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Full analysis and player ratings: Union at Galaxy

The same lineup, the same type of game. Another red card.

Different result.

Time to move out

Last year, Sebastien Le Toux was like the parent who let the offense live in his basement when it moved back home after “not finding itself” in college. It’s 2011, offense. Time to move out, learn some life skills, and earn your own way in the world.

All the talent on the roster won’t help you if you don’t have the ball, and the Union seem incapable of connecting on more than three passes without locking themselves in a corner and needing to play out of trouble to Califf or Valdes, or boot it forward to a corner (which does. not. work.).

The Galaxy were utterly content to let Califf “run the offense” yesterday. As soon as the ball was played into the midfield, they applied pressure. But if Califf wanted to knock it over the top or play a soft, agonizingly slow pass across to Valdes or Harvey he was more than welcome.

The line segment system

Whenever an outside back got the ball on Saturday, one midfielder would check in to him. The strikers, seemingly too far away to realize their team had the ball, would hunt for mushrooms in the grass in hopes of earning their team an extra life. No offense can run when every player receiving the ball has a single option. And no, Danny Mwanga and Carlos Ruiz, a flighted ball over the top is not an option. It’s a last resort.

Long balls and long faces

This whole long ball issue is magnified by the weaknesses of the Union’s starting strike force. Ruiz, when he cares, is actually fairly good at establishing position and receiving an aerial pass. But Deuce Chooch is also 5’3″ in cleats, so anything above chest height falls into the ‘bad pass’ category. Le Toux and Mwanga want to run onto balls. Mwanga showed good control with his back to goal against Vancouver, but he never has a plan for a ball in the air. He isn’t very good at directing headers yet, so assuming that a flighted ball to Mwanga will get the team forward is like Landon Donovan staying on his feet: It just isn’t going to happen.

Do I know you?

Three. That is how many times the Union strikers completed passes to each other on Saturday. And remember: There were three strikers on the field. Playing with three up top should not mean that three players are constantly trying to run in behind the defense. It should create space by allowing a striker to drop into space between the lines to receive a ball from the midfield. Or, if you move the ball quickly (which the Union do not), a striker can receive the ball on the wing but much further up field than the outside back would. So the starting point for the attack is close to the final third, not almost within your own half.

When one striker drops in or gets wide and receives a ball, the other two strikers can check in or make runs to clear space for the midfield to make forward runs. The Union strike force shows no awareness of how runs off the ball create space for others. Every run is made with the intention of receiving a spectacular curled through ball. As we will see in a moment, those are very rare.


Deep breath, Torres fans. I know, I know. He is so exciting to watch. He receives the ball and opens his body for the next pass (which no other midfielder seems to do). He wants to stimulate a stagnant and struggling offense. But holy crap. When Torres entered the match on Saturday, the Union were (once again) up a man. Dude had time on the ball. And he checks in to get it so well that he creates his own time.

But nine giveaways in less than a half of 11-on-10 soccer? No other Union player comes close to that number.

I want Torres to grow into his skills as much as everybody else, but if you want evidence of why he’s not in the first eleven, it’s that giveaways number. It includes bad passes, loss of possession in the midfield, an unholy number of lofted spinning balls that would qualify as good passes if they were done from good positions and with patience. Look, I know Barcelona highlights look amazing. But there is a reason that even a team that good only puts together 5-8 amazing through balls per game. You have to pick your spots. Especially when you are up a man and the other team is sitting back. If you look up and see Carlos Ruiz making a run into the box with two guys following him, chances are he will not be open when the ball arrives. But that does means that space is open somewhere else. When Torres figures this out, he will be a fixture in an MLS midfield even if he never learns what defensive shape is.

Solid in back

There is little to find fault with in the Union’s defense. The free kick goal by Leonardo was an unfortunate breakdown, but the defense limited the Galaxy’s chances in open play to a crossbar stinger and a few more set pieces that the referee was just determined to give.

