It felt rather odd watching this match after being so focused on the World Cup for the past two weeks.
And I love MLS. MLS is awesome. But there are major differences in style and talent between MLS soccer and international World Cup level soccer.
One thing that's not different between the two levels though: Referees make mistakes. Terry Vaughn made a big one tonight. Guillermo Barros Schelotto had about as clear a handball as you're ever going to see in his touch just before scoring the opening goal.
But we can't blame this loss on Vaughn, as much as Thomas Rongen wants to. The ball should have never been in that spot to begin with. And honestly, if Schelotto was one foot to the right, he could have trapped the ball with his chest instead of his hand, and we wouldn't have had any complaints.
The bad call was crushing though. It was the kind of call that can change a game. Change a season. Remember when Chris Pontius scored against A.C. Milan and we talked about how it felt like a turning point in the season? I hate to say it, but the blown call resulting in Schelotto's goal felt like a turning point too, but in the wrong direction this time. Hopefully the team proves me wrong though on that one.
Troy Perkins was a big reason why this match was so close. He made several quality saves, holding on to the ball when any number of World Cup goalies probably would have given up a rebound. But his decision to come out on Emilio Renteria's cross to Schelotto left the goal exposed.
This team will live and die by the feet of Santino Quaranta and Chris Pontius this year. When those two are on, United is winning. When those two are constantly putting their shots over the bar every time they touch the ball near the 18, D.C. just isn't going to win. There were also times when I felt like Quaranta and Pontius weren't on the same page as Adam Cristman. The lack of a consistent striker pairing has plagued United all year. I liked Cristman up top. Let's leave him there and see if he can get in rhythm with our other attackers.
I was surprised to see Jordan Graye in the starting lineup since he wasn't at full strength in practice during the week and didn't even make an appearance in United's friendly against El Salvador last Saturday. I don't know if it was lack of fitness or what, but Graye didn't have it tonight, and was frequently abused by Renteria on Columbus's right wing. Graye wasn't within 20 yards of the play when Renteria sent the ball across the face of the goal for the first score, and he failed to mark Eric Brunner for the second. Clyde Simms also could have done better to prevent Brunner's goal.
In a match that featured the winners of the last four Supporters' Shields, the biggest difference tonight was finishing. The teams looked fairly evenly matched in goal, in defense, and in the midfield. But one team put their opportunities on frame, and one team didn't. Time to get to work on that.
We don't have long though. United will host the Richmond Kickers in the Open Cup round of 16 on Wednesday night at George Mason University. Perkins said in his post-match interview that the Open Cup is important for them this year, as it might be the only way that D.C. can save their season. Let's hope that shows on Wednesday.