory alive.
Porter: 5. This Canadian appears to be hard-working and unassuming. Shocker.
Ruiz: 5.5. If he can be effective, I’ll learn to look past the flopping and the other dark arts, like Liverpool fans have learned to do with Luis Suarez.

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Steven Goff · March 11, 2013

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