At some point, however, the Union will have to come out of their shell if they want to turn this solid D into O. Even after LA went ahead, Philadelphia started their defensive line at or inside their own half. That’s a compact, low-pressure way to go. It certainly makes it tough for the opposition to create chances when ten defenders are packed into a half, but the scorelines this year show that it also makes it doggone hard to get forward with numbers.

Player Ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 6

Another fine performance from the guy between the pipes. He has yet to do anything spectacular (aside from his goal celebration at PPL) but he was in the ref’s face twice and he keeps the back line focused.

Sheanon Williams – 6

He hasn’t been the marauding force of 2010, but Williams gets better with every game. When the Union have possession, he gets forward well and his crossing has been solid. He has been skinned once or twice on defense, but anybody who can outrun him and Valdes deserves a shot at goal.

Carlos Valdes – 7

After the Vancouver match, Eli said, “I had no idea how fast Valdes is.” He showed speed again on Saturday. Valdes’ ability to cover allowed Williams to push higher, even with the threat of Dive-ovan on the wing. Valdes also moves the ball quicker than the rest of the back line. Simplicity and smart decisions are the mark of a good center back.

Danny Califf – 6

Califf was not bad in 2010. He has been very good in 2011. Only two things prevent him from receiving a higher grade: 1) He moves the ball soooo slooooow. Danny, if you want to pass to Valdes, kick it with pace. Also, play it to Harvey once in a while. He might not be an offensive genius, but it’ll keep the defense honest. 2) Califf backed off Donovan in the box and allowed Landycakes to float a delicious ball in to Angel. If the normally reliable finisher hadn’t scuffed his header wide, the game would have been over.

Jordan Harvey – 4

Is it fair to blame Harvey for being the guiltiest of the long ball barons? The guy just wants to receive a ball wide and play it into a midfielder. He doesn’t want the ball back and isn’t going to beat anyone off the dribble. Leaving that aside, it can’t be ignored that Harvey twice was dispossessed around the midfield line. That’s a major no-no for a defender who should keep things simple and straightforward. (Note: Straightforward does not mean boot the ball forward up the field.)

Brian Carroll – 5

You can almost see the gears spinning in Carroll’s head: “If Migs is playing my position… what am I supposed to do?” I don’t know, BC. It’s clear that you do not want to spend much time on the ball. And that’s alright. On every successful team you have played on, you’ve been the outstanding defensive cover for a creative player. Not only are you being asked to bear some of that creative burden now, but none of the strikers are picking up the rest of the slack. All of that said, Carroll needs to be better to stay on the pitch. He looks very uncomfortable on the ball, and his ill-timed long balls have the additional knock of being aimless.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 3

Migs had a doozy on Saturday. He was beaten for the goal and he really lost his way once he tried to step out of his comfort zone in the middle of the pitch. Three giveaways is far too many for a player expected to be a calming influence, and the passing radar was far out of whack even for simple stuff. Perhaps all the people clamoring for Nakazawa to be dropped should be looking at #6 instead. I had Migs as a 4 since he did help stifle the Galaxy offense. But @Eugene_R talked me out of it. Good man.

Kyle Nakazawa – 7

Naka paired another hard-working defensive effort with an improved offensive display. It still wasn’t as creative or cerebral as Union fans want from the only starting midfielder with real ball skils, but it was definitely a step forward. Naka’s Torres-like ball to Le Toux in the first half was the Union’s best opportunity, although that isn’t saying much. He led the team with four tackles and cut down on givewaways, tallying only two in his sixty-odd minutes.

Danny Mwanga – 5

In a three striker set Danny Mwanga looks like a first grader asked to solve a calculus problem. It’s not that he doesn’t know what to do so much as he doesn’t even know where to start. The movement and confidence that helped Mwanga emerge as a rookie of the year candidate last season are gone.

