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Match report: Timbers 1-0 Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

How thin the line between success and failure.

Less than a week after the Union earned three points with ten men, the Philadelphia Union could not overcome changes in their back line and a narrow Jeld-Wen field.

A 72nd minute set piece goal from Mamadou Danso handed the Union their second straight 1-0 west coast defeat. Aside from the continued offensive dearth, this match showed just how much Philadelphia’s success relies on their magnificent defense.

A late groin pull for Stefani Miglioranzi forced Sheanon Williams to shift into a central role and the Farfan brothers took wing back positions. On a narrow Jeld-Wen pitch, the Union’s nominal winger, Justin Mapp, played mostly on the right, cutting into the center when he could.

Rare has been the Union match in which possession appeared a priority and this was no different. Le Toux and Mwanga found space high and wide in the early going but found their options limited to playing backwards or going it alone. Carlos Ruiz maintained his role as a classic number nine and limited his involvement to plays in the box.

The back and forth nature of the game meant that most of the sustained action came from the wingers. Akron product Darlington Nagbe and Gabe Farfan played cat and mouse throughout the first forty-five, with both players making more errors than contributions.

Gabe’s forays into the Portland half earned the Union a free kick when Perlaza’s high boot struck face. The resulting free kick was lofted to the back post by Le Toux and, in a scene all too familiar this season, bounced harmlessly inside the opposition box.

Moments later Portland showed the visitors a better version of a set piece. Danso connected with a well-placed corner kick, drifting it just over The Dragon’s bar.

The Philadelphia response came through Danny Mwanga. He turned his defender on the right touchline and spun a grounder across the mouth of goal. Troy Perkins handled it before it reached Carlos Ruiz.

The right side of the pitch was opening up and Mapp, Okugo and Mwanga strung four passes together but the resulting cross eluded Le Toux. That kind of pressure was all too rare from Philadelphia though, and it was clear that Le Toux and Mwanga were moving around Ruiz rather than with him.

The second half started with good defensive pressure from the Union. Le Toux’s work created confusion in the back and Ruiz popped a toeball at Perkins. Perlaza immediately responded with a surprise shot from thirty out. Mondragon gathered well, although he was clearly unhappy with the space afforded to the Portland striker.

After a long spell of Union pressure, Portland made the first move of the night. Sal Zizzo entered for Nagbe, the obvious goal being more calmness in the midfield. Soon after, Nowak was forced into a change when Gabe Farfan pulled up lame. Kyle Nakazawa came on and Le Toux was pushed to left back (I know!)

The strange lineup could do nothing to prevent the Portland goal. A set piece is all about individual matchups, and without Califf on the field there was nobody to handle Danso’s sizable frame. In a scene incredibly reminiscent of the Los Angeles goal, a deep free kick near the middle of the pitch was lofted to the back post. Danso had only nod in the winner.

Nowak threw on Jack Mac and Roger Torres to stimulate the offense. Torres was having one of his off nights and… well, the truth is that any number of strikers will be limited if one of them only moves north and south. If you don’t drag a defense out of position at this level, they won’t offer many lanes.

There was only one more chance in the match. A long throw bounced around the box until Le Toux put a foot on it, blasting straight at Perkins. The keeper bobbled the ball and Portland reacted angrily when McInerney and Williams followed up.

A disappointing loss for the Union, but exactly the kind of speed bump a team built this way is bound to hit. No need to panic, but the questions that have been flitting under the surface all year should certainly be viewed with even more urgency.

29 Comments

  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    It was texted to me last so I’ll repeat it here: Ruiz is the new Fred.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Ruiz is really not bringing much to the table. That ridiculous blast into the stands from about 40 yards out when we were on a promising counterattack might have been the worst play of the game.

    Watched this game by myself in a shitty sports bar in Brooklyn. Needless to say, it ain’t the same.

    • Josh Trott says:

      Yeah, I said what the F@ck, Ruiz. he had another chance to pass to Danny and shot. Take him out, please Nowak.

  3. I’m going to show my ignorance for the game by asking, how can a pitch be more narrow than others? Aren’t there guidelines?

  4. Gbotic2.7 says:

    The Breakdowns and giveaways by the Union showed how much the backfield was missing Harvey and Califf. I feel like a broken record, fat chooch does not fit on this team and why did he stay out on the pitch for the whole game?! Getting lazyer and slower as the 90th minute approached.
    Agreed that the Unions set plays are not up to snuff, they get a great direct kick late in the game and what happens, it get’s shot right into the defensive wall…
    What happened to Letoux’s touch? From 5 feet out he shoots it right at the goalie. Last year that shot was in.
    Carrol was completely MIA on the ptch besides when Jack Jewsbury fouled him in the 75th minute.
    On a positive note I think that Valdez and Williams had strong games as usual.

