Sunday, August 24, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

DC United dominated the Colorado Rapids tonight at RFK and, yet, I cannot publish a first hand account of how (a) Emilio threatened to add to his scoring total throughout the evening (instead settling for a beautiful holdup and feed to Vide for the game winner outside of the box); (b) Patrick Crayton notched his second clean sheet in league play with good work between the posts; (c) Quavas Kirk poached a late goal that sealed the Rapids' humiliation; (d) Santino proved that there is more to his goal-scoring repertoire than cheeky lofts, nailing his own laser into the top corner for DC's second goal; nor can I file a report of how (e) the perennially injured (frankly tragic) former Addick Cory Gibbs played full time in the back line for the Rapids (even managing to collect himself after a knock following a failed block on a shot stopped from the back of the net by the face of Colorado's keeper off the foot of a marauding Emilio).

I cannot report on the above -- despite having tickets in hand and a full intention on making the short trip down to the Capital -- because the Charlton-Reading match was broadcast early this morning. Because, having been treated to a fantastic display of football, my day began at 7:30 am and ended at 10 am.

If there is only one Charlton match that I am privileged to watch this season, I would be hard-pressed to express any regret that it was the one this morning and not any that will come in a season that looks much brighter because of it. The craven attitudes of cavalier players looking for a better deal, a bigger club, more coverage in tabloids, that infested the atmosphere at the Valley last year appears to have been fully wiped away. Left behind, instead, is a team of strivers. Anyone can count up these players' flaws and anyone can claim that there are better footballers out there, but no one can reasonably claim that there would have been a better team to watch today. I woke up a few hours after watching Messi's masterpiece in the gold medal final fully expecting to see a Charlton side whipped by Steve Coppell's impressive group of players. I expected long punts, porous defending, lost possessions, and confusion amongst the players both going forward and back. Instead, what I witnessed was a team that menaced consistently, ran the channels, played dangerous balls into the box, and coalesced as a team. Remarkable. Goodbye Marcus. Goodbye Jerome. Goodbye Amdy. Fare thee well.

While much of the commentary will focus (appropriately) on the effective partnership of Andy Gray and Luke Varney up front, I was more heartened by the promising partnership between Lloyd Sam and Yassin Moutaouakil on the right side. Sam's shortcomings have frequently been lumped in with Jerome Thomas' and I have always believed the negative feelings surrounding him to be unfair. Although I have read some mild criticism of his performance today, I did not see any justification for it. He and Yassin appear to have a good understanding of each other that will likely improve and provide for more excitement in league fixtures to come. On the other side, while Basey looked overmatched and seemed to have had his confidence affected, Hameur Bouazza was tremendous and looked every bit the player I highly rated at Watford two seasons back in the Premiership with Watford. I would tune into Watford matches whenever broadcast simply to watch Ashley Young and Bouazza play on the wings and followed each last year with Aston Villa and Fulham respectively. While Young has flourished, I could not understand why Bouazza could not break into what was not a very good side at Craven Cottage. Bad for him, but, at the moment, great for Charlton.

I still lament the seemingly inevitable departure of Zheng Zhi, a player who I am extremely fond of. But the grief that I may feel has been substantially muted by the addition of Nicky Bailey. It is one thing to lose Zhi and see Darren Ambrose fill his spot (Ambrose is a fine player, but does not pose the same threat to goal that Zhi does). It is another to see Bailey step in, control the center of the field and free up the wings to hammer down on the other side's defense. Nicky Bailey's performance today was the stuff of legend and marks a pitch perfect introduction to home supporters.

I was truly afraid that after Stevey Hunt's ridiculous penalty miss (originating from a Jon Fortune foul that could just as easily have not been called) and the absurd decision forcing a retake, Charlton would wither. They did not and when Varney leapt into the gaffer's embrace, I was dancing around my living room.

Pardew has stressed that his side is young, inexperienced, and that play may be uneven. All of which is undoubtedly true, but the flip side is that the team now plays with genuine desire. The starting XI today were a perfect mixture of players 25 and under (Bouazza (23), Basey (19), Varney (25), Sam (23), Moutaouakil (22), and Bailey (24)) and veterans (Weaver (29), Hudson (26), Gray (30), Fortune (28), and Holland (34)) [note, however, that Pardew's starting XI for the corresponding fixture last year, against Sheffield Wednesday, featured as many U-25s: Reid, Ambrose, Thomas, Semedo, McCarthy, and Bougherra, and, obviously, that did not turn out so well going forward]. Today's performance is the hope that such a side provides and we need only wait a week to see if it will continue at Preston North End.

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