Carlos Ruiz – 4

When I think about the Union’s inaugural season, I think about Le Toux’s hustle. So far in 2011, all I can focus on is Ruiz’s diving. It’s atrocious. Ruiz has yet to create his own space this season, and it won’t happen until he’s willing to make an off-the-ball run.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

Seba showed the hard work that made him a household name. And he was the only striker that seemed to understand the defensive responsibilities of a three-striker set –namely, that one guy has to drop off a bit and force the ball to the other side. Le Toux got frustrated when his runs went unnoticed, but too many times the midfield and defense tried to force a pass in when Le Toux was either covered or running into no man’s land. It’s clear that No. 9 thinks that if he doesn’t make things happen by himself, he’ll never see the fruits of all his labors. That’s a bad sign, because the Union need to be able to make Le Toux disappear sometimes so he can be on the end of a play instead of trying to start it.


Keon Daniel – 6

A fine match from Daniel. No mistakes, and he gave the midfield some width. Perhaps next time Nowak decides to add a wide midfielder to the mix, he should clarify what that means to the rest of the team. Harvey continued to make the runs he was making before Daniel entered, which often left the two of them within whispering distance.

Roger Torres – 5

Nine giveaways in 30 minutes. Go ahead, tell me he’s a creative genius, blah blah blah. I want my creative types to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. It’s visually impressive to see the little playmaker darting around the field and moving the ball, but lofting hopeful junk into the box is not the way to go when you are up a man. If Union fans weren’t so desperate for an offensive savior, we would be asking Torres to grow up instead of start.

Jack McInerney – 6

We’ll discuss the red card later. Jack Mac almost got his first goal of the year twice. Once he blasted over as Ricketts attacked his ankles, and later he burst behind the defense with a well-timed run. For the second straight match, McInerney had all the movement and guile that Mwanga and Ruiz didn’t offer. If any sub should be getting more minutes, it’s Toy Soldier.

The Ref – 2

And that’s a generous 2. He gave Ricketts a yellow for time-wasting, then didn’t follow it up with another card when the keeper continued to let the minutes march. He let Beckham take 90 seconds off the clock before issuing a yellow for time-wasting on a free kick. He gave Donovan the Jordan treatment even as Landypants wallowed on his hands and knees after the softest of fouls from Califf (which resulted in a very debatable yellow card). And then there is the McInerney red. The tackle on Mac was as scary as it gets. Watch the replay, where the studs hit well up the shin. And remember: This happened in extra time and far from goal. Also: It happened directly in front of a referee. Not only was no foul of any kind called, but the offending player, Chad Barrett, was allowed to walk up to McInerney as he got up and bump him again. Mac is then issued a red card for the pushing that ensued. Not, mind you, any hands to the face or slaps or punches. Just pushing. The kind that every European team engages in after every single foul of any kind. Not that you saw any of this, since Comcast didn’t show it on the replay.

The TV coverage – 1

Lowest rating of the night, and deservedly so. If compliments were money, Donovan and Beckham could retire on the treatment they got from the Philadelphia Union’s TV team. Dellacamera often changed the topic from the match at hand to Landon Donovan instead of calling the game. Twellman’s analysis was a haphazard blend of useless and pointless. He did point out that the Union needed more width, which accounts for the one point in this rating.

There was a single, incomplete replay of the Galaxy red card and no replays of the McInerney red. In fact, Twellman told us that MacInerney had retaliated after the play, when the Galaxy’s TV coverage clearly shows Barrett approaches Mac as he stands up and bumps him, initiating the fracas. Additional mishaps include missing the McInerney substitution (we were informed after it had happened that No. 19 was now in the game, but were not told who came off). I know it’s early for Comcast, but that was embarrassing. As a cable customer, I happen to know that Comcast has a lot of money. They take it from me every month while offering me home phone service (because I live in 1991?) and more HD channels that show Lifetime Original movies.


