Imagine my chagrin when I was viciously hammering away at an article deploring United’s pitiful performances this season from ownership right on down the line to the last player on the bench, but after recent results, I have no choice but to reconsider my draconian position for a more cautiously warm and fuzzy interpretation of this season’s events.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am still desperately disappointed in the entire organization for numerous poor decisions and results this year. From the PG Stadium fiasco to front office foolishness like the ill-advised “We Win Trophies” campaign, as well as the de-valuing of hard core season ticket holders with the Real Madrid twofer ticket offer, to an almost complete meltdown in terms of roster management and player motivation, and I could write a book taking Temperamental Tommy to task, etc. etc.
But, starting with that solid performance in Trinidad and then Toluca’s demolition of Marathon, right up through the weekend’s MLS results that could hardly have fallen more perfectly for United, it’s a little tough to rail away angrily at a team that is still in position to advance in MLS and internationally, with their destiny in their hands at home, despite all the glaring mistakes and mismanagement to date.
So, I will grudgingly lay my poison pen aside for a week or two, and point out that United will have the inside track towards advancing out of the CONCACAF group stage if their well rested side simply beats an obviously laboring Marathon side in RFK Thursday night. Even better, they still cling to a playoff berth with some winnable games coming up at home since the rest of the league is proving to be nearly as dysfunctional as DC.
That’s really been the saving grace for United this year. Other teams pretty much suck as much as DC does and seemingly go out of their way to help DC gloss over its glaring mistakes. Chicago, KC, and Dallas simply gave DC seven points out of hand recently, and that Jabloteh team showed none of the power and athleticism, much less any urgency, to win a crucial match for both teams. Then United should send Toluca flowers for them erasing all of Marthon’s goal difference advantage in one fell swoop.
But, getting back to more important matters, namely MLS and looking critically at the league, Houston and Columbus are clearly the best of this year’s poor crop, but even they have some pretty serious warts. Houston’s vaunted defense is shipping goals like a leaky paddleboat lately and they have schedule congestion problems too. The Crew are pretty solid, but are not particularly deep so I wonder what a key injury would do to them?
Still, United easily slides into the upper reaches of the cesspool of teams festering just below those two clear favorites. Seriously, who’s better than DC? An LA team that can barely win at home, and was thumped for 6 the other night, or Colorado and RSL that can’t win on the road? Or a Chivas team staggering down the stretch like three legged mule? Seattle? Sure, they beat us twice, but they can’t score at home much less win.
Even the beast of the East, NE is not particularly frightening and couldn’t even scrape together a win in NY. Games in hand are nice, but you have to win them and NE has two of next three on road and hosts Seattle, Chicago and the Crew. Good luck with that. Chicago has been teetering of late too, playing horrible at home. Then TFC is depleting the rest of the world of Canadians, but has failed to turn any of that into serious points with one win in their last five matches, and KC is all but eliminated already.
Bottom line, DC is still sitting in the catbird seat and if they beat a snakebitten SJ and conflicted Chivas, maybe even a schedule congested Crew who will have already qualified for the playoffs by then, all played in the friendly confines of RFK, then they are in the playoffs no question. DC might even skate out of KC with all the points too since the Wizards will have been eliminated by then and DC has been pretty lucky in Kansas lately too.
Almost as incredible, DC has as good a shot as they ever will to beat Marathon in RFK this week as they have had ten days to regroup from a brutal stretch, while the Hondurans have had a butt kicking in Mexico as well as travel and their own league play to worry about. Then DC will virtually qualify themselves for the knockout stage, since Jabloteh visits next and United has never lost to a Caribbean side home or away in their history. They win those two and keep it respectable in Mexico and it’s almost a lock they qualify. Nine points and the goal differential edge over a Marathon team that will be finishing up in Trinidad would be enough to see the Black and Red through.
Now, given the way DC has played this season, it’s hard to believe they would even be in this position at this point of the season, but it must be pointed out that this team actually plays its best when their backs are against the wall. The comeback points earned in league play all year long, the international wins in El Salvador and Trinidad, even in the sad sack loss in the Open Cup, United nearly pulled off a stunning rally after going down by two, but fell just short.
Well, if they realize their backs are against the wall right this very moment, they should be in good shape gearing up for must win CONCACAF and MLS matches. They have had a week to catch their breath after an awful stretch and they are getting healthier and apparently more disciplined if the Trinidad match is any indication.
So, despite all their efforts to submarine themselves this season, they could well pull off the impossible with a few determined efforts after all had appeared to be lost. If they get into the playoffs, anything can happen in MLS that’s for sure, but simply getting in would be huge considering the way the team has played this season. If they actually get into the knockout phase of CONCACAF and regain a lot of the international respect lost the past calendar year, than that would simply be miraculous given they way they started the tournament.
It’s tough to be too hard on a team that is in a position to manage all that, so some painfully bad decisions can be swept under the rug I suppose. The stadium problems might really have been PG County’s fault, the roster mismanagement might really have been forced upon them due to circumstances, and the team appears to be making up for a lot of that with free tickets to the remaining CONCACAF matches. Then, the Real Madrid tix and the “WWT” campaign blunders could be one off well meant grasps as opposed to insults to their hard core fans. Plus, let’s face it. The Real Madrid match didn’t really hurt the club as they played well against the Spanish Kings, and even though they bumped a hugely important league match to a rainy weeknight in front of basically family and friends, they won that match anyway.
Besides, there’s always time to bring out the poison pen later if they tank the next few matches. Oh yes, if they come out flat and disinterested and heap more painful performances onto the RFK faithful, then I will surely take a much dimmer view of a United team that might be seriously losing its way.