DC United 2010: A Movie Lacking In Production Value, Interest

It was a strange sight on a sun-splashed, if not warmer-than-necessary Saturday afternoon at RFK Stadium, as DC United comically stumbled to its fifth straight defeat to open the 2010 Major League Soccer season, this time in a 2-0 defeat the alleged rival New York Red Bulls.

Of course, it wasn’t strange that United lost. It seems that’s all the club knows how to do in league play anymore. To this point in the season, they’ve now been outscored, 13-2, and one of those goals shouldn’t have counted. But what was clear on Saturday on a number of levels isn’t just that the team is bad; but the fans, having now seen the same movie in league home matches over and over and over again, aren’t interested in going to box office any more, either.

I’ve already gone into detail about United’s failures to open the campaign, and you can read about them here. Interestingly, the line in that post about Rachel Phelps, “Major League,” and United’s now 5-game losing streak has gained new life on the DC United boards in an interesting thread you can read here.

The home opener against New England drew a healthy crowd of 20,664. Not bad at all for any match and certainly more than reasonable for the home opener. United lost the match, 2-0, giving up two second-half goals in fairly rapid succession.

The second home match against Chicago wasn’t attended by quite as many, but there’s few in MLS who would shake a corner flag at 18,407. United lost the match, 2-0, giving up two second-half goals in fairly rapid succession.

Fast forward to Saturday. I have to imagine everyone inside the United offices felt attendance wasn’t going to be an issue, what with the match featuring the aforementioned Red Bulls as opponents, and the game serving as the first half of a doubleheader with the WPS Washington Freedom.

Oops.

Turns out the third home match against New York drew a sparse gathering of 12,089. United lost the match, 2-0, giving up two second-half goals … yeah, you know the rest. This is the kind of crowd number that for years United fans laughed at when it would occur at Giants Stadium with the MetroStars/Red Bulls hosting United. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and United is using that boot to fire shots high, wide, and off nearby defenders, with no clear threat at goal. The players trudged off, almost unanimously not acknowledging the supporters, and seemingly unfazed as the Red Bulls danced on the RFK grass, looking aloft at their busload of fans in the upper deck, who sang and waved their flag. It was enough to make long-time United fans sick, and it’s apparently enough to keep the casual ones (and more and more of the long-timers) home completely.

You may argue a couple points on the attendance issue. One, the match started at 4 p.m., so some parents were still involved in activities with their kids such as youth sports or whatever, and that dulled the attendance. Or, you might argue that because of the chance of thunderstorms that day, people stayed away – even though there ended up not being a drop of rain to be found throughout. Others will argue that it’s too early in the season to rag on the attendance numbers. I’d go with you on that, and have expressed that opinion in previous seasons, if the numbers for these DCU matches weren’t dropping so quickly.

Simply put, the possible reasons offered above cannot account for attendance falling by more than 40% from the first game to the third. Even on the side of RFK that houses the supporters’ clubs sections; there was a noticeable drop off in people on Saturday.

The players seem to have no answers at all. Unable to build up a synthesized, cohesive attack, then not having the ability to stop opponents on the counter, the three home league matches have played out virtually the same. The club’s response was to re-sign forward Luciano Emilio. Perhaps Scott Garlick, Raul Diaz Arce, and Ben Iroha are somewhere out there, waiting by the phone, too?

Both Emilio and Jaime Moreno made second-half appearances Saturday as substitutes, but neither was effective. It was hard to blame Emilio, a goal poacher who finds himself on a team providing nothing to poach. His touches in the final part of the match were extremely limited, because United didn’t have any players on the field able to get the ball to him. The attack seemed far less dangerous once Moreno replaced Andy Najar on 56 minutes. By the way, Najar is 17 years old; Moreno is 36. Barring an injury to Najar, it’s questionable why he would have been pulled. He’s shown some talent this season, but I’m not sure there’s enough around him to let him grow in this situation.

