Friday, May 13, 2011

This blog is currently on hiatus. I will provide an update in the next day or so.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

United Tie Aganist Dallas: A Respectable Result

Maybe the expectation this week was lower than it was for other games, but DC's tie against Dallas feels pretty good. Dallas came to RFK after a week of rest after beating LA Galaxy at home 2-1. But United was starting it's third game in nine days, and had expended a lot of energy in its 2-1 victory over Seattle (and their arrogant fans) on Wednesday. It was with this in mind that a tie over Dallas was a welcome result.

DC defended well despite playing Dejan "Tacklem' From Behind" Jakovic at centerback, and Josh White, who is inexperienced. The midfield was instrumental to the defense too, because they were able to control possession for large chunks of the game. Even better, for the second straight game, the midfield and forwards linked up well and posed a real threat. Andy Najar again played his game, retaining possession, moving the ball, and distributing dangerously to Charlie Davies and Joseph Ngwenya. DC's best chance was probably in the waning minutes of the game, when a point blank header from Fred should have scored DC's go-ahead goal (pictured above). But an incredible save by Dallas's goal keeper, Kevin Hartman preserved the tie for them.

One more notable point to make has nothing to do with either team, but with referee Baldomero Toledo whose propensity for bad calls or missed calls often makes him the center of a game's attention. This was not the case last night. There were missed calls, and phantom foul calls, but it was not unusually poor and none of these were cause for either team (or their fans) to cry foul.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Olsen's Army Answers Call

The start of this week was tough for DC. After losing three straight games in disgraceful fashion, the boys answered the call on Wednesday, beating Seattle 2-1. Seattle came to RFK (a venue where they have never lost) chasing first place in the western conference, to play a team that had given up 11 goals in the last three games. Under pressure to show signs of life, Olsen rallied his team and ramped up pressure to a level that had not been seen all season. The result was a sucker-punch of a match that gave Seattle more fight than they were expecting.

Many of the players exceeded expectations for them for this game. Charlie Davies scored a goal with an assist from Josh Wolff. In the second half, he returned the favor for Wolff's goal. Both of these came off of balls slotted through by Andy Najar whose technical ability was in top form. The defense gave up only a single goal (on a deserved penalty kick). What about goalie Bill Hamid? His play was outstanding, and kept DC in the lead in the closing minutes of the game.

The most important thing about this game may be that when pushed into a corner, Olsen was able to rally his team. As poor as the squad played against the Houston, this week they were in sync. On Monday, Olsen's practice was intense by all accounts. It included a lot of yelling and the team's reaction could well have responded less positively. This was in stark contrast to last year's team, which was demoralized by this time last year and was unable to rally when then-coach Curt Onalfo recited his mantra that the team would have to "Dig a little deeper", after each game.

If United continue to perform well over the course of the season (even if they miss the playoffs), Olsen's effort this week will stand as a defining moment for the coach. "Game 8? Oh yeah, that's the game Benny showed what he could do."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

DC United's Growing Pains

Everyone understood at the beginning of the season that this would be a tough year for DC United. Coach Ben Olsen warned about it. Commentators noted the club's lack of experience regularly. Fan sites expressed positivity that this year's team would be better than last year's (setting the bar extremely low). So a rough spot early in the season, with 27 matches left is not something to be alarmed about. What is more interesting is how the players and coaches deal with this adversity.

DC does not have reliable offensive playmaker. Charlie Davies though leading the race for the Golden Boot, has been better in drawing goal kicks than scoring in the run of play. Attacking midfielder and team captain Dax McCarty his served as the proverbial engine to make the team go. But he has not been the creative player that teams need in that position. Moreover, he's been losing about a million balls per came. To make matters worse, DC seems to have lost Branco Boskovic to an ACL injury, leaving him sidelined for four to six months. Over the last 2-3 games Bosko played, he alone provided an offensive spark, getting several quality shots on goal and scoring twice in Open Cup game last week (where he was later injured). Options are now limited, and it is unclear how Coach Olsen will address the midfield-especially since the team was believed to possess a strong midfield at the start of the season.

During the off-season, Onstad agreed to come to DC United to help develop the extremely young defense. However, an injury to goalkeeper Steve Cronin forced Onstad to come out of retirement to play in goal for several games. In week one the defense looked strong and reliable. By week 4, serious cracks were starting to show. United have allowed 11 goals in the last three games. Now that Onstad has returned to coaching, is it possible he will be able to rebuild the defense's ability and restore some of their confidence? Before that, DC will have a very difficult home game on 4 May against Seattle, followed by a home game against Dallas. Whether Onstad is able to start guiding the defense down a brighter path remains to be seen.

According to Washington Post reporter Steven Goff, Coach Olsen spent much of the practice on Monday 2 May yelling. Unlike during other weeks with short rests between games, United a a full two hour long practice. Throughout the practice, Olsen often stopped the team to reinforce learning points and video footage on the team's website shows him running up behind Charlie Davies and yelling at him about what looked like making a run off the ball. Is the yelling a sign of desperation? Clearly, if DC lose on Wednesday, the team could start to lose faith in their leader and as we saw in 2010, once the team loses faith in the coach the season is done.

DC United's players, coaches, management and (dare I say it?) fans, need to stick to their guns this season. Unlike in other leagues, salary restrictions in MLS require that the team endure a patient building process over a few years. Dallas FC, New York Red Bulls and especially Real Salt Lake are good examples of the process. If Coach Olsen turns the team around by the end of the 2012 season, he will have done precisely what was expected of him. But he will never get a chance to achieve that goal if he is forced to resign in the middle of this season.