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Episode 77 – Martin, pay attention!

Join the guys and special guest Chris Snear of American Soccer News as they look back at Jaime Moreno’s last game with the Black-and-Red and DC United’s last game of the 2010 Season. The guys share their favorite Moreno memories and talk about the Black-and-Red’s miserable 2010 campaign. They also give their overall player grades and give their predictions for the upcoming 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs…

 

DC Legend’s Last Game Against TFC

United ends their worst season ever tomorrow night against Toronto FC and a more unfair ending to a storied career simply cannot be imagined. This absolutely nothing match will be the last time Jaime Moreno plays for DC United, the team he helped lead to all of its league best 12 major trophies, and the team that is forcing him out after tomorrow night’s game.

But first, the game itself deserves at least a blurb or two. TFC comes to town after an impressive tie against the Crew that should have been a win if not for an improbable last second goal from Hesmer, while DC staggers back to RFK after a valiant draw in Chicago which somewhat mitigates their stunning league record 17th time being shutout this year.

DC will be without their normal cadre of long term injured players, but add to that list, Jed Zayner who sprained an ankle in Chicago and likely Clyde Simms, who has been nursing a sports hernia that will require surgery next week. Plus, given the fact that Jaime will of course start, at least a few regular starters will be replaced for this match.

Given the situation, I suspect Jaime will pair up top with Pablo Hernandez, but I think it would be more fitting if Santino Quaranta played alongside his long time mentor, sort of passing the torch so to speak. But, given United’s staggering injury list, that just might not be possible.

More likely, Quaranta and rookie of the year candidate, Andy Najar, as well as Branko Boskovic fill out the midfield backed up by King or Morsink (my personal choice would be Morsink to reward his vastly improved play and flatout exceptional heart, but King might be a bit better choice against TFC specifically).

The defense will be a bit thin though without the versatile Zayner. Devon McTavish, Dejan Jakovic, Julius James, and Rookie Jordan Graye going right to left (or maybe left to right) should start in the defense, but there will not be any healthy defensive subs available.

Assuming TFC goes with the same lineup that nearly beat Columbus and reward some youngsters that shocked Arabe Unido in the CCL this week, except for the return of Dwayne DeRosario to the lineup of course, then that would mean TFC’s new coach Nick Dasovic, who took over after Preki was fired after losing to DC last month, will throw out quite a few young players.

I suspect Dasovic sends out their academy prospect Nicolas Lindsey and Brazilian Maicon Santos at forward, Jacob Peterson, DeRo, Julian DeGuzman, and Nick LaBrocca in midfield going right to left. Then Nana Attakora, Ty Harden, Nick Garcia, and Dan Gargan in defense going right to left.

So, matchups could favor DC especially as they will be the more motivated to be sure given Jaime’s no doubt emotional farewell. Toronto’s defense has been prone to bad goals all year, but ironically their real problem has been an exact mirror to DC’s dismal season in that their offense is simply non-existent outside of DeRo, so their defense is constantly under pressure and crumbles. So, the first goal in this one will be all the more crucial than it is any in any MLS match.

Anyway, Moreno and Hernandez have the trickery and ability to outmaneuver the wooden Harden and the vicious Garcia (now there’s a guy that will not be sentimental at all about Jaime’s hanging up his boots! It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see one of the most hated players in MLS history end Jaime’s career his with a lot more cleat and claw marks than he started the day with, but there you go.).

Quaranta and Graye going at Peterson and Attakora is maybe a slight edge to DC, Najar and McTavish going at LaBrocca and Gargan is perhaps less promising, but Najar has surprised more than a few people and if he outduels the underestimated LaBrocca, DC will be in good shape. Which could be crucial as DC will lose the center of the field, unless TFC has just packed it in. DeRo and DeGuz will beat out Boskovic and whoever for certain.

So, DC could get a goal, but the question is can they prevent any? There could be good odds on that as DeRo will be trouble, but Jakovic and James should handle Santos and Lindsey well enough unless DeRo just runs buck wild.

