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New England 2, D.C. United 1: A Look Back

NamoffRalston (AP)


New England needed a little help from the referees, but a last-minute penalty, coolly finished by the incomparable Steve Ralston, was just the break they needed to snap out of their six-game winless skid and grab a 2-1 win over D.C. United.

Taylor Twellman made his first appearance of the year, subbing in for Jeff Larentowicz (concussion) in the 25th minute and he might have had the biggest impact on the game out of anyone, even though it won’t show up in the box score. Twellman drew two defenders and goalie Josh Wicks to him on the first goal, which allowed Shalrie Joseph to make a free run into the box and head home a Kenny Mansally in the 55th, and he also drew the 89th minute penalty to set up the game-winner.

Fred had a stunning 36th minute goal that we’ll talk more about a little bit later, and United definitely looked sharp offensively and held the momentum in the first half. They came out a little flat though in the second half and that left the door open for the Revs to come back and grab three points.

D.C. United are still in healthy shape at 3-2-7 (16 points) and although the Revolution sit a little lower in the standings at 3-3-4 (13 points), they’ve got two games in hand over most of the Eastern Conference so they’re not in terrible shape either.

On to some thoughts about the game:

The first bit of news to get to is Jeff Larentowicz going down in the 25th minute with a mild concussion, putting Stevie Nicol in a position to perhaps sub in Twellman a little bit earlier than he’d have liked to. Didn’t know he had this kind of leg on him but Brian Namoff sent in one of those John Arne Riise bullets from 30-yards out and Larentowicz stepped right in front of it to take it off the noggin. That’s one of the things that makes Larentowicz one of my favorite players. This wasn’t incidental, he saw Namoff was going for goal and he jumped in front of that to block it. Who knows if he has the talent to get any better, but as is Larentowicz is a helluva MLS player and I think we all hope he isn’t sidelined by this for too long. It’s been quite a rise for Larentowicz who was originally a fourth round supplemental draft pick in 2005 out of Brown. He switched from central defender to defensive midfielder and over the past couple years has developed more into Shalrie Joseph’s equal back there than I think any of us would have imagined.

Should Larentowicz miss some time – it didn’t look serious at the time and taking him off might have just been a precaution – Pat Phelan had a pretty nice bounce-back game and looked comfortable out there after he was moved back inside. New England are finally getting a little health back to the lineup, although Chris Albright, Mauricio Castro and Gabriel Badilla are still all out. All these players getting time in their absence – I’m talking about Phelan, Darrius Barnes, Kevin Alston and Chris Tierney mostly – will end up providing some real quality depth for this squad.

This was the first time I got to see D.C. United with Chris Pontius in the lineup and I was quite impressed with the pressure they created in the first half. Pontius and Luciano Emilio were each finding shots at will and if not for a couple shots that went off the crossbar, this would have been a different game. I was a little surprised they already have Pontius taking free kicks, but he’s earned it and he nearly delivered in the 39th minute with a sharp attempt at the lower right corner from about 30 yards out. Overall, they were an impressive group in the first half. I keep stressing that they looked good in the first half because they didn’t really have anything going for them in the final 45. Of course, you can’t laud a team for only showing up for half a game, but when they string together a full 90 minutes that should be a contender.

Fred’s goal in the 36th minute was made that much more impressive because he had the same exact shot just a minute earlier and panged it just off the crossbar. The second time, Luciano Emilio dropped if off for him just on the edge of the box and Fred showed he has that much control over where he’s putting his volley. Sometimes you see a player take a great shot and you think maybe there was a little bit of luck involved, but this one was all skill.

