Alvaro Saborio

Stoppage-time winner ends losing streak and sends D.C. United back to the playoffs

Washington, D.C., October 2, 2015 – Alvaro Saborio scored a 92nd minute game-winner to push D.C. United past visiting NYCFC 2-1 and into the playoffs for the second consecutive season in front of a gobsmacked season-high of over 21,ooo drenched fans at RFK Stadium.

Saborio had just missed an opportunity to put United ahead a few minutes earlier but more than made up for it with the game-winner, his third goal for the Black-and-Red since being acquired in July at the trade deadline. The win for United (14-12-6, 48 points) clinched their playoff spot and pushed the squad back into a tie with New York Red Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference.  The much needed win also stopped a horrid six-game unbeaten run which saw United plummet down the Eastern Conference standings. Incredibly, it was the 8th win this season for United after giving up the opening goal.

As this was the first game of the weekend, United could fall back to fourth place if both New England (at Chicago) and Columbus (at Red Bull) manage to win their games. A tie or a loss from either side will see them stay below United with only two league games to play.

As has been the case over the past two months at RFK, things once again got off to a horrible start. Frank Lampard slotted home a rebound from a Bill Hamid save just 48 seconds into the game to stun the soaked crowd at RFK. In United’s last five league home matches, they have given up goals in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 27th and 1st minute in each of those games. Even more amazing is that United has come back to win three of those games, including tonight’s match.

With the conditions getting steadily worse through the match, both teams managed to slog through the impediments of Mother Nature and it remained 1-0 heading into the break with neither team really taking the upper hand.

After the break however it was a different story and a different D.C. United. The Black-and-Red pushed the tempo from the jump and pushed NYCFC back into their own half for most of the second stanza. United thought it had scored the game-tying goal midway through the half when Fabian Espindola’s looping header met Chris Pontius at the back post. The UCSB product finished beautifully only to see the offside flag rule the goal out.

A few minutes later that same combination worked its magic again and this time the equalizer stood. Chris Pontius received a ball among a throng of NYCFC players but managed to weave his way around them for a blistering left-footed shot from 23 yards away. NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders dove to his left and could only parry the ball right in front of goal. Espindola was quicker than the NYCFC defense and pushed the rebound into the goal for his fourth goal of the year.

Pontius very nearly gave United the lead just a few minutes later when his right-footed blast from 40 yards was well saved by Saunders and cleared out of danger before Saborio could pounce on the rebound.

Saborio should have given United the lead in the 90th minute when he was beautifully led to the penalty spot by Espindola only to see his weak left-footed shot saved by Saunders. However, just over a minute later Saborio would not miss his second opportunity. After a dazzling run through the rain-soaked pitch and most of NYCFC’s defense by Pontius, he was hauled down by defender Chris Wingert forty yards from goal. Wingert received a yellow card for his efforts and then up stepped Espindola to deliver the dagger blow.

The Argentine’s free kick floated over the wall and was miscleared by former United midfielder Andrew Jacobsen at the back post and fell gratefully to the foot of Saborio who poked the ball underneath Saunders for yet another come-from-behind win for United.

Up next for United is their last home match of the season against the Chicago Fire on Sunday October 18th at 2pm.

Ben Olsen. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Poor second half dooms United in 3-1 loss to NYCFC

Bronx, New York, August 13, 2015 – This type of loss has been coming for D.C. United. They’ve just been too stubborn to let it happen over the past three weeks but tonight it finally caved in as they allowed three second-half goals in a 3-1 loss to expansion side NYCFC tonight at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Thomas McNamara, David Villa and Kwadwo Poku all scored in the second stanza after United took a 1-0 lead in the 36th minuted through Alvaro Saborio.

Both teams came out relatively conservative though United had a golden opportunity in the third minute to take an early lead. Conor Doyle got loose behind NYCFC’s defense but a poor final touch prevented his one-v-one opportunity with Josh Saunders in goal. NYCFC had the next chance at grabbing the lead in the 21st minute when Villa’s hard angled shot was well saved by Bill Hamid.

United took the lead through some good fortune as NYCFC star Andres Pirlo put a back pass right into the path of a streaking Chris Rolfe. United’s leading scorer sprinted towards goal before squaring the ball to Saborio who’s shot kissed the inside of the far post before settling into the goal for his second goal with the Black-and-Red. United very nearly gave the lead up just sixty seconds later when the back line got caught out defensively only for Bobby Boswell’s lunging goal-line clearance of a Villa effort keeping United in the lead.

After that however it was all NYCFC as they put their foot on the accelerator right from the jump of the second half. Hamid came up huge in the 50th minute in what ended up being a bad sign of things to come. Just a minute later the home side was level as United fell asleep defensively, not for the first time. As the game was beginning to open up, Kwadwo Poku easily got behind Taylor Kemp and rounded Hamid and then slotted the ball to McNamara for an easy tap-in and his fifth goal of the season.

