Most D.C. United fans are also U.S. national team fans. I am. Soccer fans often follow two teams in the same sport at once, which is unusual; Redskins fans usually aren’t too into, say, the Spokane Shock (which is a real Arena Football League team). For soccer fans, things can be great and terrible at the same time. That’s where I am right now. The national team is firing on all cylinders: It’s in first place in the hexagonal, won its first three Gold Cup matches and is playing the free-flowing, uninhibited, hippie-dancing-at-a-folk-festival-style soccer that Coach Juergen Klinsmann likes. D.C. United, however, is so broken that it’s shipping out the old guard and handing the keys to a bunch of kids. It’s the same as if your office decided to fire all the managers and replace them with interns, and I expect similar results (which is to say: probably a modest improvement).
These teams are mirror images; one is a joy to watch, one is endlessly painful. They’re Jim and John Belushi, Goofus and Gallant. That’s why this week, instead of doing two separate match recaps, I’m going to do one recap that compares the in-match experiences of watching a team that is excellent with watching a team that is excrement.
Starting lineups announced:
U.S. national team vs. El Salvador: The lineup is intriguing: Rimando | Beasley, Besler, Goodson, Parkhurst | Torres, Beckerman, Diskerud, Corona | Donovan, Wondolowski. I prefer Holden to Diskerud, but this is a quality side. Matt Besler has gone from a nobody to a star in less than a year; usually you have to release a sex tape or land a plane in the Hudson River to have that kind of ascension.
D.C. United at Chicago Fire: The lineup is insulting: Willis | Kemp, Woolard, White, Korb | DeLeon, Kitchen, Thorrington, Nyassi | Silva, Ruiz. No Pontius or De Ro, yet again. This isn’t anybody’s fault — players get hurt — but I almost feel like the team should start issuing refunds. There’s a play right now on Broadway starring Tom Hanks; if you showed up and learned that Hanks had pulled a hamstring and his role would be played by Sainey Nyassi (who is likely a better actor than he is a soccer player), you’d demand your money back. Same principle applies.
Ten minutes in:
U.S. national team: You’re establishing a rhythm and making the other team chase the ball. You’re creating chances and a goal seems inevitable. The fact that the opponent is bad doesn’t change the fact that the movement is good, the passes are crisp and the touches are quality.
D.C. United: You’re down two goals. The fact that the opponent is bad doesn’t change the fact that the movement is non-existent, the passes are crap and even basic skills like trapping the ball seem beyond our ability. Each United game is the entire season in miniature. First, you look at the players and think ,“That won’t get it done.” Next, that sentiment is quickly confirmed. Finally, you’re forced to sit and watch the team flail about while fuming about the fact that watching meaningful soccer — something you really enjoy — just isn’t in the cards this year.
U.S. national team: It’s 2-1, and you feel that 3-0 would have been a more fair result. The team just played a half that was not only dominant, it was fun to watch. The guy with the beer’s name is playing like a $300 bottle of wine. Donovan is officially back from his semester abroad. The score is still close but the result is barely in doubt.
D.C. United: It’s 3-0, and you feel that an emergency act by the commissioner relegating the team to USL-9 would have been a more fair result. Even guys who are usually good — Willis, Woolard, White — have been bad. You ask yourself if, as a fan, you have the option of going the Alain Rochat route and just saying: “Nah, I don’t want to be part of this. I’m out.”
U.S. national team: It’s 3-1 and the result is beyond doubt. Eddie Johnson just came in and slammed a header that was so powerful all the keeper could do was wipe the peroxide off the ball and kick it back to the center circle.
D.C. United: It’s 4-1 and the result is beyond doubt. Even the good — new acquisition Luis Silva scoring a well-taken goal — comes with depressing stats: It was just the second road goal of the season for United and its first run-of-play goal since May 19. Egypt has had more presidents since May 19 than United has had run-of-play goals.
U.S. national team: Donovan scores the icing-on-the-cake goal (then assists on another, which is fine because everyone loves icing), and we’re on to the semifinals. The Americans will play the Fighting Najars of Honduras because CONCACAF is like Mike Tyson’s Punchout: You see the same characters over and over.
D.C. United: The picture on Direct Kick goes out (seriously) and instead of calling the cable company to complain, you consider calling them to say “thank you.” You listen to Dave Johnson and John Harkes kill time — which they’ve been doing admirably since the match ended 68 minutes ago — and realize their jobs are tough because they have to watch this team every week without dropping f-bombs.
