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Player ratings and analysis from Union win

After his team shut down the highly rated offense of the rival New York Red Bulls, Peter Nowak was asked whether he was worried by the low number of chances his offense created.

Nowak always looks less than thrilled to be dealing with the media, and he smiled like the cat that caught the canary and responded with a question of his own. “Let me ask you this, what is the difference if you win 5-0 or 1-0?”

Luck, fate, four-leaf clovers… Nowak doesn’t care what it looks like as long as it adds up to three points. And it’s good for the Union that he doesn’t care, because the third win of the young season was only marginally prettier than the first two.

Goose and Maverick

Keon Daniel and Justin Mapp. Wingers? Maybe Taylor Twellman calling the Union out on air last Saturday convinced Nowak to add some width to the team. Daniel and Mapp hung wide and provided targets for the fullbacks and the impressive Amobi Okugo. The 4-4-2 setup let the team play fast and counter along the wings in a way that the 4-3-3 never allowed. In that set, the wide strikers were so far up the pitch that the fullbacks closed them down before the rest of the team could catch up. The result was a lot of confused and aimless kicking, like watching a kung fu movie on fast forward.

Mapp put in a classic Mapp performance. Deployed on the right so he could cut inside, the Union’s low possession number meant Mapp rarely had the opportunity to take people on. Instead he made himself useful by popping up as an outlet. Mapp forced the Energy Drink defense to respect his playmaking ability, which meant the fullbacks couldn’t drift inside to double up on Le Toux.

Keon Daniel continued to be the very image of a calm, smart player. Picking up the ball on the wing, he never forced play or confused an option with an opportunity. As New York pressed through the middle, Daniel sucked inside and made the sprint back out to cover his man on numerous occasions.

Obligatory shout out

To the defense. They bent a little more than usual under pressure from the talents of Henry and Agudelo, but the clean sheet says everything about the heart and cohesiveness of the Union’s back line. Barring injuries, this is going to be a stout group all year. The next step is to get the offense started with more efficiency and speed. Sheanon Williams had his best game going forward, but Valdes and Califf did not distribute effectively against New York’s high pressure system. Jordan Harvey looked incredibly comfortable with Keon Daniel in front of him, and the left back played the simple option with fantastic consistency.

By the way, the back line included a tall, white drink of water named Goal Frame this weekend. For teams wondering how to stop Juan Agudelo, it might pay to add a few extra layers of paint to your goals. Agudelo was as good as advertised against the Union. His touch is at least a level above the typical MLS striker, and he makes the runs a goalscorer should make.

Le Toux has landed

The hustle and bustle are still there, but Seba Le Toux’s feet have been AWOL more than once this season. The French workaholic is seeing the game as well as ever, but the magic touch that put him through on net is not reporting for duty. Le Toux needs to adjust his style of play and make more runs to open space instead of always looking for the ball. That touch will come back, but until then he can best help the team by using his high soccer intelligence to make the offense run without the ball at his feet.

Teen idols

The past two weeks, Union fans have suffered through cloying praise of two over-the-hill superstars who once ruled the soccer world. Apparently nobody told the soccer world that Philly’s first two picks in the 2010 draft – and a microscopic Colombian playmaker – would be laying down a marker on the future. Amobi Okugo wasn’t expected to feature Saturday night, but he turned Brian Carroll’s injury into a showcase of his unique blend of tackling and passing range.

Few headlines will feature Okugo’s name thanks to a pair of brilliant performances by Danny Mwanga and Roger Torres. Where Agudelo showed speed and skill, Mwanga showed strength and smarts. Entering the match as a center midfielder, Mwanga played in the Energy Drink passing lanes and held the ball with a cocky assurance that unnerved the talented New York back line.

Torres, of course, scored with his first touch and turned that star-making moment into twenty minutes of intelligent and incisive ball movement that wore down the Energy Drinks as they struggled to find an equalizer.

Player Ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 7

At the post-game press conference, Peter Nowak compared his goalie to Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Nowak meant that the NBA greats instilled a visible confidence in their teammates. That certainly describes Mondragon’s effect on the Union. The big goalie also earns props for taking a ball to the nose and for speaking his mind at great volume after the linesman missed a pair of corner kick calls.

Sheanon Williams – 8

He was good going forward. He was good on defense. Attacking fullbacks are going to get skinned every now and then, and Williams was certainly guilty of that on Saturday. But he was a hustle maniac and put in a few diving blocks to go along with his driving runs up the right.

