Getting back from the road this weekend, my DVR was overflowing with soccer. The match I watched immediately before this one was Manchester United-Chelsea...I’m wondering if that was a tactical mistake. No offense to MLS, but Man. U and Chelsea are two of the best teams in the world, and going from that to D.C. versus Dallas might be a letdown. I mean: there’s a reason I don’t follow Louis CK (which has happened, and it went pretty much as you would expect). But it might be okay — at least this match won’t be played on turf, with football lines, in 100-degree heat, with the footprint of the stage used for a Pussycat Dolls concert three days before still clearly visible on the field. Ah, MLS.
It’s also, thankfully, not yet the time of year when MLS lineups start to look pretty ridiculous. The Gold Cup will take a player or three from each team for a good part of June, and injuries will take a few more. That’s when we’ll get the all-Kurt-Morsink midfields (every team has three or four Kurt Morsinks), Haitian U-17 strikers playing right back, and goalkeepers just called up from the USL-3 Davenport River Hogs. Ah, MLS.
United do, however, have their share of injuries. Pontius, Simms and Burch are iffy (can that please be an official status?). Morsink, Zayner, Boskovic and McTavish are out long-term. Bryan Namoff is still retired. Ben Olsen will be taking a rascal scooter to the coach’s bench.
Here’s United’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, White, Jakovic, Kitchen | Pontius, King, McCarty, Najar | Davies, Ngwenya. So: Pontius is deemed good enough to go, Burch and Simms not so much. Woolard steps in for Burch, and your Kurt Morsink in place of Simms is Stephen King. I’m surprised to see Ngwenya instead of Wolff; I thought Wolff played pretty well on Wednesday. That might be an attempt by Ben to rotate some guys in as United plays three games in nine days.
3’ - Referee today is Baldomero Toledo, architect of that atrocity in New England earlier this year. I’m willing to forgive and forget, Baldomero; I don’t want to spend another post talking about the referee. I’ve actually spent so much time writing about him that I can now spell “Baldomero” without having to look it up.
4’ - I’m expecting Dax to have a good revenge match against his former team today, but he just got stripped of the ball in midfield. The player who stripped him? Ex-United midfielder Andrew Jacobsen, who is having a revenge match of his own. We’ll see whose damaged pride proves to be the better motivator.
7’ - Great chance falls to Davies! Brek Shea, last year’s winner of the Sacha Kljestan Still Figuring Out My Hair Style Award, heads the ball right to Davies in front of goal, but Davies’ touch is heavy, the initial chance is lost, and follow-ups from Najar and Davies can’t beat the Dallas defense. That was an absolute gift; I hope that missed chance doesn’t come back to haunt United.
10’ - Dave Johnson is calling this match...but he’s calling it from Dallas’ perspective. I knew he also did play-by-play for Columbus, but I didn’t know he did Dallas, as well. Am I right to feel a little betrayed? I mean, come on, Dave, I knew we weren’t exclusive, but have you been in the announcer’s booth for every team in MLS? And here in D.C., in front of everybody? It’s just a bit embarrassing. If Dallas ever calls RFK asking for you I swear I will go off, Dave.
17’ - Matches in other leagues are like professional wrestling: everybody knows their role. You’re the favorite, I’m the underdog, I’ll play rope-a-dope and see if I can at some point hit you on the counter/with a folding chair. MLS matches have a lot more back-and-forth.
25’ - Jakovic with a long header back to Hamid — for a brief second that looked like it might be an own goal. Jakovic has that wild card streak that’s great if you’re a loan shark or repo man, but I’m not sure you want that in a central defender.
31’ - Pontius has played some really good positive passes; he played a long one to Davies a few minutes ago, but Davies didn’t do anything with it. Najar has also been very good.
34’ - Ngwenya and Ihemelu fought for a ball in the corner in a battle of the dreadlocks (Kyle Beckerman was heard off-screen calling winner). Eventually, Brek Shea and his wispy blonde baby hair came in and settled the situation by fouling Ngwenya. Dax took the set piece, but it’s easily headed away by Dallas.
38’ - A Dallas set piece deflects off of Jakovic’s shin for his second almost-own-goal of the game. It’s fair to say that Jakovic has threatened United’s goal tonight more than anyone for Dallas.
39’ - Dax starts a nice counter that ends with a tepid shot from Ngwenya. That’s a microcosm for the match so far: United’s defense is holding strong, their midfield is creating some chances, but their strikers aren’t doing much.
41’ - Pontius cuts through the defense and lays it off for Ngwenya, who crashes into Hartman. Hartman isn’t pleased, and I think he has a case: Ngwenya was a bit too ambitious going after the ball after Hartman had clearly won it.
HALFTIME. 0-0. United look pretty good, although their strikers aren’t producing much. The only bad news on defense is that United’s set piece defending continues to be like Sofia Coppola in Godfather III: completely unconvincing.
47’ - Let’s talk about what I’m NOT talking about: Baldomero Toledo. He hasn’t given any ridiculous penalties or red cards. He hasn’t injured anyone. He hasn’t tripped over an accidentally disconnected the cord producing the TV feed. Maybe he just wanted to get that New England match out of the way early in the year so that we would have ridiculously low expectations for him from that point forward.
49’ - White plays good defense, but he still resorts to the long ball a bit too quickly. I guess that’s better than having a defender who makes dangerous short passes, but still.
50’ - Kitchen with a steal, and he starts an attack (which — stop me if you’re heard this one — fizzles out). It used to be that if United were flat, Ben or Namoff would be the guys to step up and inject some energy into the side. Maybe Kitchen can be that guy for United.