The intangibles also give DC a huge boost as TFC is a terrible road team at 2-9-2 this year and has lost their last two on the trot. Granted DC has not been stellar at home either, but then again TFC has never won in RFK either, going 0-3-1 and being outscored a shocking 14-6. The Canadians did come close last year leading for 86 minutes only to give up a tying goal, then scoring a minute later to retake the lead, but a Jaime Moreno slotted home a 92nd minute PK to snatch a point at the death. Now that would be a nice way to end a career if something similar was to happen again.

Anyway, I was going to do more of a Jaime tribute in this preview, but as it’s late and this is long as it is, look for that Jaime article next week. Just one thought about the end of an era taking place tomorrow night. There’s no question Jaime wins trophies, he was integral to every trophy DC has ever won, but will DC United find a way to win some without him is the question for this any probably many other off-seasons.

In storied career, Moreno painted us a picture of greatness

Jaime Moreno

El Capitan - Jaime Moreno: Photo: Martin Fernandez

If I found a picture—or the artist’s rendition of it to be given out to the first 10,000 faithful at RFK on Saturday—of Jaime Moreno in the dictionary, it would likely have a reference to the synonym, passion.

It’s evidenced even at the end of his career, as he recently served a one-game suspension for contact with a San Jose player. Ironically enough, reading Beau Dure’s book, Long Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer, reminded me of another on-field incident that got Moreno—then wearing one #9 instead of two—suspended.

Not long after Moreno had come to DC United from Middlesbrough in MLS’s inaugural 1995 season, he was ejected for retaliating after the MetroStars’ Nicola Caricola had swung at him. And though this season hasn’t gone as well for him and the team, it will largely be remembered in the same way his stint with the MetroStars was – an aberration.

But in between, the passion mostly manifested itself in many magnificent memories (He has brilliant soccer; I have alliteration.) throughout his 15-year MLS career.

He had an eloquence and a grace about him on the field, and was a kind and patient interview in the locker room after games – win or lose. And he has proven his passion to the Washington, D.C. community in his many off-field endeavors and his newly-announced 99 Dreams, 1 Heart Foundation.

But it was on the field where we commoners saw his passion manifest itself most. So rise up, make some noise and let him hear us one final time. Even though he won’t go out on top with an MLS Cup, as would be ideal, he’ll go out on top in our minds and in our hearts. And if he scores Saturday, all the better. But if he doesn’t, he’s still the greatest player to lace up in MLS.

It is a sad day, but it shouldn’t be one of mourning. It should be a day to recollect on some magnificent memories. I mean, after all, there were more than 100 goals and 100 assists, and many other magic moments in his 15 years. We all have our own memories, and perhaps we’ll have a few more after Saturday. His departure marks the end of an era – for him, for the team, for MLS, and for all of us.

Those of us privileged to call ourselves DC United fans should let him know what he’s meant to all of us. Rise up, make some noise – with our voices, with our drums, horns and with our hearts.

So whatever he decides to do after this, at least it’s on his terms, as it should be.

Jaime Moreno: thanks for the championships, thanks for the goals, the assists, the brilliance, the grace, the passion.

Thanks for the memories.

United makes history, the bad kind, in 2-0 loss to San Jose

Chris Wondolowski scored on either side of halftime for the visiting San Jose Earthquakes in their 2-0 win over D.C. United tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 14, 822 fans. United has now established the Major League Soccer record for most times shutout in a season with their 16th clean sheet of the season. The expansion Toronto FC in 2007 were tied with United at 15 shutouts heading into the match. United is also well on it’s way to another league record for fewest goals scored in a season. Right now the Black-and-Red sit on 18 goals through 28 matches. The very same Toronto FC team from 2007 holds the current record for season long futility at 25 goals scored. That record seems to be set to be destroyed by the 2010 United squad.

The match got off to a raucous start when both Jaime Moreno and Brandon McDonald were ejected in the 8th minute by referee Alex Prus. Television replays showed a slight elbow thrown to the midsection by Moreno followed by an elbow to the head from McDonald. While Prus didn’t see the infraction, apparently he got help from his assistant referee and the 4th official to send both players off. Moreno was making his first start in over two months for United and his sending off seemed almost typical for the way United’s season had gone.

