Soccer Outsider: United vs. Kansas City match diary


Paulo Nagamura works his way around D.C. United defener Daniel Woolard during Sporting’s 1-0 win in Kansas City. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

Lionard Pajoy is our best striker. As long as that sentence is true, this team is not going anywhere. Sure, we might scrape into the playoffs; we might be the British guy in lane 1 of the 100 meter final who is out of frame by the time Usain Bolt finishes. But that’s the best case scenario. Rafael might be better than Pajoy, but we don’t know yet. Last match Rafael showed one moment of brilliance and many more moments of non-brilliance. You could say De Rosario is our best striker, but if De Rosario is the answer to our striker problem then we have an attacking midfielder problem. I’ve said it all season: we need one, maybe two more quality attacking players. Results are bearing that out. It’s tough being right all the time, but that’s my cross to bear.

Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, Jakovic, McDonald, Korb | Pontius, Kitchen, Sanchez, Augusto (!) | Pajoy, Rafael. Great: De Rosario is hurt. So get ready to play every United fan’s favorite game: Do We Deserve A Point?

Here’s kickoff from Throw Lance Armstrong Down the Memory Hole Stadium…

1’ – Since this game isn’t on TV in D.C., my match descriptions are more important than ever. So I’ll set the scene in the style of Kansas City’s own Ernest Hemingway:

There was a grass field in the shape of a rectangle and people sat around it. The people were in rows, and the rows were in squares. In the middle of the grass there was a circle, and also a line, and the grass alternated dark green, then light green, then dark again and back and forth. The sky was big and blue, but the sun was mostly down. There were lights. Eleven men wore blue and eleven men wore black. They chased a white ball when it was near to them and retreated when it wasn’t, and they grunted and struggled and kicked and chased. That’s where I met the nurse with the big brown eyes.

5’ – Pajoy puts a nice shot on frame (it was saved), but he was offside. Just wanted to make note of Pajoy doing something useful that involved the ball, the goal, and his feet. It wouldn’t have counted, but I’m counting it.

15’ – United are playing well. I sort of feel that we need to score during this stretch, because we’re unlikely to be on the front foot like this all match.

20’ – Augusto with a dumb foul near our penalty box. We need to be extra careful with fouls around the box, since our set piece marking lately has been uglier than a hairless cat wearing acid wash jeans.

24’ – McDonald is on the ground clutching his throat. It looked like Claudio Bieler threw an arm (his own) at McDonald, but it’s hard to tell. Things are inconclusive because this game is in low def; I would describe this resolution as high def + six or seven beers.

31’ – Pajoy has added a new facet to his game: he is now always offside. Good to see he’s still evolving.

43’ – When Hamid punches, he punches. Seems to be a lot of aggression in that punch…is he yelling “take that Dad!” when he lets the ball have it?

45’ – Pajoy with a great drive into the box, but he scuffs the shot wide! Pajoy mixes the good with the bad more than a John Lennon/Yoko Ono album.

Halftime: 0-0, which is about right. It should be mentioned: it’s a great atmosphere in Kansas City. It looks like a beautiful place to see a game, and the stadium is packed. Just a few years ago, Kansas City was an attendance sad sack; it looked like a neutron bomb had gone off in Arrowhead Stadium. A new stadium makes a huge difference, but I don’t have to tell you, Will Chang, or Erick Thohir that.

46’ – Kansas City’s rebranding was a huge success (always a good idea to not call your team the Wizards), but I take issue with Kansas City’s crest. Umm…guys, you got the letters wrong. It says “sporting” at the top, then there’s an “S” and a “C”. Shouldn’t that be a “K” and a “C” (I know…it stands for “soccer club”, the part of the name nobody uses)? And why does the crest have stripes – the team doesn’t wear stripes? It also looks like the AT&T logo if AT&T played arena football.

48’ – This half, I’m just going to watch Rafael. I want to see if he’s not getting the ball because his movement is bad or because of lack of service.

50’ – I think we’re learning why Augusto doesn’t see a lot of minutes: his attitude towards defense seems to be the same as Fox & Friends’ attitude towards fact checking.

53’ – Woolard has been solid. He’s wearing headgear, which is basically soccer’s “I had a head injury” scarlet letter. Maybe one day a player will wear the gear before the head injury.

60’ – Oh yeah: Benny Feilhaber.

64’ – Saragosa – aka the only player on the bench who has a case for getting minutes – comes on for Rafael. I said I was going to keep an eye on Rafael, and the results were inconclusive. The strange thing is that even though he’s big, United don’t seem to be trying to find him with long balls.

71’ – Ruiz comes on for Augusto. We’ll call this like for like: underwhelming for underwhelming.

76’ – Not only are United underwhelming this season, they’re boring. We don’t ever look likely to score. Every match we have fewer shots than a Mormon night club.

83’ – Kansas City bring on their nominee for best name in MLS: Soony Saad. Sounds like he could be a Dr. Seuss character or a state university located in Saad, New York.

88’ – Goal K.C.! It’s the guy who maybe shouldn’t be on the field right now (but it’s inconclusive), Claudio Bieler! Sanchez made a weak back-pass, which let KC into the box and Bieler stabbed home the cross. This is how things go wrong when you can’t score goals: one play like this can sink you.

Full time: 1-0 K.C. The solution to the “Do We Deserve A Point?” game was probably “no.” So that goal was scored by Claudio Bieler with an assist from Karma.

Player ratings:

Hamid: 7. This is the kind of team we are: the highest rating usually goes to our goalkeeper. And he’s always in the thick of things. This is a bad sign.

Woolard: 6. Solid after an uncharacteristically shaky match last time out.

Jakovic: 6.5. He’s added strength, which was not part of his game a few years ago.

McDonald: 7.5. He was everywhere tonight: blocking shots, making tackles, breaking up plays, assaulting Claudio Bieler’s arm with his throat.

Korb: 6. Good, solid game for the whole back line tonight. Which was completely wasted by an inept offense.

Pontius: 6. Most of his contributions came on the defensive end. His lack of goals is probably torpedoing his national team prospects, but there aren’t many opportunities to get forward this year.

Kitchen: 6. When United aren’t generating offense, his defensive focus starts to look like a shortcoming. But it’s pretty obvious what he’s been put on the field to do.

Sanchez: 3. He keeps showing signs that maybe he can play; he has a good touch, and the effort is there. But he made some weird decisions and gave the ball away in some bad spots.

Augusto: 3. He tried a lot of aggressive passes but none of them came off. He was shooting for the stars…I hope, because if he was aiming for Pajoy, then he was way off.

Rafael: 3.5. I haven’t formed an opinion on him yet, mostly because the ball isn’t finding him. If that trend continues, then that fact alone will be enough for me to form an opinion.

Pajoy: 5.5. He was actually kind of good. Lionard Pajoy was our best striker. Go back to the beginning of this column for my opinion of what that means for this team.

Saragosa: 6. He probably played well enough to play himself out of a starting job next week.

Ruiz: 4.5. His best moment came when he put a bicycle kick into the side netting. He scored one of those for Dallas right in front of where I was sitting about six or seven years ago (it’s at 1:40 here). But that was then, this is now.

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Steven Goff · April 8, 2013