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United lose 2-0 to Chivas USA and sink even further away from playoffs

For the second consecutive season Chivas USA has come into RFK Stadium to face a United team desperate for a win to stay in the playoff chase. For the second season in a row Chivas USA administered a lesson in soccer and poise and came out with a rather embarrassingly easy 2-0 win over D.C. United in front of 24,175 angry fans. Those fans let their feelings known at halftime and after the final whistle with very loud boos and also a chant of “Fire Soehn” at games end.

It’s safe to say that United’s season is unraveling before their eyes. The Black and Red lost their third consecutive league match (a season high) at home and severely damaged not only their chances at a playoff spot, but their psyche as well. That was borne out in the 65th minute when Ben Olsen was red carded for drilling the ball into the back of Chivas USA defender Yamith Cuesta. Cuesta had just fouled Olsen and received a yellow card for the infringement. Olsen, who was already having a nightmare evening to begin with, compounded his teams misery with the petulant display of frustration by drilling the ball into the back of the retreating defender. At that point United actually came to life and put a lot of pressure on the visitors but nothing came of their efforts and now United has only two matches remaining  in the season and they have to depend on results to fall their way as well as win their two remaining matches.

United once again came out in this match with very little urgency or intensity in their play. With their playoff lives at stake, Tom Soehn decided to go with youth and energy over experience as Jaime Moreno, Luciano Emilio and Fred all began the game on the bench. This made sense as the lineup that took the field looked lively and energetic just three nights earlier in their CONCACAF Champions League 5-1 pasting of San Juan Jabloteh. It was clear from the jump that both United was not ready to play against the Chivas USA well organized defense and the visitors were a much better challenge than San Juan was on Wednesday night.

United survived a couple of near misses in the first half as Justin Braun hit the woodwork twice before Chivas USA finally scored in the 32nd minute. Chivas forward Maicon Santos turned United defender Julius James the wrong way in the box and the Brazilian let loose a shot that beat United goalkeeper Milos Kocic to the near post. The ball bounced off the post and off the back of the diving Kocic and into the net for an own-goal and a deserved 1-0 lead. United could only muster a long range blast from Boyzzz Khumalo in the 31st minute and soft header from Chris Pontius in the 33rd that Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton stopped with ease. Those two shots ended up being the only shots on target all night long for United.

The second half saw Chivas USA continue their mastery of the game and scored a second goal in the 53rd minute as United’s defense fell asleep. Jonathan Bornstein sent a seemingly harmless ball into the box on a quick free kick near midfield that caught the United defense napping. Only defender Marc Burch saw what was happening and tried to hold off Chivas USA midfielder Jesus Padilla. Padilla’s header hit the back of Burch’s head and the deflection fell right onto the left foot of Padilla who ripped a volley past Kocic for the final goal and the final nail in United’s coffin on this evening.

Even though United lost for the third consecutive match, they are still mathematically alive thanks in part to New England’s 1-1 draw in Colorado tonight. With that point shared, New England is two points ahead of United for the 8th and last playoff spot. Colorado moves four points ahead of United. Both teams have a game in hand on United which does not favor United in any way. Also, United will lose the tie-breaker to both teams should they end up tied on points for the last spot. Also of worry for United is the fact that teams below United can either catch or surpass the Black and Red while United is off next weekend. Wins by FC Dallas and Toronto FC next weekend will see them jump past United.

D.C. United has a home match against Columbus on October 17th and the final match of the season away to Kansas City on October 24th. United’s fate could already be decided for them should they not win against Columbus on the 17th.

United rolls past San Juan Jabloteh 5-1

Christian Gomez and Boyzzz Khumalo both scored twice to lead D.C. United to an emphatic 5-1 win over San Juan Jabloteh FC last night at RFK Stadium. The win for United is their third consecutive in the competition and puts the Black and Red at the cusp of qualifying to the knockout stages next winter. A Toluca win tonight over Marathon in Honduras would assure the feat for United. If Marathon manages a tie or a win, United would have to either get an unlikely result in Toluca or hope that winless Jabloteh can somehow manage to upset Marathon in Trinidad. United holds the all-important tie-breaker over Marathon should the teams remain tied after the sixth and final group match.