But even then, questioning head coach Curt Onalfo’s substitutions is like throwing a cup of water on a wildfire. Especially when you consider the roster turnover during the last 16 months. Of the 18 players who appeared in United’s first four league matches (the stats aren’t updated on the team web site through the New York game yet), 14 of them were acquired between the 2009 preseason and now. And that number doesn’t even include 12 players who either didn’t last the 2009 season, never got on the field, or who weren’t brought back. That’s 26 players, or the equivalent of an entire roster!

Yet, here United stand at 0-5, with playoff hopes already swirling around the bowl given that the five losses have all been within the Eastern Conference. The club hasn’t even played tough clubs like Columbus, Los Angeles, Seattle, or defending champions Real Salt Lake yet. And over the last 3 years or so, they’ve traditionally been horrible on the road vs. Western Conference teams.

It comes down to player talent identification and acquisition. And you also have to consider why so many player acquisitions were needed in just over a year, which would signal that the players they acquire don’t gradually improve enough to fill required roles, or they weren’t good enough to start with. Is Emilio the answer? I guess when you look at the players that have been acquired, how things worked out for them, or how they are contributing to the current losing streak, perhaps the answer really is, “Yes.”

And perhaps a large portion of the fan base has figured that out. They aren’t fooled by fancy foreign signings when the team could have achieved the same results (or hey, maybe a point or two) by stashing draft picks and developing young players.

Between a terrible on-field product, the inability of the front office to bring in viable talent, the ongoing failure to even produce optimism about a new stadium somewhere in the area, let alone actually breaking ground in the near future, and the current folly of a damaged main parking lot from winter snow cover that has yet to be fixed (not really United’s fault, to be fair), maybe folks actually have had enough.

Maybe after seeing the movie enough times, they know this one isn’t going to win any awards.

DC United 2009: The club that can’t stop failing

So, DC United misses the playoffs for the second-consecutive season. Am I surprised? Not really, it’s been clear from fairly early on that this team was practically built to swoon down the stretch and swoon it did – winning only two of its last seven matches. That said, missing out on the playoffs on a comedy handball by a festering sore of a player (Fred) in stoppage time was an especially emphatic way of doing it.

In a way, I am almost glad they’ve missed out. Not that I cheer for DC to lose, because I don’t. But because making the playoffs would only have delayed the truly important task of rebuilding this team and hiring a new coach.

Finally this season is over. Why do I say finally? Simple, because regardless of pollyannas will tell you about the club’s improvement on the Champions League or reaching the Open Cup Final, the reality is that United, on and off the field, is a club mired in mediocrity and/or outright failure. This season has sucked from top to bottom.

Of course, as with everything relating to Untied right now, this goes back to the new stadium project. The pursuit for a new stadium, the single most important focus of the United front office, has been wallowed in miserable failure for months now. Yet again, we’ve gone into a long period of radio silence from everyone (club, public jurisdictions, etc.) regarding the stadium project. As I have said over and over again, I remain very very pessimistic on this team’s ability to do what it takes to get a new stadium built in the DC area. Like everyone, I am hoping that Chang is just trying to play a long game here and wait out the recession before pushing for the stadium again.

The problem is, I haven’t heard that tact out of the management. What I have heard is that “Ohhh, we’re talking all right. We’re doing a lot of talking. We just can’t tell you what we’re talking about or who we’re talking to.” Meanwhile, even more worrying, we’re not hearing any leaks from the people United is allegedly talking to. I call bullshit. Either start going public about what’s going on or say that nothing is happening at all. Because right now, the “we can’t tell you” answer has ceased to be credible.

So while management was silent on the stadium front, they were also silent in terms of dealing with the management situation on the personnel side. Let’s make it clear, Tom Soehn had no business staying as United’s coach after the US Open Cup final disaster. They held on to him because “United doesn’t fire coaches midseason.” Well, right now United doesn’t win silverware either. A well-made hire made after a Soehn hiring could have absolutely seen this team make the playoffs and saved us the embarrassment of missing the playoffs again. Soehn has proven over and over again that he does not know how to consistently motivate and organize teams to perform consistently. This could’ve been remedied, it wasn’t, and now we’ve missed the playoffs…again. Well done, boys.