If that didn’t send a message then San Jose taking the leading in the 45th minute definitely typified United’s season-long struggles. United had dominated the first 45 minutes barely letting the Quakes string two passes together much less cross midfield, but as happened pretty much all season long, United failed on their opportunities in front of goal and yet again allowed the opposition to strike first before Troy Perkins had even made a save in the match.

Tim Ward sent a ball diagonally through the penalty area that Clyde Simms failed to jump for to head away. The result was a bouncing ball between Simms and fellow defender Jordan Graye and it ended up on the right foot of Wondolowski who smashed the ball past Perkins on the volley for a rather undeserved 1-0 lead.

Ten minutes into the second half the visitors put the game away and this time it was Perkins who had a hand in the play, or more accurately, did NOT have a hand in the play. A cross from the left wing was sent into United’s penalty area and Perkins came out to punch the ball away. Admittedly there was token pressure applied to Perkins but he basically whiffed on his punch and the ball ended up on the left foot of Wondolowski who one-timed the ball past a sliding Simms and the result was no longer in doubt.

United came into the match with not only a number of players on the injured list, but they also were missing four starters due to suspension (Andy Najar) and International call-ups (Julius James, Dejan Jakovic and Branko Boskovic) with severely hampered interim head coach Ben Olsen’s choices to play. United were forced to sign emergency defender J.P. Rodrigues from Division 2 Miami this week and he made his debut in the second half after the game was no longer in doubt.

United will now turn their attention to their last road game of the season in Chicago next Saturday afternoon at 4pm. Moreno obviously won’t be available but the four aforementioned players will return to the field as United looks to win their 4th game at Toyota Park in a row.

Episode 73 – S.S. Turdtanic

Join the guys and special guest Chris Snear of American Soccer News as they talk about DC United’s recent two losses and the dismissal of DC United Head Coach Curt Onalfo. The guys also talk about Jaime Moreno and other news surrounding the club.

 

DC United Kicks Richmond Out of the Open Cup

After a desultory first half, United’s Jaime Moreno livened up the proceedings with a stunning goal through traffic two minutes into the second half. Santino Quaranta began the play with a lovely diagonal ball out of midfield impeccably picking out Boyzzz Khumalo gliding down the right sideline. United’s South African winger cut inside and slipped the ball easily to Jaime Moreno alone at the top of the area.

Seemingly with all the time in the world, the legendary Bolivian scorer slotted an untouchable shot through traffic into the lower corner of the net. The goal was Moreno’s 13th of his open cup career and leaves him as the sole leading scorer in Open Cup history, and more importantly the goal made up for horrendous miss by Moreno on the only real chance of the match just before halftime.

Neither United nor Richmond looked particularly sharp in the opening 45 minutes as United looked to control the ball, but rarely created any opportunities on against a big and resolute central defense for the Kickers. Richmond, on the other hand, struggled with possession and far too often looked for the long ball over the top to Delicate that was usually easily cut out by Jakovic and Rice in central defense for DC.

However, Richmond did mange the first real chance of the match halfway through the first half as Barry Rice wildly took out Delicate near the corner flag giving the Kickers a freekick that was virtually a corner kick. Richmond captain Mike Burke stroked the ball into the box, but it deflected out to Richmond’s Luke Vercollone at the top of the box and he smashed a wicked shot that Hamid had to frantically scramble away.

Yet as halftime loomed, Quaranta, who had come in the 40th minute when Emilio had to come out a bit woozy after being hammered by Richmond’s keeper, aggressively attacked and drew Richmond’s defense only to slot the ball perfectly through to Allsopp in alone down the left hand side of the box. As Pascale came out to challenge, the Aussie slipped the ball across to Moreno 12 yards out staring at an open net, but the most prolific goal scorer in MLS history incredibly shot the ball well over the bar.

