Also posted at The Daily Wiz
The Wizards head into Wednesday night’s game at Columbus riding a pair of embarrassing streaks that really look to have little end in sight: a three game losing streak since returning from the World Cup break, and if that weren’t bad enough, three games (270 minutes) and the last 55 minutes of the final game before the World Cup break scoreless. Add it all up, and that’s a paltry and pathetic 325 minutes scoreless. The last time the Wizards had a scoreless streak this long? Look all the way back to May, when they went an even worse 404 minutes scoreless.
Now, while heading on the road – somewhere the Wizards have less than stellar this season (1 point from 6 games) – to take on one of the three best teams in the league isn’t exactly the best way to get back on the right track, earning a point from this game isn’t totally out of the discussion. You’ve got to set your sights right, otherwise you’re just going to be disappointed. Let’s face it – we’re not winning this game.
1. Can We Just Not Give Away Two Easy Goals On Mistakes This Week?
In something I wrote following the Aaron Holbein debacle against New York Red Bulls leading up to the game at FC Dallas, I asked the same thing of this defense. For just a week, they actually obliged. They went to Pizza Hut Park and allowed only a single goal – to an underwhelming strike force, albeit – on a very questionable call that gave FCD a penalty kick.
Ever since then, though, the wheels have fallen right back off the bus. Jimmy Conrad singlehandedly, much like Holbein against New York, was solely responsible for both of the goals scored by Justin Braun in Saturday’s 2-0 home loss to Chivas USA.
Maybe it’s the uncertainty of who will be starting in the center of defense from game to game, or maybe it’s the fear that if you make one mistake in the center of defense that you’ve "had your chance" and you’re going to be relegated to the bench the next game, but the central defenders on this team – Conrad, Holbein, Shavar Thomas and Matt Besler – play soft far too often. Go back and watch all three of Holbein’s mistakes against New York again; soft, lackadaisical attempts to clear the ball from danger. Watch Conrad against Chivas; same thing.
Jimmy Nielsen is a damn good goalkeeper by MLS standards, and he’s bailed us out more times than I care to remember this year already. But, he’s not Iker Casillas (over and over and over) against Holland in the World Cup final. When strikers finish in the top corner time after time, like Braun did on Saturday, there’s nothing he can do. Simple solution: don’t put him in that position, Jimmy and Shavar. You pretty much know Roger Espinoza and Michael Harrington are going to be money on each side out wide, so just don’t gaff it up in the middle. I can tolerate opponents scoring goals when they create them and make a nice play, but to repeatedly – nearly every goal allowed – just give them away, that’s the most frustrating part about this team.
2. CouldCreate With A Book Of Matches In A Drought-Ridden Forest?
Seriously, this guy is supposed to be our attacking midfielder – the linking piece that "creates" opportunities for the forwards. All I’ve seen him do since the first game of the season against DC United (other than pick up red cards) is make unimaginative pass after unimaginative backwards or lateral passes in the midfield. For all the flack the forwards on this team take – some of it warranted, albeit – what can they do when the player that’s supposed to feed them the ball in areas that they can do something with it, doesn’t feed them the ball in areas that they can do something with it?
Sure, Kei Kamara gets over-anxious and loses the ball more times than not; sure, Josh Wolff couldn’t dribble the ball by an NFL defensive tackle; and sure, Ryan Smith rarely does anything when he’s not receiving the ball on the sideline and dribbling right into defenders. But, at least when the forwards are doing those things, it means they’ve been given the ball.
Against Chivas on Saturday, there were more dangerous balls played forward from the midfield by substitute Graham Zusi in the 24 minutes he was on the field for than came from Arnaud in the full 90. If you insist on starting Jack Jewsbury every game this season, (and coach Peter Vermes does) then you’re going to continue to lack imaginative balls played forward, because they are not going to come from Arnaud.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be about Arnaud; maybe it should be whether Zusi, by far the most creative midfielder actually playing in the midfield, will be given the opportunity to put his craft to work. Zusi started 5 of the 6 games that Stephane Auvray missed due to injury. In those 5 games, the team scored a combined 5 goals. That’s a goal a game. They’ve scored 0.78 goals a game all season long. I’m just sayin’.
Sidenote: terrible is it that I can remember every goal they have scored all year, against who and how it happened, not because it was so memorable but because there have been so few? (11 goals in 14 games, including 4 of the 11 – 36 percent – in the very first game.
3. Will The Wizards Finally Get A Break Or Two Their Way?
I’ve already outlined many of the charitable breaks we’ve afforded teams of late, although I’m sure you didn’t need to be told. Gift goals, red cards in the first half, bad calls by referees costing us points multiple times this year, and on and on.
I know this is Kansas City, and this is apparently how all sports teams are to be conducted and the way things turn out for all of them. But, for the sake of everything that is holy, when shall we receive something in return for all of the eager gifts we’ve bestowed upon our opponents this year?
When you’re playing a fan of a team that’s playing as bad as the Wizards are right now, you don’t care how you get a result. You’ll take an obviously terrible call in the box, a botched clearance a la KC Wiz, or even an own goal. But, if it helps us to earn even a point from the game, I’m to the point where I’ll take it.