D.C. United loves to put their fans through tortuous dilemma after tortuous dilemma, starting from the jump. But when Alvaro Saborio eventually put the ball in the back of the net in stoppage time for a 2-1 D.C. win over New York City FC to clinch the playoffs, it was something that weirdly and subconsciously we should have known was going to happen.
So what do we take away from this?
An 89-minute mentality isn't going to do it. I'm serious this time.
Jason talked about this the morning of the game, vis a vis giving up the first goal:
This isn't NYCFC specific advice. United has been falling behind to everyone for a while now, and it's clearly long past the time where this issue should have been fixed. United's top priority is to stay organized, avoid mistakes, and be hard to play against. In recent times this club has given away goals far too easily and far too regularly. This has to be a "little things" performance where United makes the visitors earn it. Anything less and we're probably looking at another loss.
Ha, Ha! Jason thought we'd lose, he smells sumo wrestler farts! But seriously though, it's admirable that D.C. wants to put themselves in a hole early, and often, over the course of the Major League Regular Season. But the playoffs aren't 34 games, excluding U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League games. D.C. is going to have to adjust their focus toward those, because having their 2015 season end like it began, with an early elimination in a home and home series, is going to put some well-justified bitterness in many mouths of those who wear Black and Red.
The confidence thing.
I did a bit of babbling last week after the loss to the Montreal Impact about how, after a second goal, D.C. tends to fold easily. This week, after that Frank Lampard goal within the first minute? The team still pressed and had some chances in the time following it in the first half, though they still played through the middle pretty much as you'd expect.
As the second half went on, Chris Pontius competed more and more against Chris Wingert, which he exploited to a fair amount (his shot led to the Fabian Espindola rebound for a goal; he drew the foul that led to the free kick and second goal by Alvaro Saborio, also part of a nice sequence on a third that was disallowed for an offside call). As NYCFC pressed more for a desired result, D.C. countered to varying degrees of effectiveness. They were comfortable absorbing the attack and countered when they needed to and, in more accomplished hands, could have cinched it. Reminded me of the last time a Jason Kreis coached team was favored over one coached by Ben Olsen.
The potential of potential.
I mentioned this in the ratings post earlier, but to retell the story, in talking with some friends at the game Friday, we discussed what kind of money it would take to keep Chris Pontius on the roster and make him a viable asset. For example, Pontius at the salary of say, a Chris Rolfe, would be an easy decision to re-sign. Even a decent, incentive-laden contract for Pontius may fit the bill. But if Pontius is still north of a $300,000 cap hit in 2016, it would likely be with another team. You know it, I know it, I'd venture to say that team officials know it as well.
Then a funny thing happened; Chris Pontius had a second half that harkened the tiniest bit back to 2011 or 2012, when he was reliable for offense or even with the threat of same. Pontius's wonky groin ran like his future depended on it; he put shots on goal, he won balls in the air, it was almost dazzling.
We may have gone down this road before with Party Boy, particularly when it comes to games with a CONCACAF patch on his shoulder. The promise of having Chris Pontius's salary off the books to spend on incoming talent is intriguing; having Pontius in similar form and at a scaled back salary, combined with Targeted Allocation Money that is "use or lose" by the end of 2016? Regardless of where the 13 car goes, games like that are a win-win for the future of the club and player.
A moment of praise for the Coach.
To expand on something I said Friday night, on a night where Kevin Payne was inducted into the team's Hall of Tradition, it felt fitting to a degree that Ben Olsen managed to win, halt a winless streak, and clinch a playoff berth all in one game. Folks tend to attach a bevy of narratives to Ben; whether it is that he cannot or does not coach foreigners (though an Argentine and/or Spaniard leaving Columbus Crew SC is quickly becoming an annual tradition) or that he deliberately chooses to play unattractive soccer despite having the second most goals scored in the Eastern Conference last year.
But since Payne departed, Olsen has managed to land back-to-back playoff berths and CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals appearances, beat arguably the most successful coach in MLS history Friday night, and beat him one other time in some fairly high stakes, almost two years to the day:
<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="5" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"></div></div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://instagram.com/p/e8vvYWlu4s/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">The @dcunited coaching staff celebrating the #usoc victory!</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A video posted by U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2013-10-02T03:00:26+00:00">Oct 1, 2013 at 8:00pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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So if we're examining possible Ben Olsen narratives, you might say that he has a keen awareness of the resources on hand either in the checkbook and on the training ground, while being a decent tactician with an underrated reputation as a players' coach.