Christian Gomez scored in the 13th and 68th minutes to get United rolling. Khumalo added his first goal in the 41st minute and his second in stoppage time at the end of the match. Fred also scored for United in the 30th minute in United’s comfortable win. Head coach Tom Soehn once again used a mostly reserve squad last night as United had three players suspended for cards and a number of veterans on the bench. United didn’t need any of them as the youthful legs won the day out. Rodney Wallace and David Habarugira paced up and down the flanks all night long giving Jabloteh all kinds of problems that never got solved. And when that was not enough, substitutes Ty Shipalane and Danny Szetela continued to create havoc all over the field.

United now faces their toughest match of the season when they face Chivas USA at RFK Stadium on Saturday evening. A win by United gets them right back into the thick of the playoff chase and could go a long way towards securing a playoff position. Fellow playoff hopefuls New England Revolution did United a big favor by dropping their league match in Dallas last night 1-0 behind red-hot Jeff Cunningham’s league leading 16th goal of the season. United remains one point behind the Revolution who travel to Colorado to play the Rapids at altitude.

United Notes

  • Jaime Moreno (red), Dejan Jakovic and Avery John (both yellows) were all suspended last night.
  • Bryan Namoff is still out with concussion symptoms. His return is still unknown
  • Josh Wicks looked like a car wreck survivor last night with knee and shoulder braces and crutches

Gomez penalty conversion enough as United gains first ever Champions League win 1-0 in Trinidad

It only took nine CONCACAF Champions League group stage and two preliminary qualifying matches for D.C. United to notch their very first win in the international competition. Christian Gomez’ 14th minute penalty was all the Black and Red needed to get a bit more confidence going ahead of their next group match a week from Thursday at RFK Stadium against Marathon of Honduras.
After three matches played, United is firmly in third place with 3 points. A win over Marathon will make the remaining two group matches very interesting. United left about a half dozen starters back in Washington D.C., a combination of badly needed rest, injuries and suspensions. With that United only took 16 players down to Port of Spain and fielded yet another makeshift lineup that saw Clyde Simms in the back line of United’s 4-5-1 formation. Luciano Emilio was the target player with Gomez roaming freely all night just behind him.

Danny Szetela, Andrew Jacobson and Devon MacTavish all drew rare starts and their fresh legs were a big part of the improved performance from past weeks from the Black and Red. Aside from a ten minute spot of play from the home side late in the first half, United were in complete control of the match as Jebloteh were reduced to taking chances from the inordinate amount of free kicks given by the sketchy at best refereeing crew. A number of bizarre calls seemed to go against United all night long including the yet unseen this calender year call of six seconds of possession against United’s goalkeeper Milos Kocic. The resulting free kick was the worst of a terrible litter of poor free kicks from Jebloteh.

United got the games lone goal in the 14th minute when a Jebloteh defender clearly blocked a cross coming from Szetela through the penalty area. Gomez stepped up and easily beat the Trinidadian goalkeeper. While United didn’t create all that many chances outside of a few late ones as Jebloteh was pushing upfield looking for the equalizer, they did a more than credible job of keeping possession and forcing the home side to attempt to apply pressure to get the ball away from United. United obliged on a few occasions with their own bizarre turnovers but for the most part the midfield triangle of Rodney Wallace, Jacobsen and Gomez kept United in control from start to finish.

United has now ended their worst stretch of matches for the season after playing 10 games in 31 days and 4 different countries. Now they can get back to DC and get some proper training in (which they couldn’t do when they were playing every 3 days) and prepare for the stretch run of this competition as well as the highly important MLS playoff chase. United will face Marathon of Honduras on Thursday, Sept 24th at RFK. Three days later they get back into MLS play against the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK and then face Jebloteh again on Wednesday, September 30th.

United Notes

– Bryan Namoff, Jaime Moreno, Josh Wicks, Ben Olsen, Santino Quaranta, Marc Burch, Dejan Jakovic and Fred were all left back in Washington.

– Ty Shipalane made his United debut subbing in for Emilio in the 78th minute and should have scored in the 90th when he was all alone in front of net, courtesy of a fine individual move from Gomez

– Milos Kocic got a rare start and has yet to taste defeat this season wearing the Black and Red goalkeeper jersey. Interesting…………

DC United’s Goalkeeping Merry Go Round

It’s nice to see the quotes coming out of the DC United communication bunker are all positive and professional. Soehn expressing confidence (or the lack thereof) in all his keepers, and Crayton saying he’s been doing this for years and it’s great to have three keepers who can play at any given time. Nice and lovey-dovey, at least on the surface.

