D.C. United: the men of RFK Stadium are clearly on the rise

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On closer, nit-picky inspection, D.C. United’s playoff campaign was not such a highly decorated one.

Four matches brought one victory, dramatic and memorable as it was. They were outscored in the playoffs, 5-4. That’s not exactly the stuff of MLS champions.

But that’s just fine and dandy, I say.

Let’s not lose perspective here. The Black and Red just completed a wonderful post-season campaign (its first since 2007, don’t forget) that speaks quite well of the league’s youngest manager, Ben Olsen.

Keeping some of the young talent – Andy Najar in particular – will be tricky. But a nucleus of young talent (Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid most notably) make up terrific, economical young building blocks.

And Dwayne De Rosario still has something left. He will be 35 next year, but the veteran Canadian international takes care of his body and showed only marginal signs of decline this year. He’s a shrewd performer who can be counted on tweak his playing style, leaning a little more toward “passing” playmaker, a little less toward the slash and dash that once defined his sizzling game.

Olsen has the right blend of historic connection and passion that United’s upper management covets, married with a professional approach. He’s still learning, and Olsen would be the first to say so. So long as DCU’s second-year manager accepts the learning curve and keeps his mind open, there’s reason to believe he could successfully steer the Good Ship United for some time.

(MORE: Analysis of Sunday’s playoff contest at RFK Stadium)

There is a danger: the entitlement complex that seems to lie within the organizational DNA must be tamed. This is not the MLS of yesteryear, where 10 or 12 teams competing to see who could best exploit the pliable player acquisition mechanisms, and where one coach (Bruce Arena) was often a cut above the coaching field.

D.C. United will never dominate as it did in those initial MLS days, and the targets must reflect the day of MLS 2.0. The approach must remain measured, otherwise that sense of entitlement corrupts the decision process.

If management is smart, they’ll dump the underperforming “stars” and re-balance the salary budget with a little more attention to the back line.

(MORE: A season of improvement around RFK)

Either way, United has plenty to like about 2012 – and reason to look forward to even better days ahead.

Olsen clearly sees it the same way. What he said following Sunday’s second-leg against Houston:

We talk about laying a foundation here. Having something special for years to come. And I believe that it’s here. I really do. It’s a bunch of great young guys who are willing to fight and do what it takes. This experience was invaluable for them, being in these real games down the stretch. It’s a special group. There’s a certain character and spirit that makes me proud to be a part of them.”

Inter Milan back in the Champions League after late heroics (video)

Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP
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It’s been more than a half-decade since Inter Milan qualified for the UEFA Champions League, an infamous run that ended on Sunday.

Inter scored twice in the final 13 minutes to beat fifth-place Lazio and advance into the Top Four via head-to-head record.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

Lazio held 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but could not get the job done at home, collecting red cards in the 79th minute and stoppage time.

Uruguayan midfielder Matias Vecino scored his third goal of the season, redirecting a corner kick home in the 81st minute, as Inter clinched fourth place in Serie A.

Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MLS Things: Shuttleworth, Quintero somehow get Loons a point vs. SKC

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Entering the day, no one was arguing that hosts Minnesota United were a better side than Sporting KC.

The Loons were 11 points and 19 goals worth of differential behind Western Conference-leading KC.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

They still are, despite a 1-1 Sunday match which carried a fitting disparity on the pitch but nothing to separate the two on the scoreboard.

Khiry gets his just desserts

Oregon State product Khiry Shelton has been wonderful for Sporting KC this season, but the striker just hasn’t found the back of the goal.

That finally changed Sunday, when his downbound header got the better of Bobby Shuttleworth — more on him later — and allowed him a richly-deserved first SKC goal which could well break down the dam.

The eighth minute saw Shelton score his goal on one of just six Loons shot attempts.

Shuttleworth back in business

It’s not always sexy to go to the veteran backstop, but it looks like Adrian Heath should’ve called Bobby Shuttleworth’s name a long time ago.

Entering the day, Shuttleworth had the second-best WhoScored.com rating of any goalkeeper to appear in more than five matches (Evan Bush).

While certainly part of that has to do with the defensive actions foisted upon him, Shuttleworth was the main reason SKC’s 24-6 advantage in attempts failed to turn into anything other than a point.

Darwin

Darwin Quintero has had more good matches than bad ones since joining the Loons, and added his third goal in seven matches with this rebound finish on Sunday.

Quintero had two goals and four assists in 17 Liga MX matches, but has been perfectly revitalized by the Minnesota air.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.