Draws in soccer are funny things in the world of American sports. Those of us who grew up on baseball and football and baseball expect one team to win and one team to lose when we play a game of sportball. There's plenty of good reasons why draws in soccer make a lot of sense and can even be exciting to watch, but they still leave even a devoted fan caught between optimism and pessimism. I know that a lot of Sporting fans can't decide whether last night's glass was half empty or half full. Sometimes it's not so much that you have to decide between whether the glass is half empty or half full; it's that you need to realize the glass is actually an alpaca. I'm sure that looking back on the season we will be able to hang a narrative around that wild 4-4 adventure we witnessed, but right now it could be good or it could be bad, but it was most definitely woolly.
1. At least we got an important draw. About the only thing I got right in my pre-match prognostication was that this was a huge match for playoff qualification. A draw on the road against a team you need to finish ahead of is just what the doctor ordered. Now we have the chance to take the advantage over Houston at Sporting Park.
2. We know how to score goals! In the run of play even! Against what was one of the stoutest defenses in the league coming into the match! I'm really excited!
3. Everyone played really well (some of the time). For long stretches, Sporting dictated the tempo and controlled play. Even Marin, who will make a well-deserved appearance in The Bad shortly, actually made a couple of good plays on crosses. Good Sporting can play with any team in this league.
4. No one with Sporting was happy with the draw. To the last man, every Sporting player and coach interviewed after the match has lamented the mistakes that forced the team to settle for the draw. There's plenty of season left to channel that frustration into improved performances.
1. Everyone played really bad (some of the time). For long stretches, Sporting was pinned back and defending desperately. We gave up set piece after set piece, and then we looked disorganized defending those set pieces. Immediately after the match, I thought that a few of the guys on our squad had actually turned in consistently good performances and weren't culpable in the litany of errors. Then I re-watched the match off of MLS Live and realized that I was wrong: every single member of the squad who played made critical errors, other than maybe Connor Hallisey--but he only had about 4 minutes. The film room won't be much fun this week. Bad Sporting can lose to any team in the league.
2. Speaking of mistakes, the way Marin played in goal counts as a notch in the Bad column all by itself. I've been something of a Marin booster, but he looked bad last night. He sent goal kicks out of bounds and to the orange jerseys. He didn't seem to be able to see the ball coming off of Giles Barnes' foot on the third Houston goal. He couldn't organize the set piece defense to save his life.
Marin was flat-out bad. I don't think there's a darn thing to do about that. Our second string keeper, Tim Melia, is apparently a nice squad guy and everything. Melia is the former MLS pool-keeper (the emergency keeper available to every team), and you don't sign the former MLS pool-keeper to a contract if he's not a positive addition to your locker room--but the former MLS pool-keeper isn't likely to turn into the next Tim Howard, or even the next Jimmy Nielsen. Melia is there for emergencies. Our young third string keeper, Jon Kempin, is there (in San Antonio on loan, technically) for the future. Marin is the only option for this season. The scary truth is that either Marin figures MLS out and improves his play or we don't make the playoffs. MLS is a salary cap league, and that means you don't have the salary to spare to have a backup keeper capable of consistently starting for a team with playoff ambitions.
3. So. Many. Set pieces. There's more of a chance of me getting a contract to play for the team than there is that Vermes instructed the team to give up set pieces instead of taking their chances in open play. Houston Dynamo has made a living off of set piece conversions for years, so the danger of corner kicks and fouls in the attacking half were well known before kickoff. Sporting still gave up fouls and corner kicks to let Brad Davis deliver those nasty left-footed services into the box over and over again. Sporting's set piece defense was woeful, but it's not as if any team in MLS can defend against that sort of an onslaught too many times without giving up goals.
4. Can we please have a left back? Marcel de Jong sure has a lot to offer. It's a pity he doesn't seem capable of finishing a match. The only reason we don't have a left back controversy on our hands right now is that fan favorite and Kansas City-native Seth Sinovic has been injured himself. Our rookie left back, Dia, had to finish another match. The kid's got a bright future, but you still don't want your only consistently healthy left back to be a rookie.
1. MLS officiating is rough. I've seen plenty of Dynamo fans feeling aggrieved by the penalty call and the red card to Jermaine Taylor, but then it's not as if the foul called to give Houston the set piece leading to their fourth goal wasn't preceded by an uncalled Houston handball (or was even a foul by Sporting after the handball). I can't say that the officiating altered the outcome, but I can say that the officiating was bad.
2. Saves are for chumps. Check out that box score: zero saves. Neither team's keeper saved a single shot. There were a total of eight shots on goal during the match, and each and every one of those resulted in a goal. While Sporting fans may have reasons to take issue with Marin's performance, this was the first time Houston's homegrown wunderkind Tyler Deric had a lackluster game.
3. I'm good at predicting results, but I seriously underestimate score lines. Therefore, I predict that when the Chicago Fire come to town next Sunday, we will win by five goals.
4. Heaven help us, this is why we watch these games. It was terrifying and exhilarating, pleasing and repulsive; I was surprised over and over again. I was entertained. This team may be a strange blend of wonderful and terrible, but they are 100% entertaining.
I'll be at Sporting Park on Sunday. Go Sporting!