So with Soehn gone and Richie Williams the odds on favorite to replace him, there is an opportunity afoot to rebuild this team. Here’s the problem, GM Kevin Payne (when not screwing up stadium deals) and Technical Director Dave Kasper haven’t shown any ability to evaluate new signings, especially foreign ones. United lost out on Veron and since then has repeatedly swung and missed when it came to bringing in players who actually improve the squad. I’ll grant that Jakovic actually looks like a halfway useful player, but here’s just a partial list of signings who just weren’t nearly good enough – Wells, Crayton, Gonzalo 1, Gonzalo 2, Gallardo (good enough, but completely disinterested), Janicki, DiRimando, N’Silu, Szetela, Niell, Fred, Gomez the 2nd time, Dyachenko the 2nd time, and on and on and on. No matter how much United fans may love them for wearing our shirt, that list is composed of a combination of bums, stiffs, and malcontents who quite simply haven’t performed.

Right now, as little faith as I have in management, I fully expect to find out that Gomez, Moreno, Emilio, and Fred have had some kind of mysterious option pick up by the club and are now signed for the next six years. I hope that’s not the case. Ideally, I’d give Moreno a parade and a key to the city as he retires, give Gomez a shake of the hand and a solid thanks as he plies his trade elsewhere, boot Fred ass back to Australia where clearly they appreciate his deft skill at giving the ball away and take Emilio over to the FBI to have them test new forms of interrogation on him. I think one test for every game where he quit after about 30 minutes sounds about right.

Seriously though, if those guys do return, at even close to their current salaries, then United management will have failed yet again.

Coming on the heels of the last two seasons here in Washington, I expect nothing else.

Let’s see if United can prove me wrong. I certainly hope so.

Looking ahead for the USMNT … what if?

So, coaches will always say that they never look ahead the current opponent and that’s all they are focusing on. And USMNT coach Bob Bradley should be doing just that with the trip to Trinidad & Tobago coming up on Wednesday.

With the current mosh pit at the top of the group in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the US cannot afford to look past Wednesday’s match.

But I can. I’m not playing in it, I’m not coaching it, so I can have some fun.

Currently, the US and Honduras lead the way on 13 points, with Mexico and Costa Rica sitting on 12. It’s pretty much safe now to write off El Salvador and T&T, who are in the spoiler’s role.

We have hoped, and I dare say even expected, that the US would have a World Cup bid sewn up prior to October 14 – the day it hosts Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in the 10th and final match of the round. And if the US wins Wednesday, then wins in Honduras in the ninth match, and Honduras loses to Mexico Wednesday – then the US will be fine.

But these next two matches are on the road and this being CONCACAF, there’s always the chance for chaos. No results or points are guaranteed.

So, what if something goes wrong? A win Wednesday is marred by a red card to a key player, causing him to miss the match at Honduras – which results in a loss on October 10.

What if the US finds itself at RFK four days later needing a win (or even a tie, but work with me) to qualify? The already itchy trigger-fingers of US fans waiting by their keyboards to blast Bradley or the formation or the stadium or the USSF, what have you, would have to deal with four days of what might be summed up as sporting hell, knowing one bad call, one bad bounce, one brain-fart by a US player could end the 2010 dream.

It may sound as if I’m rooting for this final-game scenario. I’m not. I still think the US will have it wrapped up by then.

But if they don’t, we are going to see something the likes of which we haven’t before. Yes, I know about the match in Trinidad that got the US into the ’90 World Cup – but that was a match played almost in entire anonymity. Now, we have ESPN providing coverage of the US match in Mexico – which they weren’t even broadcasting!

You have multiple networks in this country who have made big commitments to showing the sport, and you have a push on now to bring the World Cup back to the US in the coming years.

A do-or-die situation for the US in the final game wouldn’t happen in anonymity. The world would be watching – but beyond that, the country would be watching, many perhaps for the first time. The buildup for it would be almost obnoxious. And the players and coach would be under pressure they haven’t faced. Sure, there was the 2002 quarterfinal vs. Germany – but the US had nothing to lose in that match. They were already on house money by beating Mexico. Any pressure in ’06 went by the boards immediately with the lopsided loss to the Czech Republic. Playing in the Confederations Cup final was a nice accomplishment, but it wasn’t a World Cup – it’s just not the same magnitude.

