EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions below are those of Soccer Outsider Jeff Maurer and not Soccer Insider Steven Goff.
It’s amazing that only two years after 2010 — an era so bleak that we should give it an ominous, capitalized name, like how the Irish refer to “The Troubles” — United is near the top of the table. That’s an amazing turnaround. If terrible soccer was weight loss, United would be posing for one of those pictures of themselves wearing their old, huge, pants. It feels good to be cheering for a winner.
Not that everything is rosy. United got smacked, 4-0, at Houston on July 15, thanks mostly to an early red card given to (well, earned by) Bill Hamid. Robbie Russell is hurt. New York beat Philadelphia last weekend. And according my calculations, United is due for a match in which it suffers 1.4 concussions and 3.2 hamstring pulls. And — amazingly — my math says that all 3.2 hamstring pulls will be suffered by Dejan Jakovic.
The lineup for last Saturday’s game against Columbus: Willis | Woolard, Jakovic, McDonald, Korb | Pontius, Kitchen, DeLeon, Neal | De Rosario, Salihi. Hmm . . . Neal instead of Boskovic? Something must be wrong with Boskovic. Because there’s no way that that much is right with Neal.
Here’s kickoff from Crew Stadium. Thanks to MLS for not scheduling this match in Houston’s brand-new We Have a Stadium and You Don’t Stadium, which would have been hilarious, but we’ve seen that building enough this year.
2’ — United vs. Crew is a classic early-days-of-MLS matchup. United, Columbus and New England are the only teams from the inaugural year that still have their original colors and name. United’s 1996 marketing department should take a bow on that one; they got it right. There were some horrible decisions made that year. There were teams called the Burn, the Clash, the Zone, the Mutiny, the Seizure, the Climax and the Wiz. Only three of those are fake. And the Wiz isn’t one of them; Kansas City named its team so poorly that changing the name to Wizards was actually an upgrade. Even the Crew, whose name and colors have survived, kind of got the short end of the stick: Its name and logo still say “soccer team” slightly less than they say “all-nude male review.”
12’ — Nice to see that Gaven has grown the beard nice and long to contrast with the big “Barbasol” logo on his shirt. The beard is really ragged — nice and gnarly. He looks like the Gorton’s Fisherman after a bad breakup.
14’ — The only thing United is doing well now is last-ditch defending. Sort of the same approach that got me through college: bad most of the time but able to pull the fat out of the fire at the last minute. It’s not a recipe for success.
16’ — Though United has been playing well for months, what was true at the beginning of the season is still true now: If you pressure the back four, they will play a long ball.
19’ — Pontius with a penalty shout. Well, not a shout (because it wasn’t a penalty) . . . a penalty whimper. A penalty inquisition. A penalty query.
30’ — At the risk of jinxing things: the refereeing in United’s matches has been pretty good this year. Sure, there have been a few bad calls, but it hasn’t had a match decided by the ref yet this year. That’s different from last year, when United got Baldermo Toledo’d pretty hard in the Toledo a couple of times.
36’ — I have contributed as much to this match so far as has Nick DeLeon. Arguably more; that Eddie Gaven beard joke was solid.
37’ — Lewis Neal with a very bad challenge . . . that’s not even a yellow? Geez, I thought that was an orange card. That’s the same tackle that got Pablo Mastreoni sent off against Italy in the 2006 World Cup.
43’ — The Crew put the ball in the back of the net but it’s called offside (and justly so — Salihi was called for a nearly identical close call just a few minutes ago). You don’t actually get points for just putting the ball in the back of the net. Um . . . except for that one time.
45’ + 1’ — Pontius’s header is saved! That’s United’s best chance of the half. Which is kind of like saying “Nevermind the Bollocks” is the best Sex Pistols album; there was only one.
Halftime: 0-0 — Well, that was a lousy half of soccer. United didn’t keep the ball and didn’t press well on defense. Just about the only good thing that can be said is that because this is soccer, United lost the first half but still isn’t technically losing.
