Ben Olsen

Disappointment can’t overshadow season of improvement for D.C. United


One year ago, D.C. United were watching the MLS playoffs from home after finishing seven points out of the playoffs. Burdening with one of the worst defenses in Major League Soccer, Ben Olsen’s club was dragging to seventh in the East, a -3 goal difference unable to compensate for their 52 goals allowed. For the RFK faithful, it was another disappointing season and another year removed from the franchise’s glory days.

It’s a testament D.C.’s 2012 accomplishment that the dour mood that surrounded the franchise is now a memory. No more talk of fading legacies. No delicate thoughts of the Bruce Arena years. This season, Olsen kept D.C. in a playoff race since March. Thanks to a late season run to second in the East, La Barra Brava had reason to believe their team a contender.

And ultimately, that belief was rewarded. Though Houston’s 4-2 aggregate victory in the Eastern Conference final left little doubt who should represent the East in the MLS Cup Final, D.C.’s presence in the conversation spoke to all the improvements the team’s made since last year:

  • A year of health from Chris Pontius plus the addition of rookie Nick DeLeon helped D.C.’s attack take a step forward, the team’s 53 goals scored ranking fourth in MLS. A near-full season of Dwayne De Rosario helped;
  • Perry Kitchen, moved back into midfield for his second MLS season, provided cover for the back line;
  • Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic helped the defense shave nine goals off 2011’s total;
  • As did improvement in goal from the still-improving Bill Hamid.

But as Houston made apparent over the last week, there’s only so much progress you can make in 12 months. Over the course of 180 minutes, D.C. United — playing essentially a 4-5-1 formation that helped protect a still vulnerable defense — was a better set up to take advantage of opponent mistakes than create opportunities of their own.

It’s a formula that’s rarely going to beat a Dominic Kinear-led team. Without De Rosario and Pontius (who only played 12 minutes in the series), United was left reliant on lapses like the one that led to Branko Boskovic’s second leg goal. There were never going to be enough. Without a threat up top or any push from their two-man shield, D.C. wasn’t going to keep up with a in-form Dynamo.

But in light of how far D.C.’s come in 2012, it was too much to ask them to keep pace. Houston was a finalist last year and have since added Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark, and Mac Kandji (while losing Geoff Cameron). They’re better positioned to claim 2012’s title than 2011’s. It would have been an amazing accomplishment if Olsen found a way past Kinnear’s team. That he didn’t shouldn’t diminish how far D.C.’s come.

If that’s doesn’t serve as a silver lining for United fans, consider the improvements the team’s likely to see next season. Bill Hamid will be a year older and, presumably, a year better. Same can be said for Andy Najar (suspended for the final series), Kitchen, and DeLeon. If they make the playoffs again in 2013, D.C. can expect better health from their two main goal scoring threats: Pontius and De Rosario. Ben Olsen, having proved himself one of the league’s promising young coaches, will build on this season’s experience.

Positives are always elusive in the minutes after a season’s extinguished, but when D.C. and their fans are ready to move on, they’ll be able to reflect on their most successful season since claiming 2007’s Supporters’ Shield.

And the 2013 season is only four months away.

ProSoccerTalk will keep up the discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final.

Three things we learned from Tottenham vs. Chelsea

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LONDON — Chelsea and Tottenham played out an entertaining 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho set their teams up to be difficult to beat and although Harry Kane and Eden Hazard went close, a draw was a fair result in the London derby.

Here’s three things we learned from the Lane on Sunday.


With Diego Costa dropped to the bench, those rumors of Jose Mourinho searching for an alternative striker to arrive in January where further fueled on Sunday. In his place Eden Hazard started up front with Pedro, Oscar and Willian in a false nine formation. To a degree, especially in the first half, it worked a treat as Hazard made diagonal runs in-behind Spurs’ defense and searching balls from Willian and Cesc Fabregas found him on multiple occasions.

The formation made Chelsea unpredictable and more stable as a defensive unit. Mourinho hasn’t used this ploy in the PL since April 25 2015, when his side went to Arsenal and ground out a 0-0 win with both Costa and Loic Remy out injured. On that occasion Oscar played in the higher role but Hazard wandered around up top on occasions. On Sunday, Hazard stretched Spurs’ backline and didn’t allow their defenders a moments peace. As for Costa, he cut a frustrated figure as he warmed up late in the second half alongside two teenagers, Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both of those players came off the bench but Costa did not as his angry reaction at being given instructions by Mourinho (plus him appearing to throw his substitute bib at Mourinho on Sunday) during Chelsea’s midweek UEFA Champions League win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv seems to have cost him his starting spot.


Starting up front on his own on, Hazard was given a tough task against Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld but he put in one of his best displays of the season, if not his best. He battled in the air and won his fair share against two, often three, defenders. Hazard chased back, made intelligent runs into the space behind the defense and had chances to score. In the first half he bent a beautiful ball out wide with the outside of his right foot and then timed his run into the box to perfection, sending his header just over.