It seems like many people, and media, are a bit more accepting of the sport. They may not even like it – but if there’s newsworthy material coming from the US, it gets covered. Somewhere, in the back of their minds, all these folks are coming around perhaps based on an expectation of the US being in the 2010 World Cup. It would be the nation’s sixth straight appearance – the fifth they had qualified for (1994 being the exception).

It’s a valid expectation. We’re supposed to finally have the talent and the skill to make the World Cup – no questions asked. Were it to come down to one game where all of that is put on the line, and the US must get a win to fulfill those expectations, it’s fair to wonder how those involved, and those in the stands, would handle it. It would be a well-watched game, I’m sure, but it’s more important than ratings.

The US enters these final three matches trying to do two things:

1) Qualify.
2) Qualify quickly enough that the last match on October 14 is meaningless.

Given how the schedule breaks down the rest of the way, you wouldn’t expect this scenario to happen, and you certainly wouldn’t expect the US to miss out. But if they do, and if it comes in some sort of heartbreaking loss in the final game vs. Costa Rica – there’s going to be much more damage done than simply missing a World Cup.

And while the entire experience of having that last match be meaningful is one that I would find absolutely fascinating, I hope the US does enough in these next two matches to make the whole idea moot.

Some perhaps unpopular thoughts on the US-Italy match

So, I don’t think I can sum up things as Aaron did in his first post-match commentary following the United States’ 3-1 loss to Italy yesterday in the Confederations Cup.

But there are a few things that stick out in my mind, both from the match and the aftermath, that I want to get off my chest.

First, while head coach Bob Bradley infuriates me with his substitutions at times, and his unwillingness to go with certain players when it means risking the time of others – whether it’s earned or not – I’m not going to write the Fire Bradley column, yet.

Even in a perfect world, playing well, with a full team for the whole game, and Bradley making the right subs – the US still very could have lost 3-1 yesterday. Italy are flat better than we are, pretty much across the board. Of those who appeared in US colors yesterday, who would fit into the Italian 11? Donovan? Doubtful. Altidore? No. Howard? Perhaps. It’s a shame we can’t build a team that is as good as our goalkeeper.

Second point – all the folks going on and on about the Clark ejection. … Tough. First, if you are a country like the US, Uruguay, maybe a Belgium … you have to know going in that countries such as Italy and Germany (just to name two, there are others), are international soccer’s equivalent of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Sidney Crosby. There will be things that should go your way perhaps that don’t, and that’s life.

But that’s just it, we know that going in. If we know it, then Bradley should know it. And the players should know it. Going in with a boot up and whacking an opposing player in the leg when the ball is well gone is just flat-out insane. Why make such a challenge, which is definitely going to be a yellow, and give the referee the opportunity to think to himself – “that’s a red?” I’m almost sick of hearing people complain about the call because that tact would seem to absolve Clark of any wrongdoing. Clark is now a veteran player and such tactics are only going to hurt his own team. It was foolish and the more I look at it, justly punished.

The second thing is the backlash toward Giuseppe Rossi. Words like “traitor” and calling him a “Benedict Arnold” are an absolute joke. Everyone always talks about the “American Dream.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s what Rossi has lived. He got the opportunity of a lifetime at an early age, and he took it. We should all be so lucky. He certainly isn’t the first player to do so and he won’t be the last (*cough* Jermaine Jones *cough*). He had the opportunity to start his European career, and he did so, and now he’s reaping the rewards. Good for him. Sucks that he scored twice against the US … but you know what sucks worse? That our team couldn’t mark him or challenge him if their lives depended on it. Expecting him not to celebrate the goals scored vs. the USA is a little much for someone so young.

After he won the ball at midfield just after entering the game, he marched through the US half of the field like a PlayStation figure with the game set on “Amateur.” No challenges, no opposition, BAM! … Goal. The shot was a thing of beauty.