At this point United were simply trying to hang on to their 1-1 scoreline but the skill and class of Poku and Villa were too much for United to overcome. With United in a defensive shell and showing precious little in the way of possession or even passes strung together in the second half, it was Andres Pirlo who ultimately made the difference. In the 80th minute, Alvaro Saborio gave away a bad pass at midfield and then the Italian General simply picked apart United’s defense with an inch-perfect pass that had both Boswell and Sean Franklin playing the “you take it-I got it” game. As that indecision was happening, Villa forced his way between the two defenders and slotted a left-footed shot past a clearly exasperated Hamid for the 2-1 lead.

With United in free fall, Poku wrapped up his Man-of-the-Match performance as his physical speed and skill were no match for a back tracking Boswell. Poku simply overpowered United’s best defender and hammered a shot almost through Hamid for the final goal in a disappointing 3-1 loss.

Even with the loss United still maintain their 8-point lead in the Eastern Conference but now second place New York Red Bull have an eye towards the top of the conference as they have a healthy four games in hand on United.

Up next for United is a trip to Panama for their opening game in the Concacaf Champions League against Arabe Unido on Wednesday, August 19th. United is off this weekend from MLS action and will return to league play when they host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, August 22nd at 7pm. The CCL match will be televised on Fox Soccer Plus at 8pm EST while their league tilt with the Quakes will be televised locally on Comcast SportsNet at 7pm EST

DC takes on NYCFC for the first time

League leading DC United stole three points in Montreal while New York City FC dropped their NY derby series with a clang.

On paper, you would think it’s a mismatch with one team winning in record breaking fashion and leading the Supporter’s Shield race handily as well, while the other is finding ways to lose in agonizing fashion and barely keeping in touch with the playoff race. Then again, you would think it’s a total mismatch the other way in terms of player salaries and pedigrees. But the reality is this game is nowhere near as easy to handicap and that and will be a lot closer than many DC fans would like to admit.

So NYCFC has two players who each make more than DC’s entire payroll and another player who makes more than all of DC’s starters combined. David Villa leads NYCFC in goals with 13 and has won a World Cup, European Cup, Champions League, etc. Chelsea legend Frank Lampard has also won everything there is to win except a World Cup and Andrea Pirlo is arguably the more decorated player than either of them and widely considered a genius in midfield. However, those bright lights also have one other thing in common in that they got absolutely spanked in their first game together in MLS last week when NY absolutely demolished NYCFC to sweep the NY derby and exposed the glaring weaknesses both in NYC’s lineup and especially in these aging superstars.

So, can the league leading team stroll into Yankee Stadium and do the same thing to NYC? In a word, no. DC might be running away with the East, but they were absolutely bolting out of Montreal like a thief in the night after that highway robbery. DC has set dubious league wide records in their last three matches and none of them are records DC is proud to have. The first team to give up goals in the first two minutes in back to back games, the first team to win back to back games from two goal deficits and perhaps the most damning of all, the first team to win a game with only one shot while being outshot 26-1. No, DC is riding a three game win streak, but is doing it with smoke and mirrors lately.

In particular the loss of forward Fabian Espindola is especially worrisome as it is been obvious for years that he is the key to DC’s offense and he is out again injured, this time with a knock to his knee last week which brings his season total to 14 games missed so far this year through suspension or injury. The addition of Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio will no doubt help once he’s fully integrated into the team, but it sure didn’t do any good in Montreal. He was so isolated up top that Stade Saputo might as well have been that island Tom Hanks washed up on in Castaway. He was banging all night looking for the ball, but it was pretty much crickets for him. The rumor is winger Nick DeLeon will be out as well after coming to life for his first goals in almost a year with two goals in his last three games which doesn’t help any either.

It will be interesting to see how DC coach Ben Olsen handles the missing starters too. Jairo Arrieta subbed in as Saborio’s forward partner in Montreal for DC’s first ever Costa Rican line but was ineffective. DeLeon’s typical replacement has been Conor Doyle, but outside of a wonder strike game winner in Chicago, he’s regressed offensively since moving to midfield and he was no great shakes to begin with. Despite a three game win streak, DC desperately needs a spark and I don’t see Arrieta or Doyle as being flint much less the spark needed. I suspect we’ll get Doyle and Arrieta as Olsen is nothing if not loyal to a fault, especially when winning, but it might not be the best way to stick the knife in NYC and keep them down.

Looking at the likely lineups, NYC coach Jason Kreis appears to have decided to play Lampard as more of a second forward than a midfielder and Andrea Pirlo as a statue admiring the play of others standing deep in midfield. No, just kidding. I think Kreis’ idea was to play his three superstars as the central attacking force in a 4-5-1, but NY’s tricky central midfield trio forced Pirlo and Lampard so far apart, the Maestro was collecting passes off the defenders feet far more often than he was picking out Lampard or Villa going forward. DC does not have the type of players or tactical formation to even attempt the same thing NY did, so I expect Kreis to go right back to the 4-5-1 and the same starters to see if it works better this time around. And to be sure, it is a small break, but DC likely gets another of their now usual lucky breaks by catching NYC before their lineup settles into a rhythm.

