DC United lose 3-2, continue to show incremental improvement

Dejan Jakovic and Alejandro Moreno fight for position

For the first time this season, there are positives and negatives to take away from this match.  As opposed to, you know, just the latter.

The biggest positive was undoubtedly United's fanbase.  In a vast football stadium with 34,870 soccer fans in attendance, it was traveling supporters from DC who could often be heard the loudest.  Despite being outnumbered by over 30 to 1, there were times in the match when you could clearly hear "Vamos United" being sung on the FSC broadcast.  That makes me damn proud.

What doesn't make me proud though is poor defending, and disorganization.  If a casual observer was to turn on the game without having any background knowledge, he would have guessed incorrectly which side was the expansion team.

At least in the first half.

In the second half, DC United looked like a real team with consistency for the first time in this young season.  United was the better team in the second half, and won that half 2-1.  One might suggest that Jaime Moreno's goal was a gift from Chris Seitz, but I could counter that Sebastian Le Toux's third goal was a gift from Dejan Jakovic.  More on that later.

 

The game changed in the second half with Jaime Moreno coming off the bench.  A difference in United's attack was evident immediately.  So does that mean that he should have started the match and played a full 90 then?  Well no.  Moreno was used exactly how he was meant to be used in this one.  And it was nice to see Curt Onalfo making a substitute that had an impact on the match for once.  His goal was the result of a wily veteran frustrating a young inexperienced goalkeeper and forcing a turnover.  The patient cutback to give himself an open look at the net was just pure Moreno.

 

So it took Curt Onalfo 2.5 weeks to figure out what we've been saying since the preseason, Santino Quaranta is a better right winger than he is a central midfielder.  It was easy to notice a difference in his level of play in the second half since moving out wide.  Here's what you have to ask yourself: Would Santino Quaranta have scored his goal while still playing an inside role?  And would Brandon Barklage have scored that goal if he was still playing on the right instead of in the middle.  If the answer to both of those questions is no (and I believe that's the case), then Quaranta needs to be starting at right wing.

 

Central defensive midfielder Kurt Morsink continues to be a solid addition for DC.  He was able to break up quite a few plays, and had a good game overall.  However, he was one of three players who failed to mark Le Toux on his first goal.  The other two players were Jakovic and Barklage.  I'm not sure which player was truly responsible for allowing that free run, but any one of them could have done better.

 

Rodney Wallace also could have done more to prevent the first goal, with the cross coming from his side of the field.  And he could have had a shot on target soon after the start of the second half, instead choosing to dummy the ball to an invisible teammate behind him.  But Wallace was active up and down the left flank, which is exactly what we're looking for from him this season.  I made a comment in the GameThread that he was forced to play two positions while Castillo was playing none.

 

Yeah, about that Christian Castillo guy.  I hate to write off a promising young player with international experience so soon into the season.  Especially when we've seen other young South and Central American players make immediate impacts on their clubs in the past.  Hell, one of them was even playing in this match.  Castillo had zero impact on this game.  Oh yeah, aside from the three turnovers.

I might upset some folks with this one, but its got to be said.  Troy Perkins is not looking like a top goalkeeper right now.  We can now chalk up three goals allowed this season as the result of rebounds.  I also noticed that Le Toux was clearly telegraphing his free kick to the far post for his third goal, and Perkins still couldn't get a hand on it.  I mean it was a perfectly striken shot, yes, but I just didn't expect what I thought was one of the best goalkeepers in MLS to give up 3 goals to an expansion team.

It seemed as if DC United failed to study up on Alejandro Moreno.  If you try to tackle Moreno, he's gonna go down.  If you interlock arms with Moreno while both fighting for the ball, he's gonna go down.  Dejan Jakovic should know better.  Was it a foul worthy of a red card?  Probably not, and Terry Vaughn might even agree that it wasn't as clean cut a call when he sees the replay.  But Jakovic should have either cleared that ball before it hit the ground, or he should have communicated with Perkins to come grab it after the bounce rather than fighting with Moreno the whole way.  It was an unfortunate call, but the referee should have never had to make it if the play was better defended.

***

It was nice to see signs of improvement in the second half.  After the first 45 minutes, I was thinking that there was no reason to believe that this team would improve before the summer transfer window.  Now I'm not so sure.  We need to keep in mind that this was a very weak opponent.  But they do have a pretty good defense anchored by Michael Orozco and Danny Califf, so scoring two goals against them isn't a bad headline.  It's our defense that I'm more worried about.  And missing Jakovic next week due to red card suspension and possibly Pena due to injury will not be much help.

It's not going to be easy to find a solution to our problems.  But as we have been saying, it starts with playing people in their best positions.  That means Quaranta at right wing, and it probably means Pontius at left wing for now. Onalfo shaking things up offensively by giving Danny Allsopp his first start and moving Quaranta and Pontius around was a positive experiment tonight.  Next week it will be time to shake up the defense.

Another thing in general that I'd really like to see is more competition for the starting lineup.  After an 0-3 start, no one's job should be safe.  That even means Perkins, who I think should be challenged by Josh Wicks when he returns this month.  We could also very easily see Castillo losing his starting job to either Wallace or Pontius next week.

Some have suggested that this is a rebuilding year for DC United (even including Will Chang, although I can't find the quote right now).  I don't go along with that.  A rebuilding year doesn't consist of a team trading away their first round draft choice.  Nor does it include signing 37-year old defenders.  If I thought this was a rebuilding year, I wouldn't have as big a problem with enduring through a couple early losses.  But instead, these continue to hurt.

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