Thursday, May 03, 2007

If a Tie Is Like Kissing Your Sister, then how are D.C. United fans supposed to feel about tonight's game against the New England Revolution? Frankly, United didn't deserve so much as a tie. On the other hand, after three straight losses to open the season, United fans have to feel at least some relief that their team didn't lose.

D.C. United had a few surprises in their lineup, as two new players made their debut. Without a doubt, though, the central figure in this match was the referee, Terry Vaughn. From my vantage point, it seemed as if the officials got more calls wrong than they got right. Calls that went New England's way should not have, and some of the calls that went United's way were probably even worse.

In the first half, Cristian Gomez was pulled down from behind, with a yank on his jersey, as he waited for a pass in the penalty area, but there was no call. I led the crowd in delivering a second round of catcalls for that glaring omission. As a United fan, one had to hope that the referee would try to atone for that bad mistake. Boy, did he ever!

The Revolution opened up the second half with their strongest counter-attack, as Shalrie Joseph's long ball sprung Taylor Twellman past the fading Facundo Erpen. Twellman's shot was saved by Troy Perkins, However, Andy Dorman had also slipped his defender, and he was there to knock the rebound in for a goal -- even as many fans had not even returned to their seats.

Five minutes later, though, Jaime Moreno was the one trying to run down a long pass for United. Moreno was knocked off the ball with a shoulder challenge by the defender, James Riley. Moreno went down, and the ball rolled to the Revolution's goalie, Matt Reis. A penalty was awarded on the play. During the second half, I sat almost directly in line with the penalty spot, and almost in line with the spot of the alleged foul. I believe I had a much better view than the referee, who was racing across midfield to cover the play. It looked to me that this was no more than the usual shoulder challenge that goes on for most loose balls, except that the defender wasn't able to reach the ball, and the contact occurred in the penalty area.

In short, it was a surprising decision, and it might have been influenced by the reaction to the missed penalty call in the first half. In any case, Moreno tied up the game with a successful penalty kick, going the other way, when Reis dove to his right. Although it was not entirely deserved, it was probably sweet redemption for Moreno, who sat on the bench during the first half in favor of the young Jamaican, Nick Addlery.

Addlery is big and strong, and fairly quick, but his resume, which includes a stint playing in Vietnam, and two stints in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as playing for the Virgina Beach Mariners, where he came to United's attention. He was not especially effective, and Moreno was a welcome substitution. One wonders whether Coach Tom Soehn was just sending a message to Moreno, or whether he sees a new role for the aging Bolivian striker.

Several minutes after Moreno's penalty kick tied the game, the Revs' Joseph was ejected for a hard tackle on Ben Olsen. Admittedly, I did not have a good view of the play, but it seemed that a red card was grossly excessive. The foul was probably deserved, and possibly even merited a yellow card. A red card was not warranted. Apparently, the TV announcers agree with my sense of the play.

The man advantage largely removed the Revolution's threat, as they chose to go into a defensive shell, and take way any open space in their own defensive 18-yard box. United showed little creativity, as they kept trying to penetrate this gauntlet by punching through the middle. The few forays down the side were unconvincing and amounted to nothing.

Finally, in stoppage time, United began to look like their attack might be able to generate a goal on its own, without an assist from the officials. Moreno had the ball along the end line and lofted the ball in front of the goal. Olsen sent a header towards the post that beat Reis, but rang off the crossbar. A few seconds later United had a corner kick, and the ball made its way to Bryan Namoff. This time, it was Namoff who lofted the ball into the middle, and this time it was Luciano Emilio, who got his head on the ball. He directed the header towards the other post, where Matt Reis made a spectacular diving, one-handed save, stretching for the ball and getting enough strength behind his effort to push the ball out of danger.

I suppose the strong push at the end should give United fans some hope that their team might yet regain their scoring touch. I think that might be a tad optimistic, for now. United played much of the second half with a man advantage, but only generated a handful of shots on goal, and no goals.

There were some good signs. Coming off the bench at halftime, Jaime Moreno played exceptionally well on both ends of the field. Although he only played a few minutes, after coming on for the injured Fred, newly signed Ivorian native Guy Rowland-Kpene, looked like he might be an exciting addition to an againg squad that could use some youthful energy and pace. Fred also looked like he could be a big part of United's offense. He showed some anticipation, and a strong shot, from about 30 yards, that Reis handled cleanly. a few minutes earlier, it appeared that Fred passed up a great chance to shoot on a break winside the box, and his ill-advised centering pass ended that threat. Overall, though, Fred played pretty well.

Goalie Troy Perkins turned in a good game, as well. I suspect his leg injury continues to hamper him, as he only punted the ball once, and that was a weak effort. He made a nice play to save a header by Twellman, in the first half. Perkins wasn't able to intercept the pass, and he backed off in time to get in position to make a reaction stop on Twellman. If Twellman had headed the ball more solidly, he probably would have beaten Perkins, but sometimes goalies make their own luck. Certainly, Perkins appeared to be blameless on the Rev's goal.

Problems abound for United. The offense still lacks enough imagination to create any real openings. Gomez seemed hesitant and too often lacked the hustle to get open and give his teammates a passing target. Still, Gomez did have one great chance that Reis was able to save by knocking the ball over the crossbar, and Gomez did feed Emilio with one of Emilio's best opportunities. Emilio's shot appeared as if it would have Reis beaten, but it was deflected wide of the net by Jay Heaps. Unfortunately, Emilio also seemed to disappear for large chunks of the game.

Looking at the game as whole, the defense did a pretty good job shutting down a formidable Revolution attack, even in the first half, when the teams were at even strength. However, the Revs' goal showed once again that United's defense, especially Facundo Erpen, is still too susceptible to breakdowns. True, United was playing their biggest nemesis, but there is a lot of room for improvement. A point is better than no point, but this tie was nothing that D.C. United can feel very good about.

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