In the second half, ten minutes after Moreno gave the United the lead, it was Quaranta again involved in the action as he was to get on the score sheet himself with a somewhat lucky goal that deflected into the net. It was another play set up by Khumalo on the right hand side as Richmond’s Sacha Gorres ill-advisedly attempted to cut out another long diagonal down the right, but missed completely allowing Boyzzz to turn unfettered into the right side of the box, where he looked up and picked out Santino bursting in from the left. Unfortunately, Tino hesitated instead of shooting and the play might have been lost had not the ball fallen to Moreno who calmly poked the ball back to Santino try again and this time his powerful shot took a deflection and looped over Pascale in the Richmond net to complete the scoring.

Facing elimination, Richmond made a game of it over the final 30 minutes, but failed to convert two lovely opportunities. In the 60th minute, Edson Elcock ghosted by Andy Najar playing right back and took an angled shot from the left that screamed past the far post just wide and high. Then in the 66th, Kicker right back David Hertel curled a lovely ball around DC’s defense that sent Delicate barreling in on goal, but with only Hamid to beat he pretty much shot it right United’s rookie keeper and the chance was lost. Despite more pressure, Richmond did really threaten United’s goal for the rest of the match.

With the win, United looks to host the Harrisburg City-Islanders in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row July 21 at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds. That match was previously announced as also being played at George Mason, but perhaps the appalling NOVA traffic, and a brutal first 45 minutes where the entire attendance had to stare into the setting sun changed the right people’s minds into returning to the soccerplex.

United has now reached the quarterfinals of the Open Cup nine of the 12 times they have entered the tournament. They did not enter the 1998 version of the tournament due to international commitments. DC has faced lower division competition in the quarterfinals four times and been victorious every time including last year when they faced Harrisburg as well.

Should United get past Harrisburg, they will face the winner of the Columbus Crew and Charleston Battery match on the other side of their bracket. Should Charleston upset the Crew, DC would not face MLS competition until the final for the second year in a row. All four MLS teams will have made the final eight in the other bracket if defending champion Seattle beats Portland in a match being played right now (tied 1-1 heading to OT as I post this).

DC United Burned by Fire, Off to Worst Start Ever

An exceedingly tense and sloppy, but relatively uneventful, match was decided in the final 10 minutes when Chicago’s Patrick Nyarko beat Carey Talley to the endline and pulled back a perfect pass to Brian McBride in the area. But, with McTavish all over him, McBride deftly heel flicks it to Pappa alone at the top of the area to thump in the back for net for the winner in the 80th minute.

McBride then completed DC United’s misery in the 89th minute as Chicago goalkeeper Dykstra took a 60 yard FK right to Brian McBride, who beat Talley easily to nod in an incredible header just inside the near post with Perkins miles late to cover. With the second goal and DC without any real offensive pressure the game was essentially over despite the incredibly generous four minutes of stoppage time.

United midfielder Curt Morsink summed up the match, and the season so far, pretty succinctly to afterward to MLSsoccer’s Charlie Boehm. “You can’t ever win an MLS soccer game giving up stupid goals like that. It’s not just one person, it’s the whole team. It’s not just one game, it’s not just one goal, it’s been six or seven goals that absolutely should’ve been avoided at the professional level. And we don’t avoid them, and there’s your result: zero points.”

In a very scattered and sketchy match, DC United simply did not manage to threaten Chicago’s goal with any real venom at all. Outside of freekicks and pedestrian shots, DC barely ruffled the Fire’s defense until the 65th minute when a Quaranta freekick was blocked by Dystra and DC’s Aussie forward Danny Allsopp lashed a wicked volley that was barely blocked.

The Fire, however, did manage to make things interesting, mostly through United miscues. Barely 10 minutes into the match, Fire forward Collins John caught United keeper Troy Perkins off his line and deftly chipped it over him. Only a desperation lounge allowed Perkins to slap away a sure goal. Perkis didn’t redeem himself on the ensuing corner kick either as he missed the centering kick by a mile and it was only stout defending that kept Chicago off the scoresheet early in the match.

