With a full day to reflect on what we witnessed last night at RFK Stadium, I'm having less and less difficulty accepting that we're still a pretty good team. We just happened to get beat by a team that's currently playing at the top of its game.
For risk of alienating a portion of my readership by making two gridiron football references in a week, I'll admit that last night's match brought back memories of November 15, 2010. That night, a team that I love was demolished on their home soil by a division rival with a world class player who just couldn't miss.
I didn't leave FedEx Field that night thinking that the Redskins were a terrible team, although they'd just gotten blown out by the Eagles 59-28. I left thinking that it was kind of cool to have just seen such an incredible performance by such an elite player.
D.C. United was equally dominated on the scoreboard in soccer terms, losing 4-0 to the New York Red Bulls. And yet, we still had chances! Make the goal 3" bigger in each direction, give our central defender some sense of an ability to shoot where the goalkeeper isn't, and we could have had an incredible 3-3 game heading into the final minutes with the United supporters' groups in an absolute frenzy. Given that situation, I'm not so sure that the Juan Agudelo goal in the closing minute would have happened.
I'm not one to sit back and count What Ifs. This one got away from us, and D.C. really didn't play well enough overall to win. Ben Olsen said it himself in the press conference after the match:
We had some guys who had OK performances. No one really had a great night, and against a team like New York, you need a couple guys to have great nights
Yeah, my player ratings tend to agree.
If we were looking for a performance from Branko Boskovic worthy of earning him a future start, this had to be it. Right? Boskovic may have had more quality chances than the rest of our team combined, and he only played 45 minutes. He rattled the crossbar on one free kick, hit the post on another lobbed attempt, curled the ball just wide from outside the box, and was a diving Bouna Coundoul save away from notching his first MLS goal. That goal is coming. And he should probably be given more than 45 minutes next week to try to find it.
To his credit, Dwayne De Rosario was rendered a complete non-factor last night by Clyde Simms. He fulfilled that part of his duty quite well. But he failed to keep up with Joel Lindpere on New York's third goal, leaving his goalkeeper exposed on a counterattack with none of the other three defenders available to cover in time.
For the first time in the history of mankind, Charlie Davies played in an MLS match and failed to score a goal. Uh, wow. I think we're beginning to learn a bit more about when Davies can be effective and when he can't. Against a compact defense with two smart and tall center backs who don't often make mistakes, Davies is going to either not win very many balls, or be caught offside way too frequently. Or in this case, both.
With Davies unable to produce, the majority of United's attacks ran through the feet of Fred da Silva, who was active and lively throughout the match. He posed the biggest challenge for New York's defenders outside of Boskovic, but wasn't able to link quite well enough with the men in front of him.
Ok, so our defense was terrible. They were beaten by the Red Bulls more often than not. Marc Burch was caught out of position on the first goal, and beaten handily by Jan Gunnar Solli on the second. For the first time this season, he looked like he didn't really belong on the field. Dejan Jakovic should have been marking Henry on the first goal, and neither he nor Perry Kitchen was able to stop the second or fourth goals despite being within distance to poke clear. Chris Korb could also be blamed for Henry's second goal, and didn't have his best crossing night either. Out of the four of them, I'm least concerned with Kitchen (profiled nicely here by Sam Chamberlain of SB Nation D.C.). He's clearly the leader of this defense, and is really physical with his body on early challenges.
Bill Hamid made only one save while giving up four goals. Some of New York's goals were high quality and didn't give Hamid much of a chance to stop them, but Lindpere beat Hamid 1v1 for his goal. And as much as I hate to say it, if we'd swapped goalkeepers with the other team, I reckon that Coundoul wouldn't have let that happen.
We knew the defense would have games like this occasionally, but I was probably most surprised not to see better performances out of Chris Pontius and Dax McCarty. Pontius left far too much room on his side of the field for Burch to try to cover defensively, and wasn't nearly involved enough in the attack (which might not be entirely his fault). Meanwhile, on a play eerily similar to this one (although not quite as obvious), McCarty took an extra dribble and failed to pass to an open man streaking towards the box on his left for the second week in a row.
United will use this weekend for reflection before getting back to work Tuesday night in a critical U.S. Open Cup match against the New England Revolution at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Since he may not yet be ready to join their first team this Saturday, I'd expect to see Benny Feilhaber for an extended period of time in that match. Then United will face the Houston Dynamo on the road one week from tonight. Hopefully they can manage to build a new stadium within the next seven days because I seem to recall D.C. being traditionally terrible at Robertson Stadium.