In the second half he met a looping cross with a beautifully cushioned left-footed volley across goal which Hugo Lloris saved superbly. He was pulling off flicks and tricks with ease and on this showing the reigning PFA Player of the Year from the 2014-15 campaign was relishing his role in leading Chelsea’s fluid, energetic offensive quartet. Hazard isn’t quite back to his best but he’s getting there and was the best player on the pitch on Sunday.


Both dressed in smartly tailored coats with their hands in their pockets standing on the edge of the technical, Pochettino and Mourinho’s similarities were not only visible in their pitch-side demeanor but in the way their teams played on the pitch on Sunday. When Pochettino was pondering a move to Southampton in the Premier League back in January 2013, it was Mourinho who not only recommended him but was the man who gave Tottenham’s boss advice on coaching in England. The duo have different playing philosophies they preach to their players with Pochettino’s high-pressing style a sub-product of Marcelo Bielsa but on Sunday it was difficult to tell the two teams apart — Kane’s early chance set the tone for this encounter with him clattering into Asmir Begovic after Danny Rose‘ teasing cross — as both sets of players flew into challenges and tried to force the issue with quick counters.

Perhaps that is a bigger compliment to Pochettino than Mourinho, as the 43-year-old Argentine coach has turned Spurs into genuine top four contenders this season, while Mourinho’s Chelsea dug deep but lacked composure in the final third. Almost 10 years younger, it’s not hard to imagine that Pochettino could one day replace Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Given their jovial attitude towards one another on the sidelines in a heated London derby, Pochettino would get Mourinho’s approval as his mission to turn Spurs into a top four team continues to move in a positive direction.

Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Chelsea: Chances without reward at White Hart Lane

during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.
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Sunday’s early morning London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane saw a lack of finish, as the Blues and Spurs drew 0-0.

Spurs stay fifth, with 25 points, while Chelsea moves up a spot to 14th with 15 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Starting up top for Diego Costa, Pedro made a razor-thin run through the Spurs back line, but the through ball’s timing was off.

Asmir Begovic knocked down a tricky, low, bouncing shot from Harry Kane as the game hit 18 minutes.

Eden Hazard leapt above Jan Vertonghen to head a looping cross from Oscar just over the goal. And Pedro had a chance deflected over goal moments later.

It was Spurs’ chance to score off a cross in the 27th minute, but Son Heung-min’s header of a Harry Kane pass was well-parried by Begovic. Then Mousa Dembele forced the Chelsea keeper into a stretching horizontal save for a corner.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]  

The second half’s opening stages left plenty to be desired, with little happening aside from some questionable challenges. An injury to Ryan Mason brought Erik Lamela on for Spurs.

A 1-2 saw Lamela spring Son for a 64th minute chance, but Begovic was again there for Chelsea.

Eden Hazard smashed a volley on goal in the 67th minute. The superb cross came from Branislav Ivanovic, but Hugo Lloris was positioned to slap Hazard’s shot wide.

Costa did not enter the game, and comically tossed his warm-up bib over his head in the direction of Jose Mourinho. Like the chances in this match, it missed its mark,

Watch Live: West Ham vs. West Brom (Lineups, Live Stream)

during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on February 14, 2015 in West Bromwich, England.
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West Brom looks to build on its win over Arsenal as it continues a tough run of games with a visit to the Boleyn Ground to face West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

The Baggies have faced Leicester City, Manchester United and the Gunners in their last three matches, and start with Saido Berahino and Rickie Lambert on the bench.

It’s Diafra Sakho up top for the Hammers, as West Ham would like to get back on track after picking up just one point in its last three.



West Ham United: Adrian, Jenkinson, Reid (c), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Obiang, Kouyate, Zarate, Lanzini, Moses, Sakho. Subs: Spiegel (GK), Tomkins, Song, Cullen, Antonio, Carroll, Jelavic.

West Bromwich Albion: Myhill, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Evans, Morrison, Fletcher (c), Yacob, McClean, Sessegnon, Rondon. Subs: Lindegaard; Gardner, McManaman, Lambert, Anichebe, Berahino, Chester.

Watch Live: Tottenham vs. Chelsea (Lineups, Live Stream)

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Premier League
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Tottenham Hotspur welcome Chelsea to White Hart Lane on Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) with Jose Mourinho’s side looking for a big win.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s Spurs are unbeaten in 12 games heading into this London derby but only traveled back from Europa League action in Azerbaijan on Thursday night.


Chelsea are looking to secure back-to-back PL wins for the first time this season with Mourinho’s side languishing

In teams news Spurs bring in Ryan Mason for the suspended Dele Alli. Chelsea start with Kurt Zouma and Gary Cahill in central defense as John Terry couldn’t recover from an ankle injury. Diego Costa has been dropped with Eden Hazard playing up front in a false nine.


Tottenham: Lloris; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Mason; Eriksen, Son, Dembele; Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Carroll, Lamela, Onomah, Clinton

Chelsea: Begovic; Ivanovic, Zouma, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Matic; Willian, Oscar, Pedro; Hazard. Subs: Amelia, Djilobodji, Baba Rahman, Mikel, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Diego Costa