I never thought the day would come where DC United was a team that was well on the way to shattering league records for scoring ineptitude. At their current pace, United would end up with 22 goals scored and suffering a mind-numbing 20 shutouts. While the most hearty of United fans can’t even fathom those dreadful numbers, it’s a real and distinct possibility unfortunately. Be it missing sitters or ordinary MLS goalkeepers channeling their inner-Iker Casillas, United simply has been dreadful in the final third this season. Think about this for a second. They’ve played 15 MLS matches, half a season, and they’ve only scored in 5 of them.
The MLS record holder for season long futility was last season’s version of New York Red Bull when they tallied 27 goals in their 30 game season. What I wouldn’t give to be on that pace right now. Remember how we all made it a season long bashfest on Red Bull because of their futility. Well, Mr Kettle, meet Mr. Pot.
So what has caused this record pace inability to bulge the ol’ onion bag? Let’s take a look.
The Big Purge
Luciano Emilio, Fred and Christian Gomez were all let go in various forms during the off-season and truth be told, they were essentiall the heart of the offense last season along with Jaime Moreno who was always going to survive the eventual cull of offensive talent. We can all raise our hands and say “my bad” because we were all calling for it by the end of the 2009 MLS season. Luciano simply didn’t work hard enough. Fred was stuck in a second consecutive season of poor to putrid play and Gomez simply wasn’t getting the minutes despite doing OK when given the opportunity to play (I put that one down on Tom Soehn, who at seasons end was really feeling the pressure and making some bizzare lineup decisions including subbing out players in the first half, not even giving them the courtesy to making it to halftime).
During the off-season, I was leading the charge in getting United to drastically change the way they play as I felt their possession style was becoming too predictable and easy to defend. With practically no pace on this team, stroking the ball around the field and attempting to walk the ball into the goal was becoming harder and harder to do. Looking across MLS there were teams that were getting the ball from the back line through midfield and past the last line of defense in under 10 seconds while a United counter attack could be timed on a sun dial. Throw in the fact that United pretty much never scores on any free kicks or corners and you could see that a change was desperately needed.
With age catching up to Emilio, Gomez and Fred and their salaries WAY too much for what they were producing, the front office decided to rip the band aid off in one shot and went in a new direction under new head coach Curt Onalfo. Onalfo talked about using the wings more often and brought in target players like Danny Allsopp and Adam Cristman, both hard workers but limited players. The thinking was to get the youthful legs of Christian Castillo (who’s already bombed out) and preseason suprise then 16-year old Andy Najar to fly up and down the wings and feed crosses to the ever hard working Allsopp with Chris Pontius. Well, that hasn’t exactly worked out. It seems that the purge was too damaging to United and they’ve obviously struggled to score goals.
Not Ready For Prime Time
Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta were expected to have major impacts on United this season. With Jaime Moreno obviously not a 90 minute player anymore, the offensive impetus, such as it is, was expected to fall on the feet of Quaranta and Pontius. Truth be told, they’re just not up to the task. Aside from the fact that both players really don’t have a position to call their own, they’ve been major disappointments in the final third of the field. Pontius’ problem through 1 and 1/2 half MLS seasons is clearly his inability to finish in front of goal. He’s been in great position many times but really lacks the composure to score big goal numbers in this league. It’s ironic considering his very first MLS goal in his debut last season at the Los Angeles Galaxy is his best goal to date in MLS play.
As for Quaranta, he’s always been on the cusp of making it to that next level of great MLS player but is just too inconsistent. I firmly believe he has the physical tools to be a damn good player in this league, it just seems that it doesn’t always click with him. You can see what he’s thinking out there but it rarely comes off as it is intended. I feel that his mental approach really needs to be refined and sharpened for him to make that next step. As with Pontius, his finishing has been pretty poor since his return last season.
Now back to the argument that these players don’t get consistent minutes at their best position. Honestly, they both want to play the same position. Withdrawn striker. Unfortunately only one of them can do it and because of the poor quality of offensive players for United, they are both needed on the field. Therefore Pontius draws the short straw and has to go to the left side of midfield. Now we all know this isn’t his desired position, but to date in MLS it’s easily the position that he’s been most effective for United. In no way is he a classic winger as he rarely takes the ball down to the endline and whips in crosses. Quite often he cuts in and makes life difficult for the opposition. Fair enough, he’s pretty good at that. But again, it’s that pesky end product of finishing/providing that killer pass.
Quaranta’s best position to me is out on the right side of midfield as he is pretty much a clone of what Pontius tries to do on the left. However the emergence of Andy Najar has pushed Santino underneath the striker du jour (Cristman, Allsopp, Moreno) This is where it all seems to fall apart for United. Because of their lack of threat near the goal, United is falling prey to the same problems from last season in terms of scoring. The difference, and it’s plain to see, is that the individual talent of Fred, Gomez and Emilio got this team on the scoresheet in spite of their age and seeming inneffectiveness at times.
Help On The Way?
Giving the front office credit for player moves hasn’t exactly been a popular topic amongst the “internut nuts” as Kevin Payne once termed a portion of United’s rabid fan base. In this case, give the boys a little bit of credit for realizing that what they deemed as good enough heading into the MLS season has been far far from good enough. In comes 23-year old Argentine striker Pablo Hernandez and Montenegran National Team captain and creative midfielder Bosko Boskovic. Only time will tell whether or not they can help turn around United’s record breaking season of futility. One has to think they have to be able to help as United simply has no ideas in the final third of the field and injecting new blood and new ideas might be exactly what they are needing and looking for.
Hernandez and Boskovic are both left-footed players with the ability to score from set pieces and also provide that killer pass to set up goals. United has had a long history of left-footed players who have made impact with United (Marco Etcheverry, Hristo Stoitchkov, Freddy Adu, Bobby Convey, Alecko Eskandarian and even defender Jeff Agoos) and the United faithful are praying that if they get half the impact of the list above, United should be alright for the near future.
As it stands right now, United has 15 games to turn this abomination around. It’s funny that during the recent broadcast of United’s 0-0 draw at New York Red Bull last Saturday night, both Dave Johnson and Thomas Rongen were correctly giving their due to United’s excellent defensive performance, especially from Julius James who cut out a number of potentially dangerous chances from Red Bull. But there was no mention at all of United’s offensive woes. Nobody pointed out the fact that this team has been shut out for over 2/3 of their league season. Same thing for the post-game show with Russ Thaler and Keith Tabatznik. No mention at all of the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
Why does it seem that everyone avoids this topic? Goal scoring is the be all to end all in MLS and United simply isn’t doing it. Isn’t it about time someone mentions it?