Off topic halftime observation: You get sort of a bird’s-eye view from up in the press box and it’s a different kind of experience than watching the game down in the stands. Certain players you need to focus hard to tell which one they are (this can create problems sometimes when you’re not sure who assisted on a goal, haha), but in some cases it’s easy. Jeff Larentowicz, because he’s the pasty guy with red hair in the middle of the field, and Shalrie Joseph, because he’s the big, black guy with dreads that’s all over the field, have always been the easiest to spot for me, but Kevin Alston is making his presence felt in this department. Larentowicz is a little harder to distinguish these days with Pat Phelan starting to crack the lineup. All I’ve got to say about Alston: shades of Sideshow Bob with that haircut. I was both surprised and a little pissed off at the way D.C. United treated Twellman out there and not even because of the home team bias. Albeit, Twellman did his job and stuck his nose anywhere he could to find a scoring chance, but it seemed to me it was part of the game plan to get physical with him and test him. I’m all for that if it’s a busted ankle and you want to see if the guy can run, but Twellman’s concussion and resulting neck issues are something you shouldn’t mess with on purpose. A couple occasions that stood out for me: Dejan Jakovic checks Twellman while he’s receiving a pass and then the 79th minute Josh Wicks charges out to block and attempt from Twellman and doesn’t make much of an attempt to slow down after making the save, barreling into Twellman at full speed. Twellman also got the worst of it as everyone collapsed around him on Shalrie Joseph’s goal and drew the penalty in the 89th, but I thought the physicality there was more justified.

.There was an interesting play in the 75th minute that I’d like to draw attention to that might of skated under the radar. It didn’t end up affecting the outcome of the game, but it is one of my soccer pet peeves and I wish MLS would do more about it. With New England clearly having the advantage in numbers and positioning, Rodney Wallace “mistakenly” thought it was his throw-in, grabbed the ball and wouldn’t give it to Sainey Nyassi who wanted a quick throw-in. Wallace effectively killed a good scoring opportunity for New England.

I was surprised when the Revs did get their chance to go ahead in the 90th on the penalty kick that Nicol went with Ralston instead of Twellman, who drew the foul and is one of the most dangerous finishers in the league. Ralston was the safer bet and it was the right move because the win is what matters and he came through for them, but let’s remember that Twellman is sitting on 99 goals with the opportunity to become the youngest 100-goal scorer in MLS history. Would have been a great moment with the spotlight on him and time to notify the crowd of what’s going on.

Lastly, I noticed different strategies by each of the coaches going into the media sessions. Nicol is sort of Belichickian in that he’s not the type of guy to give candid interview that might give away too much information or draw a fine. Tom Soehn, on the other hand, didn’t shy away from blaming the refs for a penalty kick that was a little questionable and ended up determining the game. Soehn on the PK call: “Just disappointed in the way it ended. I felt like the players should have finished that one off and not have it decided by a call like that.” As opposed to Nicol when I asked him about D.C. getting physical with Twellman: “You’ve got to be careful about what you say about the officials,” he said. “If you’ve got nothing good to say then don’t say anything, so we’ll leave it at that.”

If you’re looking for a little bit more of a regular news story on the game, here is my article on the Worcester Telegram website.

What did you all think of the game? Is New England finally coming out of its slumber? Disappointed D.C. United let one get away against a struggling team? Excited that one of the league’s best strikers in Twellman has finally found his way back on the pitch?


  1. Chris: IIRC, 38 of Moreno’s goals are PKs. With Twellman, it’s 2 or 3. This past weekend’s PK was the fourth one he’s drawn in his career, and the first one since his rookie season in 2002. Might be wrong on that, but it is definitely many years since he’s gotten a PK called. I don’t begrudge his lack of effectiveness from the spot, not every good striker can be a good PK taker.

    This is a strange start to the Revs’ season, in terms of penalty kicks. Last season the Revs were awarded two in total; 4 in 2007; and 2 each in 2006 and 2005.

    I think it was a pretty soft foul, but at the same time, it was kind of surreal seeing a guy who’s been getting mugged in the box every single week for the past 6 years actually get a call. I was directly behind the box and saw Namoff’s pull (as stated above, a weak pull, but there was contact) and think it could’ve gone either way. Happy enough it went ours.

