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Player ratings and analysis: Union v Whitecaps

Around the eighteen minute mark, Peter Nowak called Kyle Nakazawa over to the sideline. Up to this point, the young midfielder had played a left-central role in a very flat three-man midfield.

Nowak gave Nak a series of new orders and sent him off to tell the others. Then he had second thoughts, called Nak back, and offered a few more instructions. No. 13 dutifully ran off and reorganized the team, switching himself to a right midfield role, moving Le Toux wide left and telling the outside backs to push higher up the pitch when Califf and Valdes had the ball.

A few minutes later, with Atiba Harris writhing in temporary pain, Nowak had Carroll and Nakazawa over again, this time asking them to pressure higher up the pitch and let the back four deal with Vancouver’s minimal attacking threat.

Then, after 32 minutes, Nowak was back in Nak’s ear and No. 13 was back on the left, with Le Toux making his tireless runs from a central striking role.

It’s fluid, but it’s my fluid

This “fluid system” Nowak talks about? It just means the coach has the freedom to manually adjust his formation whenever he sees fit. Maybe I was alone in assuming that fluidity meant the players had freedom within the tactical setup. Instead it’s more like basketball, with the coach calling out a new play or switching defenses as soon as he senses a trend developing in the game.

Such constant changes could mean the Union can meet any challenge with swift tactical maneuvering. Instead, it appears we will see a lot of stilted play when the team has the ball. The (ever-so-slightly) slowed decisions players make when they are uncertain of where teammates will be leads to the type of offensive anemia we’ve seen this season.

When the Union came out in the second half with a clearer plan of attack, they moved the ball faster and used much more of the field.

Five stars for back four

After playing two very poor offensive teams, the Union defense looks world class. And before you say it, I know the Whitecaps scored four goals a week ago. I also know that happened against Toronto, a team whose goalscorers perform elaborate mating ritual dances when an opposing goalkeeper fumbles a poor free kick into the net.

But forget that for now: Two clean sheets! And have you noticed how everybody loves Mondragon’s leadership? That’s because we can’t talk about his actual play – he has yet to be called into serious action.

Very nice, Nowak

For all his first half tinkering, Peter Nowak’s second half moves deserve praise. The Union spread the field and looked to serve the ball into a Vancouver box that, without Jay Demerit, often struggled with effective clearances. It was one of these poor clears that led to the Union goal.

It does make things easier when the other team loses a player. Both of Hassli’s cards were deserved. And while a**hole chants are disappointing and supremely uncreative, the Frenchman certainly earned some jeers.

Nowak pulled Harvey for McInerney and traded Nakazawa for Torres. I have given Nowak as much flack as anybody (well, except Eli), but these moves were ambitious and inspired. A man down, Vancouver could not put pressure on Torres and the diminutive playmaker found the ball and looked to, well, make plays.

Torres delights and disappoints

There is a lot of debate about Torres: Should he start? Is he the missing link in the midfield? At times yesterday, the kid looked so much the answer that he could have been wearing Iverson’s boots. But his performance also lacked the discipline required to get into the 2011 Union first team. Let’s take Nakazawa and Torres side by side.

Nakazawa has vision and a good passing range. Nowak clearly expects these traits to emerge as the UCLA product gets minutes. But the real reason he is on the field is his defensive work rate. In the first half, Nak provided the Union’s only offensive ambition from the midfield while consistently returning to Miglioranzi’s side when the Whitecaps gained possession.

Torres is a dream on the ball. Except when he isn’t. With all the time and space in the world, Torres came inches away from picking apart the Whitecaps defense on a few occasions. But he also gave up possession and attempted impossible passes while the Union were sitting on a one-goal lead. Vancouver’s few chances after Hassli was sent off came when Torres tried to do too much and ran willy-nilly around the middle third without any clear sense of his defensive role.

This is forgivable against ten men at home, but Nowak’s goal this year is clear: Don’t give up goals. When Torres realizes this, he will start to grow into the influential force he could be.

Jump, jump

One final note: Late in the second half, with Vancouver down to ten, Stefani Miglioranzi shuffled three steps back, adjusted his body and shielded his eyes, and leapt into the air… It was the first time all game that the Union won an aerial ball. Maybe it was a bad day at the office, but winning fifty-fifty tackles (ahem, Ruiz) and balls in the air will become more necessary when we play teams that actually capitalize on their opportunities.

