Boyds, Maryland is a long, long way from College Park, Maryland, a fact I had not fully appreciated prior to Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire at the Maryland Soccerplex. The distance, moreover, is made all the more greater when taking five children along for the ride.
With that said (and admitting that we got inside the stadium shortly before the thirty-fifth minute), it would be difficult to find a better venue to watch a meaningful match between two MLS teams with a large number of children than the Soccerplex. Even at $25 per ticket (total entry cost for us = $275), the format could not have been friendlier and each of the kids -- ranging in age from one month to 13 years -- remained entertained throughout extra time.
There is much that we missed during the match, including MLS-All Star Cuauhtemoc Blanco's horrific reaction to being booted from the proceeding, but what we did clearly witness was remarkable in its own right.
D.C. United's backline was, once again, impressive. Namoff, Burch, McTavish, Martinez, and, much later, Peralta, individually and collectively severely reduced any threat posed by the Fire's offense. Although one down by the time we arrived, D.C. United looked to be in control of the match up through the second extra period, with the Fire only offering meek, hopeful threats to D.C.'s goal (although Wells' play on these few chances for Chicago did not inspire great confidence). More importantly, we were at Boyds in time to see Rod Dyachenko being replaced by Jaime Moreno and watch the single substitution change the competence of D.C. United's game. Leaving aside Moreno's remarkable shot off the left post that had no business being even close to the goal, Moreno's run of play through most of the second half up through his departure in favor of Peralta ably demonstrated Dyachenko's deficiencies. I have nothing personally against Mr. Dyachenko and everything I see from him indicates that he expends every ounce of effort and skill he has for the betterment of the team, but I shudder every time I see him on the pitch. Dyachenko is not dangerous as a striker and the 24-year old lacks the discipline needed to play an effective midfielder. At his feet, the ball was frequently relinquished to the Fire despite quality runs and positioning by his teammates.
Craig Thompson, on the other hand, acquitted himself nicely on the right wing. I think Boehm's article on the official site did a great job at conveying what we witnessed first hand. Thompson's play was, at first, shaky, but as he built confidence, Thompson's exuberance and hustle starkly contrasted with Fred's approach on the left wing. Nice sliding tackles and quality touch passes excited the group of United partisans behind the post and his dispossession of Segares led to Doe slotting in the equalizer. I'm looking forward to seeing what he brings the rest of the season, with Ben Olsen's ability to contribute this season hampered by what must be very frustrating injury concerns.
Separately, we were disappointed to learn, via blackberry, that Crystal Palace had fallen to the Revolution in penalty kicks away, thus precluding a Palace-United confrontation at RFK in August. AU's Larry Mark appears, from press accounts, to once again have proved dangerous as one of Palace's wide men. A Palace victory would have meant that four of the five MLS teams in the quarterfinals would have been dismissed, but as it stands, because of Charleston's upset over FC Dallas and Seattle's PK victory over the Wizards, one non-MLS team is guaranteed the opportunity to challenge for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2009.
Finally, I am amused by the fact that the biggest news surrounding Charlton's efforts to date in the summer transfer window have swirled on what will hopefully be Marcus Bent's departure from The Valley. I was, to be frank, gravely disappointed with Pards' statement indicating that the club had rejected an approach by Cardiff City for our wayward striker and hopeful that, in fact, the gaffer is correct and there is not only one club with money simply burning holes in their metaphorical pockets such that other (better?) offers will be entertained. Although Bent was responsible for the one and only goal I saw live last year, I have never been thrilled to see him in a Charlton strip and wish him the best wherever else he, with luck, will land next season.