  2. I actually don’t think it was a “dive” so much as Twellman losing his balance (Namoff sort of “pulled the chair” on him a bit) and, like any striker would, looked to the ref once he went down. It wasn’t a Ruiz type thing where he went into the challenge looking to fabricate–I think the AR just blew the call.

  3. As good of a striker as Twellman has been over the years, amazingly he is a poor penalty taker. He was the PK guy for a brief period 3 – 4 years ago, but that job was taken from him after he failed to convert a handful of PK chances. Shalrie took that responsibility for a while but it’s been Ralston’s job for at least a couple of years now. If one team was up by 2+ goals, then let TT take the PK and try for #100. However, with the game on the line, I’d rather not.

    Out of TT’s 99 career MLS goals, his PK total is in the single digits. Part of me likes to point out that of Jaime Moreno’s 125 career goals, 124 have been from the spot (haha) but the real point is that if Twellman was a better player he’d be able to convert a simple PK and he’d have well over 100 career goals by now.

  4. What is stunning is that we thought the ref was turning around to card Twellman for simulation. Gravity is no excuse for providing a penalty decision.

  5. Carl:

    It’s funny that you mentioned the 75th minute thing as an attempt to kill a scoring chance, because I was sure that it was DCU’s throw-in. I think Wallace may have thought the same thing.

  6. Interesting things seem to happen when New England plays DC, and this game was certainly no exception. I think most Revs fans, including this one, agree that the reffing was awful, and that,possibly, it really wasn’t a PK (I was there and couldn’t say for sure). But, DC had at least 2 great chances, and didn’t finish them. A tie would have been fair, but this is soccer we’re talking about.

  7. @LDQ:

    I’ve watched the replay several times, and it’s still not close to a penalty. Twellman had two defenders closing in on him, so he tried to sell a BS penalty call, just like McBride sold a BS penalty against Chivas earlier in the week. And if you felt like your team “deserved a W” – not just a tie, but a WIN – after a game in which the other team hit the crossbar two times, then you’re clearly just seeing what you want to see.

    One thing you might want to look at when you watch the replay: the ref watches the play happen, turns and follows the ball to the center circle for a second, and then turns BACK AROUND and calls the PK. So even he wasn’t really convinced.

  8. My favorite post of the week As usual…J Larentowicz has always been one of my very favorite MLSers, very astute and tactical. I also hope that nicol keeps giving playing time to Alston Barnes & Tierney because they have shown they can become great players for the team and for this league. Plus, I’m not that convinced with Badilla and Castro. Only wondering about Albright and how will nicol respond once he becomes matchfit.

  9. As dcu#10fan said, all other sports are going through the same kind of thing. How much did we hear about the refs in the NBA playoffs? and the umpires in the MLB have taken a lot of heat this year and years past. Never mind what happened in the Chelsea/ Barca game… I think it is just the nature of the beast and as technology gets better and we have a 1000 replays to watch and different angles it is very easy to critique the call that was made on the field. These refs get one look and one angle. Not an easy job.

    I’m not defending them as when I play I often belittle refs for missing calls or making bad ones but I think all sports need to reevaluate the training and set up more advantageous programs to get new and younger people developed for these jobs.

  10. dcu#10fan – well said. The problem of course is that TT’s penalty DOUBLES the Revs’ number of goals AND decides the game, whereas a not-called moving pick or a ticky-tack foul in bball accounts for 1 or 2% of a teams total points.

  11. DC Fans seem to forget the equally soft foul that Fred drew at the end of the game in DC earlier this year – the one late in the game that led to Olsen’s game-tying goal.

  12. I don’t think it was a foul at all, and I’m a Revs fan. It seemed to me like TT was leaning back to try an overhead kick if the ball fell right. It didn’t and TT was commited to going backwards. That Namoff had his hand on TT’s arm was mostly incidental.

    Also if I’m not mistaken, the call came from the side, not the referee, who was closer to the play. That made it a late call and even more controversial.

