Sunday, April 26, 2009

Three Nights of Soccer

I was able to enjoy all three local men's professional soccer clubs over the last week: Wednesday night, D.C. United vs. FC Dallas at RFK; Friday night, Crystal Palace Baltimore vs. Bermuda Hogges at UMBC; and Saturday night, Real Maryland vs. Bermuda Hogges at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.

Before pulling off a great escape tonight in Jersey, United put on an impressive display in a U.S. Open qualifier against what would appear to be a poor (or perhaps disinterested) FC Dallas squad. Stouffer's thoughts adequately summarize the match, and what made the game so enjoyable were the contributions from Pontius, Barklage, Jacobson, Khumalo, Janicki, and Kocic. There is far more talent on this United roster than there was last year and it is going to be interesting to see if they'll be enough playing time for everyone. I liked Jacobson a lot at the center defensive mid and loved the way that Barklage converted a nice ball/play from Santino Quaranta. I also was surprised by the low rating that Goff gave Khumalo for his effort on the wing and up front on Wednesday (perhaps because Steven had him slotted for the chopping block with Avery John's arrival?) -- Boyzzz worked very hard in the midfield, got himself into space, and won an inordinate number of fifty-fifty balls for a guy of limited size.

I'd not been enjoying going to United games of late, but after Wednesday and tonight, I'll be counting down the days this week for the next home game.

On Friday night, the nice weather convinced me to ditch out on my family and head up to UMBC to catch my first Crystal Palace match of the season -- because every game is a night game this season, I doubt I'll be able to see many more as my daughter is not happy to be in a car seat after nine pm. But I was pleased to see how well Crystal Palace played, a quality likely attributable to having many of the same players from last year's squad back. Shin Harada (below) is joined by Val Teixeira, Paul Robson, Mateus dos Anjos, Brian Rowland and Pat Healey as familiar faces in the starting XI. dos Anjos merits special mention: the first few times we watched him play after coming back to CP Baltimore from Real Maryland, he seemed to struggle and displayed some questionable decision making. Now, he looks great, and at 25 (shortly 26), looks like someone who should have the opportunity to play fullback at higher levels. In the absence of Mathew Mbuta, now sitting on the bench with the Red Bulls, dos Anjos' athleticism stands out.

The Hogges, on the other hand, struggled. The 2-0 final scoreline belied how much CP dominated the match. We've seen the Hogges play a few times and are conflicted about celebrating wins over the team: the players from Bermuda work hard, are scrappy, and show flashes of speed and skill that might eventually make them competitive. But, in the interim, they face difficult circumstances and must overcome non-sports related obstacles to even compete in the third-division league.

A case in point would be that after having lost their starting goalie on the field in UMBC and being run ragged the night before, the Hogges had to suit up again (in red uniforms this time) to take on Real Maryland on Saturday night. We did not go to any Real Maryland home matches last year, so this was a first, but a six pm start time meant that our ten-month old could join us for the festivities. Real Maryland, unlike Crystal Palace, has undergone an amazing turnover. Former DC United players Jeff Carroll and Ryan Cordeiro were in the starting lineup, along with former Crystal Palace Baltimore's forward Gary Brooks, Cuban defector Yendry Diaz, former Wrexham FC midfielder Tom Taylor, and Charleston Battery's former forward Jamie Holmes. And they, unfortunately, did not play terribly well together. The photo below is representative of the effort for the match and prompted Real Maryland's general manager David Noyes to scream "why are three guys making the same run?" (which caught the attention of all Real Maryland's reserves that were warming up on the sideline, who turned in unison to the stands, forcing Noyes to recover quickly with: "but I like it, I love the effort"). Playing a weakened Hogges squad that also saw its backup keeper get tossed after taking Brooks down, Real Maryland managed a narrow 3-2 victory. The talent level on the Real Maryland side is certainly more than adequate to be competitive in the third division, but they'll need to learn to play as a team and I'll be curious to see when and if that happens.

Otherwise, despite having to play on a football field, Richard Montgomery is a decent venue for a soccer match and is a reasonable ride from College Park. We may find ourselves at more Real Maryland matches this season than CP Baltimore games because of the scheduling, so we've got a vested interest in their improvement.