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The Fifth Sixth

This is the fifth in a recurring series where we look at the DC United season, five games at a time.

Results: 2-1-2. 4 GF, 4 GA

Standings: Third place in the Eastern Conference

Statistical Leaders: Josh Wicks (3 clean sheets); Namoff, Burch, Moreno, Emilio (1 goal each), Gomez (1 assist)

Most frequent lineup:

What we liked:

  • Discovering our starting XI – I’ve often wondered during this season if we’re ever going to have a single consistent lineup that can be used every week. It looks like we’re finally stating to see that, and surprisingly enough, that lineup is going to be a 4-4-2. While I might not necessarily agree with all of the starters in every match, at least the coaching staff is finally starting to decide who they want to count on to be their regular starters, and that is happening at the perfect time with the playoffs just over a month away.
  • Josh Wicks, the savior – Wicks has come a long way since emerging from the three-man goalkeeper competition to be our starter. And while the team only earned 5 clean sheets in all of 2008, Wicks alone has now earned 5, including 3 in this set of matches. He made a lot of key saves to preserve the scoreless draw late in the Galaxy match. We saw two on-field blowups from Wicks during this period, which is something to look out for, but his play speaks for itself.
  • United can score on corner kicks – Throughout this team’s history, they have struggled to score from corner kicks. Prior to 2009, I think maybe the only corner kick goal ever scored by United came off the head of Eddie Pope in 1996. But suddenly every corner kick is now a scoring opportunity for United. Bryan Namoff scored his second corner kick goal of the year in United’s win over Chicago, and the winning goal sequence against KC also started with a corner.

What we didn't like:

  • Lack of scoring – United did not score in the run of play during these five matches. It’s incredible that we had a winning record during this stretch when the team was only able to score on corners, free kicks, and a penalty kick. With the attacking firepower of the likes of Emilio, Gomez, Quaranta, and Pontius, that’s just not acceptable.
  • Coaching inadequacies – Some of this is due to injury, but Coach Soehn continues to play some of his players outside of their best positions. Simms at CB? Wallace at LB? Olsen at RW? Quaranta at forward while Pontius is in the midfield? And what was Fred doing on the field anyway while Chris Pontius was sitting on the bench? It’s sad to point out that Jaime Moreno only started 1 league match during this stretch, and Pontius only 2.

Defining moment: The moment that sticks out to me most clearly from this five-game stretch is unfortunately the handball by the LA Galaxy that was not called. And that was after Emilio was shoved over in the box earlier in the match. Maybe someone could debate the foul on Emilio, but the handball was indisputable, and it was even used as an example of a bad call by the USSF. We saw so many non-calls in that match that I think we may have won if only a United player could have picked up the ball and ran rugby-style into the goal. Anyways, a penalty kick in the 85th minute of a scoreless game would have virtually guaranteed us a victory, and two extra points in the standings sure would have looked nice about now.

Overall impression: Last time I wrote the following: "United's 1-2-2 record in the fourth Sixth is a bit misleading, because this stretch of the season also included three Open Cup victories to return DC to the Final, and a home-and-home series victory over Firpo to return DC to the Champions League group stage." This time its exactly the opposite. United had a winning record through the fifth Sixth in MLS action, but while also losing two CCL matches and the Open Cup Final. Despite our current place in the standings, United remains in a precarious position because every other team but one has played fewer matches than us. But with four out of the last five matches at RFK in front of its adoring fans, DC definitely is in control of its own destiny during the final playoff push.