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From Wooden Spoon to Playoffs? 2023 so far

Two thirds of the season is over (yes, 22 of 32 games), and we’ve gone from last in the league in 2022 to middle of the table in 2023, with a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Someone else can host the Wooden Spoon next year. A brief review:

February 25, an amazing 3-2 win over Toronto at home; an early 1-0 lead, then trailing 2-1 after an 83rd minute goal by Toronto, a tying goal from Benteke in the 90th minute, and a winning goal in the 8th minute of stoppage time from Ted Ku DiPietro. Wow! What a start to the year!

Then a run of 4 losses and 2 draws: losing at Columbus 2-0; salvaging a home draw against Orlando on a Durkin beauty in the 80th minute; a scrappy but mistake-filled 3-2 loss at NYCFC; and a 2-1 home loss against New England on a late deflected shot when a draw would have been a fair result. A scoreless draw at Chicago, and a disappointing 2-0 home loss to Columbus. Languishing near the eastern conference cellar; not another year with the spoon!!! Please, no…

But our fortunes turned with three straight wins: two road victories (1-0 in Montreal courtesy of Lewis O’Brien, and 3-1 in Orlando with Fountas, Pines and Benteke sharing the wealth) followed by a stirring 3-0 dismantling of Charlotte, complete with a Benteke bicycle.

A forgettable US Open Cup run this year; barely beating the Richmond Kickers at home, 1-0, and losing to NY Red Bulls on the road by the same score, with reserves featuring in both games.

May began with a road loss to Cincinnati, 2-1, followed by draws with Nashville (1-1) and in Philadelphia (0-0) and a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy that was tighter than the score indicated. A disappointing loss in Toronto, followed by a late defensive collapse and a 2-2 home draw with Montreal.

On to June: a 2-1 road win against Miami (helped by an early Miami red card) and a 3-1 loss in Atlanta.

Back home, we lost 2-1 to Real Salt Lake (aided and abetted by a Birnbaum red card). Tyler Miller finally got burned for playing so far up on a brilliant shot from past midfield by RSL’s Pablo Ruiz. Overall, though, in my opinion, I think the “sweeper keeper” has been a good strategy, especially for someone with foot skills like Miller’s.

As an armchair fan, I thought of baseball outfielders who play shallow and when the ball is hit behind them, they turn their backs to the ball, sprint to the spot, then turn around and catch. If Miller had done that he might have saved the shot. Perhaps Rooney can hit shots from midfield in practice and Tyler can practice backing up like this. Just a thought…

Then, the highlight of the year in my opinion: on a humid but otherwise quite pleasant night at Audi Field, DC got 3 first half goals to defeat FC Cincinnati, 3-0. DC caught Cincinnati at the right time, as they were missing defender Matt Miazga and forward Brandon Vasquez for US national team duty at the Gold Cup. We were a little shaky in the second half, but Tyler Miller made a couple of nice saves despite an apparent leg cramp and we kept a clean sheet. A second yellow card (and thus a red) in the 80th minute for Cincinnati’s Ian Murphypretty much sealed the deal. Former United player and current Cincinnati star Lucho Acosta got a heavy dose of boos and even some heckling.

July started last Saturday, and we lost on the road to Nashville, 2-0, despite a Nashville second-half red card. Really no offensive threats at all. Then on July 4, Taxi Fountas found the net in a lackluster game in scorching heat to earn a slightly lucky 1-0 win in Dallas. Taxi seems to do better when Benteke is out. I thought they would click but with a few exceptions, not so far. Maybe later in the season. I liked Rooney’s squad rotation and liberal use of subs on a brutally hot day and the second hot road game in 4 days.

As of now (July 7), we have 8 wins, 5 draws and 9 losses, and sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 29 points. Other teams that are nearby in the standings have a game or two in hand, though.

Coming up, we have Miami (without Messi) at home tomorrow, and New England away the following Saturday. Then a long league break, including the All Star game.

I’m not sure what to make of the Leagues Cup. Seems like too much soccer, a worldwide phenomenon in my opinion, but I’m sure there will be some positives. Feels like teams that are eliminated early will have a rest advantage over those that go to the semis and final (assuming some of these are MLS teams; I guess that is the big question, how will the two leagues perform overall against each other.)


The Nest Liner

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