Danny Califf – 6

Califf took a terrible angle on Agudelo’s shot off the crossbar. He was also thrown off by New York’s decision to pressure high up the pitch. But there is no faulting the tattooed talisman’s effort and box ownership. Califf seems to have decided that he will never lose an aerial battle every again. Next up, working on the left-footed shooting…

Carlos Valdes – 7

The distribution wasn’t there, but Valdes continues to impress with his raw athleticism and his work covering for Williams. Thierry Henry may be old, but that doesn’t mean just anybody can go toe-to-toe with the Frenchman. Valdes probably played the striker as tight as any MLS defender will all year, and it forced Henry to drop into midfield to get his touches. With De Rosario unwilling to put forth the effort to make a run forward, this made it difficult for the Energy Drinks to turn possession into chances. It also meant the box was free of white shirts when Henry’s low crosses spun in.

Jordan Harvey – 6

Harvey read the game extremely well. He didn’t have the speed to keep up with Dane Richards but he forced the dynamic attacker to play wider than he wanted. Harvey came across to clear one of the aforementioned Henry crosses and stayed close to Califf defensively, allowing few gaps for New York attackers to get in behind the back line.

Justin Mapp – 6

He didn’t do a lot, but Mapp held the ball well and gave the team the width that has been so elusive in 2011. As he returns to 90 minute shape, Mapp should grow in influence. Mapp almost created an instant classic when he bobbed and weaved through four defenders before slipping in Ruiz. Mesmerized by Mapp’s run, the striker had drifted offsides, and any chances of a Sportscenter moment were gone.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 4

Migs had seven giveaways in the first half. Suffice to say, that just isn’t good enough. Maybe the Union’s starting defensive middie is just suffering through a tough streak, but there are only so many times that he can be subpar before a spell on the sidelines is in the cards. I don’t think Miglioranzi is a poor player. I do think that a player’s confidence is easily gauged by his first touch. When he isn’t popping it up, Migs is rushing his passes and keeping his head down. Miglioranzi also managed to blast a second half volley out of the River End, a PPL first.

Amobi Okugo – 8

Well color me impressed. Okugo has struggled to break into the first XI in his Union career. That should change if he can keep up this level of play. After winning big praise for his performances with the U-20s, Okugo brought the full range of his talents to PPL on Saturday. Rare is the center midfielder who can move the ball all over the field and get stuck in on tackles. Amobi Okugo can do it all. That’s why he was a top ten pick. The biggest knock on Okugo has been occasional lapses in concentration. A telling moment came soon after the young middie entered the match. After he tried to hand off a runner to Danny Califf, Okugo called together Califf and Harvey and worked out how they would handle the New York offense going forward.

Keon Daniel – 8

The Union were able to switch from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 because Keon Daniel understood exactly what Peter Nowak wanted him to do. Daniel closed down the passing lanes between the Energy Drink center backs and the midfield. New York was forced to change their point of attack and they were much less effective coming up the wings.

Carlos Ruiz – 5

Ruiz was not bad. That’s a big step forward for a player who has often seemed either out of sync or out of shape. Only one obvious dive made it a lot easier to enjoy Ruiz’s play. The ambitious shot from just over the half line was a fun moment, and it’s unfortunate that Ruiz has yet to show any consistency this season.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

Work, work, work. Seba played up top and on the wing. His vision and movement were still well above average, but Le Toux was a step slow and off his game. It’s important to distinguish between hard running and good soccer. When Le Toux is flying high, he mixes the two perfectly. He wasn’t all work and not skill Saturday, but he was a long way from his best.

Danny Mwanga – 8

Let’s be clear. It’s damn hard to earn an 8 in 25 minutes of time. But Danny Mwanga did very little wrong against New York. The rookie started as a center midfielder but moved up top when Roger Torres came on. Whether he was taking on Rafa Marquez or fending off Tim Ream like he was a cool spring breeze, Mwanga’s substitution instantly turned the match from an exhibition of New York possession into a strange altered reality where, strange as it seemed, the Union were bossing the game. Did he pass it to Torres or was he just trying to beat Ream on the dribble? Who cares. Who. Cares.

Roger Torres – 9

That’s what a player at the top of his talents looks like. Scoring with a first touch, using his possession wisely, playing fast and demanding the ball… was that brilliant or what? Torres has been a divisive figure at times, as his eyes are often bigger than even his prodigious talents. Although his first spell on the ball after the goal resulted in an eye-roll inducing lofted ball over the top, Torres quickly remedied that mistake by getting on the ball early and often, and his movement gave the defense a dangerous release point from which to counterattack. In his post-game press conference, Nowak said that Torres can sometimes be “too creative,” a sentiment that echoed my own words on this page after the Vancouver match. I also said that if Torres could ever harness his abilities, he would be a fixture in any MLS starting lineup. Hopefully this was the first step towards that prediction coming true.

