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Player ratings and quotes: Union 2-1 Fire

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Losing Amobi Okugo in the first minute did not bode well in such an important match. But when Peter Nowak says his team has a fluid system, he means it.

Michael Farfan had never played in a holding role before and there he was dictating play in the center. Kyle Nakazawa arrived as an offensive midfielder and he entered the match to play shutdown defender. Carlos Ruiz entered the match as a goat, and scored a goal that will be remembered as a G.O.A.T. That means Greatest Of All Time. If you’ve seen the shot, you surely agree. But this win was not about individual performances.

This was about a team that saw their very identity threatened at Dallas. In that match, the Union pushed offensively and got burned against the run of play. The strange, disorganized final hour raised questions as to whether the Union would be willing to commit forward against Chicago.

The Fire made those questions moot, coming out with such a tight defensive formation that the Union were almost in the Chicago half before they faced pressure. Given time to walk the ball forward, Danny Califf played distributor to an active Le Toux and a somewhat energized Carlos Ruiz. And when the Union counterattacked they did so with purpose and structure. Justin Mapp played an improved outlet role, but the brains behind the operation was rookie Michael Farfan.

Marfan the man

Playing in an unfamiliar role, Marfan was tasked with moving the team from defense to offense. As simple as this sounds, an effective transition game has been absent from the Union’s arsenal all year. Winning tackles and pushing the ball forward with speed is normally Amobi Okugo territory. Marfan did this and more, executing drags, step-overs and quick cuts with a confidence that spread to his teammates.

Philly has had trouble putting shots on net, so it was already impressive that Marfan put his 64th minute first-timer on frame. A slight deflection off Cory Gibbs fooled Jon Conway and gave the man of the match a tangible return for his good play.

Mondragon mistake

Promptly punished with a move to left back, Marfan met his match in Dominic Oduro. A true one-trick pony, Oduro is incredibly dangerous when his touch is on. It rarely is, but Saturday was that rare exception. The striker relished being on an island with Farfan and ran at him relentlessly, scoring one and having a second wrestled from his grasp by a diving Sheanon Williams.

Oduro’s goal will fall on Marfan’s shoulders, but there is no doubt Faryd Mondragon quietly points the finger at himself after the match. Nobody expects the 40-year old goalie to make spectacular saves, but leaning off the near post is a simple mental error that the veteran won’t enjoy seeing on replay.

The odd couple

Peter Nowak believes that Carlos Ruiz and Seba Le Toux looked for each other almost too much during the Fire match. That’s an odd way of saying that the strike duo remains critically out of sync. Ruiz’s workrate was a bit higher than normal, and it helped that Chicago’s defense was a four-man version of the Le Toux-Ruiz relationship.

And the strikers were made to look better by a much improved midfield display. Thus far, we have neglected to shine a light on Brian Carroll. The deep-lying middie was largely absent from the offensive side of things and could easily be forgotten. Let this not be the case.

BC breaks it up

Carroll swept the midfield in a professional, no-nonsense manner throughout. With the center backs playing tight on the strikers, Carroll hustled back to dispossess anyone who took a poor touch or tried to play a drop to a second wave. If the Fire’s offense looked like it lacked flow, mark it up to a BC in their pipes. This freed up Farfan and Mapp to edge forward and act as clear outlets for the transition game.

Back on top

So first place again. And it is hard not to be excited about this team now. So many players have shown sparks of greatness that the offense almost has to catch fire soon. Keon Daniel, Danny Mwanga, Justin Mapp, Roger Torres, Amobi Okugo and now Michael Farfan. Each has had at least one game where they have been far and away the best player on the pitch.

Notably absent from that list is Sebastien Le Toux. This may seem like a glaring negative, but in big-picture terms the Union are on top of the standings despite their MVP-caliber striker failing to score in open play all year. Surely that won’t remain the case for long.

Looking at the stats, you would hardly imagine that the Union dominated play. The teams were almost even on possession, corners, passing percentage, and almost every other category. But wait, that means the Union were even in the offensive categories! With a defense this good, that should be all the team needs to earn a good seed in the playoffs. Then it’s all about rounding into form at the right time.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 4

Not much to deal with. The toughest save Mondragon made was on a blocked Carroll clearance. Suffice to say that Mondragon won’t be caught off his post again in the near future.