51’ - The color commentator for Dallas: “United are possessing the ball a lot but not creating much.” It’s troubling how many times this year color commentators for other teams have had no problem whatsoever diagnosing United’s condition.
53’ - United with a good move up the right, and the chance falls to...Stephen King. Hartman with a comfortable save. In fairness to King, that’s not his game, he never claimed it was his game. It’s like in football when the nose tackle recovers a fumble: he’ll do his best from this point, but this isn’t really what he’s paid to do, so don’t expect miracles.
54’ - Wolff comes on for Ngwenya. Ngwenya wasn’t atrocious, but wasn’t at all good.
58’ - Davies is fouled at the top of the 18, but Pontius sends the free kick into the wall. With Burch and Boskovic both out, United have reduced options on free kicks.
60’ - Half an hour left. I would be very surprised if more than one goal is scored in this game.
65’ - Full credit to the defense: Hamid has had nothing to do. You could take any random member of the Barra Brava — 3.8 blood-alcohol level and all — and put them in goal and this game is still a shutout.
69’ - Najar collides with Shea, and both are wincing but back on their feet. Najar has been excellent this match; all of the offense has come from either him or Pontius.
71’ - But now Tino is in for Najar; hopefully, Najar is okay. Bad break for United.
74’ - Davies doesn’t challenge for balls in the air — he sneaks behind the defender and hopes that they’ll miss and leave him in on goal. That — and this is the biggest insult I can think of — is the same thing that I do.
77’ - Tino starts a good move, and the chance falls to...Stephen King. The ensuing shot is miles wide. Dave Johnson is doing the polite thing and saying “Kiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnggggg!” when the shot is imminent, but it would probably be fair to say “King” in the same way Peter Tomarken would say “whammy” after an unsuccessful spin on Press Your Luck.
80’ - Fred on for Pontius. Now our two biggest offensive threats have come off. I think Pontius might be gassed.
83’ - White with a good intervention on a dangerous cross. White is really looking like someone who can play in this league.
85’ - A Dallas defender falls down as Davies runs in behind the defense, but Davies is whistled for a foul. Davies and Ben don’t like the call, but I have to say: defenders tend to fall down a lot when Davies runs by. After a while, that starts to look conspicuous. It’s like a woman with five dead husbands: even if she hasn’t been proven guilty of murder, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that something is going on.
88’ - Save Hartman! Tino plays the ball forward to Wolff, Wolff makes a nice cross, and Fred’s point-blank header is denied by Hartman! Very, very good save. Good stuff, Kevin — we almost had a moment of real excitement there, but you snuffed it out. Way to be.
FULL TIME: 0-0. As I said in my preview, a tie is a decent result when you’ve played three times in nine days. And the defense looked good, which is encouraging. They say you build from the back, which I’ve found to be true; when my Fulham went from being perpetual relegation fodder to the eleventh-place juggernaut that they are today, the first thing that happened was they stopped hemorrhaging goals. So, there’s a rosy thought for United fans: if we really keep at it, maybe one day we can be Fulham.
Hamid: 0. Let me explain this zero: he had absolutely nothing to do. No tough shots, no hard crosses. So I’m taking the five or so points that I would have given him and distributing them to the players who made Hamid irrelevant.
Woolard: 4.5 + 1 Hamid point = 5.5. Solid, good. Gets you from point A to point B, if point A is an injury to the starter and point B is a 0-0 draw.
White: 5.5 + 1 Hamid point = 6.5. Also solid; he knows how to use his size and speed, and he covers well. His weak points — passing out of the back and learning to head the ball away from the middle of the field — are things that will likely improve with time.
Jakovic: 5.5 + 1 Hamid point = 6.5. Despite some decent efforts, he did NOT score an own goal, so there’s a feather in his cap. Needs to start dealing with bouncing balls a little better.
Kitchen: 6 + 1 Hamid point = 7. You could argue that he’s more suited to be a right back than a center back; he’s not huge, and he’s good with the ball at his feet.
Pontius: 7.5. Very good game — created a ton of offense. The best American on United’s roster at this instant isn’t Davies or McCarty, it’s Pontius.
King: 4 + ½ of a Hamid point = 4.5. It’s good to see him playing the role he’s suited for: stepping in and playing well enough to help the team get a result. It was last year’s Stephen-King-is-United’s-Lionel-Messi role that wasn’t fair to him or the fans.
McCarty: 5.5 + ½ of a Hamid point = 6. Good hustle, won a lot of balls, connected on the vast majority of his passes. Is it just me, or have McCarty’s set pieces not been as good as they used to be?
Najar: 7.5. Also created a ton of offense. It was very encouraging to see him string two good games together in a row.
Davies: 2.5. I’m fairly sure I’ll get ripped in the comments section for ranking Davies so low, but I call ‘em as I see ‘em. He didn’t do much, and his touch is still awful. He squandered the few chances he had.
Ngwenya: 3. Also didn’t do much. Say...what’s Danny Allsopp’s contract situation?
Wolff: 4.5. The cross to Fred was his only meaningful action, but he probably got back into the starting lineup just by letting Ngwenya do his thing.
Quaranta: 5.5. Good energy, created some offense. For as much as I criticize him, Tino is a good guy to have on the bench; he’s energetic and can play multiple roles.
Fred: 5. His one chance was spectacularly saved.
Baldomero Toledo: 1,000,000. Thanks for not being the story today, Baldo.