However, I find it extremely unlikely anyone in the DC United organization is at all pleased with the way this saga is playing out from Dave Kaspar on down to the last player on the bench, no one should be happy that Soehn is unwilling to pull the trigger and name a starter.

That’s because goalkeepers are a different animal than any other field player. Soehn’s contention that they should vie for their job from week to week like anyone else is patently ridiculous. I suspect Alan Kelly, God rest his soul, would absolutely agree with me and be appalled at the way his United teams in the past are being held up as an example of why “rotating” goalkeepers is acceptable.

So let’s set that travesty to bed right now. From 1996 to 1999, the Golden Age of DC United soccer by the way when you could have put G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu Grip in the nets and gotten results, DC United used essentially four goalkeepers each of whom was the starter at any given time, but that is the key. Other than part of one year where particularly improbable circumstances forced changes on the fly, DC United always had a “starter” and made that clear.

In 1996, Causey played 19 games and Simpson 13, but I defy anyone to say Simpson was not the lock down starter as soon as he took over the reins in June. Causey was the starter named for the opener and kept that job until June, when he lost it to Simpson (who had missed the early part of the year playing indoor). After June, Causey only played a handful of matches mainly due to the crazy schedule back in those days like one stretch where United played 4 games in 10 days.

But 1997 is really the year Soehn and others are using as their shining example, and United incredibly did use four starters along the way of pretty much running the league table that year. Scott Garlick started the season, when Simpson was again contractually stuck playing indoor until May, and eventually played 13 games that year. Simpson played 7 games, Causey played 6, and Tom Presthus another 6. Sounds like a rotation doesn’t it?

Not really. Simpson was always expected to be the starter once he showed up after the indoor season, so Garlick on loan from the Carolina Dynamo, Causey, and draft pick Presthus were competing to be the interim starter until Simpson showed up. Garlick won the job, but ultimately was not impressive enough despite starting 3-0, and was sent back to the minors in a roster decision when Simpson did show up. So, Causey took over until Simpson was actually ready to play after transitioning into the team and from playing indoors. So, Simpson played 7 of the next 8 games until a knee injury needing surgery forced him out.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Simpson’s knee scope was only to take a few weeks, so when Causey’s relatively high contract was up he was only offered a 30 day deal. He rejected that and was dealt or waived, I’m not sure which. Anyway, in the interim, DC had Presthus who was impressive in practice as the de facto starter, and they bought Garlick from the Dynamo, so they would have two keepers while Simpson was recuperating.

Little did the team know that Simpson’s simple surgery would turn into a life threatening infection and it would be almost a year before he played again. Anyway, in the meantime, Arena “rotated” Presthus and Garlick for the rest of the season because he really could not decide which one he had more faith in, but even the way he did that was better than the way Soehn is doing it now. Arena played Presthus five straight games (3-2 record), Garlick another five straight (2-3 interestingly) before he made up his mind to go with Garlick.

So Garlick, the guy that started the season on loan, then was dropped and waived before being re-signed ended up starting and winning the MLS Cup that year as well as being the starter for 1998 (25 games) until Presthus took his job late that year, and was pipped for his MLS Cup by a cruel set of referees. Presthus got his Cup in 1999 though, in a similar situation as the year before, this time Presthus came in as the starter (25 games) and Simpson, who really never got back to his pre-surgery form played a handful here and there. Frankly, had Simpson never needed surgery, I doubt Garlick or Presthus would ever have played more than a handful of games or been more than a footnote in United history.

Anyway, bottom line in this whole re-enactment is that barring brutally cruel circumstances, DC always had a “starter” or at the very least gave the competitors for the job significant games before they made a decision, BECAUSE THAT’S THE WAY IT IS DONE! You don’t dangle goalkeepers like you would a field player, they are a completely different species and rely on a completely different mindset, as well as have an inordinately huge impact on the confidence of the team in front of them.

Goalkeepers need to know that every little decision they make in every single situation won’t be dissected like fetal pig. They have to be supremely confident and make snap decisions in telling others what to do because there is no one on the field to bail them out. Field players talk all the time and make calls for each other, so no problem if Burch reads a situation wrong, Namoff or Jakovic or Simms can make the same call. Not the keeper, he has to make the right choice every time, as well as stop shots and gauge the angle and speed of every ball anywhere near the box on every different surface in the league, never making a mistake because there is no one behind him to make up for it if he triangulates wrong.