Sheanon Williams – 9

He’s so good. He’s so, so good. Peter Nowak spoke ruefully about Williams’ runs up the wing that were missed. That’s right: the player tasked with shutting down Chicago’s most dangerous weapon, the guy who made a goal line save and later threw himself in front of a shot from the top of the box, that fella was the one busting hump to get in behind the Chicago D. It’s safe to say that Williams and Valdes make coming up the Union’s right side a mission even Tom Cruise would call impossible.

Carlos Valdes – 8

Remember when Valdes made that mistake? Me either. Quite simply, he should be the guy marking Chicharito out of the game when Man United crosses the ocean to get whomped by the MLS All-Stars.

Danny Califf – 8

Asked to distribute by Chicago’s defensive set up, Califf was accurate and efficient. He used Harvey and Valdes as outlets and linked up with Le Toux over the top with regularity. Califf’s positioning has to be pitch perfect for him to be effective against players like Chaves and Oduro. It was.

Jordan Harvey – 7

Harvey’s performance is notable for what happened once he left the game. Chicago immediately put their focus on Michael Farfan and Oduro came to life. We had not heard much from the speedster before Harvey left, so clearly he was somewhere in Jordan’s back pocket.

Justin Mapp – 7

Mapp has had a consistently inconsistent season. Sometimes he is right where he needs to be and other times he disguises himself as Mustin Japp, a bumbling superhero capable only of running into trouble for whom defense is kryptonite. On Saturday, Mapp was a strong contributor. He held the ball well and used his teammates instead of looking for trouble. If he can add a few dangerous crosses or creative through balls to his game, he will look like the starter we expected to arrive last year.

Amobi Okugo – n/a

I asked Amobi what he did when Ruiz scored. He said, “I was here in the locker room and I just started screaming.” Awesome.

Brian Carroll – 7

Playing his simple game, Carroll frustrates offenses and ensures that Califf and Valdes are never asked to deal with more than they should. In the second half Chicago switched out both of their center midfielders. Clearly, Carlos de los Cobos felt his starters were unable to find a way through Carroll’s relentless pressure.

Michael Farfan – 8/4

Marfan was the best player on the field until he was moved to defense. Whereas most of the Union’s confidence shows up through strong, simple defense, Michael Farfan adds offensive flair that forces opponents to think twice before diving in on a challenge. On the wing and in the middle, Marfan got stuck in and showed off his copious offensive instincts. The goal was a deserved reward. He said he had no planned celebration. That should probably change since it looks like the kid who fell into the team’s lap in the draft will be on the scoresheet again soon.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Seba is not going to rise above a 6 until he puts one in. The chances are there but the touch is not. What Carroll did in the midfield, Le Toux did up front. Constantly pressuring and forcing Chicago to play faster than they wanted.

Carlos Ruiz – 8

Yeah, this rating is for one spectacular moment. If that shot hadn’t gone in, he could get a 3 for the preceding free kick alone. Instead, Ruiz won the match and scored the goal of the year. He wasted two chances in the first half but that will all be forgotten. Enjoy it, Carlos. Hell of a strike.

Kyle Nakazawa – 7

Nowak said he chose Nakazawa over Daniel as a sub because of Naka’s defensive presence. Naka ended up with an assist and Marco Pappa was anonymous. Enough said.

Roger Torres – 6

Earned the free kick that set up the Ruiz goal. Torres was on odd sub since he was brought on to do what Marfan was already doing, namely distributing with range.

Gabriel Farfan – 6

Brought on to help with Oduro. Helped with Oduro.

Gaston Puerari – 0


Jon Conway – yikes

I met a few guys from River End after the game who told me that Conway was inching out of his goal all game due to the relentless chanting behind him. Guess the fans get some credit for that Ruiz goal too.

Post-game quotes

Carlos de los Cobos

“I need to analyze what happened [on the goals] and if it’s something I need to tell to Jon [Conway] it’s something I will tell him in the locker room.”

“Marco [Pappa] is a very good player but sometimes he is distracted in the game and not focused 100%. This is a situation where I am trying to work with him because Pappa is a good player but sometimes he is not involved in the moments of the game. This is an important question because I think the most important thing for the players is to stay focused 100% on the game.”

