Fixing the “age related” holes in the D.C. United roster

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An odd thing happened last night as I prepared to canvass the D.C. United locker room, looking for souls who could help explain how things have gone so terribly sideways for the proud club – one with such a rich history of success, even if so much of it can now be filed under “relatively ancient history.”

Obviously, there’s Dwayne De Rosario, who has been around the MLS block more than a time or two.

And then there is ..

Well, there is …

Exactly. There really aren’t many around RFK who have been in the ditch before, who know how to keep their cool, use their wits, keep steady under withering fire and plot a solution for safe escape.

Most of D.C. United’s front line players are youngsters. Chris Pontius, at 25, is one of the “older” marquee men around RFK. But, truly, when has he run the gauntlet of something like this?  Perry Kitchen, talented as the D.C. day is long, is just 21. His one time in real, white-knuckle pressure was with the United States under-23 side in that Olympic qualifying bid a year back – and we all know how that turned out.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid (who was on the bench last night in Dallas, one of five changes for Ben Olsen) was there, too. He is just 22.

Even Canadian international Dejan Jakovic, although he’s 27, hasn’t been through the big-time wringer, with his biggest matches coming in United’s playoff contests a year ago and in a scattering of internationals with varying degrees of true significance.

(MORE: Ben Olsen makes wholesale lineup changes … but same result)

I thought about this perhaps being one of D.C. United’s problems, this lack of veteran cops on the beat, men who stare down a losing streak with “been there, done that” resolve. Men who could, in short, stabilize a listing ship.

Actually, we could certainly make the argument that a club-record seven-game losing streak is a ship tgat is more than “listing;”  that puppy is sinking, and right fast.

John Thorrington would be just such a person, but he’s hurt.  Marcelo Saragosa has plenty of experience, but he’s a role player at best. It’s hard to lead from the back.

I think this is likely part of the problem – and there really are so many issues to deal with right now for Olsen and United.  It’s getting harder to say how long this will continue to be Olsen’s issue for sorting. Either way, Olsen isn’t buying it, this “roster age” conundrum. Here’s what he said when I asked about this very thing last night:

It doesn’t take an old guy to mark on a corner kick. It doesn’t take an old guy not to slip, last time I checked. I’ve got enough age out there to win games. It will help when Nick DeLeon can play 90 minutes. It will help when Chris Pontius gets back. It will help when Johnny Thorrington gets on the field again soon.”

Exactly. It will help.

This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Olsen, or even of GM Dave Kasper, although roster selections through the years around RFK have certainly been all over the place.

It’s just to say: lack of a few more experienced, settled and composed types is making it harder to get things straightened out around that wayward lot.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.