In my opinion, Soehn has never really been sold on Crayton, but the fact remains when the goalkeeping poo hit the fan last year, Crayton was brought in and settled things down. Not the perfect solution, but he got the job done and deserved to stay the starter for as long as he could keep the job. Which means when Kocic or Wicks clearly beat him out, he steps aside, and I bet he would do so with no complaints. But, that is not how this has played out.

Merely looking at their records bears that out. Wicks is currently winless and undefeated at 0-0-3, Crayton has the lone loss, but also two of the three wins as he is 2-1-3, while Kocic is 1-0-1. All of them have given up bad goals, and all of them have pulled out good results. There really is no clear pattern to any of them yet.

Unfortunately, Soehn seized his chance to put the job up for grabs early in the year by claiming Crayton’s pre-season injuries and his mother’s funeral in Africa meant he was not ready to start the season, even though Crayton himself said he could play. Then when Wicks went down injured, he grudgingly went back to Crayton only until Kocic was deemed ready and then the draft pick got his shot, and seemingly crapped out too. Now that Wicks has gotten another chance, Crayton has clearly been shoved aside as you never see a healthy starter in street clothes in the stands of a home game unless something has gone drastically wrong.

Now, that said, I’d still be fine with the benching Crayton if Soehn was handling the situation differently and actually gave the starting job to someone else for a decent stretch of games to whoever had earned it. But, consider the way Soehn has chosen to pick a starter. Wicks got two games under the auspices of Crayton not being ready yet, then Crayton getting the reins back for four games, then Kocic for the Dallas game (as well as the Open Cup tie with them), then Crayton a game, Kocic another game, Crayton again, now Wicks again for the last two in a row including the NY Open Cup match.

Now I ask you, is that any way to give them an honest shot at taking over the job, not to mention build up their confidence? Especially when you’re saying publicly that all of them have weaknesses and you’re waiting for one of them to seize the job (which implies you expect them to continue to make mistakes and will be pleasantly surprised when they stop). You think it is going to help them knowing they can be yanked at any time for any mistakes? Soehn has said Wicks finally took a big step forward with that RSL tie, but what do you think happens if Warf gives up a bad goal in NE? Think Temperamental Tommy sticks with him? Me neither.

All of which hurts your entire organization given United’s current situation. The communication on the field is constantly being switched up to adjust to different goalkeepers who play differently, which has impacted directly on wins and losses for certain. It also can’t help in the locker-room if players are constantly being second guessed and pointing fingers due to simple communication breakdowns that should have long been sorted out.

But, there are now jobs on the line too as Crayton’s contract ends in about two months, and something must most likely be done about replacing him. He surely is gone at the transfer window, for I can’t imagine he’s going to sign for less money with a team that is openly disrespecting him. He can’t love America that much. So, Soehn has in effect said Kocic or Wicks better be ready to play the rest of the season or DC has to find someone else better.

However, someone better costs a lot of money and/or a trade which would put Kaspar in a difficult situation. Crayton only frees up about 90K (half his season pay starting the last half of last year), so maybe you find someone for that, but most likely not. So, who gets traded or waived in order to have the money to bring in a solid goalkeeper? You think that situation won’t cause some friction and/or upset the chemistry of a team in late summer who is hopefully gearing up for the playoffs?

Not only that, but good goalkeepers are hard to find as we found out last season with Wells and Carvallo, both of whom had impressive resumes, but less than stellar results. The Wells fiasco cost the team Boswell, who will be sacrificed for the next goalkeeper hopeful?

Bottom line as this is getting a bit wordy, in my opinion Soehn has botched this particular coaching task. Crayton is as good as gone and Wicks and Kocic still have question marks. This may still play out well, though if Soehn really does stick to one keeper for a good chunk of games and gives them an honest run. If he remains quick on the trigger to yank keepers, then I can’t imagine this ending well and DC United isn’t good enough to win trophies in this league without some solid goalkeeping.

-As for some MLS housekeeping, it was a much better week for prognostication. Of course Guevara and TFC made a fool of me in soundly beating NE, DC really chunked their game with RSL who they really should have been able to beat, and Dallas let me down with my wild card pick. BUT, Houston thumped SJ as expected and I called the Chivas-KC tie and the Seattle-Colorado tie, as well as the Fire beating NY. All in all, 4-3 on the week and creeping back to respectability at 36-40.

