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Player ratings and analysis: Toronto 2-6 Union

There is a basic rule of defense, and it applies across sports. Soccer, basketball, football… if you give a player space, he becomes more dangerous.

Of course, the rule is contextual. I play in a rec soccer league and you could take the other team off the field and there is still only a one in seven chance I hit the target. Clearly, I am not Justin Mapp. Twice the Toronto defense backed off, afraid to challenge Mapp. Twice his prodigious left leg buried the ball behind Stefan Frei.

Feels good, man

To bask in the glory of a six star performance is tempting. So give in, just for a moment. Most goals in team history… Le Toux and Mwanga together… a goal off a set piece…

Back to reality. You are rarely handed a win. Toronto did very little to resist, but it was the Union’s relentless defensive pressure and exquisite finishing that had the biggest impact on the match. Sheanon and the midfield (yes, that is my band’s name. Yes, we are available for parties) deserve primary recognition.

Pressing high, pressing well

All season the Union have used their stellar defensive shape to force the opposition to play long or into the feet of tightly marked strikers. While this has been an incredibly effective strategy, it has meant the team has to build their offense from the back. Winning the ball deep and playing it from back to front to generate chances. The other option, a quick-strike transition game, requires an offensive cohesion that the Union haven’t shown on their best day.

On Saturday, a new pattern emerged. High, smart pressure (i.e. both strikers working together) forced Toronto to play risky central passes. Mapp, Naka and Carroll stepped into lanes and won the ball back high up the pitch, jumpstarting the offense.

A (gasp) fluid system!

Every member of the front six justified their selection with a fluid, hard-working performance. Gabe Farfan and Seba Le Toux were the axes around which the formation changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 to a 4-1-4-1, with Mwanga pressing and Le Toux and Garfan forcing play inside.

Toronto’s central pairing of Tchani and de Guzman were outnumbered and out of options. Long balls to the speedy Plata on the left were the only outlet, and the talented teen had to deal with both Williams and Valdes shadowing his mazy runs.

A better team may have adjusted by having an outside back check inside to open space on the wing, or by dropping a striker into midfield as a second option for de Guzman. Toronto, not being that aforementioned better team, needed their coach to explain this to them at halftime. He did, and they adjusted.

What just happened?

But the first fifteen minutes of the second half were less about the TFC adjustments than about the Union shutting down mentally. The hallmark of this squad’s defensive success has been the ability to keep play in wide areas. Nobody breaks through the middle. Nobody dribbles at Valdes and Califf alone.

Early in the second half, Philadelphia’s defenders allowed Toronto to dribble into the middle and to play with space. If Maicon Santos wants to dribble all the way to the New York border, fine. But he can do it out by the touchline. Jordan Harvey ushering the powerful (if lazy) striker into the center of the pitch should have been the warning shot that the team needed. It was not, and suddenly a three goal lead vanished.

Luckily, Justin Mapp was having one of those days, and given yards of space he again connected brilliantly to give the Union breathing space.

The lineup

One question will dominate discussion this week: How much of this last performance was due to the lineup? Specifically, the Mwanga-Le Toux and Carroll-Naka partnerships. The former has been at the top of many fans wish lists all season. Mwanga worked well with Le Toux in 2010 and the growth of their relationship was expected to spur to team to new heights this year. Thus far, the team has survived without Le Toux’s goals and without Mwanga’s minutes. That probably can’t last. And while Le Toux stayed cold, he and Mwanga were essential in creating the high pressure that forced Toronto out of their comfort zone.

Nakazawa and Carroll offered the most complete central pairing seen in 2011. Carroll swept the midfield and covered for Mapp and Garfan while Nakazawa fronted Tony Tchani and cut off de Guzman’s passing lanes. Naka also showed the offensive vision and forward runs that put him on the MLS radar in the first place.

The Union did show a few things we hadn’t seen before: Great finishing, effective counterattacks, and a period of atrocious team defense. The first two we have been waiting for. The last one we feared the way Tim Ream fears Danny Mwanga.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 5

A few early saves, but the veteran keeper was caught well out on the first Toronto goal.

Sheanon Williams – 8

As in the Dallas game, it seemed like Williams was asked to cover both his position and the right midfield role. Garfan was pushed high up the pitch and the space behind him belonged to Energizer. Defensively, Williams chased Joao Plata up and down the touchline. Keeping such a dynamic player out of dangerous areas is the outside back’s goal, and Williams did it admirably. He was caught out on the second goal, but that is hardly his fault. Le Toux giving the ball away so deep in the back third left Sheanon stranded on a forward run.

Carlos Valdes – 6

There is a reason Maicon Santos and Nick Soolsma stayed on the right. That reason is Carlos Valdes.

Danny Califf – 6

Califf had another great day in the air. He was hardly at fault for the goals, but just as he wins praise for the team’s organization he must take some flak when everything goes to hell like it did for fifteen against TFC.

Jordan Harvey – 5

Harvey would be a bit lower if he hadn’t earned a nice assist on the Garfan goal. The Union have not always been successful putting crosses into good areas, and Harvey’s early cross was right on the money. The first half yellow card was a big issue for Jordan because he had to play softer on Santos as the striker rose in confidence. If Harv could have laid out the Toronto attacker early in the second half it might have taken the wind out of the home team’s sails.

Justin Mapp – 10

Two goals and an assist. Both goals coming directly off turnovers. Yeah, that’s exactly what he’s here to do.

Brian Carroll – 5

A fantastic first half followed by an iffy second for Griffin. With Harvey on a yellow, Carroll needed to step forward and remind the team what a heavy tackle looks like. On the whole, this performance showed how Carroll gives offensive players the confidence to move forward as a unit by covering and slowing down counterattacks.

