Soccer Outsider: United-Vancouver match diary

July 2, 2013

Rafael is gone (as predicted). Let’s reflect on what a massive scouting failure that transaction was. United entered the offseason with cap space and a need for strikers. They bought a player who flopped so badly that he was catapulted back to Brazil halfway through the season.

Hamdi Salihi made it a full season. Even Danny Allsopp got his suitcase unpacked before he was shipped back to Melbourne. The problem wasn’t that Rafael was oversold; the problem was that based on what I saw on the field it was virtually impossible to not oversell him. The thing I’ll always remember about Rafael is that he could not find the ball. Seriously: he never had it. Howard Hughes in his later years had more touches than Rafael. Watching him hide behind defenders and drift into corners, you felt like Richard Dawkins would find Jesus before Rafael found the ball.

Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Rochat, Woolard, White, Korb | Porter, Kitchen, Thorrington, Nyassi | De Rosario, Pontius. If DeLeon were healthy, it would be an all-American (and Canadian, which – come on – is close) lineup in honor of Independence Day. But instead we have Sainey Nyassi, who hails from America’s mortal enemy: The Gambia.

Here’s kickoff from Fortress RFK, a fortress that this season has fared about as well as Winterfell on Game of Thrones.

6’ – A flurry of chances leads to United’s third corner of the match. Good start for United; we’ve had more chances in the first six minutes than in all of games four through seven combined.

10’ – Vancouver off the post! What is it about second balls in the box that we can’t handle this year?

16’ – Great ball from White to Korb, but Korb can’t find De Ro in the middle! That was kind of a signature Chris Korb play: lung-busting flank run, disappointing cross. How do you grade that?

20’ – I came into this match thinking Vancouver were the league leaders, but I just realized I’m getting them mixed up with Montreal. I may be an anti-Canada bigot.

25’ – United are looking good (in relative terms – if this was 2005, we’d be furious). There are two main reasons for that: 1) Actual dangerous strikers, and 2) Good distribution out of the back (especially from Ethan White).

35’ – This is United’s third game this week. Here’s statistical proof that playing mid-week reduces your odds of winning. This is one of those cases in which science confirms the obvious, like that study that proved that people like weekends.

36’ – Nyassi is a big downgrade from DeLeon. He has mastered the “running fast” part of the game and seems a bit shaky on all the others.

42’ – Alain Rochat having an underwhelming night against the team that traded him. Is Rochat one of those weirdos whose primary motivators in life are things other than spite and vengeance?

Halftime: 0-0. Some stats (as compiled probably by Comcast’s lowliest intern): United are outshooting Montreal 12 (3) to 7 (0) and are winning possession 58-42. That sounds about right, Intern. When United play “well” the game is not a one-way flogging; it upgrades to a brutal, defensive slog.

46’ – Penalty kick Vancouver! Terrible, terrible call. Actually, I have to make up a word to describe how terrible that call was: that call was befugdnik. Hamid got the ball and also some of Matt Watson, but in case you missed the first part: Hamid got the ball. Now, if you get the ball but go through a player like PBR through a frat guy, that’s a foul, but that’s not what happened here. Hamid had a right to go for that ball. Ben is probably having a stroke on the bench (Update: he actually had it during the post-match press conference).

47’ – Do we get the “karmic PK miss after a bad call” PK? No: Sanvezzo scores. Karma is avoiding DC like a libertarian fringe group.

58’ – When did Vancouver sign Travis Bickle? And why does his shirt say “Teibert”?

63’ – Hamid keeps United in the game with two good saves! Those were vital saves, because it might take the rest of our natural lives for United to score two.

65’ – United win a free kick and want to play the ball, but Miller wants to slow it down. The referee’s solution: stop the game and talk to Miller. Thanks a lot. You really taught him a lesson.

71’ – De Ro is limping off (perfect), and Ruiz is coming on. United are now playing Townsend, Pajoy, and Ruiz, aka the Underwhelming Striker Smorgasbord.

72’ – Townsend – who, in my opinion, has shown the most promise of those three – was cited by United GM Dave Kasper as a reason why Rafael was redundant. Townsend has not scored for United.

75’ – Have you ever seen someone be accidentally naked, like if an ocean wave yanked off their bathing suit? And they try to place their hands to cover up, but they don’t have enough hands to cover everything? That’s what’s happening with United’s attack. De Ro and Pontius are the hands, but there are only two of them.

86’ – Ruiz tries a scissor kick that he’s too old to pull off. That’s like a 40-year-old wearing a ski hat indoors; you’re just too old, dude. Let it go.

90’ – United are scrambling – Hamid is forward – but they just can’t make anything happen. We were probably the better team tonight. If this were a judged sport like figure skating or gymnastics, we’d win.

Full time: 1-0 Vancouver. An analogy: when you’re poor, you have no margin for error. A flat tire can cancel Christmas. A broken pair of glasses can make you skip lunch for a week. You just don’t have the resources to overcome inevitable setbacks. United don’t have the quality to overcome bad breaks when they happen. Sure, the penalty kick was a terrible call, but you know who else gave up a penalty kick this weekend? Brazil, against Spain in the Confederations Cup final. But you didn’t notice because the PK was surrounded by 89 minutes of outstanding soccer. If quality was money (and – take note, management – it kind of is), then United are squatting in a burnt-out row house cooking rat meat over a blowtorch.

Player ratings:

Hamid: 7. I’m not only not penalizing him for the PK, that play is actually adding to his score. It was a good play.

Rochat: 4.5. It seems that I usually give players higher ratings during their first few games than I do later on. Is that me giving them a honeymoon period, or is that the players playing extra hard when they first join the team?

Woolard: 5.5. Another stout game in defense – should have been another shutout.

White: 6. His long balls were purposeful today, which is great when our midfield is underwhelming.

Korb: 6. They need DeLeon back so that Korb can play fullback instead of winger.

Porter: 4.5. On a good team he’d be a super-sub, but with us he’s a mainstay.

Kitchen: 6. Kitchen does a good job of keeping the ball when someone plays him a questionable pass. He doesn’t give it away much.

Thorrington: 6. Thorrington is a senior player, but he’s an active senior. That mall-walking has really helped his fitness.

Nyassi: 3.5. When someone leaves a couch on the curb, there’s usually a reason. Same with players who are just released, as Nyassi was.

De Rosario: 7. Unlike some of our players, you can tell he can score. He didn’t, but he at least can.

Pontius: 6. I like him better as a midfielder; he can pick up the ball deep and run into space.

Townsend, Pajoy, and Ruiz: 4. They’re all the same player right now: the guy who should be a third striker and could be replaced at any time.

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Steven Goff | June 29, 2013