Anyway, a couple games before my preview Friday, so here’s a few more blind guesses.

The Crew will squeak by SJ at home more due to the Quakes ineptness than the Crew’s brilliance as I think Yallop will build a moat around Cannon and the Crew never really play light’s out at home anyway. 1-0 to the defending champs tonite.
The Fire at Chivas is really a firecracker. The top two in each conference with only one loss between them. Chivas almost perfect at home but showing cracks lately, the Fire a better away record than at home (3 wins away as opposed to 1 at home), and seemingly able to tie anyone anywhere. No Kljestan for Chivas, but that probably helps them as badly as he was playing, the Fire get Segares back. Fire – great offense, medium defense against Chivas medium offense, great defense and at home. Going to be a mistake that decides this one and I’m betting the Fire make it. Chivas 2-1.

Moreno brace completes 2-1 comeback win over FC Dallas

It’s clear the legs don’t generate the power and speed they once did. However, the intelligence and bravado have increased ten-fold over the years for Jaime Moreno. It was all on display this evening as Moreno played one of his best individual matches in his long United career. Moreno scored twice within a ten minute period mid-way through the second half to help United to a 2-1 comeback win over visiting FC Dallas before 14,225 fans at RFK Stadium.

For the first 45 minutes it was looking yet again like United was letting their opponent off the hook. Despite dominating the entirety of the first half with numerous shots scooting inches wide of Ray Burse’ goal or worse yet, Moreno hitting the post and having the rebound stickback from Clyde Simms frustratingly cleared off the goal line, it was the visitors who went to the locker room with the 1-0 lead from an Andre Rocha header off a corner kick in the 28th minute. Head coach Tom Soehn and his team did not panic and they stayed with the game plan of high pressure and flooding the attacking zone with numerous players.

Ten minutes into the second half United had their deserved equalizer. Bryan Namoff sent a long ball over the top of the FC Dallas defense and Moreno was inexplicably unmarked. Moreno’s first touch was clinical and he moved into the penalty area with only Burse to beat. His soft left-footed shot was almost saved but it trickled into the net. United continued to pour on the pressure and almost scored the go-ahead goal in the 60th minute. Luciano Emilio was sent through all alone on Burse. The Brazilian pushed the ball to the right of Burse in an attempt to round the keeper but his touch was too strong. Emilio got to the ball before it rolled over the endline and managed to get a good shot at goal but it too was blocked off the goal line. However, just six minutes later a bit of vintage Moreno magic would give United the game-winning goal. The play started with substitute Christian Gomez latching onto a pass deep in Dallas territory. His familiarity with Moreno was no match for the visitors as his no-look pass sent Moreno straight into the penalty area. With Burse charging out to cut down the angle, the intelligence and bravado spoken of earlier surfaced and his cheeky chip over the prone Burse settled easily into the back of the net.

The classy goal from Moreno shocked the visitors into action and took them from a team simply absorbing pressure to a team that needed a tying goal. The next 25 minutes were mostly spent in United’s half of the field with United settling on a defensive posture.  FC Dallas never really had any threatening chances though the debut of United keeper Milos Kocic made things interesting. The rookie goalkeeper from Loyola of Baltimore was under pressure mostly from dangerous crosses from Dave van den Bergh. Kocic punched when he should have caught and caught when he should have punched on several occasions but the most unsettling part of his performance was the lack of protection he was getting from game official Ricardo Salazar as the young Serbian was being battered left and right from Dallas players without a single foul being called. Kocic made it through the fire and gained his first ever MLS win.

D.C. United now goes on the road to play Kansas City on Wednesday night. This game will be on Comcast SportsNet at 8:30 pm. After that United will come back home to face Toronto FC at RFK next Saturday night at 7:30 pm. That match was originally supposed to also be on Comcast but is being bumped in order to televise Game 5 of the Caps/Penguins series, should it go that far. There are no plans to tape the match on delay or on another channel. Let’s hope for a Caps sweep of the Penguins.

United Notes

  • Jaime Moreno was  honored before kickoff for being the first player in MLS history to score over 100 goals and 100 assists.
  • United midfielder Fred was not at RFK Stadium due to his daughter having surgery on Saturday.
  • United co-owner Will Chang was asked before the game to comment on the stadium situation from an unnamed source in regards to which local municipality they are talking to. “We’re not talking to anybody, and no one is talking to us”.  Ouch…