EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
Because I’m watching the United-Houston game three days after it was played (sorry about that, but my job as a traveling court jester makes it hard to watch things live), it doesn’t quite make sense to do a live match diary. So I’ll offer my thoughts in condensed form, skipping the parts of the column that usually sag a little (trenchant analysis) but retaining 100 percent of what I do well (hair jokes).
Thought No. 1: Very funny of MLS to have stadium-less D.C. United be the visitor at the grand opening of Houston’s new stadium. Yeah, we get it MLS: we’re homeless. Hardy har har. I hope Houston didn’t give us that awkward-as-heck house tour that people like to do, where they say fascinating things like, “We couldn’t decide whether to go with oak or maple, so we went with oak.” Riveting. I can picture poor Ben Olsen and Kevin Payne shuffling from room to room, forced to feign interest in bay windows and think of questions to ask in order to hide their all-encompassing boredom. It would have been nice to grab a win and ruin Houston’s smug housewarming party, but I guess the guys had to settle for wiping their shoes on the carpet and maybe leaving an upper-decker in one of the bathrooms.
Thought No. 2: Why are teams allowed to adjust the size of the field? The field in Houston was only 70 yards wide even though it could have been wider. Even baseball — where ostensibly sober architects will put things like hills and light poles in the field of play — doesn’t allow teams to adjust things from game to game. I’d like to see that: “You know, we don’t hit a lot of home runs, so let’s move the fences to 600 feet. Now nobody hits home runs.” If Dominic Kinnear loves small fields so much, then he can go coach an arena soccer team.
Thought No. 3: Bobby Boswell had a shot on goal on what was essentially a scorpion kick. How many points should you get if you score off a scorpion kick . . . three, four? What if a central defender scores off a scorpion kick . . . eight or nine? What if that defender is Boswell (the man is not a flair player)? I think if Boswell scores off a scorpion kick you just run MLS Cup onto the field and end the whole season right there.
Thought No. 4: Perry Kitchen’s injury had a huge impact on the game. It could be a coincidence that United seemed to lose control of the match after Kitchen went off, but it probably isn’t. The three defensive midfielders on the roster — Kitchen, Marcelo Saragosa and Kurt Morsink — are all injured; it’s amazing how the Injury Gods (free band name there, metalheads) know where you’re thin. Stephen King is more of a two-way midfielder, and he didn’t really impress on Saturday.
Thought No. 5: Losing this game is not a big deal. Motivation is huge in soccer; just look at how relegation-threatened teams almost always find another gear at the end of the season. And Houston was motivated to win its first game in what the announcers continually called “The House That Ching Built.” Um . . . Brian Ching is a very good player, but unless Ching was lobbying the City Council, collecting petition signatures and running structural integrity tests on the superstructure, then I’m not sure we can call it “The House That Ching Built.”
Hamid: 5.5. Maybe I’m being harsh, but I think he should have saved the goal. From where I was laying half-comatose on my couch, covered in empty Haagen Dazs containers, it looked savable.
Korb: 6. I don’t know if he twisted an ankle at the end of the match or was just fatigued, but he gutted it out. He had to; the Injury Gods would get a kick out of seeing Branko Boskovic play left back.
Woolard: 6. He’s well suited to central defense, where his lack of attacking skill isn’t a drawback.
McDonald: 6. He’s done a good job of avoiding cards recently. By his standards.
Russell: 5. I respect that Russell has been a solid player for a long time, but at the moment I think that Korb is a better fullback.
Najar: 5.5. It’s funny how some wingers prefer playing on their natural side (Najar, Bobby Convey), and other like to be inverted (DeLeon, Dempsey). Najar seems more comfortable on the right.
Kitchen: 5.5. Everyone was fearing the worst after Kitchen’s injury, but it turns out it’s not nearly as bad as feared. Although if he worked in your office he’d still hobble around boring everyone to death with the story.
Cruz: 5.5. At one point he dived in the box, and Boswell was not happy. I get the feeling that Cruz’s ex-teammates feel about him the way that Democrats feel about John Edwards: “You know, now that you’re no longer on our team, I really don’t have any patience for your BS.”
De Rosario: 4. When De Ro has an off game, this team is not the same. That sounds more profound than it actually is because it rhymes.
Pontius: 4.5. When Pontius has an off night, this team forfeits its usual might. All right: rhyming does not always make things sound more wise than they actually are.
King: 4. Pity King: He’s a two-way midfielder on a team that plays a diamond midfield.
Salihi: 4.5. With a packed schedule coming up, I expect Salihi to see significant minutes.
Wolff: 5.5. Last year we saw Wolff all the time, but now he’s never around. It’s like how you never see your freshman dorm mates sophomore year.