Kyle Nakazawa – 8

Finally a goal for Naka. That’s two points in two games for the young midfielder, and he seems to be fulfilling the promise that led the coaching staff to single him out for praise at the beginning of the year. Naka’s defensive work rate remained high and he became one of the first midfielders to work well with Le Toux all season.

Gabriel Farfan – 8

Stellar. Garfan pulled out some Marfan-like moves in the right corner and used his game smarts to step up and slot back when needed. The adaptable wide man has played all over the pitch this year and looks more confident each time out.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

A wonderful secondary assist (Really? They give those now?) on the Nakazawa goal. Le Toux was a much more effective player with Mwanga alongside. The young striker responded to Le Toux’s running with good positioning and it showed just how important strikers can be to a defense. Still looking for that goal, though…

Danny Mwanga – 8

Nothing spectacular, but Mwanga did all the little things. Le Toux’s running can seem mindless if his partner is not reading and cutting off angles behind. Mwanga did this and made runs out of a central position that opened space behind him. Notice on the Nakazawa goal how Mwanga had cleared out a lane for Naka to take. The two goals were low hanging fruit, but a prolific striker grabs all the apples he can get.

Keon Daniel – 6

Daniel did little of note. His instructions were probably this: Stop the bleeding. He did that with a calm, steady, stay-at-home performance.

Coaching

A great lineup and strategy made it look like the Union staff had been in the Toronto locker room before the match. A strange reluctance to make changes when the going got tough made the game closer than it had to be. It was extremely disappointing that Chris Agorsor and Jack McInerney did not get any minutes. Mac has been asked to provide a spark in dark situations so many times this season that he deserves a run out when the game is already in hand. Agorsor has been on the tip of Nowak and Hackworth’s tongues all season. How did he not see the pitch on Saturday?

16 Comments

  1. Just a few thoughts. Mac and Agorsor probably didn’t see the field because the coaches wanted le toux to score from the run of play. Second, it may just be me, but I prefer Daniel to Nakazawa. Against good teams, he possesses the ball better and can get out to the touch line when we need more width. A midfield of Carroll, Marfan, Daniel, and Mapp would go well against tough opponents like RSL and Colorado. And yes, Mwanga and Le Toux up top made a huge difference.

    • Fat Chooch: 9

      Splinters in his a@@ from that Canadian well-crafted woodwork.
      Two hot dogs and a Bimbo cake gobbled up in a fast-paced 90 minutes
      A light-bulb hopefully going off in Nowak & Fat Chooch’s heads that this Front Line, just like last year, is clearly the optimal line-up.

  2. having been at the game in toronto i can tell you honestly that le toux was the worst of the union on the pitch and was directly responsible for giving up the 2nd goal. this seemed to be the consensus in the stands as well. i can see having a difference in opinion to a degree but to give him praise seems beyond what he earned. shit, mondragon came closer to scoring than le toux and they each were responsible for letting in a goal though in mondragon’s defense on his he was left high and dry by the defense.

    • the margin of victory, I think, prevented Le Toux’s gaffe from mattering as much. I also think he played really well up top as he only really missed the one scoring opportunity which had a bad angle and should never have been passed to him.
      But seriously, why does he get to take free kicks (corners are ok)? I’d take Ruiz’s dink last week to him skying the ball every time.

    • I hear you on Le Toux especially on that 2nd goal…..

      But his work-rate is second to none and his 90 minutes of continual pressure on that soft TFC BL played dividends in the end.

      I really wished Danny passed off to Le Toux on that 6th goal but he is a striker……

      Le toux will turn things around….he is the heart and soul of this club. Doop it, Le Toux.

      • I love Seba and his incredible work rate, but a Jack Russell Terrier can run around chasing balls too, doesn’t make it a great soccer player.

  3. Good stuff. I believe, however, that Nakazawa deserves a one-point deduction (still a 7) since the 2nd Toronto goal was mostly his fault. Look at the setup of the play and you’ll see that Santos was not only Nak’s responsibility to mark, but also that it would’ve been easy for him to do if he wasn’t looking to counter prior to stopping the attack.

  4. Matt Kirk says:

    Great read! I would have to agree, I mean we were up 5-2 by the 72nd, give Le Toux a break and why not let Agorsor or JacMac to come on and see how they do? Definitely a great offensive showing, really what I have been waiting for from Le Toux and Mwanga. Praise the soccer gods that they and the midfield worked pretty well together in providing a whole team defense which with Ruiz would not have been possible. And how about Mapp’s left foot, I was taken aback when he hit that second one, that was a hell of a strike!!

  5. Le Toux played poorly. There’s no way around it. He missed his finishing opportunities, he had a Ream-like giveaway, and he played his usual game this year of run a lot without doing a lot. Before people point to the Mwanga-Le Toux connection being the reason for the offensive explosion, let’s remember that they tried it in the first half at Dallas and couldn’t score. TFC just really sucks.

  6. PhillyHotSpur says:

    F it……….Give Mapp an 11. he deserves it.

    Also give Nowak a 10 for sitting Fat Chooch………

    Lets hope to see more of this starting 11………….Granted, TFC baaaaaaaaalows.

    G to the S.

  7. And, one other thing………….

    Naka’s goal…………

    That was a lovely flick by Danny Wags which made the goal happen…..Thus, he did something spectacular……..Not too mention, that goal on the CK was taken in mid-air….no easy task.

    Danny gets a 9 in my book…

    Lastly…

    Fat Chooch: 9 He looked extremely strong on that bench….And the way he down those two Canadian Dogs was what legends are made of. keep the good work up, Fat Chooch

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