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Hard to argue with six goals

Featured image courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Hot damn that was fun to watch! Pressure all over the pitch resulting in turnovers of every sort from an admittedly inferior team, but still.

Six goals is goals. And good finishing is good finishing.

And the Union needed a match like this one, BADLY. So, with Carlos Ruiz off to play for Guatemala and the Union heading to Colorado for a showdown with the reigning MLS champs, there is much for which we, as Union supporters can be thankful.

Save your breath

Before we get to the goods on display in Toronto, let’s discuss Sebastien Le Toux.

Le Toux had an extremely unusual game against Toronto. When he attempted to create for himself, his clumsiness and heavy touch resembled Frankenstein’s monster. Yet when he sought to play others into the attack, his touches were sharp and concise, and reminiscent of last year’s glorious form.

He'll get there. Photo: Paul Rudderow

Go back and re-watch the game, goals and all. In the build up, with a few exceptions (the second Toronto goal being the most glaring), Le Toux rarely put a foot out of place, bringing his teammates into the game in many occasions. Yet once he made the decision to go for goal himself the lights went out and he stumbled and bumbled and conceded the ball on nearly every occasion.

Strange stuff.

But as games continue to mount without the striker consistently finding the target, an unsettling sentiment has begun to arise, suggesting that the results of Le Toux’s immense work rate amount to nothing greater than a track star, puppy dog or wild animal running around the pitch.

This is utter nonsense.

While strikers will ultimately be evaluated on their ability to find the back of the net, it is impossible to downplay how much Le Toux’s pressure and effort benefits his team. Toronto was guilty of a number of egregious turnovers on Saturday and while credit is due to the entire Union XI, Le Toux deserves special mention for running down every ball and playing defense high up the field, chasing all the way back to the goalkeeper, and so troubling the TFC backline into many of those mistakes. Additionally, with a more mobile partner like Danny Mwanga and aggressive midfield players like Kyle Nakazawa, Justin Mapp and Gabriel Farfan steaming in behind him, his angled runs unselfishly draw defenders out, creating large voids of space for others to attack.

Regardless of your feelings, with Carlos Ruiz away on international duty, this is not the week to launch any scathingly negative attacks on Le Toux. Does anyone out there really think that Jack McInerney will earn a start against Colorado on the road this Saturday? Ain’t happening. When it comes to loyalty, Peter Nowak has correctly shown immense confidence in Le Toux throughout the Union’s second campaign. And with a tough road test against the reigning MLS champs looming, Le Toux will be given another opportunity to prove his mettle. He will repay his manager by running the Rapids backline ragged, as he always does. And he will create chances for his teammates, as he always does. And yes, hopefully he will rediscover his scoring touch very, very soon.

Don’t look now, but…

Danny Mwanga is wearing his big boy pants. Mwanga used his first MLS offseason to work on improving the shortcomings in his game that were revealed from his first professional campaign.

And improve he did.

The complete package. Photo: Paul Rudderow

The 2011 Danny Mwanga has shown the full bag of tricks when it comes to hold up play, strength on the ball, speed and ability to dribble at/around defenders and the focus to remain in a game for 90 minutes.

Mwanga is emerging as the complete package in front of our eyes. With his two veteran counterparts struggling for consistent clean touches and link up play, Mwanga has shown a willingness to drop deep to hold the ball and an electricity to run at goal and create opportunities for the Union. It is not uncommon to see two and three defenders bouncing off the Union number 10 as he shields the ball with his head up looking for the next pass or shot. Twice on Saturday Mwanga used his speed and poise to avoid the offside trap and break through onto Stefan Frei’s cage. The veteran shotstopper deserves the credit for twice beating away Mwanga’s efforts.

His subtle backheel to feed Kyle Nakazawa for the Union’s third goal against Toronto highlighted the advanced maturity and confidence with which Mwanga is currently operating and the Union faithful will be anxiously awaiting to see if his brace at BMO Field will lead to the flood gates crashing open.

Farfan-tastic

When the Union entered the season with only five recognized defenders, the coaching staff was quick to point to Michael and Gabriel Farfan as players who could, if necessary, provide defensive cover. Well, following the twins back-to-back performances over the last two weeks, it seems that the Union brass will need to go out and find some true defenders to fill out the lineup because both of the Farfan boys are far to valuable in the midfield to be shackled in defense.

Meet the Farfans. Photo: Nicolae Stoian

First, Michael took over the center of the park against Chicago when Amobi Okugo went down with an early injury. Marfan (it’s just easier this way) slotted into the attacking central midfield role with aplomb, pressing the play forward, serving incisive balls through the Fire defense as well as tallying a goal for himself. His guile and vision stood apart from almost every other candidate the Union have tried in that role and he certainly did everything in his power to force the coaching staff’s hand for future selections.

When an injury ruled him out against Toronto, his brother (henceforth known as Garfan) deputized admirably, not only nabbing an early goal, but providing a similarly confident, competent performance to his brother. With speed and a willingness to play the ball quickly, Garfan issued a reminder that while his brother was the highly touted draft pick, he is capable of playing on a very similar level.

Where the Mapp did that Mapp come from?

Against Dallas, a few forays forward aside, Lefty had a match to forget. He held the ball too long in possession, neglected his defensive responsibilities, basked in his general one-footedness and generally looked well beneath the pace of the game.