So, Villa will be the lone forward supported by Lampard and Pirlo centrally and with Mix Diskerud and Thomas McNamara on the wings leaving former DC midfielder Andrew Jacobsen as the lone defensive minded player in midfield. Across the defensive line should be Spanish right back Andoni Iraola, English youngster Shay Facey, Colombian Jefferson Mena, and Spanish teenager Angelino at let back in front of Josh Saunders. And make no mistake, this defense is much improved over the leaky paint bucket from earlier this year, Mena is a huge improvement over Hernandez and Watson-Siriboe despite his recent struggles, Iraola is solid, Facey athletic and becoming more consistent and Angelino is nothing short of brilliant as a left back defensively and offensively.

As I said, I expect Olsen to go with his tried and true Saborio and Arrieta at forward, Rolfe, Arnaud, Kitchen, and Doyle in for DeLeon in midfield. Maybe Pontius is ready to start, but I don’t think he risks it this early from a long layoff especially given Pontius’ history. And maybe Olsen gets frisky and sits Arrieta to start Rolfe as forward and brings in Aguilar but I doubt it. Could be a Halsti sighting too in place of Arnaud, but I seriously doubt that as well. Defense almost certainly will be Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and Chris Korb in front of Bill Hamid. Maybe Sean Franklin gets a start for Korb but I doubt that for the same reason as Pontius. I get the idea of letting the Costa Ricans work on improving their chemistry, but for this particular game a better spark might be to start Facundo Coria as that second forward as he has a bit more elegance and flair to his attacks while Arrieta relies more on craftiness and violence. Another spark might be to play Kemp as a midfielder and bring in Kofi Opare as left back. That would allow Rolfe to push up as well as get Kemp closer to goal as well while at the same time helping to negate the all-out attacking of Diskerud or McNamara.

No matter what though, this game will be won in the center of the field. If DC’s midfield can keep Lampard and Pirlo back and under control, NY will only score through a mistake or a set piece. If DC cedes possession like they normally do and allow Pirlo and Lampar plenty of touches in the attack, DC will be in real trouble. Lampard got free around the edge of the box three times against NY and uncharacteristically missed. Pirlo sent two or three brilliant through balls that were just cut out. If DC gives them the kind of room they gave Piatti and Donadel in Montreal, they will punish DC. Offensively, DC might well struggle to score, but NYC has shown they will make mistakes and clearly haven’t settled in as a unit together.

There’s no history to mention as this is a first ever meeting. DC is not exactly hot, but they are winning. The theft of three points in Montreal improved DC’s road record to 4-6-2, but only 2-5-2 recently. NYC has struggled at home Lost their last home game to Montreal 3-2, but thrashed Orlando 5-3 before that and with a 4-4 tie to TFC before that have scored 11 goals in their last three home games. However, they are 3-5-4 at home and have given up 3 or more goals in their last 4 home games.

So there you have it. This has all the earmarks of a tough game for DC. United has a very good defense that has been poor or lucky lately and an offense that has been shocking or invisible. Lately, NYC is scoring in bunches and giving them up just as often. So, I expect Olsen to button up the ship away from home and hope to force NYC into mistakes they seem prone to make. On the other hand NYC is scary good offensively and is starting to seriously settle down defensively. I can’t see DC shutting them out. I would expect NYC to get at least two given the way DC gives away possession, so they’ll have to score three to win it. With Espindola, maybe that happens, without him I suspect the soccer gods have to get involved to get DC the win. A 2-2 tie seems most likely, but it could very well be one of those wild and wacky games on that band box of a field in NY.

Chivas USA folds; Conference realignment for 2015

This afternoon Major League Soccer’s  worst kept secret came to fruition when the league announced that Chivas USA has ceased operations after ten years of play.

The team and front office have been disbanded and the players will be dispersed via a Dispersal Draft which will be held in early December according to various sources. MLS teams will pick from their roster in reverse order of finish from their 2014 MLS season. That would put D.C. United third from the bottom and in all likelihood United will pass on their opportunity to pick a player from one of the worst rosters in MLS.

Commissioner Don Garber announced that a second Los Angeles franchise will be announced this Thursday and begin league play in 2017. A group of investors led by Vietnamese-American businessman Henry Ngyuen will take charge of the yet-to-be-named team while Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, will spearhead the Atlanta franchise also set to begin in 2017.

Additionally, the league announced also that because of the 2015 additions of expansion franchises NYCFC and Orlando City SC, that the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City will be moved to the Western Conference beginning next season. This will balance out both conferences at ten teams apiece. With MLS now set at 20 teams, the schedule will remain at 34 league games.

Each team will play every opponent in the opposite conference once (5 at home; 5 away – 10 games total) and will play home-and-home against each conference team (18 games total) and an additional 6 games against a conference opponent (3 home; 3 away). Those additional games have yet to be decided but most likely will attempt to keep league rivalries in play (Atlantic Cup/Cascadia Cup/Rocky Mountain Cup/California Clasico/Texas Derby, etc…) and will rotate from year-to-year.

What this means for D.C. United is that things have gotten a lot less complicated as they have traded two conference rivals for two expansion teams. While it may appear an easier path to the playoffs with Houston and SKC out of the picture, it would be a tragic mistake for United,their staff and their fans to assume it will be a cakewalk from this point forward.

2013 should have told us all we need to know about that.