Peter Nowak

“They’re all feeling the pressure. It’s good, Seba and Carlos look for each other, maybe too much even. There were a couple of chances they could have taken themselves but we try doing our best to accommodate both those strengths and make sure they understand each other. The combination attracts attention from defenders and we can use our wings as well.”

“It was a good step forward, especially when you score two goals for the first time. We find a way to win and that is more important than anything.”

“It didn’t look good after 1-1. We found it difficult to adjust to that and Sheanon made a great save and I think that was the save of the day.”

“We compete. It was different than Dallas, it was different than Portland. My hats off to the team. They had a tough week after Dallas. Today we should score more goals but a win is a win.”

“For the first time we score two goals so it’s a good thing.”

“With Danny’s situation we’ve been considering all the pluses and minuses. He had a really tight hammy and there was little we can do in a short time. He said, ‘I don’t believe necessarily, coach, I can give you 20 minutes because after first half PPL Park will be chanting his name to come in and that is not gonna be good for anybody.'”

Carlos Ruiz

“I never check on website of MLS or Union. If people are talking, well, I have a different point of view. My job is to be good in practice and to win a game. This result is for everybody. What people say outside of the team doesn’t matter.”

“It was a very bad free kick from me. It was the only play I had. If I stop the ball or I think twice, I can lose the ball and everybody from Chicago Fire is stepping out. So I shoot on goal and those are the goals you never think. You just shoot on goal and see what happens.”

“We have more crosses and that’s good. We have a great practice this week. We have a couple meetings between players and we talk about how we have to be on the field. But to be honest we have to fix a couple things but to be honest it’s good for us and we are in first place again and that is motivation for everybody.”

Sheanon Williams

“Just whenever situations like that happen I try to back up our goalie, He made a good shot and put it in a good corner where Mondy couldn’t get it and it just kinda clipped off my foot and curled around the post. I didn’t see much of it but I guess I got enough of it to get it going in the wrong direction.”

On when he stayed down injured: “I blocked it, someone kicked my kneecap. I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. We got a good block and another way to keep goals from scoring on us.”

Michael Farfan

“When you start a game you want to start off simple and get a feel for the game.” PSP: Didn’t you pull a drag move right at the beginning of the game? Is that simple? “Haha, yeah…”

On his goal: “I actually didn’t even mention anything to Kyle. He just put it on top of the box for me and I was at the top of the box and I just tried to put it on frame.”


  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    I love Monday mornings after a strong win.

    • sob chris says:

      +1. And this weekly column is consistently one of the best compilations of analysis and quotes to be found. Keep up the great work!

  2. Michael Farfan looks like the goods. It was telling to see Nakazawa pushed wide in favor of Farfan more central. Give this kid a little more grooming and maybe he can stamp his name on the CAM role for this team. Strong, strong showing.

  3. M. Farfan got beaten repeatedly and easily by Oduro, which led directly to a goal. It seems clear that kid needs some more time to develop.

    • he’s an attacking midfielder, who is right foot dominant. should have NEVER been put at left back. I blame that on the coaches. He was killing it in the attack, and should have been allowed to stay there.

  4. Williams for man of the match!!! Great save!!! Should get save of the week honors!!! Great result against a poor team…glad we finally got two goals! Double Doop!!! What are we gonna do without Ruiz?!?! Hah!!! My feelings on Ruiz aside…how awesome was that goal?!?!?! PPL park was rocking all night!!!

  5. Even though we still have months to go I’m putting either Williams or Califf up for Union Player of the Year. I can still do without The Fish (aka Fat Chooch, aka Chubbs) but with Mwanga hurt and one of the best goals I’ve ever seen I guess I can’t complain too much. Mapp is still hurt, however, and he needs to come out. Keep Torres in there (we need a good nickname for Roger) and let Mapp heal up some more. All of that aside it was a great game; one that we needed very badly!

  6. Josh Trott says:

    M. Farfan reminded me of when he got the start in Portland, and people were like, where was Rodriguez, our substitute centerback? And Hackworth said, I paraphrase, “it’s not about Rodriguez, but where these Farfan bros. have been at in practice.” I liked Farfan’s confidence in that game, that he was trying to dribble and pass through the other team, but this game was great.

