Here are a couple of reasons why no one should easily dismiss DC United’s 3-2 loss to Richmond as an uninspired performance in a meaningless friendly.
For one, if these United reserves were hoping to crack the starting 11, then why couldn’t they beat a USL Second Divison team resting numerous starters of its own – albeit one who’s 7-0-2 in league play?
The argument that they weren’t motivated to come down Interstate 95 on a Tuesday night to play a low-key friendly in front of what United fans would consider a lifeless crowd is lifeless itself.
Fact is, these players should be inspired to do something to crack the starting lineup, especially with the distinct possibility that some United starters – Troy Perkins, Ben Olsen and Bryan Namoff – could be getting national team callups.
If not for a cheap, late goal, the game against Richmond was a 3-1 loss, and could have been a 4-1 loss if not for a first half offside call. The Kickers put six of their eight shots on target, and three of those in the net. And, they scored all three goals from inside the 18-yard box, including one, of course, on the penalty.
United’s reserves, on the other hand, scored twice from long range, and missed others from long range as well.
That’s not to say they didn’t have their moments, but inspiration shouldn’t be a problem for reserves.
When wouldn’t you want to prove yourself and give the coaches a reason to put you in a match? Also, it’s not as if these reserves – Clyde Simms, John Wilson, Devon McTavish, Rod Dyachenko – haven’t played in an MLS match.
It shouldn’t take a “meaningful” match – perhaps a US Open Cup or getting a chance in league play – to want to prove yourself.
But it goes to reason number two – lack of depth on MLS rosters. Bill Urban, in his ussoccerplayers.com column makes this point also in talking about why MLS shouldn’t be so ready to expand.
If United’s collection of reserves can’t beat a USL2 team, one playing a majority of reserves themselves, what, really, is the talent gap between MLS reserves and that USL2 team (Actually, how big is the gap between Real Salt Lake’s starting 11, and the Kickers’ lineup? Just wondering…)?
Remember Ricky Schramm? United drafted and cut him, and he scored against the MLS club’s reserves. Maybe there was a subtle difference in quality between him and the reserves United chose to keep instead. But it can’t be that great, can it?
The Kickers’ goalkeeper on the night, USL2 newcomer Mark Murphy, played college soccer at a small Division I school — Mount St. Mary’s University. Outside of his 88th minute gaffe, he proved more than capable. Besides, the Kickers starting goalkeeper – Ronnie Pascale – is at least as good as most MLS teams’ backups, and a few starters too.
While Pascale is a well-tested veteran, the Kickers have many players – Charlie Howe, Freddy Smith, Brian Morris among them – who are not, yet proved their quality against United’s reserves.
And yes, Richmond’s players do feel the need to prove themselves against what the average person might see as higher level competition because they are playing an MLS team, particularly one of DC United’s stature, even if the average person will say that they performed well in a meaningless match.
Maybe, though, the Kickers’ players just proved how small the gap – if any – there is between themselves on the USL2 level, and MLS’s reserves.
MLS and its commissioner, Don Garber, should mind this gap. It’s too small not to notice.