Last week against the Philadelphia Union, you wouldn't have guessed that it was a match between the two worst teams in the league. D.C. United didn't exactly look like the champions of years past, but they looked indiscriminately better.
None of that was true tonight though. The last place team in the East was taking on the last place team in the West, and they both looked like exactly. You've got to think that ESPN must be kicking themselves for picking this one to be their "Game of the Week" rather than potential championship matchup of the Columbus Crew against FC Dallas that took place on Saturday.
Neither team really played well. United surely looked like the better side in the second half, but the difference was (as it often is) that Chivas USA finished off one of their few opportunities, and United failed to finish off any of their many.
The reason for United's improved performance in the second half was glaringly obvious - it was Andy Najar. The pace picked up and other players around him raised their levels also. The problem though was that Chivas had already regressed into a shell at the time that Najar entered in the 57th minute, and far too many United players were already gassed.
In his first week back in action after receiving some time on the bench following some really ugly performances, Jordan Graye had one of his better games. He once again looked much more comfortable on the right than on the left. He didn't give up any real chances to Chivas, and was frequently winning headers in the box.
On a few occasions early in the match, Jaime Moreno looked like the best player on the field. He had complete control when on the ball. But that didn't last long. Moreno appeared to have gotten frustrated with his teammates, choosing to attempt to dribble through traffic (which he used to be able to do better than anyone else in the league) rather than seek out a better option. Moreno was frequently dispossessed, and was a nonfactor for most of the second half.
If Chivas had truly earned their goal tonight, I wouldn't feel as bad about this one. But the goal came off a mistake by Troy Perkins, who was too far off his line to have a chance at the save on Justin Braun's lobbed header, and by Barry Rice, who didn't make it hard enough for Braun to put the ball exactly where he wanted it.
I didn't realize when D.C. acquired Branko Boskovic that they were bringing on yet another 60-minute player. I thought that the retirement of Ben Olsen and the waiving of Christian Gomez and Luciano Emilio meant that Moreno was the only attacker left on our rest who mandated a substitution midway through the second half every match. In addition to running out of gas too early, Boskovic had a fairly poor match. His passes didn't connect and he also needed a lot of help from Stephen King on the right side (which come to think of it may have been King's only contribution tonight). I was actually expecting Olsen to swap King and Boskovic midway through the second half since Boskovic was so uninvolved defensively, especially in allowing Ante Jazic such an open cross to Braun for the goal.
Adam Cristman and Santino Quaranta each had underwhelming performances tonight. If soccer was all about running hard, Cristman would be an MVP candidate, but unfortunately his six turnovers (yes, I counted) more than wiped out any good work he performed off the ball. When you don't have good dribbling skills, it's probably best not to try to dribble through your opponents. Quaranta likewise lost the ball far too often, although he was responsible for United's best chance of the night, intentionally shooting the ball off the crossbar and into the back of Zach Thorton's leg so that it would almost ricochet into the goal.
Yes, we were all hoping for a better performance and a better result tonight. Especially after such a promising outing last weekend. But keep in perspective that we still have a chance to erase all the bad memories of this season by taking home the U.S. Open Cup. That quest continues Wednesday night at RFK Stadium against the Columbus Crew.
And the good news is that we'll have Bill Hamid and Andy Najar for the entire match.