    I also appreciate the Lawrentowicz props. I like his game as a CM, though he lacks Shalrie’s vision and instincts.

  13. Mark,

    Like you, I am a more recent convert to soccer than some of the other sports I follow, and I thought both the McBride and Twellman penalties were jokes. MLS and the USSF need to continue to work on finding and training more qualified refs to do the job, no doubt.

    That being said, I follow baseball (balls and strikes, anyone?) and basketball (block/charge, moving picks, etc.) with equal enthusiasm and I am not convinced that soccer in general or even MLS specifically is any more afflicted by these issues than other sports. How many linemen are holding on the average NFL play? Judgement calls by refs have a huge impact on most team sports I can think of and, even at the highest level, refs screw up. As I said, this doesn’t mean USSF should sit on its hands, just that it is inevitable that there will be screw ups at all levels (see Champions League and World Cup history, for example).

    To those who excuse Twellman by saying Namoff pulled on his arm a little bit, give me a break. That’s not just a bad call because it’s a game deciding penalty, it is not a foul anywhere on the field.

    Ask yourself, if you are a Revs fan, whether you would have been happy to have the same call made in the other penalty box, or if Twellman had made similar contact on Namoff before scoring a goal and the goal had been disallowed. You would be as outraged as most of us DCU fans were – and many neutral observers joined us.

  14. It’s a good thing I don’t work for the league because I’d probably go Nicol’s route and stay silent. But since I’m a fan I’ll just say…the officiating in MLS is awful. It’s worse then awful. It’s random and arbitrary. The consistency is so bad that it is determining the outcome of games in plain sight. I am a newer soccer fan (started watching in the last 5 years) and a Red Bulls season ticket holder, and I am growing so frustrated with the consistency of the officiating match to match. It makes me not want to watch when an entire game can be played and a silly little non-foul on the edge of the box determines who wins and who loses. That is also the nature of the sport, but if they want to grow the game in the US they are going to have to become a lot more consistent and clear up ambiguities as to what is and what isn’t a fould, a yellow card, or a red card because right now it looks like they are making it up as they go along.

  15. terrible penalty…dc has lost 4 potentially crucial points due to incompetent referees. while bad, this one wasnt as bad as the la penalty in week 1 which was one of the worst i’ve seen.

  16. And I also agree with Jeff in that this was no way even remotely close to the horror call in the Chicago v Chivas game.

  17. JeffM, I suggest you watch the replay again and maybe one more time for good measure, especially the version in real time. You see 2 things that are obvious: 1) The defender has ahold of TT’s arms and is pulling, and 2) TT jerks back as he is trying to reach for the ball.

    This was in no way an over-the-top dive. Twellman did his best to sell it once he was on the ground, but he was going for the ball the entire time it was in play.

    Should have it been a game deciding penalty, I don’t think so; but then again I am not of the “a foul is a foul no matter where or when it takes place” mentality.

  18. That penalty was “a little questionable”? Watch the replay. That penalty call was a little questionable in the same way that Kanye West is a little egotistical.

  19. The penalty on Twellman, while pretty questionable, was still about 100 times more legitimate than the penalty on McBride on Thursday. At least Twellman had the ball at his feet when he was deemed to have been pulled down. McBride wasn’t even close to being able to make contact with the ball when he was shoved from behind.

  20. wow. barely a comment on taylor twellmans oscar worthy dive to draw the penalty. haha. its laughable. that was a terrible, terrible call. it really seems like the refs are trying not to award draws now.

  21. Carl, thank you for giving Lawrentowicz props with a full paragraph. That guy has been instrumental for the Revs over the last 3 seasons and gets no credit. He is fearless and is one of the best markers in the league.

    I’ve been posting about the penalty call and the treatment of TT plenty, so I won’t get into it right now, but walking into the game I would have given anything for a draw. But in the 88th minute, I thought our play deserved a W, I just wish it hadn’t come on cheap foul.


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