Here’s how you rebuild in baseball: you draft several dozen teenagers and wait. Most of those teenagers will turn into career minor-leaguers and eventually — when they’re willing to wear shorts short enough — become high-school gym teachers. Several will have their rotator cuff explode like a transformer box and spend the rest of their lives boring people with that story. A handful will move quickly through the minor leagues and then test positive for PEDs. One will be kicked in the head by a horse. Two will quit baseball and start an apple-butter farm. And the rest, if you’re lucky, will form the core of a playoff contender five years from now.
Here’s how you rebuild in MLS: have a good draft and make one or two shrewd pickups. It takes a year. That’s how we arrived at tonight’s game, featuring first-place Philadelphia (in its second year of existence) against D.C. United, a team that was the worst in the league last year but who have playoff ambitions this year. United are so determined to make the playoffs that they traded a promising 24-year-old midfielder for a 33-year-old in the last year of his contract. And most people — myself included — think the trade was a good idea. United are within shouting distance of a playoff spot and DeRosario is exactly the player they need. But they also need to be getting all three points at home, starting tonight.
Tonight’s lineup: Hamid | Woolard, McDonald, White, Kitchen | Pontius, Simms, Najar, De Rosario | Wolff, Davies. Ben throws DeRo right in there, as I was hoping he would. Also thrown right into the mix was newly-acquired Brandon McDonald (injuries to Jakovic and Zayner made that very likely). Woolard is apparently recovered enough from his back injury to start; I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if he’s a bit less than 100 percent.
And we’re underway...
2’ - Right away Pontius misses a header wide in a carbon copy of Abby Wambach’s missed header from earlier today. Except that Wambach had less product in her hair.
4’ - United are wearing the all-red uniforms (no, not “kits”...let’s not be self-loathing Americans). They look good, and $5 from every jersey sale goes to cancer research at the John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. You know where that is: it’s across the street from the stadium where D.C .United will open their 2014 season.
6’ - United playing some nice soccer so far, getting DeRo involved. A nice buildup led to a foul on DeRo a minute ago, which ultimately turned into a free kick into the wall.
12’ - Danny Califf has long, dyed-black hair, sideburns, and tattoos. The obvious way to describe his look is “bass player in a Nickelback tribute band.” But I see it differently — I’m seeing “the bad-boy of your local youth ministry.” Look at him again...it fits.
18’ - Save Hamid! Le Toux with le shot, and Hamid gets his left hand out and sends it wide. Excellent save.
20’ - A volley from Pontius forces an excellent save from Mondragon at the other end. Could be 1-1, but the ‘keepers are keeping it 0-0.
25’ - I have a soft spot for Le Toux, because he suffers from a condition with which I am also afflicted: Severe Anglo-Saxon Face Syndrome (SASFS). Did you know that five percent of American children are born with SASFS? It’s true. Those of us with French and English ancestry are susceptible to this condition, in which the face is a hodgepodge of jaws, noses, and brow-ridges. There’s just entirely too much going on in a SASFS face; too much surface area, too many angles. Prominent SASFS sufferers include Tom Petty and advice columnist Dan Savage.
28’ - I know he’s playing hurt, but Daniel Woolard really does not get forward much. He plays good defense, but attack is just not part of his game.
35’ - Le Toux get in behind the defense, but puts his shot wide of the post! Hamid did well there; he put himself in the right place and made himself big(ger).
43’ - GOAL UNITED! 1-0! De Rosario splits two defenders with a cross and Wolff side-foots home! That’s what De Rosario gives you: the ability to turn a not-very-threatening situation into a goal.
44’ - The celebration is DeRo doing his heavy-footed walk while Wolff pretends to film...with an old-fashioned crank camera. Crank cameras are still state-of-the-art-technology in the world of mime.
Halftime. Here’s a stumper: where is Charlie Davies? I really don’t understand him; he’ll have a good game and you think he’s about to round into form, and then he’ll have a game like this one where he completely disappears.
46’ - White tracks back to cover a player who got behind McDonald. That’s probably the best part of White’s game: he’s always there in a flash when he’s needed for cover.
