The fans at RFK Stadium came to sing on Thursday night. They cheered, chanted and implored D.C. United to deliver the kind of performance they had grow accustomed to over the years.
That performance never came.
Instead, D.C. sleepwalked through yet another lifeless effort, succumbing to a faster, more determined and more creative Chicago Fire squad that pushed its winning streak to three games with its 2-0 victory at RFK.
This isn’t how the year was supposed to be for D.C. An infusion of new talent was supposed to put D.C. over the top. Instead, D.C. is at the bottom of the barrel, in last place in the East while Chicago stays right on the trail of first-place Columbus.
SBI Correspondents Stephen Wattles and Joel Sanderson took in the action on Thursday and provided two very different takes on Chicago’s 2-0 victory. Here are their stories:
Momentum and confidence building for the Fire
By STEPHEN WATTLES
As I raced home from work before Thursday night’s kick-off I had a different feeling than I had prior to Fire games earlier in the season. The previous weekend’s lopsided win in New England left me confidently expecting another solid road performance by the Men in Red and another three points. I wouldn’t be disappointed.
After again strolling into a tough Eastern conference stadium and playing efficient, organized, and dominating soccer, that confidence is growing. The Chicago Fire look really good right now, and though it might still be early, its not too early. As the MLS season approaches the quarter pole this weekend, my goals and expectations for 2008 are growing by leaps and bounds.
On the night DC United didn’t even look like it belonged on the same field as the Fire. The 2-0 margin of victory makes it seem far closer than it actually was.
The Fire rearguard continually frustrated United’s attack (and I use the term loosely) not allowing a truly troubling chance at goal until near the 90th minute when Methuselah himself, Jaime Moreno, was able to head one off of John Busch’s bar. The defensive unit was once again rock solid and hardly put a wrong foot forward on the evening in forcing Busch to do very little to earn his second consecutive clean sheet and fourth overall.
The attack again got the job done despite a ten-minute stretch leading up to the second goal where four clear chances went begging. The opening goal was a nice one with Chad Barrett superbly heading Chris Rolfe’s cross back for an inexcusably wide open Justin Mapp to pass into the back of the net. The clincher hardly needs any words to describe it. In Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s native Mexico it would simply be a golazo, here in MLS its called goal of the week.
But the most astonishing thing about the goals was the reaction of the rest of the squad. When Mapp tucked his home the bench exploded. The reaction more typical of what would be expected in the Premiership’s weekend relegation battles than an early May MLS game. The same was true of the reaction of the substitutes warming up behind Zach Wells’ goal when Blanco’s bomb hit the net as they all tore off at a sprint to try and get a in on the celebrations. Both are signs of a team that is on the same page and happy to be playing with one another, signs of a really good team.
The third sign of that camaraderie was John Thorrington’s reaction to the tackle on Logan Pause that should have led to Rod Dyachenko being ejected. It was great to see a teammate come to another’s defense like that. Though seeing Pause on the ground caused my heart to drop into my chest. At the beginning of the season I feared one of the biggest holes in the team would be the one left by Chris Armas’ retirement. But Pause has filled that hole and then some.
His play is not of the style that will gather him attention and plaudits but I’m here to give him some. He isn’t a crunching tackler or flashy passer that often draw the compliments. But he works endlessly, is always in the right spot, reads the game well, and hardly ever leaves a teammate in a compromising position. It’s the invisible defensive midfield style made famous by Claude Makelele, and though I’m sure to be ridiculed for even drawing that comparison, his play has been as key as anything to the Fire’s success thus far in 2008.
As I count down the minutes this week to Houston’s arrival at Toyota Park, all I’ll be thinking is ‘Bring on the champs!’ because this team is ready for them.
The ‘New’ D.C. United A new disaster
By JOEL SANDERSON
Allow me to offer a metaphor: DC United is the New Coke of the MLS. For years, it’s been good, the best some would say, but someone up top decided to change the ingredients and see how it works out. I don’t think DC can get out of this mess quite as easily as Coke did. Coke got to go back to the original flavor, recipe intact. DC can’t go back. Imagine if Coke had lost the old recipe and then had to change the New Coke flavor a little bit at a time to improve the flavor. Pepsi might be number one. Maybe they would remember the old ingredients but just not know how to fit it together. Maybe some of the ingredients went bad.
The left over ingredients from old DC have gone bad. Like guacamole left without a covering, the old guys have gone Gray and decayed. They still sound appetizing, but when you scoop a little up on a chip, you know that what was good a little while ago will never be usable again. The difference is that in DC’s case, the aberrant moments of Thursday’s game were when Emilio was actually trying. He ran a little, or what passes for a run from his chubby self, he made some passes and turns. But that’s as underhanded of a compliment as I can give – sometimes he even looked like he was trying. Jaime Moreno was alright. Rumors of his demise are still slightly exaggerated. He can direct an offense a little. But he can’t last.
The new ingredients in DC, meant to liven up the flavor, have either been neutral flavor benefits, or the equivalent of mixing Tabasco with the always delicious high fructose corn syrup. In fact, my reaction to the way Gonzalo Peralta plays defense is about the same as if I tasted Tabasco in my coke: “What the #$%*?” Justin Mapp’s goal wasn’t even impressive. How is it that you have time to tee up a shot inside the box? The defense didn’t even move. “Oh, I guess he’s probably going to shoot,” their faces said.
And the old boss, the guy who stands out in front of the cameras and say “this soda is coming together” may be the worst of problems. Tommy Soehn… the team was great last year. This year, it looks like Isaiah Thomas took over. Wait. Is Isaiah Thomas available now? That’s couldn’t hurt. Soehn has been coaching like he doesn’t know what he’s doing for a month. Isaiah Thomas can do that too. Heck, there at third graders who could do that for less money.
DC United had 15 good minutes on the field against the Fire, at home. That’s it. I think we could get together a group of readers from SBI and put together 15 good minutes against DC. Maybe 20. And the good 15 minutes were the last 15 minutes and even those, the Fire just needed half a foot and they would have had some breakaways.
The New Coke of the MLS has got to adjust the ingredients. It has the new, incredibly shiny black wrapping. That didn’t help the flavor at all. The flavor in my mouth is bitter. Last year, the team was good. This year’s team is made up of mostly new or at least more used players. Christian Gomez and Bobby Boswell can’t come back. I wish I could get this taste out my mouth, but I don’t run the show. All I know is that right now, it’s making me sick.