What a difference a couple of weeks can make.

Dangerous.

Since the Dallas game, Mapp has found another gear. With a rejuvenated first step that is always forward, Mapp’s presence spurred the team forward to victory against Chicago. Yet even that confident display of attacking impetus could not adequately foreshadow his offensive explosion in Toronto.

Two goals and an assist is nothing shy of incredible for a player whose position in the starting XI did not even appear secure considering the hard work and skill shown by Keon Daniel. But questions about Mapp’s quality have been answered following his one man demolition of Toronto. During the build up to Nakazawa’s goal, Mapp skipped away from a defender to slide a pass through with his RIGHT foot. Later he faked with his left and drove hard to the endline, delivering an ideal low cross with his RIGHT foot. Finally he slid the final pass through to Mwanga for Danny’s first of the night, again with his RIGHT foot.

The aggression shown to dive into the passing lanes, the lack of predictability that comes from being a two-footed player, the rejuvenated desire to take every ball forward with pace and purpose: all these things made the difference on Saturday. If they become a staple of Mapp’s game going forward, the goals and assists will begin to pile up as his pressure will continue to create buckets of goal-scoring opportunities.

The Case for Kyle Nakazawa

Kyle Nakazawa is a curious case amongst Union supporters. Some feel that between his tenacity in defense, vision on the ball and cultured dead ball service, he has the potential to grow into a fine central midfielder in MLS. Others gravitate to the opposite pole, questioning his speed and whether his technical abilities will ever be on par with some of the great attackers in our league.

Kyle is coming on. Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Regardless of which side you sit, during the last two matches Nakazawa has shown the attributes that have made him a favorite of the Union coaching staff. Unfettered by right wing responsibilities, Nakazawa’s battle with Julian de Guzman (a player who makes approximately 36 times what Naka currently pulls in) was a site to behold. Naka hassled de Guzman at every opportunity and more than once, the former Hannover and Deportivo la Coruna player looked up from the turf as Nakazawa dribbled the other way after picking his pocket. With Tony Tchani, the second pick in the 2009 MLS draft, looking more and more like a bust, de Guzman served as the sole link between the defense and the attack for TFC and Nakazawa’s shutdown play on the Toronto Designated Player slowed their attack to a crawl, allowing for much of the Union’s dominance in midfield.

The goal he scored, powering home Danny Mwanga’s deft back heel, will make the headlines, but it was his effort in the middle of park that allowed him to stand out on the night. In the 11th minute, it was Nakazawa who dove to beat de Guzman to a 50/50 challenging, tipping the ball into Lefty’s path, leading to the Union’s second goal of the day.

While these past two weeks of attacking, creative play will not silence all the doubters or give thorough ammunition to his supporters, Nakazawa is unquestionably moving in a direction with which all who follow the Union can be pleased.With attacking wide players like Mapp and the Farfan’s, having a true midfield wizard, in the traditional sense, is becoming less important.

Cut the D some slack

There are going to be some stinkers mixed in with gems, especially on the road.

No team keeps a clean sheet every time and considering how many times the big four of Williams, Valdes, Califf and Harvey have bailed out the offense in the early season, it was about time that the front six paid them back for their extraordinary work.

So the defense gave up two goals—so what? The offense scored six.

No need to discuss further. Would you rather their off-night occur with a three goal lead or when they’re in a dog fight tied 0-0? We have been thrilled to walk away from matches +1 in the goal differential column, so there is absolutely nothing to complain about when the team returns home from Toronto with a big fat +4. The defense is fine. End of story.

What’s next?

With a trip to Colorado on tap for this weekend, the Union must be eager to keep their scintillating form alive. Central defender Tyrone Marshall will likely be away on national team duty with Jamaica. And with Omar Cummings struggling to return to fitness following an injury against Houston, the Union might have the stage set for another memorable road win. While I’ll go out on a limb and say that another 4+ goal outpouring is unlikely, if the Union succeed in creating a number of quality chances, look for them to bury more than just one.

4 Comments

  1. Jeremy L. says:

    “Le Toux had an extremely unusual game against Toronto. When he attempted to create for himself, his clumsiness and heavy touch resembled Frankenstein’s monster. Yet when he sought to play others into the attack, his touches were sharp and concise, and reminiscent of last year’s glorious form.”
    .
    This says one thing to me: confidence. Le Toux can play for his teammates without thinking, so his touches are carefree, and thus excellent. When he calls his own number, he feels the pressure that no goals from open play in the first 10 games puts on a team’s top goal scorer. If the rest of the team continues to score, Le Toux will stop feeling that pressure so strongly, and soon enough all his touches will be as carefree (though hopefully not so carefree as to give the ball away to the other team on a silver platter ;-)).

  2. Eli, you’re not going soft are you? This was hardly a rant. I know there was a lot to be happy about but I need, at least, a little venom from you. How am I supposed to get fired up from this love letter? 🙂

    • 6 GOALS!!! You’re damn right I’m going to write a love letter after they score 6 GOALS!!! That’s A LOT of goals.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        I’m disappointed you did not apologize for your gross error in last week’s prediction of the final score. You said then that the Union would beat Toronto 4-0, yet the final score was 6-2. How’s it feel to be so wrong, you big softy?

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