Peter Nowak – 9

We’ve been hard on Nowak this season. And he has deserved it. But there is little to quibble with about his game management on Saturday. Having the confidence to slot Okugo in and let him play his game instead of forcing him to be a one-dimensional defensive presence was relieving. Late in the first half, Nowak had Miglioranzi and Okugo sitting extremely deep and blocking off any pass to strikers posting up on top of the box.

This proved to be a precursor to the decision to switch into a 4-2-3-1 in the second half. While the formation change was needed, it doesn’t invalidate the 4-4-2 that Nowak put out to start the match. It showed an adaptability that has not been associated with the Union manager this season.

Inserting Danny Mwanga as a center midfielder raised some eyebrows, but the young attacker showed a great deal of maturity and trust in his coach and proved that he understood the role he was being asked to play.

The Fans

PPL Park shook when Roger Torres scored. Blue, yellow, gold and white colors waved in random, crazed patterns all across the stadium. The goal was so unexpected, so strange and wild, that there was no opportunity to stand, draw a sharp breath, exclaim “OH!” as the play developed. It was just Mwanga, Torres, noise. Energy. Dooping, singing, general coordinated movements, they all go out the window after a goal like that. And Philadelphia fans let the team know that if they need to be reminded why they should be proud to wear the snake badge, all they have to do is score.

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

25 Comments

  1. Rob Santos says:

    Great article. Everything was right on point down to the fans and all. Great overall effort by the Union team and a shout-out to the defense…solid effort. I’m sure there is a lot more to come from them.

  2. Ruiz’s lobbed shot early on was hysterical, one foot shorter and that was in. Not to mention his other long shot that was on target. Making the keeper having to stay sharp at all times wears him down mentally as time goes on “when’s it coming, what’s he gonna do” and he over thinks and gives up a cheap goal… which didn’t happen – torres’ goal was not cheap – but it was strategery in play.

  3. Okugo, Mwanga, Torres and Willams. 19, 19, 19 and 21.

    HOT DAMN!!!!

  4. Good work Adam. I have to think Migs is not long for the starting lineup. With Okugo free from U-20 duty this summer (grrr) you would have to think Nowak will go with other options. His passes lack pace and any thought, and he can give away some cheap fouls.

    I don’t care what the team says, Le Toux’s ankle has to be nagging him. He is just a half-step late on some balls. Maybe it isn’t his foot, maybe he is still adjusting to Ruiz, but something is off with his game right now.

    • Have to agree. Le Toux looks less than 100%, but Ruiz also looks to be part of the problem. Le Toux got all those goals and assists last year because of two things: his work rate and his eyes, which showed him how to get into the right place at the right time. The former is still there. The latter seems off, because Ruiz is always in the way, parking his tail up top.

      • Watching from home with the benefit of good camera angles, I was ASTOUNDED by how little Ruiz actually moved. Even when dispossessed, he made zero effort to recover the ball. Watch the replay online, its a bit embarrassing, to be honest.

      • Someone needs to design a graphic that has Ruiz either sitting in a wheelchair or on a barstool somewhere in the center of the attacking third, or something with the “Fat Chooch” nickname that people seem to throw at him lately. Heck, it can even be animated, so that if you touch him on a bar stool, it tips over and sends Ruiz sprawling. Really, this needs to happen. (Hello, Fredo?)

  5. Ugh…Miglioranzi. I must have had blinders on until this game because I couldn’t understand the general disdain for his play – now I see it. What really bothered me, almost more than the giveaways, was his inability to look forward which, more often than not, resulted in him passing the ball back and single-handedly slowing down the attack.

    These ratings are spot on. Glad to see Daniel get the nod. Okugo impresses more and more as his maturation continues. I prefer Torres and Mwanga more as super-subs than starters – at least for now.

  6. Josh Trott says:

    I wondered after this game, is Nowak a genius? Going into it, I thought a draw would be a satisfactory result, having been impressed by most of their players.

    But they had the run of it in the first half. Our chances came from the opportunism of Ruiz, largely, and Agudelo found the woodwork twice. To me, a ball that finds the woodwork is unlucky for the shooter, lucky for the defense. 50/50. So we could have been down very easily going into the break. This was luck.

