When I first started exercising, I lived in a building with a tiny, windowless gym in the basement. The only people who used it were myself and a 70-year-old Chinese lady. It was perfect. It made me feel good: not to brag, but I could totally lift more than the 70-year-old Chinese lady. It was great to work out without being self-conscious. In fact, I was slightly cocky, always making a big show of moving the pin down the stack of weights when it was my turn. Now, sure, I had some advantages, specifically being 50 years younger and about 14 inches taller, plus the Great Leap Forward hadn’t stunted my physical development. But, still: it was a confidence builder.
United are in a similar situation. They’ve beaten what might end up being the two worst teams in MLS this year: Columbus and Toronto. They’ve also lost to two of the best: New York and Colorado. The other two matches were close, but also distorted by some bizarre refereeing decisions. The match tonight against Houston should give us a better idea of where United stand.
Unless United meet Houston in the playoffs, this will be their last trip ever to Robertson Stadium (and even though United are an Eastern Conference team and Houston plays in the Western Conference, they could still meet. Casual MLS fans, don’t ask me to explain — MLS rules are like home mortgage stipulations). The Dynamo move into a new stadium in 2012. By that point, United will be the only team in MLS with an unsettled stadium situation. I don’t count New England because the guy who signs the Revolution’s checks is perfectly happy with their stadium (maybe because he owns it).
United’s lineup: Hamid | Burch, Kitchen, Jakovic, Zayner | Pontius, Simms, McCarty, Fred | Wolff, Davies. Only change from last match is the healthy-again Zayner coming in for Korb. Ben likes to reward good performance (or at least punish poor performance), but the match against New York was such an across-the-board failure that it was apparently too difficult to single anyone out to bench.
4’ - And here’s a goal for Houston! Cameron beats Simms to a backpass from Dax, and he plays in Will Bruin, who slots it past Hamid. Hmmmm...was that offside? It was close. Very close. From the replay it looked like he was slightly off. At any rate, it was close.
5’ - United are getting really good at giving up early goals. Maybe some of our guys have noticed how many goals the U.S. National Team gives up and are trying to catch Bob Bradley’s eye.
9’ - Wolff flicks on a header, and Davies beats the defender to it but forgets to play the ball.
16’ - Early goals hurt United more than most teams. United aren’t great (or even good) at breaking a defense down under the best of circumstances, but when a team scores and becomes more risk-averse, things only get worse for us.
24’ - United can’t even play the ball forward far enough to even consider getting their strikers involved. Wolff and Davies have had about as much screen time as I did on Last Comic Standing.
30’ - What’s wrong with Dax? He’s normally a crisp passer, but today he’s a giveaway machine.
39’ - GOAL UNITED! Some decent United possession leads to a set piece, which Burch powers home from about 30 yards. Very well taken — nice to see some training ground stuff pay off. Burch’s left foot is atomic. I’ll bet he psyches himself up for every game by looking at his left foot in the mirror and saying “I am a star. I’m a star. I am a big, bright, shining star.”
41’ - Stop feeling good about yourself: GOAL HOUSTON! United immediately give the goal back. It’s that same dude: Will Bruin. The underrated Brad Davis gets free on the left, sends in a cross, and Bruin loses Perry Kitchen like an umbrella on the Metro. Unbelievably discouraging.
42’ - Kitchen switched off for just a second (possible article headline: “Light’s Off in the Kitchen,” you’re welcome, Goff), and it was just long enough for Bruin to get free. That’s a tricky play — defenders hate crossing runs — but Burch got it right and Kitchen blinked.
Halftime. United just don’t look good enough. If I was giving halftime grades, Burch would probably be the only player above a five. When this team plays as less than the sum of its parts, it’s pretty bad.
46’ - Najar is on for Fred. I like this sub; Fred wasn’t doing much, and benching Najar for poor play only makes sense if you reward him for good play, and he (apparently) played well mid-week.
50’ - Najar with an amazing run down the right — he’s injecting some life into the game. The whole team is now playing like it’s 2010.
54’ - Houston have a real advantage in the air. We don’t have many tall guys, and the one tall guy we do have (Jakovic) is skinny and not really an enforcer. As good as Kitchen has been at the beginning of this season, I don’t remember him winning too many contested headers (he’s listed at 6-0, which might be generous).
