It’s been busy summer for soccer in the U.S. The Women’s World Cup, the European teams’ summer friendlies, Sunil Gulati’s paramour finally lowering his standards to be with us. This kind of soccer-related activity didn’t used to exist in the U.S. It used to be that the closest look you got at Manchester United was a picture of Paul Ince in an issue of Kicker magazine that some kid whose dad was in the Air Force brought to school. TV coverage of the U.S. World Cup qualifying campaign would only appear in the “bloopers and oddities” section of SportsCenter, alongside Highland Games highlights and the Glouster Cheese Rolling Competition. The Women’s World Cup was nothing more than an inconvenience for the nation’s middle school principals, who suddenly had to find substitute gym teachers for three weeks. Times have changed.
There’s actually more soccer happening than I can consume right now. This is partly because the same week that D.C. United traded Dax McCarty to the Red Bulls, the EPA traded me to their New York office. A few things about that. First, lest anybody worry, this blog will continue uninterrupted, so you won’t be deprived of your bi-weekly dose of hippie jokes and Kurt Morsink-bashing. Also — and I almost feel that this should go without saying — I’m going to stay a United fan. You know what they say: you can change your underwear, you can change your wife, but you can’t change your team. I believe that one-hundred percent...except that it probably ought to say you should change your underwear. Plus I was married in the Catholic church, so I guess the part about changing your wife is non-operative. But that’s beside the point: I definitely believe the part about sticking with your team. I’m black-and-red through and through.
The larger point is that I spent all weekend getting my condo ready to rent, so I only had time to watch one match. Would it be Manchester United vs. Barcelona, a (70 percent speed) replay of the Champions League Final? Some other summer friendly? No: I chose D.C. United vs. San Jose, two aspiring-middle-class MLS teams. The only break I took from spackling and painting the holes I kicked in the wall last season was to watch this match. Make it worth my while, guys.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, McDonald, Jakovic, Kitchen | Pontius, Simms, Najar, King | DeRosario, Brettschneider. The Jak is back, Ethan White takes a seat. Four strikers (Wolff, Davies, Ngwenya, and Quaranta) are out hurt, so DeRosario goes up top and King steps into midfield. I’ve only seen Austin Da Luz play 25 minutes of soccer, but more importantly I’ve seen Stephen King play several hours of soccer, so I wonder if it would be better to start Da Luz on the left, push Pontius up top, and let De Ro pull the strings in midfield.
2’ - San Jose have a huge, inflatable jersey in one corner of the field. That jersey is only slightly smaller than the one Ronaldo wore in his farewell match for Brazil.
10’ - San Jose’s stadium is a total bandbox. I hate watching soccer on a small field — it plays like arena soccer. I feel like I’m watching the Baltimore Blast versus the San Francisco Fog.
17’ - The ball rattles around a bit (as it’s been doing for the past 17 minutes), and falls to Pontius, who sends a left-footed shot wide. That is the second most exciting thing that’s happened so far in this match, the most exciting thing being me finding a three-chambered peanut in the bag of nuts that I’m eating.
25’ - Jakovic with a crucial intervention — he’s been good so far. Suddenly, there’s competition at center back; maybe it’ll force Jakovic to step up his game.
30’ - Najar with an excellent cross, and Brettschneider controls but can’t put the shot on frame. Most of United’s offense tonight is coming from Najar.
32’ - United are playing with more fight and energy than San Jose, and that’s usually what it takes to win on a small field.
35’ - Tim Ward was going bald, so he took matters into his own hands and shaved his head. Much respect, Tim. Don’t be in denial about it. That’s one thing Tim Ward has on the great Bobby Charlton.
42’ - Dangerous moment for United as a San Jose throw-in bounces in the box. Najar did well to position himself to throw Wondolowski off.
44’ - Convey surges forward for San Jose, but his run falls apart when he gets in the box. Yep, that’s pretty much how I remember him. He’s been good, though. Bob Bradley wasn’t a Convey fan; I wonder if Convey is playing with a little extra spring in his step now that there’s been a regime change.
Halftime: 0-0. What was I thinking: I should have watched the Barca-Man U match. Yes, things are just that bad: I’m confident that Michael Own and Gabriel Obertan could provide more entertainment than what I’m watching right now. That was a brutal first half.
46’ - We need some creativity in the middle...let’s bring in Fred. What’s that you say? Fred’s gone? Fred’s not gone — he’s never gone. His contract ended like two months ago and he kept hanging out and playing. Text him right now and get him over here.
46’ - De Ro stings a left-footed shot that’s saved by Busch. That’s better.
47’ - By the way, Busch was fined last week for giving the middle finger to Alvaro Sobario, which seems harsh considering that on any given weekend, at least one MLS referee blatantly gives the finger to the rules of soccer.
51’ - De Ro cuts in and shoots, but Busch punches it away. Has De Ro figured something out? He’s finding a lot more space so far in the second half.
