United in 2009, The Roller Coaster Ride Begins!

Obviously, opening the season on the road and snagging a point, especially while missing four starters and playing in the supposed Mecca of American soccer is a decent start. In addition, for a team that got just four good results on the road last year, a 2-2 draw to open the season is on balance a good thing. Lots of positives to build on, but peeking under the rock brings out some ugly concerns too.

Still, start with the good news I always say, and exhibit one has to be that the rookies have got game. Pontius’s goal was pure class and a far more composed finish than any rookie since Damani Ralph. Plus, he looked thoroughly comfortable out there playing smart and making the right plays for the most part. His defending could use some work, but what rookie forward has that in his bag of tricks?

Speaking of defending, Rodney Wallace needs to pick up that part of his game for sure. He looked fine going forward, assisted on Pontius’ goal, and overall kept LA off balance on that side of the field. But, it was a bit unsettling Chris Klein got behind him so easily and so often. Still, Klein has been as good as I gets in MLS for something like 200 straight games, and should embarrass a rookie in his first start.

Other positives include Janicki in central defense and Jakovic on the right. Janicki hardly put a foot wrong until getting his bell rung by McTavish. Unfortunately he’s probably the most to blame for Donovan’s game tying second goal. Still, very impressive for a guy who played about one MLS game last year. Jakovic too was solid and showed smooth ball skills out of the back DC fans haven’t seen since Ryan Nelsen. But as that is too cruel a comparison for any DC defender to ever live up too, let’s say he’s easily as good on the ball as say, an Ivan McKinley.

As for the veterans, Gomez had an outstanding game, earned and buried the penalty, got deep in LA’s area often as well as played better defense than he is ever given credit for. Take that Colorado. Simms, Olsen, McTavish and Namoff all played well enough too, at least until the end when no really played that well.

Plus, DC played as a team with a lot of heart and determination not seen in a while. They worked for each other took nothing for granted and scrambled around to cover for the mistakes they did make. Even the game changing head bashing was guys playing all out in a game they were winning 2-0. That kind of hustle and heart you can live with even when it has tragic results. All very positive signs going forward.

Now for the negatives. Obviously, letting a two goal lead slip away ranks right up there, but more on that later. First, some player reviews. Emilio appears to be well on his way to starting the season like he normally does, which is not a good thing. He rarely found the ball and when he did he was not particularly threatening and finished with one shot. Even that one shot isn’t a good thing as he shouldn’t have taken it. After a nice through ball to himself on Benny’s passive offside, Emilio steamed in on goal and was smothered easily on the shot while Christian Gomez was wide open for a tap in the middle of the box. That would have been a back breaker and might have iced the game.

It’s also not too promising that Moreno is not ready for the season. Granted, you’d rather have him healthy for the playoffs, than for a nothing game early in the year. But, if Jaime does not play significant minutes this year, DC will be in trouble overall. As good as Pontius obviously is, he’s a rookie and surely will have his ups and downs.

Which brings up the real meat of DC’s problems, and the reason why they let this game slip away. . They are very likely to be inconsistent overall given the way their team is constructed. Rookies are going to play a big role in this team and they are very definition of inconsistent. Pontius, Wallace, Jacobson, and lump Janicki in there too, all will surely have their ups and downs, par for the course.

But, DC is also relying on some long in the tooth veterans too. How many game-changing plays do Jaime and Gomez have in them? How healthy will they be? Even the slightly younger veterans can be very streaky players too. Emilio, 28 goals in the summer, three in the spring, and none in the playoffs. Fred, 7 goals 8 assists in 2007, 2 and 4 last year, and he is starting to have injury concerns. Santino too is unquestionably talented, but somewhat inconsistent as well.

Plus the defense overall is extremely young and inexperienced too when you throw in Jakovic, who has no MLS experience and is 23. They will get burned here and there as often as they play lights out. Plus, they have a wild card in Louis Crayton behind them. He can get caught off the reservation and sometimes guesses too early on shots, as often as he can play rock solid steady in the nets. And if he doesn’t stay healthy, DC has Wicks, who washed out of LA and couldn’t even come close to a PK by a guy who he’s seen a thousand times in practice, or Kocic the former deer in the headlights, hope he’s out of the woods, rookie.

There’s just not enough rock solid middle of the road steady pros like Simms, Namoff, and Olsen to keep a team on an even keel. Even Olsen will be inconsistent as he continues to beat the odds on those sketchy ankles. Then there’s guys like McTavish and Burch, who are creeping up on becoming steady pros, but they have no real position on the field that suits them perfectly, and might be erratic given their likelihood of being bounced around to various positions whenever they do start.

Bottom line, DC just has all the signs of roller coaster team that will delight like they did with racing out to a 2-0 lead on a hapless LA team, or that will break you heart like they did in the second half giving up that lead and losing two points. The Keystone kop defending and complete lack of ability to exploit a rookie LA defense left exposed when the Galaxy attacked all out in the end of the game was as bad as the previous 70 minutes was good. Now granted Jair Marufo jobbed the team with that ridiculous PK call, but even so, that LA team they trotted out had their own injury and youth problems as well playing pretty poorly overall, and DC failed to close them out.

The 2009 version of DC United may have been built more along the lines of the 2007 team, but they certainly remind me a lot more of 2001 instead, and those guys ended out of the playoffs and fired their coach. Hmm…. Might be an article in that comparison. Stay tuned.

Still, there’s a reason roller coasters are so much fun, and this is a DC team that will be a pleasure to root for. United fans are jaded and used to dominating success or abject failure. This team will be right in between and could be anything any given week, pretty much like the rest of MLS. They certainly won’t boringly steamroll the regular season like the efficient Nowak teams, nor will they dominate and delight quite the way Arena’s talent laden trophy hogs seemingly always did. But, neither will they wallow helplessly like those turn of the century Rongen and Hudson teams so often did. This team is likely to run the gamut of highs and lows, so we should be in for a wild ride.

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