Perkins would be involved in another sketchy play later in the half that nearly allowed a Fire goal as he came off his line wildly to flail a wild kick at a bouncing ball, but Nyarko beat him to it and nearly directed it to John for an easy finish if not for some timely defending by Rodney Wallace. Which is appropriate since Wallace misplayed the ball originally forcing Perkins to come out and make that ill-advised chop at the ball. Then United’s teen attacker Andy Najar sent a lovely centering ball perfectly into the path of a Chicago attacker, but the ensuing shot was wide thankfully. Talley and James carried on the theme of poor clearances right to Chicago attackers, but the Fire apparently felt it would be rude to take advantage of such hospitality, preferring to create their own attacks.

For a team that is used to RFK being a fortress and has now lost its opening two home games by the exact same scoreline, that is simply not good enough. A thought that was echoed very clearly by head coach Curt Onalfo after the match.

“We just have to man up.” An obviously frustrated Onalfo said after the match. “We have to be better individually and we have to be better collectively and we have to come to fight. It’s a very tough league both physically, mentally and everything else. Right now it’s not good enough, it’s crystal clear it’s not good enough.”

The loss drops DC united to 0-4 and they remain on the absolute bottom of the table in MLS as the only team without a point. It is also arguably the worst start in team and league history as only the ’96 United team ever started off 0-4, but one of those losses was a shootout loss, so one early “loss” could be considered a tie. In fact, I can’t think of any team in MLS history to ever start 0-4 without at least one of the losses being from a shootout. Certainly grim news for an already forlorn DC United squad.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no easy answers as to how to fix United’s epic struggles. Certainly no one in United’s very discouraged locker-room had any ideas as to a way out of the deep hole they now find themselves in.

“To be honest I don’t have an answer.” DC’s legendary striker Jaime Moreno said dejectedly after the match. “I have never been in this situation, I don’t think anybody has. It’s very hard to describe how bad we feel for the fans and all the people that support us. We are going through a really tough time, and it’s not easy for them [the fans], and it’s not easy for us right now.”

United midfielder Santino Quaranta was equally as dumbfounded by the situation United now finds themselves in. “If I had the answer I’d tell you.” Santino said after the match. “We need to try and figure it out, but whatever it is, it isn’t good. We’re men in here, we’re professionals, and we have to stay positive and hold each other accountable. In the end we work all week, we work for 75 minutes of the game, and there it [a loss] is again – it’s getting old.”

I’m not sure [what needs to happen]. Quaranta continued. “We have a lot of guys out, but that’s not an excuse. We all get paid, and when someone is out that’s another chance for a guy to step in, and obviously we’re not doing the job here.”

DC now has two weeks to figure out how to get themselves out of the league cellar as they do not play another league match May 1 when the surging Red Bulls come to RFK. At that time quite possibly United will welcome back injured starters Juan Manuel Pena and Clyde Simms as well as see the return of suspended center back, Dejan Jakovic.

Obviously some time to regroup and reload will be welcome for a United team that is simply out of whack right now. “Hopefully with this break here we can use the time to get healthy and come back refreshed.” Defender Carey Talley said after the match. “This is tough; this is a tough streak, and not many people have experienced a situation like this in the league. We need to look to the older guys to lead. Things are not going to get easier if we just start pointing fingers at each other, so we have to be able to pick each other up and give constructive feedback. We are going to help each other, and we can wash this bad taste out of our mouths.”

United’s players weren’t the only people left with a bad taste after that match as was evidenced by the multitudes of dejected fans who began filing out ten minutes before the final whistle. “That wasn’t attractive for anybody,” said a dejected Santino Quaranta afterward to MLSsoccer.net. “People are paying good money to see that – we’ve got to get better.”

No argument there.

United Notes: Forward/midfielder Chris Pontius strained a hamstring in the first half and was replaced by Christian Castillo (thereby immediately increasing DC’s cheering section by at least ten thousand fans judging by the enthusiasm manifest in the stadium by his entrance). He said after the game “I need to have an MRI, and I will see a specialist next Tuesday. I didn’t hear a pop, and right now it just feels really tight, so we will see.” Which usually means more a short term problem than a long term one thankfully.