U.S. national team: It’s a 5-1 win and you can’t wait to watch the next match. It was only seven months ago that I asked the question: Is Klinsmann a genius or a crazy person? It’s starting to look like the answer is either “genius” or “crazy person who is getting results anyway.”
D.C. United: It’s a 4-1 loss and you can’t stand to watch the next match. I’m going to be an optimist and call it a 6-5 aggregate win for the weekend.
D.C. United player ratings
Willis: 3. On the first goal, Willis made the mistake Hamid sometimes makes: He got too aggressive and came out when he didn’t need to.
Kemp: 3. Kemp can play a good cross. Unfortunately, his defending is spottier than a dalmatian with acne.
Woolard: 3. That was not Usain Bolt flashing past Woolard on the second goal — that was Jeff Larentowicz (who, to be fair, looks quite a bit like Bolt if Bolt were a shorter, red-haired white man). Maybe we can track down that wishing Gypsy machine from “Big” so that Woolard can wish himself fast.
White: 3. Victim of the extremely rare halftime center back substitution. I’m sure Olsen said that he wanted to get Jakovic some work. I doubt White believed him.
Korb: 3. Everyone on the defense gets a 3. I guess you could say they played as a group.
DeLeon: 4. Eddie Johnson may have stolen his dyed-blonde mojo.
Kitchen: 4. I’m a Kitchen supporter, but he needs to start chipping in a little in the attacking third.
Thorrington: 5. Congratulations, John Thorrington: You were average! Adequate! Extremely passable!
Nyassi: 2.5. I became very worried about Rafael (remember him?) the first time that he was available but Lionard Pajoy started. Now I have the same worry about Jared Jeffrey.
Silva: 4.5. I was starting to think that he had quickly learned United’s playing style — aimless flicks, forced passes — but then he scored that goal.
Ruiz: 3. Whose turn is it next … Townsend’s?
Jakovic: 4.5. Good to have him back for three weeks until he has a hip flexor injury.
Porter: 4. Porter plays for United and the Canadian national team. Maybe the problem is Kyle Porter.
Riley: No rating.
Santos: 10. Thanks for not scoring for Chicago, which would have made a bad night even worse.
U.S. national team player rating
Rimando: 8. The double save in the 25th minute was unbelievable. How are Hamid and Johnson supposed to crack this team?
Beasley: 5.5. This wasn’t really his game; he’s more about determination and work rate than finesse. Looked like he didn’t know what to do with all that space.
Besler: 6.5. His distribution is quality. He’s a better-defending version of Tim Ream.
Goodson: 6.5. You sometimes worry that firaffe-like defenders like Goodson might struggle against smaller, speedier teams like El Salvador. Not tonight.
Parkhurst: 6.5. For what it’s worth, the Augsburg Allgemeine — the newspaper covering Parkhurst’s club team FC Augsburg — is keeping track of Parkhurst. And, as they put it (with the help of Google Translate): “The full-back has been a few weeks with the US National Team in the Gold Cup, and that too very successfully. On Sunday, the U.S. boys covered a 5-1 win against El Salvador, with Parkhurst played in front 70,000 spectators 90 minutes Baltimore.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Torres: 7. You know how I said this wasn’t Beasley’s type of game? This was Torres’s type of game.
Beckerman: 7. We saw in this match: Beckerman can really strike a ball. It’s a shame he doesn’t get forward more, because he can finish.
Diskerud: 6. I still prefer Holden, but I like what I see from Diskerud. I also like the name Mix Diskerud — sounds like a character in a video game where you race hovercrafts.
Corona: 7.5. Let me throw out some names to temper our optimism: Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Marvell Wynne, Tim Ream, Freddy Adu, and I’ll include Sacha Kljestan, Jose Torres and Alejandro Bedoya. Sometimes we anoint someone as a player of the future before they actually pan out. But Corona is really starting to impress me; I’m buying.
Donovan: 7.5. You could cut together a reel of Donovan’s finishing and conclude that he had a terrible game. But that would be misleading; he’s the straw that stirs the drink.
Wondolowski: 4.5. This isn’t a “he can’t do it against better competition” situation — this was El Salvador. Frankly, with Mexico looking about as potent as a Miller 64, there’s not an opponent in this tournament playing at a higher level than you’ll find in MLS.
Johnson: 8. The hair is a nice touch; with seven or eight Johnsons in the U.S. player pool right now, you need a way to stand out.
Shea: 6.5. Oh, to be an attacking player put on when you’re up two goals.
Orozco: 6. He was fine, but it’s going to be Besler-Goodson again next match.