Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's SuperLiga!!! And United Still Disappoints -- It was a bad night for D.C. sports fans: The Nationals gave away a game with two outs in the ninth, with one play, and a comedy of errors...and then lost it deep into extra innings. Our soccer team, D.C. United, didn't lose. Once again, though, it kinda felt like they did. United completely dominated their Mexican opposition in their opening SuperLiga match, especially in the first half. All they had to show for that domination was a great free kick goal by Christian Gomez in the 7th minute.

After that, United made a real show of how hard it can be to put the ball in the net. Fred and Rod Dyachenko showed great understanding, as Fred delivered a ball to Dyachenko as he ran towards the net, behind the defense. As the goalie came out to defend, Dyachenko delivered a cross to Luciano Emilio that was just a little behind the striker. Emilio couldn't finish, putting the ball over the crossbar, despite a wide open goal.

There were other misses, and most of them came after United gained a man advantage early in the second half. Bobby Boswell took out his frustrations by kicking a Morelia player, an action that should have gotten him thrown from the game. Instead it was the Mexican who was ejected, for a rather tame retaliatory slap at the back of Boswell's head. Frankly, the refereeing was a complete mystery. In the first half, Gomez made a brilliant run through the defense, before he was pulled down from behind, deliberately, just before he got into the penalty box. Yet, there was no foul call. Later in the half, D.C. got an undeserved free kick just outside the box, on a phantom foul. It was like that all game.

Actually, after Morelia began to play short-handed, the game turned in their favor, for a time. Thiago hit the post with a shot that had Troy Perkins beaten. There were a couple of other good chances for Morelia, but Perkins kept the score even, until D.C. seized control again. Fred missed a good chance. Gomez, as well. Emilio had a nice cross that Nick Addlerey couldn't reach to slide in the net.

Just about the time one had to be wondering if D.C. would pay the price for missing those chances to add to their lead, Morelia struck. With about ten minutes remaining on the unofficial clock, Diego Martinez brought down a nice switch-pass and then blasted a shot to the far corner, beyond Perkins' diving reach. United turned on the gas, to try and regain the lead, but still couldn't find net.

So, once again, United squandered a lead they should've held -- failing to finish off their opposition when the opportunities presented themselves. There were some good signs in this game, though. Gomez turned in his most spirited outing of the year. Marc Burch showed he has one heckuva left foot, with really dangerous bending crosses into the area. Burch was doing so well that he was called to the other side of the pitch to take a corner kick, and make use of that wicked left foot of his. He also made some good plays on defense. The most encouraging part should have been that United dominated the game, but the disappointing result tempers any enthusiasm for the team's overall performance.

Another disappointment had to be the turnout. United fans turn out for league games, but haven't caught on to the charms of these international competitions. This stands in contrast to the near capacity crowds that have turned out for the other SuperLiga contests. Of course, D.C. doesn't have the huge Mexican populations that are found in Texas and California, where the other games were played. Still, the league has to be disappointed by the small turnout for tonight's game at RFK.

Sunday ought to be different -- both because it's a Sunday night, rather than a weeknight, and because the opposition is Club America, probably the most popular team in Mexico. There figures to be a decent-sized contingent rooting for the Mexican side. One hopes that United's fans turn out in even larger numbers. If not, one might expect that United may not be included in the next SuperLiga.

Kudos to Houston, and young Stuart Holden. It sems that even Mexican teams are finding it hard to score against the Dynamo. I've already sung Holden's praises here, but he keeps adding to his legend. Tonight, he was the difference for the Houston Dynamo, in beating Club America 1-0. Holden took the ball down the side, and delivered a great bending cross in front of the net, where it was redirected for the game's lone goal. This guy just has to get a serious look with the senior national team -- right now, he's with the U-23 team. After the Beijing Olympics, he could be a big part of the World Cup qualifying effort.

An interesting note about the SuperLiga -- the MLS has not fared well against Mexican teams in other, prior competitions. Those games, however, always took place during the MLS preseason, which was midseason for the Mexican teams. Now, the situation is reversed, and the games reflect that. The MLS has won 2 of the first 4 games. The other two games were ties that ought to have been won by the MLS team. It would be a great surprise if the SuperLiga semifinalists were all MLS teams, and it might diminish interest significantly in the tournament. Certainly, the Mexican press would ignore the rest of the tournament, but it wouldn't have the same appeal here, either. It's a weird turn of events, and it wouldn't surprise me if the MLS marketing people will be rooting for at least one Mexican team to get through to the next round.

One note about the Barra Brava -- Cool it with giving the finger. After the Morelia goal, while one of the Morelia forwards was getting treatment, the fans delivered their ire -- I think it was directed at Mexican fans. It was caught on TV, and it just looked awful. A disgusting display. Basically, I love the Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles. I'm not a big fan of the "If I could fly high like an eagle...I'd shit on those tossers below" cheer. We could do without that one, but at least it's in the right spirit of fun. The finger stuff doesn't have any humor or sense of fun about it. While it is bad enough to make a display like that, with young kids in the crowd, it's even worse when it shows up on TV because it catches the cameraman and director off-guard. Keep those fingers in their holsters, guys....

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