  1. Having watched the game with no sound at a bar, I give the coverage a big fat goose egg. My friends and I didn’t know that Birchall got the red until he actually stepped off the field. And we get it – 12 year old girls love Becks and Landycakes, but this is a Philly broadcast at 10:30 PM so can you please, for the love of god, actually show the Philadelphia players, especially when they are subbed in/out of the match?! On the bright side, at least I can actually go out almost anywhere and watch a game.

  2. Nobody deserves a 7…especially nakazawa…his set pieces continue to be garbage and he gave up the free kick in which the galaxay scored.

    • If you can put a free kick in the six and the goalie doesn’t get it, it’s a good free kick. Naka did it twice. The rest of the team has to get a touch on a ball like that.

      • From the ASN site (I’m not the only who notices):

        MID Kyle Nakazawa (5)-Another down performance from Nakazawa, which is becoming a bit of a troubling trend. As we’ve stressed, this team needs production from the attacking midfielder spots, particularly from the wing. Nakazawa may not take much off the table, but at this point, he is not bringing anything to the table either. A free kick specialist who does not put any free kicks on frame or to a teammate in a dangerous position is not very valuable. Nor is an attacking midfielder who has to be taken off for another attacking midfield because he is not playing his role effectively.

        why the unconditional love for nakazawa on PSP?

      • In a nutshell, it’s because while Naka may be in attacking midfielder in our minds, it’s not the role he’s being asked to play. He doesn’t play in front of Carroll/Migs, he plays next to them in a flat 3-man center midfield. I believe, as it seems like ASN does, that Naka should be an attacking midfielder. And while we may ask him to do that while we watch, that’s definitely not what the coaches are asking him to do. If it was, he wouldn’t have to sprint back to help Harvey.

        Also, no doubt his free kicks against Houston/Vancouver were lackluster. Downright awful against the Whitecaps. But they were good on Saturday. You can’t fault a guy who drops a long free kick into the six yard box. If it bounces that close to goal, it’s up to the strikers to get something on it.

        If I’d done ratings for Houston, Naka would have been lower. But I’m not going to judge him as an attacking mid or a winger when that isn’t what he plays. That wouldn’t make sense.

      • The only free kicks Naka was allowed to take against Houston and Vancouver were corners. All of which the goalie did not get and, if the Union had some aerial ability, would have been converted. Naka is suffering from the same issue as everyone else: to many central players. If Naka was playing paired next to Carroll at center mid we would be singing his praise. Look at Italy/Milan in 2006/2007 with Pirlo and Gattuso in the center. THAT should be where Nak plays and with his defensive abilities getting better he offers even more in that deep lying play maker position. I can’t see him playing directly behind two strikers, but slot him in the center and we will have a player in the center that can actually connect the team and spray some accurate passes.

  3. I completely agree with you on all of it, i just need to vent too. When you are playing a man up, play like you are a man up!!! I’m not sure why but most of the players are playing like they have never played soccer in their life. And the MLS should REALLY and i mean REALLLLY evaluate Chad Barret’s tackle on JacMac. Barret is lucky Mac was able to get up after that clearly malicious tackle, and he should be fined accordingly. I mean that tackle was so unnecessarily dangerous it was unbelievable. And that ref needs his sanity and eyes checked as well, he was standing right there!! It does not matter if he got the ball, his left leg was so high up in the air with his studs. It was so freaking obvious. I still do not understand how we can not get more opportunities when we are playing a man up. The is still no sense of urgency when the union play. If anyone watched the Milan vs Inter Milan game, you would know that pressure needs to be applied and there will be mistakes, there is too much space between midfield and the forwards. And I think Mwanga got the lazies from Ruiz, the first line of defense is your strikers they should be applying more pressure than they are and our midfield is just sitting and waiting to defend there are very few offensive ideas from them or pressure for that matter. If the union continue to be content to sit and wait they will not score which is the case for the first 3 games. They have the talent to play a high pressured offense or even a moderately pressured offense and they just are not doing it. One last thing, As much as I enjoy Williams getting up the field and getting in some solid crosses, He should be defending first then attacking when he gets the chance the midfielders need to be making that run and yes he is fast and Valdes is fast but his position is defending, so defend first than attack, i do not think that that is his job, but he is performing very well for taking that responsibility and he tracks back pretty well.

