There's a thought process in baseball circles that goes something like this: In a 162-game season, there will be 54 games that your team is sure to win, 54 games that your team is sure to lose, and 54 games that will be up for grabs. It's those final 54 that determine the ultimate destiny of your season.
Of course, there are no draws in baseball, so this kind of thought process doesn't translate well to soccer. When two teams play an evenly-matched game, as Saturday night's 0-0 affair between D.C. United and FC Dallas surely was, then it's likely to end with Ben Olsen sitting at a table in the bowels of RFK Stadium, something like a smile crossing his lips even as he says, "I never like to tie at home. But if we're going to tie at home, I can live with the way we played tonight."
And there you have it. Even if Fred's 89th-minute header had beaten Kevin Hartman, it would have felt like a smash-and-grab job, if such things are even possible at home. The two sides matched each other stride for stride, tackle for tackle, and foul for foul (each side committing 11 fouls and having one player booked, to be precise).
D.C. United did deserve a point, let's be clear, and that was largely due to the efforts of their backline, which for the second straight game consisted of a center-back pairing of Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White, with Perry Kitchen at right-back and Daniel Woolard out on the left. As against Seattle, when this particular unit was first unveiled, all four played the full 90 minutes.
"They're defenders first," Olsen said of this particular foursome. "Woolard's been great. Perry's playing probably out of position [at right-back], but you wouldn't know it ... Dejan's been good, and Ethan brings an athleticism that you need at that position."
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who is responsible for coordinating coverage areas and communicating with the back four, spoke highly of the group to me after Saturday's game. "Think about it,"' he told me. "You have guys who are smart, like Dejan and Perry; guys who are athletic, like Perry again, and Ethan; and in Daniel you have a [left-back] who has a good left foot."
Having said that, in appreciation for the efforts of all four men tonight as well as Wednesday, I've decided to give the whole back line a 4/5 in my player ratings for tonight's match. The rest are below.
Bill Hamid--3/5: Got a lot of help from his defense and midfield in keeping his second clean sheet of the season. Got a little bit lucky that Jakovic didn't redirect a long throw into his net in the first half, but sometimes you need a little luck to be good.
Stephen King--4/5: Made his first start of the MLS season and played the full 90 minutes. Looked very good in tracking back and winning the ball in midfield. Did very well to help contain Eric Avila and company during the course of the game.
Dax McCarty--3/5: A very creditable effort against an FC Dallas side that was very difficult to break down.
Chris Pontius--3/5: Looked lively as ever down the left, but he wasn't given nearly as much space as on Wednesday night, and wasn't nearly as effective as a result.
Andy Najar--4/5: My man of the match, again. Remarkably good on both ends of the field, showing no hesitation to track the ball down in his own half and showing no fear in both his clearing headers and 50-50 tackles. Came off with a bruised foot on 72 minutes and will be evaluated in the days leading up to Saturday's match against Colorado.
Joseph Ngwenya--3/5: Better than we had any right to expect from the Zimbabwean, who was very active and physical in the first half, though he proved unable to link up with strike partner Charlie Davies very often. Was starting to lose his effect on the game by the time he was subbed in the 54th minute.
Charlie Davies--2/5: The fact that he played 90 minutes for the third straight game showed that his fitness is continuing to improve, but he rarely got the best of Ugo Ihemelu Saturday night. It didn't help that his first touch failed him when Brek Shea gifted him possession in the penalty area in the first half.
Josh Wolff (on for Ngwenya, 54th minute)--3/5: Wasn't much more effective than Ngwenya against Dallas' back four, though he did brilliantly to work in the cross from the right that led to Fred's last-minute chance.
Santino Quaranta (on for Najar, 72nd minute)--2/5: You know the drill: lots of possession, good workrate, very little else.
Fred (on for Pontius, 81st minute)--4/5: In addition to making a great run to be in position for his last-minute chance, added some much-needed freshness and industry to United's midfield over the game's final ten minutes, much as he did against Seattle on Wednesday.