Soccer matches typically aren’t ripe for silliness unless the players involved are heavily intoxicated or toddlers not yet fully familiar with their limbs, which are essentially the same thing. But Saturday’s match-up of Major League Soccer’s first and latest dynasties was pure, uncut silly — in every iteration.
The weather started the nonsense. At kickoff the temperature was 34 degrees with fifteen mile-per-hour wind gusts that ensured fans expecting to enjoy the contest would foremost have to endure it. Adding to the ridic was MLS’s official stance regarding international breaks being ‘YOLO.’ I’m a newly minted fan of this league but I’ve already blasted it for making their on-pitch product a footnote on the last PowerPoint slide of what they’re about. But as a newly minted DC United fan it took our standout center back Steve Birnbaum going down in the fourth minute for me to not mind as much.
Birnbaum’s injury was the result of spraining an ankle while landing after almost dropping a looped header into the back of the net that English Jesus Harry Kane would’ve been proud of. It beat LA Galaxy’s second choice keeper Brian Rowe but was headed off the line by a well-positioned meddling defender. Silliness.
Ghanaian defender Kofi Opare would be brought on to replace Birnbaum; and with the crowd and the Galaxy players very aware of his introduction, he shined. Sure the clever guile and bullish tendencies of Robbie Keane weren’t there to test the more rugged aspects of defending, and nor was the tasered ostrich pace of Gyasi Zardes, but Opare was tested. Often. But he kept clearing, holding firm, and waiting for LA to try again.
Which they did. Often.
At times it looked as if an omniscient nerd deity inserted a token into an LA Galaxy themed pinball machine to show other deities life isn’t all about hoarding sacrificed goats and throwing lightning at mortals. But Bobby Boswell and Bill Hamid joined Kofi Opare in siphoning the gas out of every attack. Defense by committee became an understood responsibility as I raised to vigorously applaud personal favorite forward Chris Ringo/Rolfe heading away danger on more than one occasion.
United gained confidence in the counter through nearly springing Jairo Arrieta a few times, a couple skin-of-the-teeth offside calls, and crosses that barely missed their mark.
Even with all of that end to end action and players dedicated to running as if stopping would freeze them where they stood, the match looked destined for yet another MLS specialty: the 0–0 scoreline. Even if nobody really quite knew how. Dumb silly silliness.
The frenetic play continued into stoppage time. It was both thrilling to see and contradictory to what I had already come to expect of MLS matches. LA looked as if they hadn’t come all the way across the country for one measly point, and DC played as if intent on heroic defending also accounting for more than one measly point. Silly playoff structure diluting regular season intensity BE DAMNED.
Then, a looping ball was a sent to Nick DeLeon. Perfectly weighted to allow his pace to give him a step on the Galaxy’s Robbie Rogers. In an homage to Lionel Messi (who was seven miles away at FedEx Field but saw zero playing time for Argentina) DeLeon reverse chipped the ball, floating it over the onrushing Rogers, setting up a wonderful crossing opportunity. The move alone deserved a goal. And with a seemingly instant and complete understanding of the preceding deciseconds, Chris Pontius agreed. Boa constricting his body around a defender to meet the ball with a diving header that beat Rowe primarily because it had to.
93rd minute. 1–0.