    Still, the Nowak tendency to experiment with positions can go awry. The kid shouldn’t have had to think, one goal scored, one let in, I pretty much canceled myself out. Just sub Torres for Farfan.

  7. Andrew Desiderio says:

    Couldn’t agree more about Valdes and Sheanon…They make a pretty formidable duo on the right side…Look for Sheanon to get a pay raise next year. Valdes rarely receives the acknowledgment I believe he deserves, as he is as solid as they come in the MLS (and still pretty young). Marfan and Nakazawa also deserve praise. Marfan was the first midfielder all year that looked to get forward and make threatening runs. I may be the only one but I thought Marfan was able to do what Torres would bring to the table without adding Torres’s defensive liabilities. After the Union were up I was amazed at how truly bad Torres was at defending, even when he was the “help” adding secondary pressure he contribute little and was consistently late. People will bring up Marfan’s goal he gave to Oduro, but I’ve been saying for weeks he should be played at outside mid where he is more than capable of defending the opposing mid. Goalkeepers are taught not to give the near post so I would put equal blame on the positioning of Mondragon. Nakazawa gave it his all and put constant pressure on the opposing mids causing problems most of the night. Lastly, it would be great if Justin Mapp played his old team every week.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      I think Daniel has shown a desire to get forward, too. I’ve missed him.

      • Andrew Desiderio says:

        Agreed, as Keon is one of my favorite players and has a bright future. I’m not sure what is going to happen with Keon and Mapp in terms of who gets priority, as it seems Mapp is the prefered option at the moment by the coaching staff (unless Keon’s absence is solely due to injury and recovery)

  8. A few thoughts:

    -Le Toux was terrible. If Ruiz had a 3 prior to his goal, Le Toux must have been a -2. From my seat, it appeared that Ruiz was even outhustling Le Toux at times. Le Toux is not fast, he has no touch right now, and his decision making is painfully slow and absolutely killing momentum in the final third. I thought Ruiz had played well prior to his goal. Le Toux played very poorly, and even on a fortunate bounce, couldn’t finish. I’d like to see him benched in favor of Mwanga (when healthy) or Jack Mac.

    -Mondragon’s not very good when the ball actually gets in on him. I really hope is intangibles are as good as everyone says, because he’s certainly not earning 300K with his play in net. You absolutely CAN NOT cheat OFF the near post from a sharp angle. Awful.

    -Valdes is the team’s MVP. He has been stellar in every game, and he can play against speed or power equally well. Always impressed with him. That’s no offense to Williams, but Sheanon still gets beat once or twice a game. Valdes has been beaten MAYBE once or twice this entire season.

    -Farfan needs to be starting in the midfield. Period. Dude has been legit going forward every chance he’s gotten, and he’s decent defensively. However, he clearly had no idea how to defend somebody faster than him. I can’t imagine he’s had to do it very often. Still, he forced Oduro in to a sharp angle that should have been an easy save for Mondragon on the first and gave Mondragon a chance on the second (which may have been played even more poorly than the first, I have no idea what he was doing on the second).

    • Been saying it all year and started an MVP chant at PPL towards Valdes. Clearly he has been the most consistent and best player for the U. Also agree on your post about LE ONE HIT WONDER.

      • -nickt.- says:

        totally agree on valdes. i’m willing to give le toux more time but i can’t help but think of the one hit wonder thing as well.

      • I really do hope it’s a slump and he returns to last years form…so fun last year…we know what he is capable of

  9. We’ve been forced to endure watching Donovan, Findley, Hassli, Lenhart and a whole host of other assholes at PPL, but has anyone ever seen a whiny-er, divy-er, chippy-er, douchy-er player than Oduro? That was embarassing.

  10. Matt Kirk says:

    I thought it was a good game overall from the U, the Farfan brothers are really good players for the U and prove that we have depth. I thought Nakazawa had a pretty good game as well! We had a couple defensive breakdowns but overall good game. Great read, I love the compiling of quotes so i do not have to search for them thanks! and yes Mondays are so much better with 3 points and sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference!

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