Friday, November 02, 2007

Once Again, United Flops in Playoffs -- This time was a little different, though. This time, United saved its best for last, even if the team came up just short. After a ghastly defensive performance over the first 60 minutes, United put on the most furious comeback tonight. It just wasn't enough.

D.C. came into tonight's game needing to win by two goals, because they'd lost 1-0 in Chicago last week (on a boneheaded defensive play). Tonight, they couldn't finish their chances early on. Emilio floated a ball to the keeper from the top of the six. Simms somehow failed to score when the ball came to right at the doorstep. Pretty soon, United's attack started to bog down in the midfield.

You could feel the game was about to go south, when Chicago got a breakaway and a goal that nearly sank any chance of a D.C. rally. Then, a couple of minutes later, another defensive breakdown, and it was suddenly 2-0 Chicago (3-0 in the aggregate). At halftime, the small, but vocal Chicago Fire fan contingent was singing "Our House, in the middle of D.C." We were dead on our feet.

But....then like a prayer was being answered, D.C. turned it on. They'd played scared and not exactly vigorously for 60-some odd minutes. Like a switch coming on, United starting playing like a team on the brink, because they were. They got one goal, and then another. The crowd was going wild -- never has 22,000 people made so much noise. And the team was playing with more energy and abandon than I've seen in a long while. Suddenly it was 2-2, and D.C. needed just one more goal to tie the series and force an overtime period.

United almost got it, too. There was such an explosion of disbelieving joy when, over a minute into the extra time added for stoppages (the ref added four minutes), Christian Gomez ran onto a ball in the box, got around his man, and buried his shot in the corner of the goal!!! Incredibly, United had come back to force the overtime. Or had they?

For two seconds, RFK stadium was the epicenter of an earthquake -- then the referee came up and started pointing to the spot where Gomez played the ball, indicating a foul. Seems ol' Christian hit the ball with his left arm as he raced the defender for control.

There is no joy in Mudville, or Bethesda, for D.C. United, mighty, mighty D.C., two years in a row the team with the best record in the league, has once again bowed out...of the playoffs.

Now, I'm stuck with two tickets to the final here in 17 days...and it won't be United in it... I was thrilled by the comeback attempt, and United players can be proud of the way they finished -- perhaps this ending will leave a slightly better taste in their mouths than the last couple of years. Still, I am deeply disappointed that United is out of the playoffs.

The disappointment, for me, is that United won't be playing in the MLS Cup. There may be other MLS Cup finals for the club, but there will likely never be another played in RFK. Even if United is able to someday play a final at home, it will be in a much smaller facility. This was an irreplaceable moment in time, and it ends up being wasted.

My overall impressions? I only got a quick look at the play on the Jumbotron, to see if I could figure out why the goal was being waved off. By that time, I was sitting to the right of La Norte (crowd was seriously into it) -- meaning that I was about 125 yards away from the screen. Still, it looked like a handball to me -- at least enough so that I realized instantly that was the call. I didn't have a chance to determine if Gomez intentionally handled the ball or not.

Of course, goalie Troy Perkins should have been called for a penalty earlier. Fortunately, the referee ruled the foul was committed just outside the box, but the replay I saw apperaed to show it happened just inside the box. I don't know from where Perkins has suddenly picked up this habit of these half-assed challenges at the top of the box, but it is no way to play goalie. If you're going to do that stuff, you damn well better get the ball -- otherwise, get set and make yourself big. He's done this quite a bit recently, and he's getting burned more often than not.

In the end, I do not know how to feel about this game. United blew an extraordinary opportunity that may never come again for the franchise -- at least not like this -- to play in the final, in front of a huge, sellout home crowd, in the year people are actually paying a little attention. I guess the league has some integrity, because I am sure the league wanted United in the final...very, very badly.

Of course, United played like dogs for much of the first half -- after missing some good opportunities earlier, you could feel that it was about to turn ugly...and then it did.

Still, United gave us twenty of the most thrilling minutes in the history of the franchise. I do not know if they will ever match the excitement and intensity of that burst. The crowd -- no crowd has ever been louder -- we could have outshouted a full house at Wembley. I just wish the team had that intensity throughout. It's been missing for a month.

There were odd personnel moves. I don't know why Bobby Boswell was in there to start. He's been terrible all year, and tonight was no exception. I'm not clear why Marc Burch came out just before halftime. Was he beat on the goals? After the goals, he made a sparkling defensive tackle -- the first sign of life for the defense. Then, suddenly he was out, and he didn't appear injured. Without the benefit of the TV cameras and replay it's not always possible to see everything.

I guess Luciano Emilio was struggling with his injury. It seemed like coach Tommy Soehn was throwing in the towel, when he subbed out Emilio, the only guy who can score with any regularity -- even though United needed to score three goals in the last half hour. In fact, United was able to pick up its pace at that point, and began the comeback. So, that was a good move. One can't fault Soehn for giving Emilio a chance. I'm not so sure I feel the same about the Boswell start, and the Burch exit.

Oh well. I guess it's Hot Stove League time.

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