    I’m not sure why Mwanga doesn’t start. It’s not genius not to put him in. People say he doesn’t have a high enough defensive work rate at striker, but lets compare him to Ruiz, who runs defensively like forwards in the amateur league I play in. We take the win, happily.

    I agree with all your comments, and most of your ratings, there are three that I would at least quibble with

    Harvey was pretty amazing in this game. Not fast, playing against the most technical, and a very speedy offense, he was not beaten, and he made a number of impressive clearances and effective passes. I know he doesn’t bring a host of technical skills to the table, but the guy deserves an eight or at least a seven for this one.

    Le Toux lost the ball too many times in the final third. I agree with Dan, he needs more space in front of him, and I don’t agree with yall saying he’s hurt. Le Toux’s touch was never that great. His form was, and hopefully will be again. Still. Doesn’t matter how much you run, giving up the ball in the final third, when not in the act of creating a situation that will potentially lead to a goal scoring opportunity, is a failure. I’m giving him a five, cause he ran his heart out.

    My last quibble is Mapp, who I felt dribbled into trouble a number of times. It looked to me as if New York watched video and said, the ball stays on the left foot, he tries to split a pair most times, and likes to dribble out of trouble, and decided to double team and dispossess him, and that worked quite often. I like his game, but he has to bring a little more variety to it. I’m putting him at another five.

  7. Thank you Tim Ream!!!! Thank you goal post and cross bar!!!! Thank you Captian Morgan deck!!!! I will take the ugly and lucky wins all season long!!!!

  8. Still don’t get Ruiz in starting “11”. When Mwanga is in it’s completely different game up front. Ruiz is in minor league shape for me and he will stay that way i’m afraid.

  9. My only gripe is with Keon Daniel, there were a couple of times where he was just sitting holding the ball on the outside wing where he hand an opportunity to run at the center backs then dish the ball off and he just sat an played a safe pass to someone else. As much as I like safe passing, there needs to be more chances taken. The defense obviously showed that they can handle a good attacking to so when we have the ball its okay to run at the defense and try to make something happen. Other gripes Migs needs to be benched. I thought his effort was a little bit better on tackles and such but he needs to be benched to get him going again. And I think we all have witnessed, by watching this game, who deserves a start cough cough Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga cough cough. As I am being captain obvious, i might as well say that we all can see Le Toux is not 100%, it is so damn obvious. I think he should take a week off and fully recover because if it is an ankle injury, it will only get worse throughout the season if it is not taken care of right now

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  11. 4-4-2 with:

    Mondragon
    Williams Valdes Califf Harvey
    Mapp Okugo Carroll Mapp
    LeToux Mwanga

    Torres as the supersub. Just seems to be

    And oh by the way, looking ahead a little bit, has anyone else noticed the stroke of luck we got in the Real Salt Lake game? We face them on the Saturday between their two Wednesday fixtures for the CONCACAF Champions League final. That said, their subs dispatched of the Revs this weekend, so it’ll be far from a walkover. But still, that helps.

    • Excuse me. Daniel on the left for the second Mapp. Torres as supersub because I’d prefer 30 minutes of change the pace Roger Torres to 60 minutes of Roger Torres wearing down quicker than everyone else.

  12. The difference between 5-0 and 1-0 is that if it weren’t for Ream’s brain fart and that extra paint on the woodwork, the Union would’ve needed 3 goals to win this one. I hate to play the devil’s advocate, but despite all the improvements, we only just got away with this one.

  13. PhillyHotspur says:

    W/ that 4-4-2, I’m thinking Nowak was on the the PSP and reading our feedback which was clearly to add some width to the offense…..And look at the end product ? Geeeeeeeeeeeet Some.

    And Daniels looked very strong in possession and actually showed some patience w/ the ball which clearly helped the cause…..

    Nowak’s last bit of biz………Put FatChooch where he belongs……….on the pine.

    All and all…….great start and 3 points vs the Sounders is definitely doable. GS

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  15. Great game, great atmosphere. Watched the espn coverage last night and ppl park showed very well. Gotta give it up to the SOB who always perform well and the horn addition was awesome. Adrian Healy was a nice addition but John Harkes is a sloppy and pedestrian commentator. For me the player of the game might well be the captain, that is the captain morgan player up on the deck. Excellent job moving about the groups of supporters dishing out random witticisms, unsuspected goodies from his bag of booty, and (somewhat weak) captain and cola shots. He and that Okugo guy on the pitch really impressed.

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