United sits atop the Eastern Conference with 2-1 win over Chicago

Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez both converted on their set piece attempts to help launch D.C. United atop the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire last night at RFK Stadium in front of a season high 18,369 fans. Moreno scored on a controversial penalty decision in the 24th minute and Gomez beat Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch to the near post on a beautiful free kick in the 41st minute to help seal the win. Oddly enough, it was the first time this season that United had scored twice in the first half of a match.

Both teams were without the services of their Designated Players as the home side had Luciano Emilio missing due to his red card last week and Cuahtehmoc Blanco not available after double duty with the Mexican National team this past week. However it did not seem to matter as both teams put on a display of fine soccer throughout the 90 minutes and was one of the best MLS games played this season. Both teams attacked each others goal with abandon and it was United’s goalkeeper that ultimately was the difference as Josh Wicks pulled off two stunning saves at the beginning of the second half to deservedly earn Man of the Match honors.

Wicks made a one-one save on Wilman Conde in the 47th minute after being set up by C.J. Brown headed pass. Wicks came out quickly to snuff out the Colombian’s attempt at the game-tying goal. Just two minutes later though, Wicks made the save of the season when he denied Brian McBride on a penalty kick save to his right. The play was set up on the second of two controversial penalties called by match official Baldolermo Toledo. United were awarded the first of the two in the 24th minute when Jon Busch clattered into Chris Pontius after Pontius’ goal bound shot trickled just wide. The almost seemingly predictabe make-up call was awarded when it appeared that Patrick Nyarko had his left shoulder slightly pulled by Dejan Jakovic as he was pouring in on goal. Wicks made the save on Nyarko and was stunned to realize that a penalty had been given just seconds later. It was later realized that the Jakovic infraction was the actual foul that was called.

After the penalty kick save, both teams traded dangerous opportunities for the rest of the match with United coming closest twice. In the 61st minute, Ange N’Silu, a 39th minute substitute for the injured Jaime Moreno, was sent in on goal from a lovely defense splitting pass from Pontius. Busch did well to save the toe-poked shot at goal and the ensuing rebound was hammered by Gomez from 30 yards only to see it thunder off the crossbar. As the game was coming to a close and with Chicago pouring forward and having subbed two of their defenders off for attackers, the inevitable counter attack almost sealed the match for United. Boyzzz Khumalo got hold of a ball on the right flank in the 89th minute and sent a picture perfect cross through the penalty area for the waiting Santino Quaranta who’s one-time volley somehow managed to miss the open goal. Never the less, United got the three points and shot to the top of the Eastern Conference where now a daunting stretch of games will see United play six of their next seven league matches on the road.

Up next for United is a visit to expansion Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday night (ESPN2 @ 10:30 pm EST) and then a quick turnaround match at Colorado on Saturday night (Comcast SportsNet @ 9 pm EST). United does not return home until July 18th when they face the Rapids again.

United Notes

  • Talked to Ben Olsen who seemed upset that he wasn’t include on the 18 man roster. He said he will not be making the trip to Seattle but will be in Denver next Saturday
  • United owner Will Chang nearly took my shoulder out of my socket when he high-fived me just seconds after Gomez’ free kick goal. Suffice it to say, you don’t see that many sports team owners showing that much passion. I missed a golden opportunity to cash in on a lawsuit.
  • Thanks to a quirky MLS schedule, United will only have two home games at RFK in the next two months. Looking ahead through their schedule also reveals that United will finish the season with an unprecedented 5-game homestand before ending the season at Kansas City in October.
  • Word has it that Dejan Jakovic will be called up to the Canadian National team for the Gold Cup. The tournament starts on July 3rd and it means that Jakovic may miss only the July 4th match in Columbus. Unless Canada gets to the Gold Cup final, Jakovic should be available for United’s home match vs. Colorado on July 18th.
  • Rumor also has it that Santino Quaranta and Bryan Namoff are under serious consideration for the tournament as well.