46’ — GOAL COLUMBUS! Now we are technically losing. Quick attack from the Crew while United’s back line was badly staggered. United couldn’t play that ugly forever and expect not to pay for it.
49’ — De Ro puts it in the net, but he’s offside! Again: it only counts if you put it in the net legally. Um . . . except for that other time.
52’ — Let me say this about Lucas Neal: He had an excellent game the last time he played at the top of the diamond. And, um . . . I like his haircut. But now that I’ve done the say-two-nice-things-before-you-rip-someone thing, here’s the reality: He is having absolutely zero influence on this match.
58’ — Still no Boskovic. I have to believe he’s not available.
60’ — Pontius lays it back for De Ro, and De Ro’s shot is just wide! You could say that was a “close shave” for the Crew.
61’ — Because they’re sponsored by Barbasol.
62’ — Barbasol is shaving cream, so . . . close shave, get it?
63’ — All right: then you write the jokes, if you’re so clever. Cut me some slack, this is a volume business.
64’ — Santos comes on for Neal. About 64 minutes late, in my opinion.
69’ — Long ball almost finds . . . Chris Korb? Yep: right back Chris Korb was the farthest man forward. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
71’ — Dilly Duka is having a good game for a guy with the name of a 1930’s comic book character.
72’ — Salihi comes out, and a guy I didn’t even know was on the roster — a man claiming to be named Long Tan — comes in.
73’ — Google tells me tells me that the battle of Long Tan was fought in Vietnam in 1966 and that Long Tan Restaurant in Brooklyn has closed. Then there are many results about the dangers of tanning beds. Then it tells me Long Tan was acquired by United from the Whitecaps on June 28. You have a difficult name to Google, Mr. Tan.
79’ — Tan played in, but he sends it (well) wide! That was United’s best chance of the match.
87’ — Korb off the post! Tan gets behind the defense, feeds Korb — who is apparently playing some sort of right back/left winger/libero position — who slams a shot off the post.
90’ + 1’ — United with a barrage of corners but can’t convert.
90’ + 4’ — One last chance: United has a free kick. Willis comes forward (and yes, that does work sometimes). The ball’s played in . . . nothing. Game over.
Full time — 1-0 Columbus. Pretty uninspiring performance. You can’t really argue that United deserved any points. Even Bill Kristol wouldn’t argue that, and he’s pretty used to being wrong.
Willis: 6. Solid performance, though he couldn’t make that one big save. I’m not sure if it’ll be enough to keep Hamid on the bench next week.
Woolard: 5.5. Woolard was fine last year, and he’s been better than fine this year. Nice find considering United got him from the Carolina Railhawks, which sounds like a mixed drink but is actually a professional soccer team.
Jakovic: 6.5. Lost in this generally lousy performance: the back line played well.
McDonald: 6. Solid defensively, though he played too many long balls. How many times have I said that this year?
Korb: 5. You know how you have an intern where you work who is super active and really wants to impress and you love the enthusiasm but some of the things the intern does are kind of counterproductive? That was Korb this match.
Pontius: 6.5. He and De Ro look for each other. They’ve got a good partnership.
Kitchen: 6. He was a terrier like always, and he was better than normal in possession this match.
DeLeon: 3. Seems that the hair may have been the source of his power. Did he shave it as some sort of Barbasol-sponsored promotion?
Neal: 3. Had about as much influence on this match as the Freedom Party does on American politics.
De Rosario: 6. Dangerous when on the ball but not on the ball enough.
Salihi: 5.5. He has nice touch; I think he might not be far from putting it all together.
Santos: 6. Hard to tell if things got better because he came in or if they got better because United started to press.
Tan: 3.5. Welcome to DC, Long Tan. Your honeymoon period officially ended when you put that 79th-minute chance 10 yards wide of the goal.
Wolff: 5. I had pretty much forgotten Wolff was on the team. But there he was, playing soccer, and not playing badly.