Time for a quick-hit reaction now that I'm home from RFK; Martin will be back tomorrow with the player ratings.
The general reaction tonight is simple: Meet the new D.C. United, same as the old D.C. United.
Well, not quite. But tonight, at least, the results were hauntingly similar. United incorporated its two newcomers, with Brandon McDonald marshaling the back four and Dwayne De Rosario heading the new-look diamond midfield. The changes looked to have paid off an hour into the match, with United leading
3-0 2-1. I should say that United had found the net on all three goals scored to that point, but sadly one was in Bill Hamid's net after a killer finish fluky knee-bounce off of Perry Kitchen.
Of course, the lead was not to last. My fiancee commented at the game that United are a lot like Charlie Brown trying in vain to kick the football only to have it ripped away at the last second. On this occasion, the role of Lucy was played by Philadelphia, but it could have been a replay of last Saturday's game against Houston. The Black-and-Red give up a lead early in the second half, fight back to regain control, and succumb to a late defensive breakdown, dropping two points in the process. Try as we might, we just can't kick that damn football. It's not any particular instance that's troubling - it's the pattern.
After the jump, I'll quickly break down what went wrong, and we'll take a glance at United's newest additions and how they performed tonight.
Before we get to the promised discussion of United's shortcoming's tonight, an aside on referee Abiodun Okulaja's performance. I - and just about everybody who's taken hand to keyboard to talk MLS this year - have been pretty hard on refs. I really don't have much bad to say about Okulaja tonight. He got the first half yellow card on Jordan Harvey exactly right; he generally allowed play to develop and called advantage appropriately; he even got correctly gave United a free kick just outside the 18 rather than a penalty when Blake Brettschneider was fouled in the second half. He let things go physically a bit more than I would have preferred, but Okulaja generally called it fair and let the players play. Not the best performance I've ever seen by a ref, but if I may damn with faint praise, definitely one of the better showings in MLS this season.
To those dreaded defensive lapses. It's becoming more and more clear that United's young defense - and even with the addition of 25-year-old Brandon McDonald, it's hard not to call these guys young - has trouble keeping focus for the full 90 minutes. Especially so when they're playing against the savvy veteran types. Brian Ching last week, Steven Lenhart before that, and Carlos el Pescadito Ruiz tonight - all caused us trouble and all found the net at key times. I honestly don't know whether it's a savvy problem, a communication problem or what, but it's something that needs to be fixed. (Of course, this would be moot for tonight's purposes if it weren't for Perry Kitchen's Right Shin and one of the flukier own goals you'll see this season.)
If you asked me to pick a scapegoat for the evening, though, it would probably be Daniel Woolard, who managed to get burned on Le Teux's almost-goal on the counter
as well as the actual final goal of the night. Tough night for the left fullback. [EDIT: I was mistaken. It was Chris Pontius who was caught ball watching on Sheanon Williams' run that set up his cross for the 84th minute equalizer. Pontius was obviously disappointed in his effort on the night, tweeting: "I was awful tonight. Apologize to my teammates, fans, and the organization."]
As for the newbies - I like. McDonald looked strong in the back and cut out the opportunity Philadelphia nearly had after United's opener. DeRo also impressed - besides creating the first goal and getting the ball to Najar for the second, his work rate was as high anybody on the field. United's newly minted #7 tracked back on defense, came back to find the ball, made good runs with and without the ball, and generally contributed very well to the team. Bonus: De Rosario and Najar seem to have a good understanding already. If DeRo and the rest of the attack can similarly get on the same page, it'll be real pretty to watch. Already, you can see that the Black-and-Red have ideas when they get the ball forward, and not just the "run at defenders and see what happens" kind of idea. Runs off the ball, looking for crossing opportunities, clever passes, ideas on how to break down an opponent.
And that's why I'm not convinced this is a real case of Charlie Brown vs. the football. The defensive lapses are fixable - or at least they should be. They aren't the result of a lack of talent or commitment. They're inexperience and momentary lapses in focus coming back to haunt us. You can learn from these, and I'm hopeful our guys in the back will. But real creativity and unpredictability in the attack? That's something you have or you don't. And for the first time in a long time, United have it.
It may take a little while, but if United can shore things up in the back, that football's as good as ours.