Sunday, September 03, 2006

It's Sunday Night -- So this must be the Soccer / Sports Report. I had record traffic this weekend with my discussion of the primary elections next week. That was nice for me to see, because I'd like this blog primarily to be about politics and world affairs. Soccer seemed to be the number one attraction to the site, so I've focused on that, lately. I will be writing more about politics and world events, but I'm not about to give up writing about soccer, or other sports, as the mood strikes. Tonight, it's all about the world's game.

D.C. United played tonight -- kicking of a marathon week with three games. Tonight, United took on Chivas USA in an M.L.S. tilt in Carson, CA. On Wednesday, United will be in the Chicago area for the U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the Fire. They finish the week in RFK with a league game, hosting Real Salt Lake, at RFK, on Saturday.

After a month filled with disappointing efforts in league play, culminating in the 5-2 drubbing against L.A.'s other team, the Galaxy, I expected wholesale changes against Chivas. More than any other change, I expected to see Nick Rimando replacing Troy Perkins in goal. Coach Peter Nowak saw things differently. For him, the biggest change the D.C. side ended was to see the return of a healthy Christian Gomez to the starting lineup, along with a healthy Freddy Adu.

Two minutes in, Nowak's faith was rewarded. Adu won a free kick on the left side. Gomez drove the kick towards the near post. Chivas' goalie Preston Burpo was caught by surprise by the shot on goal, and was unable to recover in time to keep the ball out of the net. Chivas rebounded when Facundo Erpen was charged with a penalty in the box for defending a crossing pass with a high kick that caught Chivas' Ante Razov in the face. Perhaps an indirect kick would have been the appropriate call here, but Chivas took the gift, and buried the penalty kick to tie the score at 1-1.

Having lost their early lead, D.C. United responded very quickly. Actually, it would be more accurate to say Christian Gomez responded quickly. Gomez took a pass at midfield with his back to the goal, then turned and raced thorough and past most of the Chivas' defense. Finally, Gomez finished the play, driving a grass-skipper inside the opposite post. Again, the Chivas keeper, Burpo, out of position and late to dive, probably should have made the save, but much credit is due Gomez for one of the best efforts of the MLS' season.

United turned in a spirited, feisty effort in a chippy game. They defended well. Aside from the penalty, Perkins' faced few real threats, but he seemed to make all the right plays. Nowak has to be pleased that Perkins didn't fall apart after his calamitous play last weekend. Props to Nowak for keeping faith with his young goalie.

While Gomez dominated the game, Adu turned invisible after his initial burst of speed, and he was subbed out at halftime, in favor of United's newest player, Matias Donnet. Donnet was signed off Boca Juniors' reserve squad, after injuries sidetracked a promising career with Argentina's top club side. Early returns on Donnet are promising, based on his one half of solid play.

In the second half, Chivas threatened regularly, but United defenders made some fine plays that, combined with Perkins' good positional play, kept Chivas from tying the game. Clearly, Chivas did not learn from the Galaxy's victory over D.C. last week. The crossing game is not the way to attack D.C., as it just plays to Perkins' strengths. His size and athleticism allows him to cover these crosses. Where Perkins is soft, is facing an attacker with a ball at his feet. Alecko Eskandarian has remarked that Perkins used to be ridiculously easy to score on, during practice. Taking over as the starter this year, Perkins has improved immeasurably, but still can be taken by a skilled striker.

For his own part, Gomez wasn't satisfied with the one goal lead. Before having to leave the game with a cramped calf, Gomez twice came very close to a hat trick. In the end, without anyone left to create offense, United had to happy to close out a 2-1 win. No doubt, Gomez earned some more votes for league M.V.P. tonight.

The second most dangerous player on the field was Chivas' rookie, Jonathan Bornstein. Chivas has a future star in this Torrance native. Look for Bornstein to start showing up in U.S. national games in fairly short order.

Next up for United is the U.S. Open Cup match against the Chicago Fire. No doubt, Rimando will take his turn in goal. United fans can hope he plays as solid as Perkins did tonight. On Wednesday, United may be without top striker Jaime Moreno, who left with an injury to his knee. Early reports are that Moreno will be available for the next league match, on Saturday.

The week ends with Saturday's match against Real Salt Lake. RSL lost at home to Colorado last night, but they had some good shots at tying the game late. Unfortunately, every shot seemed to be directed right at Rapids' keeper Joe Cannon. In their last encounter against RSL, D.C. United's 14-game unbeaten streak came to an end when United gave away the lead on two penalties in the final minutes. That game was the start of D.C.'s slump. This time out, United will be looking to reassert their league dominance for the stretch run. It could turn out to be one heck of a week for D.C.'s standard-bearers.

As good as Gomez' second goal was, I wanted to mention that there were at least three truly spectacular goals in the opening of Euro 2008 qualifying play. England's Steven Gerrard took one pass at the sideline, with a defender in his face. Then he put on a dazzling display of feints and dribbling that would have made Earl the Pearl proud. When he got a step past the defender, Gerrard launched a beautiful cross that bent between two defenders and was knocked home by the onrushing Jermain Defoe. The other two beauties came in the Bulgaria-Romania tilt. Trailing 2-0 against Romania, Bulgarian Martin Petrov, who plays for Atletico Madrid, struck a perfect free kick over the wall, impossible for the Romanian keeper to react to in time. Petrov then brought Romania level as he took a perfectly delivered pass over the defense and drove it low, past the goalie. Most of the credit for the tying goal should go to Elin Topuzakov, whose dribbling in tight space and perfect cross to Petrov were as good as you will ever see. It's worth seeking out replays on the internet, or catching one of FSC's multitude of rebroadcasts.

I mentioned above that Bornstein is a great prospect for U.S. national team play. I thought I'd close with a little news about a national team player. DaMarcus Beasley has been moved by PSV Eindhoven. Beasley will spend the year on lease to Manchester City. At least, there he can expect regular playing time. The rapid pace of the English Premier League may be more suited to the speedy Beasley. But, he still needs to find a way to put on a few pounds. I'm sure he can do that without sacrificing his speed and fluidity.

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