55’ - Najar starts an excellent move that ends with Pontius curling a shot just wide. Wondolowski is playing out of position at left mid for San Jose, and Najar is absolutely eating him up out there.
56’ - GOAL UNITED! GOAL DE ROSARIO! 1-0! Najar plays a long ball to De Ro, and De Ro controls and puts his shot off the bottom of the cross bar and in! Excellent goal. Looks like Ben was right to put De Ro up top — he’s a lethal finisher.
58’ - How good is that De Rosario trade looking right now? We needed an impact player who can create and score goals, and he’s doing exactly that. If United hold on to win this game, then by my calculations the De Rosario trade has already netted at least four points (he earned us two in the 1-0 win against New York).
66’ - GOAL UNITED! BRACE FOR DE ROSARIO! No, I don’t know why it’s called a “brace”, but De Ro has one! Pontius got free on the left, sent a low cross into the box, and De Ro one-timed it home. Another nice goal; that’s already three and an assist for De Rosario in only five games with United.
70’ - Red card for Najar! Joey Gjertsen of San Gjose gets behind the defense, and Najar slides from behind to bring him down. You know what...probably the right call. As much as I hate to say it, I think that’s a red for denying a goal-scoring opportunity. For good measure, the tackle itself was also a scissor-tackle from behind, so if the referee was inclined to give Najar the benefit of the doubt, then it probably evaporated due to the nature of the tackle.
71’ - If you’re going to go down to ten men, then do it on a small field with a 2-0 lead. Just pack everyone in the box and hope that the ball doesn’t pinball into your own net.
73’ - Da Luz is in for Brettschneider in a move that had to be made. By the way: congratulations to Brettschneider for returning from a concussion. I was starting to think that it was impossible to return from that particular injury.
79’ - Wondolowski gets an open look on goal, but Hamid makes an excellent save with his feet! Hamid is very good in one-on-one situations; he stays big, holds still, and forces the striker to pick a direction.
81’ - Jacob Peterson’s small business permit must have been approved, because he has set up shop on the right. Woolard needs to do more to close him down.
84’ - Barklage comes in for De Ro — I think United are now playing a 4-5-0.
88’ - Da Luz — who picked up a yellow earlier — committed a foul, and the referee put his hand in his pocket and walked toward Da Luz. I thought we were going to see a second yellow, but the ref was just reaching for his spray foam. I’d like it if one time after a hard foul, the referee approached the player, reached into his pocket, and...BOUQUET OF FLOWERS! Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise?
89’ - Pontius is out, White is in. White is playing as a target striker, which makes sense in this situation.
FULL TIME: 2-0 United. United rewarded my patience; that was a good second half and a good win. De Ro is clearly the man of the match. Not having Najar next week will really hurt, but maybe United, Fred, and the Melbourne Victory can reignite their polygamous relationship for one more week.
Hamid: 7. Didn’t make any mistakes and made the saves he had to make. Hamid is in a good run of form right now.
Woolard: 4. Played solid defense, didn’t offer much going forward. Allowed Peterson a bit too much space in the second half.
McDonald: 5.5. The minute San Jose let him go for cheap (I believe he was traded for a coffee maker and some stuff that Bobby Convey left at RFK), they had to know he would come back a month later and play well against them.
Jakovic: 6.5. Very good first match back. There are now three guys for two spots in central defense, so hopefully the competition will bring out the best in them.
Kitchen: 5. Thank you, Perry Kitchen, for not making me miss Jed Zayner.
Pontius: 6. I didn’t see the Everton match, but I heard he played well. We need him in good form if we’re going to make the playoffs.
Simms: 5. Simms must have attended the Milford Academy (Arrested Development reference), because it’s very easy to not even notice that he’s there. Which is a good thing when you’re a defensive midfielder.
Najar: 6.5. I’m only docking him one point for the red card because of the situation. Up 2-0 in the 70th minute, a guy gets behind you...sure, take him down. It was the right play. It would have been better to not let the guy get behind you in the first place, but once he’s there, you can’t let him go free.
King: 4. You need a few Stephen King-types on your roster so that when there are injuries he can step in, do a decent job, and give you an opportunity to win. Which is exactly what he did. It’s just not all that fun to watch.
De Rosario: 7.5. The obvious man of the match. It feels great to have a difference maker on the team again — we haven’t had that since Christian Gomez’s first term in office.
Brettschneider: 4. He was okay; I wouldn’t mind seeing him start the next match.
Da Luz: 5.5. Next match, we’re probably going to either get King on the right or Da Luz on da left. I vote for Da Luz.
Barklage: 5.5. Was feisty and combative in his short time on the field. Whatever it takes to get noticed, I guess.
White: 10. He gets a perfect 10 because in his short time on the field, he dummied a through ball. I love it when defenders get crafty.