A rude awakening on Saturday morning as Charlton's latest embarrassment at The Valley was a 4-0 drubbing by Brighton & Hove Albion. Phil Parkinson has his team. He's dispatched or alienated all of the mercurial skilled players on the squad for honest workers and, well, that does not seem to be going very well.
Being a glutton for punishment I ruined a fantastic afternoon spent in Anacostia by bringing the family home to watch DC United play the Fire on Comcast. Brian McBride's swan song at Toyota Park featured a performance every bit as dire from DC United as the last game against the Earthquakes. Jakovic and James returned to the lineup to anchor the back line, Najar was back, and Boskovic was on the bench, but once again MLS veterans got the nod over more talented alternatives with Devon McTavish as a fullback over Jordan Graye and Kurt Morsink as holding mid with Carlos Varela on the bench and Stephen King pushed up behind Pablo Hernandez and Danny Allsopp. At this point in the season, it should not matter in the slightest what happens in these meaningless games, but an awful game from disinterested players in DCU shirts is disheartening nonetheless.
An evening trip to Ludwig salvaged the soccer day. In the starting eleven of the USMNT on Tuesday evening, two (Onyewu and Holden) were former Clemson Tigers and two (Goodson and Edu) were former Maryland Terrapins. The last several years have seen a pretty vastly different turn in fortunes in the two programs and the Tigers came to College Park after having been humbled by Elon to face a Terps squad that is rolling. The first half played out according to script with some brilliant play from Sunny Jane rewarded when he broke the ice from a scramble in the box. A second goal off knotted home by Paul Torres off of a gorgeous cross from London Woodberry provided a comfortable lead. By the close of the first half, the game had the makings of a blowout with the Terps' youngsters, particularly freshmen Sunny Jane and Patrick Mullins and sophomores Paul Torres, London Woodberry, and Ethan White imposing themselves on an overwhelmed Tiger squad.
But the script was shredded in the second half after some great counterattacking play from Clemson. The Tigers abused Woodberry up the left channel and stunned the crowd by equalizing a half hour into the second half. Herrick's game winner -- a headed goal off of a seeing eye punt from Maryland's defensive half -- was a huge relief. At the end of regulation, however, Maryland appeared to have committed a foul in the goal box and was lucky to avoid overtime.
A couple of additional random observations:
The crowd was the best we've seen at Ludwig. The Crew was fantastic. Many of their chants were in support of the Terps rather than derision of the opposing squad and our daughter and many other children joined in. Almost every seat in the stands was filled for a non-marquee matchup on a cold evening and the vibe was overwhelmingly positive. Those who came out were rewarded with a great game and the question of whether we will be at Ludwig or at RFK next Saturday night is now a lot closer than I would otherwise have imagined. I feel an obligation to show my respect and appreciation for Jaime Moreno but, at the same time, if those paid to play for D.C. United do not feel similarly obligated regarding the intensity and quality of their performance, then perhaps my obligation can be met in some way other than sitting through another crap display.
Separately, I've struggled to see what makes Zac MacMath such a talked about goalkeeping prospect in his games at home this season. There is no question that he is a good player, but the hype hasn't seemed matched by his play. That misconception was corrected last night. I've been fortunate to see some pretty cool things at Ludwig over the last few years, but one sequence that probably escaped the attention of most in the stadium floored me. MacMath fumbled a cross and the ball bounced down in the goal box. Tigers players descended on the ball, but MacMath kept his cool. He picked up the ball and punted it forward on a frozen rope to Casey Townsend who was flashing up field. The ball caught the Tigers in a vulnerable state and was hit almost perfectly. Townsend missed the chip, but it should have been a goal. It was a turnaround that took all of three seconds. From a dangerous opportunity in the box for Clemson to almost giving up a goal on the other side of the field in a blink of an eye. I doubt that anyone but MacMath could do that in the college game right now.