Saturday, March 17, 2007

Example #769 on How My Life Has Changed From Last Year, and #34 on How it Hasn't

Last year I took late and long lunches to watch some of the first round NCAA basketball games. This year I didn't watch a minute of them, even in the evening. That's not to say that I didn't even fill out a bracket, but still.

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Wednesday evening the weather was sunny and 72 degrees. Thursday evening it was 48 and raining steadily. It therefore goes without saying that the DC United match against Chivas of Mexico was held on Thursday, and that I was pretty wet by the end of it. Chivas is one of the most popular clubs from Mexico, and it rarely makes a trip to the East Coast. So not surprisingly, Chivas had more supporters in attendance than United did.

The match was the first leg of the semifinals in the regional (North and Central America) club tournament that United qualified for by finishing with the best record in MLS last year. United advanced by clobbering Olimpia of Honduras by a 7-3 combined score. Three of the seven goals in the two matches were scored by our new striker, Luciano Emilio, a Brazilian who we signed in the offseason from, ironically, Olimpia. He's showing himself to be a strong finisher, something United has lacked for several years.

As for the game itself, Chivas looked like the team in the middle of its season, while United looked like the team still in preseason. Which in both cases was true. Chivas' speed/fitness/positioning (not sure in which proportion) made it look like we were playing a man (or two) down for most of the match. Chivas did an excellent job of smothering Christian Gomez, United's playmaker (and the league's MVP last year) to the point that he looked nearly invisible for most of the match. One of the reasons Chivas could bottle up our attack is that we had a defensive midfielder, Clyde Simms, playing on the wing, where he posed little threat offensively. It's the position that Freddy Adu occupied last year, and his replacement, a Brazilian ironically named Fred, hasn't been cleared to play yet (technically his former club has his rights until June 30, and the teams are negotiating on getting him released sooner). United did assert itself for some of the match, but for the most part they had to absorb Chivas' attack rather than dictate the pace. Fortunately, although Chivas dominated possession, it didn't do much around the goal. It scored in the second half on a deflected ball, and a 1-0 score would have been a deserved result. To our benefit, it didn't work out that way, as United scored the equalizer in the waning minutes off a free kick by Gomez that was headed in by Emilio.

The second leg will be April 3 in Guadalajara, Mexico, at 5000 feet above sea level, among a crowd that will be 100% for Chivas, so United will have its work cut out for it. I can't say our chances are good, but there's at least some reason for hope -- United will be training at high altitude for a week before the match, Fred hopefully will have joined the team by then, and the team should keep making strides as it approaches the regular season.