  4. Adam. Bang on target as usual. Totally agree on Torres, I was one clamoring for him to play more minutes. But, everything on Saturday was curled and floated. Play the quick short pass (preferable) or, when you do launch balls forward, hit your service with some force. Punt and pray is no way to go through life.

    Other than the referee(disgraceful)and the coverage(more disgraceful), all of the issues you discuss come down to coaching. The formation. The lack of knowledge of runs and responsibilities. The midfield running all over each other. The stagnant strikers. The inability to adjust when substitutions are made. All of it is coaching. The XI on the field dont really know whats going on and that has to fall on the coach, in my opinion.

    • I would like to know what goes through Nowak’s mind when he chooses a side or throughout the week in training leading up to a game…hopefully he makes some changes for the weekend…like droping migs and ruiz

      • Those would be the two I’d ax as well, but the way things are going, he’s more likely to bench Mondragon and Valdes. That’ll show us!!!

  5. nakazawa is rated way too high. i’d also give him a five. hear hear, los.

  6. Thank you for mentioning the camera work!! My God, a trained chimp could have done better…

    I digress…

    I’m not sure what Ruiz is there for yet. Is he there to hold up the ball? If he is, I’m not sure he knows that. All Ruiz is doing is playing in the spot Danny Mwanga should be playing in.

    And kudos for the high number for Kyle. I thought his free kicks were good, and he whipped two into the box that Ruiz (or someone) had to make contact with. Kyle has gotten a little stronger in each game, and this was his best so far. I would much rather see Migs go off early than him.

    It’s early, but the 4-3-3, at least as constituted, doesn’t seem to be working. The Union looked much more dangerous with the 4 man midfield. And Justin Mapp can’t get back soon enough…

  7. PhillyHotspur says:

    Its not DeuceChooch……….Its FatChooch.

    This signing was obvious from the beginning and a standard approach of many other MLS clubs………Grab an accomplished player with some equity from a P.R. perspective who is on the downside of his career but can sell some tickets and hopefully contribute………Unfortunately, this usually is the case w/ former European players not a former MLS great…….

    I’m not exactly sure who made the decision on this pick-up, but they clear didn’t do their homework when evaluating…….The first thing to go w/ a futbol player is their legs……..Throw in a poor work-rate of that same player, Fat Chooch is the end result……

    And a “7” to Naka is criminal…..I’m not buying the whole “even w/ Miggss & Carroll” argument when Naka’s game and the point of his inclusion is promoting positive futbol via the pass……….Which he does nothing of.

    My reco: go the traditional route 4-4-2.
    Letoux & Danny up front
    CAM: torres / CDM: Carroll

    Figure out who to play in the two wing spots……Mapp is one option. Maybe go find a 2nd option if its available.

    0.0 shots………that was embarrassing. GN

  8. And the camera work was terrible……….agreed.

    Comcast couldnt even show how that RC unfolded and it was in the middle of the pitch. real weak.

    • You do realize it’s one feed that is used locally in LA, as well as out-of-market broadcasts such as DirectKick and/or Comcast …

  9. When they brought Carroll in during the offseason, I thought it was to replace Miglioranzi. Their redundancy hurts this team because they aren’t able to have enough creative players. I like that Nakazawa has been more defensively responsible than I thought he was. I’d even be okay with him instead of Torres playing the CAM. Maybe Keon Daniel as the other wide midfielder? Something to possibly work into this US Open Cup qualifier Wednesday, perhaps.

  10. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Looking forward to Okugo’s return from international duty. I can’t help but feel his absence has affected the midfield line up decisions in the past two games.