57’ - GOAL HOUSTON! You’re not gonna believe this...but it’s Will Bruin again. After Houston wins a cheap free kick (after a stupid foul from Davies), Bruin rises above the entire United defense to head home. I swear that comment from three minutes ago was not put in after-the-fact.
58’ - In baseball, I’m a Mariners fan (we moved a lot). And yes: 2010 was a real hum-dinger of a sports year for me. The M’s, like United, set new records for offensive futility on their way to posting the worst record in their league. You know what killed me more than anything with the Mariners: their ability to get shut down by some random journeyman. It’s one thing if you get three-hit by C.C. Sabathia; that’ll happen. But to not get a runner past second base against Johnny Two-surgeries is demoralizing. Now, I’m not saying that Will Bruin is a bad player — in fact, he’s a rookie and might end up being very good — but to have some random rookie put three past you having never scored in the league before is an extra kick in the teeth.
60’ - Looks like Zayner is hurt. I’m not sure what it is...looks like maybe a hamstring. That would make sense, seeing as: 1) He just came back from a hamstring injury, and 2) The universe hates United players’ hamstrings. White is coming in. Seems strange; why White (a center back) and not Korb (a right back)?
62’ - Goal Houston! 4-1! Very strange play: Cam Weaver gets a breakaway off a throw-in, and he puts it past Hamid from an angle (I’m not thrilled with Hamid’s positioning there). I’ve never seen someone get that open off a throw-in in a professional match. I’ve seen it done it rec league — I’ve done it in rec league — but that works because not everyone in rec league knows you that can’t be offside on a throw-in. I know these guys only make MLS money, but I expect them to know things like that.
64’ - This is now officially the Colorado match: United give up the first goal, manage to battle back and tie it, then immediately give up a goal to make it 2-1 and then concede two more just to make sure that everyone noticed how badly they’re getting dominated.
66’ - It’s not yet 100 percent certain that United will get zero points from this game, only because the league might actually award them negative points based on their performance.
72’ - Earlier, Kyle Martino said that Davies told him he was 95 percent back. If this is Davies at 95 percent, then cut him loose this instant.
83’ - It’s times like this when I don’t really love this blogger gig. Ordinarily, this game would be off and I’d be crafting an end to this matchup more to my liking in FIFA 2011, but I feel an obligation to hang in there and give you all by-the-minute updates on Davies’ offside runs.
84’ - Tino on for Wolff. Don’t feel bad if you failed to notice that Wolff was on.
89’ - Through ball from Tino is too hard.
90’ - Through ball from Tino is too hard.
91’ - Through ball from Tino is too hard.
Full time. That’s two beat-downs in a row. All that hippie feel-goodery from the beginning of the year is pretty much gone.
Hamid: 3. He needs to start making some of these saves. The weird thing is that he’s not facing a barrage of shots: he’s facing a small number of high quality shots. Still, you’re supposed to save a small percentage of those, and so far he’s saved exactly zero.
Burch: 6. Our left back should not be our primary source of offense.
Kitchen: 4. Got beat like a drum on the third goal and failed to assert himself in some key defensive situations.
Jakovic: 4.5. It seems like I should be giving the defenders some lower ratings seeing as we let in four goals, but the midfield deserves a good portion of the blame.
Zayner: 3. Everything from Houston came down the left. He also didn’t get forward enough; United’s attack is so slow that we need to bring in the fullbacks in order to have a chance.
Pontius: 6. Was guilty of a few bad giveaways, but I’m willing to cut him some slack because he seemed to be the only player capable of advancing the ball into the attacking third.
Simms: 4. He’s developing a bad habit of playing the ball square or backwards immediately after we win it. That’s not the time to play it safe — that’s when the defense is most vulnerable.
McCarty: 3. I can’t believe how many times he gave the ball away cheaply. It’s weird; passing is normally his strength, but his timing belt must have been loose or something because he was not in synch.
Fred: 3. Easter is over, and so is Fred’s revival for the time being.
Wolff: 3.5. Wolff’s main contribution was winning headers. That’s not a sentence you want to type.
Davies: 2.5. Complete dog of a game. He won absolutely nothing, didn’t do anything with the few opportunities he did have, and committed a stupid foul that led to the third goal. The absence of cards, own-goals, and felonies is the only reason his score isn’t lower.