It was a piece of daring that for the most part, this US team doesn’t possess. And you have to ask yourself … would Rossi possess it if he was playing for the US and not Italy? We still have Altidore, who at times is afraid to say, “Screw it, I’m shooting.” We have Clint Dempsey, who would rather show off dribbling skills (or lack there of) as if he’s auditioning for an AND1 Mix Tape Tour. And in recent games, even when there’s been space to work with in the middle, the team would rather make 2-3 passes, put the ball outside, then fire in a bad cross and end the attack. Rarely will players simply have a go at goal – we saw a couple late on yesterday (even one from Dempsey), but it wasn’t enough.

Rossi showed a decisiveness and a guile yesterday that our team doesn’t have. He is making the most of his choice and I can’t find a reason to blame him. He’s not the first to score a brace against the US, and he won’t be the last. If the US team weren’t deficient in multiple areas right now, Rossi would have never been an issue. But now, it’s easier to label him a traitor than consider what actually may be wrong with our own side.

I’ll be watching the match vs. Brazil, and I’m curious to see what kind of effort the US gives. I think that will be a telling statement on where Bradley is with this team and its players.

One of MLS’s Great Mysteries Solved

So, I lead a rather unspectacular life. I have a lot of time on my hands these days, and as part of that, I’ve decided it would be good to get out an exercise more – good brisk walks and some of the many trails in the area. I want to still be around for the 50th anniversary season of MLS.

Yesterday, I was walking around, dodging thunderstorms, and something caught my eye off to the side. I was hoping it was money – because I always hope that someday I’m going to find a couple bucks dropped along the trail, or maybe a suitcase from a wise guy with stacks of 100s in it (OK, I have an active imagination) … but it wasn’t cash. It was a little notebook.

I guess I can see why it was thrown out. All the pages had been written on. Some coherent thoughts scrambled among lots of scribbles. There was even a diagram of what looked like a 2-7-1 soccer formation. I couldn’t really make heads or tails of that.

It didn’t seem to have much use. That is, until I looked inside the back cover and saw some printed type.

“If found, please return to Juan Carlos Osorio, c/o New York Red Bulls.”


Where is my notebook!!!

Finally – the world gets to find out what the embattled New York coach has been writing down during games! Just how do you go from the MLS Cup final to 2-9-3 and a career on life support?

Let’s find out. Here are 10 random entries I selected, in no particular order.

1) Jorge Rojas is very tired after his 35 minutes vs. Houston. Pity about the red card. He will be too tired to start the Open Cup qualifier in DC. Cannot risk him, even with two games off after. Must be careful.

2) I don’t understand these results. As defending MLS Cup finalists, didn’t the league guarantee us 10 wins?

3) 6/7/09: What a marvelous first half. We have the Revs right where we want them … Dammit!

4) Wow, Tom Soehn’s tactics are so much better now than in 2007. I wonder how he does it.

5) Alfredo Pacheco is the world’s next great defender.

6) Christiano Ronaldo, Frank Lampard, Lionel Messi, Dane Richards. I don’t see how they put Lampard in that class.

7) Be sure to tell media that 2-9-3 start is all part of my plan. I just wanted to get all the losses out of the way early. We will win the East.

8) I want to play that Wolyniec more minutes but I can’t. That gray hair – he must be 60 years old. He’ll pass out if I play him more than 14 minutes at the end of the game. Must not take a chance.

9) To do on Monday:

1. I hear we used to have great players named Guido and Branco – find them.
2. Create account at careerbuilder.com … just in case.
3. Talk to Don Garber about my brilliant plan to only play San Jose and Real Salt Lake 15x each season.

10) (4/26/09) Finally! This will be the win that turns everything around. We finally have beaten DC United! Our hundreds of fans here today will be very proud. [90th minute] … Oh, that’s bad. Well, Luciano Emilio is a great player, not our fault.

OK, so we will get a tie. This is a good result, it’s not a loss. I’m happy. [91st minute] … WTF? WTF? WTF?

So … needless to say, it was a surprise to me. How it got to be discarded along the side of that trail, I’ll never know. But I think I’m going to have it framed. Whenever I open my soccer-themed sports bar, it’ll make a nice talking point years from now when Osorio is nothing more than a footnote in the ever-growing roster of New York coaches to come and go.