Friday, September 19, 2008

Pura Vida

On Tuesday night, the group stage of the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League started at RFK. Not a shining night in the history of D.C. United: ridiculously few supporters showed up and United was simply outclassed on the pitch by a superior Saprissa side. On the latter point, the situation has become so dire that even United's players (Stouffer has a remarkable quote from Santino on his blog) freely acknowledge that the Costa Rican team was the superior side. On the former point, it would be difficult to blame United's supporters for the low turnout. After all, this is what RFK looked like during the U.S. Open Cup final against USL1's Charleston:

But since that title -- which ensures that United will have an opportunity to play in next year's CONCACAF Champions League -- United's play has been exceedingly poor, largely the consequence of injuries that have devastated the side throughout the season. There could not have been many people who follow the team who expected much out of United facing Saprissa. But neither this expectation, nor the fact that it was guaranteed that Dyachenko would see serious time on the field, would justify the pathetic attendance. However, the front office's absurd decision to hold out for more money for the Champions League games, when the team has played horrible football for sometime, doomed the enterprise from the start. Blind and stupid loyalty led me to drop $240 for the three CONCACAF games for my two season tickets and I completely regret doing so. There were, in total, 8 (I repeat, eight) United supporters in our section and the two sections immediately adjacent. None of the other season ticket holders bothered to show up, likely because they balked at the $40 per seat ticket price for each game. Throughout the match, I could not shake the dread derived from the thought of having to attend the Cruz Azul match under similar circumstances, completely surrounded by hostile fans while forced to root for a team that conceded the match from the opening kickoff. I believe that United is a well run franchise and very much appreciate their efforts to reach out to fans, but the Champions League will prove a disaster for both the club and its management.

Nevertheless, despite all of the foregoing, I do not regret going to the match. First, the Saprissa fans were tremendous and their full throat support for their side was justifiably rewarded by the Saprissa players at the end of the game, when many made time to personally thank their supporters. And although United was outmatched and Thompson, Quaranta and Cordeiro failed to impress in a makeshift midfield and frontline (Ryan was put up front), the game vastly improved when Fred relieved Emilio at the start of the second 45. Despite being down to ten men after McTavish's straight red, Fred's possession skills changed the entire dynamic of United's attack as, finally, the team had a player on the pitch who could turn and move forward rather than slot balls backwards every time a touch was possible. Namoff, again, was quality at the backline and Martinez played well. But the most impressive United player, for the second game in a row, was this man:

Khumalo has stepped right into DC's starting XI and provided the team with a dangerous second option at striker (something that neither Doe nor Rod have yet been able to provide). And if there is one reason to be optimistic about the league fixtures and Champions League matches yet to be played, watching to see if Boyzzz is as good as he has shown in his first games with United. I have another, ulterior motive for cheering for Boyzzz's success as I was convinced throughout CP Baltimore's season that the players in USL2 merited a chance at the MLS. Khumalo, the former Riverhound, has such a chance and I doubt he will waste it.

The days of these guys

has passed. And United will certainly not be able to realize (this year at least) the lofty expectations created by the club's own history. But, I think, it also means that United supporters should be able to some extent write this year off as the product of a remarkable string of injuries that have robbed the team of its depth and skill.

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