48’ - GOAL PHILLY! 1-1! Okay, worst own-goal every scored by a United player: Jeff Agoos in the 2002 World Cup, or Perry Kitchen right there? That was a bad one, and a weird one, too; I have no idea how Kitchen ended up putting the ball in that spot from that position. It should be pointed out: the goal was preceded by a solid 90 seconds of horrible defense from United, including an ill-advised back pass from Pontius. Kitchen was on the end of the play, but a lot of guys deserve part of the blame for the goal.
50’ - Pontius off the post! Great buildup play: Najar > DeRo > Wolff > Pontius. Nice soccer - we should get half a goal for that.
56’ - Brettschneider in for Davies...it was just a matter of when. I’m discouraged that Davies can’t put two good games together in a row.
57’ - GOAL UNITED! 2-1! Najar with a howitzer! What a strike — by my guess, he was about 35 yards out! I thought Heather O’Reilly’s goal was going to be the best long-range goal I saw today, but Najar just outdid her.
59’ - Great save by Hamid off a header from Ruiz! United’s defense completely went to sleep there.
65’ - Another header falls safely into Hamid’s hands. Hamid is so big that he basically just needs to fall left or right to cover the goal.
67’ - Fred in for Wolff...wait...Fred? I thought he was already in Australia? I know the deal is done, but apparently he hasn’t left yet. That’s weird — who keeps coming in to their old job when their new job is already lined up? Was he just cleaning out some stuff and decided to go ahead and suit up?
71’ - White misses a clearance but recovers — could have been a PK there, though it would have been the wrong call. But the way refereeing has gone this year, I completely expected a whistle.
76’ - Brettschneider taken down right outside the box. If anyone has that David Jones free kick in their locker, now’s the time to use it. But no...into the wall.
77’ - United tried something a bit clever on that free kick: Pontius reached down as if he was going to reposition the ball, but instead he tapped in to Najar. Philly wasn’t fooled, though: they closed down DeRosario’s shot quickly.
81’ - Philly’s Jack McInerney is 18 years old, but if I worked at a movie theatre I’d take a long, hard look at his ID before letting him into an rated-R movie. I’ll bet when Philly go to the Water Country USA or Old Country Buffet they try to get him in for the child’s rate.
84’ - GOAL PHILLY! 2-toux! What a killer; two weeks in a row, we give up the tying goal in the final minutes. This stinks. Pontius fell asleep, letting Williams get in behind him, and Ruiz got across White to put the cross home. Come on, guys, get one back.
85’ - Ruiz goes down, and United play the ball out. Why? Doesn’t Ruiz’s reputation precede him at this point? When Billy Corgan announces that the Smashing Pumpkins are back, we all know not to pay attention. Can’t we apply the same skepticism when Carlos Ruiz claims an injury?
86’ - Guess what: Ruiz is back up and playing.
FULL TIME: 2-2. What a letdown. For the second match in a row, United played well, took a 2-1 lead, but gave up a late goal to drop two points. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see the team play well enough to win, but on the other hand, it’s frustrating to not actually win.
Hamid: 7.5. Probably his best game of the season; he made some top-drawer saves and couldn’t be faulted on either goal.
Woolard: 5.5. I’m giving him a 4.5 plus one bonus point for playing through an injury.
McDonald: 6. Honestly, I have no memories of him from when he played for San Jose, but having no memory of a defender is usually a good thing. He did well today.
White: 4.5. Won some important tackles, but also did a poor job of tracking Ruiz.
Kitchen: 5. Actually had a pretty good match aside from scoring one of the top ten worst own-goals I’ve ever seen.
Pontius: 4. As usual, he provided a good portion of our offense. But he was also a liability on defense and played a role in both of the goals we conceded.
Simms: 6. Simms is perfectly suited for the bottom of the diamond. He knows his role and played it well tonight.
Najar: 7.5. Scored what might well be the goal of the year so far for United and created a lot of offense besides that.
De Rosario: 6. United controlled the ball at least as well as at any point this season; DeRo played a big part in that.
Wolff: 6.5. Had a lot of quality touches, and he still has good speed and mobility for a 34-year-old.
Davies: 3. He wants to be given a goal on a silver platter; he’s staying high and central, even when the defense is deep and compact, as Philly’s was tonight.
Brettschneider: 3. Didn’t influence the game any more than Davies did.
Fred: 5. I know he’s off to Australia any minute now, but the longer he sticks around, the better; we don’t have any depth on the wings right now. You may have noticed that Ben only used two subs; that’s an indication of just how thin our bench is right now.