  5. This isn’t funny anymore…

    There is no reason the offense should be built around Ruiz. There is no reason Le Toux should be tasked with tracking back when they go to the 3 5 2. And Mwanga should not be the player making crosses, he should be the one on the other end of a cross. The offense is so discombobulated right now I have no idea where to begin. Oh wait, I do… DON’T START RUIZ!

  6. I am honestly so confused by why Novak refuses to go back to last year’s offense Admittedly, it is much easier to score when you are pushing from behind, but it should not be this hard. Just start mwanga and le toux up top with jack mac and ruiz off the bench. In the midfield, play okugo and carroll as the holders with daniel and mapp ahead. Then keep the same defense.

    • I agree 100%. There is no reason why anyone other than Le Toux and Mwanga should be up front. I think I’m starting to understand how Chelsea fans were feeling with Fernando Torres starting and consistently doing next to nothing. At least Ruiz has a couple goals to his name…*le sigh*

  7. Matt Kirk says:

    Greg O., Andrew, I am with you on this one as I have been all season. Why the hell would you not start the duo that should have the MVP last year (Le Toux) and a rookie of the year candidate (Mwanga). Nowak is stupid not to put this duo back together. And the midfield, I thought was really absent, there was not many good build up plays from the midfielders. I’m not asking for Cesc Fabregas or Andre Pirlo but I’m YELLING at Nowak for passing up Benny Felihaber. I like Okugo, but he is too young, Carroll and Mapp are not the playmakers that we need to connect the offense to the defense. And for the love of Pete, get Ruiz the heck off the field, I’m sick of his lazy play ruining the few chances we get when the ball up the field.

    • I don’t think it’s stupidity from Nowak. I think it’s all about his ego. He knows what we think and he’s determined to prove us wrong even at risk of detriment to the team.

  8. Ruiz is poison for this offense.

    • From a very reliable source, Ruiz isn’t just poison for the offense. Never thought I’d say this of a Union player, but I really dislike Fat Chooch.

  9. Some questions I have: When is Mondragon gonna make a meaningful save? I mean a game saving save? Why is our set piece defense garbage? Where is our offense? Why didn’t Gonzalez start? Where is Le Toux’s touch? All game?! He lacks the confidence and looks a shadow of what he was last year. Appears disgruntled and annoyed. I’m concerned, the Union look out of sorts, late tie, barely beat a poor team thanks to a questionable pk, loss to expansion team with LA on the horizon…

    • Our set piece defense was garbage only on Friday night, and that was because 1). Califf is a MUCH better physical presence than Williams (watch it again, at least 2 of the dangerous set piece plays were his man getting an open header); 2) Harvey is a better physical presence than the Farfans; 3). Give Portland credit, excellent service.
      I thought Mondragon reacted a bit late on that goal, but given the trajectory and the wall in front of him, it’s really hard to blame him. Blame Okugo for handling the ball.
      Agreed, Le Toux’s touch has been awful.
      Remember that Portland beat RSL at home last week 1-0 too, let’s not jump off the cliffs just yet.

      • Sorry man but all three goals conceded this year came from set pieces…It wasnt only friday night. So anytime somebody score a set piece on use we should commend their goal? F that we need to strengthen our set piece d. Stop making excuses. Not only was Mondragon late…it appears to me that he pulled his arm back so not to hit the post. Also I never blamed Mondragon for the goal but rather asked when he was gonna make a game saving save. Yup Portland beat RSL but wasnt it a backup RSL with everone but Rimando rested?

      • I agree that set pieces accounting for 100% of goals against appears bad, but that’s a very misleading stat when we’ve only given up 3 goals in 7 matches.

        That means that our set-piece-goal-against-average is better than every other team’s ENTIRE goal-against-average except for NY and RSL.

  10. PhillyHotspur says:

    Very strong defense…
    Little positive movement from our front 6 yet again.
    Done in by a set piece

    Got Groundhog’s day ?

    And i’m seriously getting tired of Nowak and his constant positioning of this squad around FatChooch , who clearly is causing much more harm then good………

    How about vs LAG…

    LeToux DannyW
    Daniels Torres Carroll Mapp

    Lets get some positive futbol going……i think our BL can handle it.

    • people probably wont agree with me, but the defense was very Meh.
      We held them off because Okugo and Caroll were practically playng center back (although the Farfans were practically wing midfielders). That’s why we lost 80% of headers on restarts and why we couldn’t connect with front 3, because we had no center presence unless one of the forwards checked back.

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  12. Ruiz was just horrific. In basketball, he’s what you’d call a “ball stopper.” It goes to him, and all rhythm just stops.

    Something has to change for this week against the Gals. And it might as well be him on the bench.

  13. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    I keep asking myself what Fat Chooch has that I am missing. Is it the mediocre first touch? The slow speed over short distances? At this point I would call anything over ten steps a long run.

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