Player Ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 8

He’s had so little to do, but he has made sure everyone else does their job correctly. The Union’s defensive organization and consistency is a testament to the veteran goalie’s constant barking and encouragement. Basically, this was a 7 until Ed told me the story of Mondragon’s epic celebration when the Union scored. The phrase “instant legend” came up…

Sheanon Williams – 6

A solid game from the right back. He got forward and put a few balls into the box. When he got caught up the pitch, he recovered like a champ. It’s exciting to see how much respect Houston and Vancouver have given Williams. The Union need to think about using Harvey more often just to make opponents acknowledge the left side.

Carlos Valdes – 7

I want to give Valdes a six, I really do. He struggled in his 1-on-1 battles against Hassli and Harris. But he also basked in the glory of PPL before the match and was in Hassli’s face every time the striker acted above the law. Valdes had trouble reading the wind in the first half, but his awareness is top class, and he will keep getting better this year.

Danny Califf – 8

So Califf switches from a badass hairdo to a floppy yearbook cut … and becomes a total badass? Another superb performance from the tattooed talisman as he dealt with bigger and faster opponents with ease. Califf’s yellow card for a soft foul on Hassli was more symbolic than anything, with the ref worrying about things getting out of control. He needs to move the ball faster, but nobody will complain as long as he keeps dominating the box and blocking every shot he sees.

Jordan Harvey – 6

Can we just start calling Harvey “six”? Another reliable performance without any major notes. I spent a good deal of time watching Harvey in the first half, trying to figure out what he does that gets his name onto the lineup card week after week. It turns out Six is a very smart player. He’s not ambitious, and he plays offense robotically. (He went to the exact same spot on the touchline every single time Califf had the ball. Like, within a flippin’ inch!) But Harvey used his body to block runs, held up faster players until support arrived, and played simple soccer.

Kyle Nakazawa – 7

I know this one will cause some controversy, but he’s the only midfielder asked to contribute to the offense, and he played very well defensively.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 6

Playing with Carroll really takes the pressure off Miglioranzi to be anywhere but the center channel. He rarely left his zone against Vancouver and as a result the Whitecaps created very little up the gut. Migs’s offensive struggles continued, however, and he just doesn’t have the confidence on the ball to pick his head up and look to change fields.

Brian Carroll – 7

Carroll was a six in midfield. He was beaten a few times, made one good foray into the offensive third, and showed the steadiness that makes him effective. His brief but strong spell at left back was crucial to the Union’s ability to pressure Vancouver after the Hassli ejection.

Carlos Ruiz – 7

He scored, he almost scored on a bicycle kick, and he was much better than a week ago. But he still looks slow and is a giveaway waiting to happen.

Danny Mwanga – 6

Mwanga got better as the game went on. His second half performance was an exhibition of patience and strength on the ball. His first half showed how much he has to learn about reading the game and making his own space.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

Le Toux was all over the pitch. Nowak tried to hide him from the Whitecaps defense at times and used him as a focal point at others. Even with a constant shadow, he still managed to pop free on a number of occasions. Rochat’s diving block kept Le Toux off the scoresheet early in the second half, but nobody picked up the French striker when he followed up Migs’ volley and crossed for Ruiz to finish.

Jack McInerney – 7

McInerney wants to score. He’ll go anywhere, take on anyone and try any run if it will get him that much closer to a goal. Once he learns to channel this desire, he’ll be extremely dangerous. He earns the seven for holding the ball in the corner late in the game while taking hit after hit from behind. Strong like bull.

Roger Torres – 8

If he plays in reserves games this year, Torres will dominate. Like McInerney, he has yet to grasp why patience is such a virtue. Torres is like a young baseball player who can hit anything over the plate but swings at a lot of junk. When he lets the game come to him, he can tame it like a snake charmer.

Gabriel Farfan – n/a

He played left back. He didn’t screw up. He looks pretty fast.

Photo: Paul Rudderow


  1. I often wonder about Harvey as well… Thanks for taking note.. didn’t take notice of him while at the game. He does play simple, straight forward, do as you were taught soccer… as long as he isn’t the last defender on a break I’m happy with him.

  2. Unfair to Mwanga. He’s the only striker who consistently looks like a striker, i.e. settles the ball, holds off a man and makes a smart pass. Starved for real service, but did well with what he got.

    Ruiz gets a pass this week because of his match winner, but come on.

    Incredibly too charitable on Migs and Nak. Migs again was shocking, turning over nearly everything he touched and I dont care that Nakazawa was the only midfielder asked to set the table for the offense, he didn’t do it and he is not creative enough.