  11. “Nine giveaways in 30 minutes. Go ahead, tell me he’s a creative genius blah blah blah. I want my creative-types to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. It’s visually impressive to see the little playmaker darting around the field and moving the ball, but lofting hopeful junk into the box is not the way to go when you are up a man. If Union fans weren’t so desperate for an offensive savior, we would be asking Torres to grow up instead of start.”

    The only way to grow up IS to start. We should be looking to the future of the franchise. We’re not a win-now team like LA or NY anyway, so why not play Torres? I’d rather drop some points in hopes of building a future title contender rather than simply back into the playoffs via Ruiz. And besides, it would be a hell of a lot more entertaining.

    And yes, you’re right, Torres does try to force things. But can you blame him? Migs, Carroll, etc. spend all afternoon passing the ball sideways and backwards.

    The reality is, this team is set up not to lose rather than win.

    I agree with PhillyHotSpur- let’s go 4-4-2. MLS isn’t a technical league. It’s about ABC soccer- get to the endline and send crosses into the box to get on to. We need a winger. How about Jack Mac as a right winger, opposite Mapp?

    • Jeremy L. says:

      I think Torres’s poor ball-retention wouldn’t be so irritating if he weren’t playing so deep. As the withdrawn attacker in a 4-2-3-1, his only job would be offense, and the giveaways would be less costly. Playing further back in the 4-3-3, that’s just too dangerous, and honestly, his play, on balance, actually ends up contributing to the stagnancy on offense more than livening things up–nothing gets going if we can’t hold onto the ball.
      I, too, though, would like to see a return to the 4-4-2, dropping Migs and Ruiz, with Mapp on the left and Salinas on the right. Oh, wait, he’s gone (honestly, I want to give Nowak an co. the benefit of the doubt there, and Shea _is_ injured again, but if Saturday showed us anything, it’s how useful speed on the wings can be–a speedy winger can open things up even when nothing else is clicking, by drawing FKs, if nothing else, a la Donovan), so why not Farfan or one of our other young guns? Leave Naka and Carroll in the middle to protect the back four and spread balls out wide, then let the runners run. On the wing is where youthful mistakes are least dangerous, so why not give them a chance?

  12. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Oh, and does anyone know if Daniel typically plays on the left?

  13. Josh Trott says:

    Referring to the commentary, I would like to employ a term I have learned in my capacity as an urban educator. When someone employs too much enthusiasm in regard to another, they are referred to as a “dick eater.” I would like to use this free from any homophobic sentiment, and instead focus on the semantic implication of being extremely eager to please.

    Donovan. yeah, he’s good. Beckham. At least he can still kick the ball well. But Angel is going to lead that team in goals, and Little Juno is going to be their MVP.

  14. Spot on review. And Comcast’s coverage was worse than my bill from them.
    And would it kill Dellacamera to actually identify which players are doing what? Without watching in HD, half the time I was guessing which Union player had the ball based off their positioning or when I could make out the number (bless you Keon Daniel for your hair). And I was hopeless with the Galaxy players (except Becks and Donovan – although that was usually because they were already talking about them when they got the ball).
    Someone needs to strap him into a chair and Clockwork Orange style force him to watch nothing but FSC and GolTV for the next couple of weeks.

  15. I have to agree with PhillyHotspur on the FatChooch rant. Why have a decripid old forward that has no speed to the ball, the only reason he scored the goal at home last week is because Letoux served it to him on a silver platter, my 4 year old niece could’ve tapped in that layup.

    Is it just me or did it seem like their were excessive calls on the U to set up free kicks for Beckham?

    i agree with PSP, Carrol needs to be better to stay on the pitch. I barely even noticed him during the game besides him being in the middle of the scuffle at the end of the game.

    It was a disapointing loss, but it could’ve been an all out blowout by the galaxy. Thank Goodness for the Dragon, those little dribblers that he cought would have rolled over seitz’s hands.

  16. oh yeah, comcast gets an F- for their coverage, just terrible.

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