  3. Oh and Valdes is REALLY fast. I hadn’t expected that and it was tremendous to see up close.

  4. One thing that I noticed, so far this, year even though it has only been 2 games, is when we get a set piece within 20-25 yards out we have yet to put one on net or make the goalie earn his money. I’m not expecting Pirlo or Beckham, but i do expect, especially at this level is to at least make the goalie move and that really has not been done so far. Also once we get past 25-30 yards out we just need to whip the ball into the box and hope someone gets a head on it, we have plenty of targets that can win those balls, Ruiz, Le Toux, Mwanga and Califf. And not just a lazy little floater into the box, they need to whip one in with some power on it.

  5. One thing I’m surprised that no one has said anything about is the wind. Even before we went a man up on the red card, the two halves were exactly the same–with the team facing the River End and the wind at their back dominating possession. We simply did more with the possession, helped of course by Hassli’s ejection. Thoughts?

  6. Nakazawa should not start…wasted free kicks and just doesn’t seem to be ready to start, plays scared to mess up but does…

    Mwanga looked calm and had purpose yet he gets a 6 but nakazawa gets a 7? PSP pro nakazawa? If you sense controvery coming…you probably got it wrong

  7. Philly Hotspur says:

    Decent Player rating summary but i completely agree w/ Los….how on earth does DannyMwags get a 6 while the no-talent Nakazawa get a 7…..

    Its pretty evident that Nakazawa is cut-out for the starting 11 like Seitz was last year……Of course, we still were dealing w/ Seitz thru late August. Lets hope Nowak addresses this much sooner.

    Ideally….roll w/ the 4-4-2 and move Ruiz to the bench (i know its not happening, but whatever).

    LeToux DannyWags
    Mapp Torres (CAM) Carroll (CDM) Miggs

  8. Josh Trott says:

    I was surprised because Nak showed technical skill I didn’t know he had. I was disappointed in the line up, because it was defensive in the midfield. I’m sure this was to compensate for playing with three forwards- but I’d prefer Mapp to either Ruiz or Migs, or Nak. I agree on the points with Adam on Torres, but I’d like to see more of him anyway.

    I agree with the critique of the tinkering, to gel, lets play the same eleven for a while, in the same spots.

    Ruiz is going to be hard. He’s going to score. He has that knack for being in the right place. However, he looks like a hung over character in a Sergio Leone film. He plays like one too.

  9. Nakazawa played great on Saturday. He had forward looking passes, got back on defense, had some decent dribbles, won some free kicks and most of all he swung in great corners every single time. If the Union had possessed any ability in the air Saturday they would have scored some corners. Nakazawa, from my vantage point, did not take a single direct free kick. I saw Le Toux take 2-3, Valdes 1, Torres 2(?)and all but the last one Torres took were horrendous. Valdes and Le Toux did not even put one on target let alone challenge the keeper. Nakazawa is a dead ball specialist so let him take the free kicks. Le Toux is God, but both last season and this season his free kicks rarely challenged the keeper (the exception being the home opener last year).

  10. So Nak and Mwanga: Why is Mwanga on the field? To score goals. Did he have any? He had a one shot. All his fault? No way.
    Mwanga was a lot better than Ruiz, but Ruiz scored a game winning goal. So there’s your 7. I’m sorry, but Mwanga was strong on the ball, played hard, earned a yellow, and did very little in terms of production. Which is still measured in goals. Why should he get better than an average score?

    Nakazawa: He played left-center mid, right-center mid and right mid. He made runs through the middle, helped Harvey defensively, never lost his shape, and communicated tactical changes from Nowak to the team. Maybe he didn’t play the type of game we all want the Union to play, but he did exactly what he was supposed to do and showed a bit of flair early in the 2nd half.

    Nak’s rating rewards him for doing his job and a little extra. Mwanga’s rating says he played fine, didn’t score and didn’t create many opportunities.

  11. And I’m pretty sure sensing controversy means you acknowledge both sides of an argument, not that you’re wrong. Otherwise I’d be wrong every time I put peanut butter on my bagel. Yes, I know “regular” butter is normal, but that doesn’t make it right. And we all get to butter our bagels our own way.

  12. Soccerdad1150 says:

    I like this article. You definitely see the game well, pretty much agree with your analysis. Well done. One thing…if you must shorten it, use Naka…not Nak.

  13. Rob Santos says:

    I’m not sure if I would give Williams a 6 the kid defended well got up field a lot. He gave Le Toux a sweet pass for a sure goal but the ball was deflected. I also noticed after watching the game over that he sent some nice ball to the forwards. I’d give him a 7. As a defender we don’t exspect him to get up the field but he’s one to look out for in a game. I don’t look at him as being out of position if his attacking sets up goals.

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