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Player ratings and analysis: Rapids 1-1 Union

It is disappointing that the Union did not beat the Rapids. At the start of this season I never thought I would be anything less than pleased to see the Union picking up a point at Colorado. So there is a silver lining to this disappointment. It means this team is capable of still more.

Brilliant back four

It is  hard to ask for more from the Union’s back four though. Supported by an excellent Brian Carroll, the defense bodied up Conor Casey and made Andre Akpan all but invisible. The Rapids strikers stayed very central, clearly loathe to run at the Philadelphia wide backs and dependent on good crossing and good play with their backs to goal. With Carroll sweeping the midfield, there were few lanes through the center and only Kimura was able to provide a consistent point of attack.

The Rapids expected Harvey to be the weak point of the Union defense and tried to isolate him all night. This pinned Garfan back a bit, but it freed up Sheanon Williams to roam in space behind Justin Mapp. When Mapp left the game, Keon Daniel moved to the left and gave Harvey ample support while Garfan pushed high up the pitch on the right, dangerous with both his crossing and his good possession play.

Tough up the gut

The toughness of the back line was complemented by a newfound strength in the midfield. Since when did Kyle Nakazawa casually hold off Jeff Larentowicz while laying off a drop pass to McInerney? How is Brian Carroll elbowing aside man-sized cabbage patch doll Conor Casey? The constant battle in the middle of the park wore on Nakazawa, who dropped deeper and took on a more defensive role as the game wore on. In the 51st, Naka even found himself at right back when Williams moved central to cover for Califf and a good Colorado passing move got the ball wide.

The Union rarely played through the middle in the early stages of the season. With two defensively-oriented guys on the pitch, it was barely even an option. The current midfield resembles more of a diamond, and Nakazawa can stay central or drop to the right when Farfan moves high, opening up a gap for McInerney’s checking runs.

Mobility matters

Notice all the action verbs that describe the Union’s offense now. Mobile pairings up top are pulling defenses around and allowing the midfield – not an offensive factor until mid-May – to join in the fun. On Le Toux’s opportunity in the 29th, Carroll was able to play forward to Nakazawa (not square, as he would have had to do with Migs in the game). Naka’s run forced a central defender to stay put, which meant Mac had space when he received the ball. Once Mac was in possession, Le Toux’s diagonal run went through space normally occupied by Ruiz (ahem). Mac’s ball was perfect, and Le Toux had to do better.

The Farfan brothers have been a big part of the Union’s offensive surge. They both move extremely well without the ball and they recognize that in the Union’s system, the counterattack has to be fast and precise. Both players provide additional benefits with their great footwork. Michael has shown it since his first minutes and Gabe pulled out a weeble-wobble or two on the right touchline Saturday night.

Set piece struggles

The only real flaw in the Union’s game right now is set pieces (well, that and MLS refereeing). The Union are terribly shaky defending dead balls and Le Toux is terribly terrible at delivering them. The defense is a tough one to fix. Akpan and Moor had open shots around the six on Saturday. Breakdowns on set pieces undo endless minutes of hard work. The solution is not tighter defending or a zone. It is more aggression. Aerial challenges are the one area in which Philadelphia lacks the Nowak brand of tenacity.

Whether it’s Ruiz being a half-step behind Naka’s free kicks or half-hearted challenges against bigger opponents, the Union do not seem as interested at winning balls in the air as they are balls on the ground. Even if it means leaving your man, defenders need to read the flight of the ball and step into its path. Waiting for it to arrive produces fifty-fifty scenarios that the Union’s smallish team should be avoiding.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 6

A nice first half save on Akpan. Mondragon was rarely tested and stayed at home on some dangerous balls into the box.

Sheanon Williams – 9

A constant threat up the right, Williams was not asked to defend as steadily as usual. He produced a strong volley just wide of net and made a number of fine challenges. But really Sheanon gets the 9 for getting in Wells Thompson’s face after a cynical second half challenge. That was probably the first time I realized Wells Thompson was on the field, so invisible was his performance.

Carlos Valdes – 7

Not vintage Valdes but still very good. Casey and Akpan are nursing their bruises and wondering how much spinach the Union’s defender ate before he arrived in Colorado. Valdes was a bit off with the ball at his feet, and it’s nice to see that the Union are starting to generate offense by moving the ball around the midfield rather than between Valdes and Califf. In the first half, Valdes saved a ball on the endline by popping it over a defender’s head. Confidence, thy name is Carlos.

Danny Califf – 7

Come on. That was not a penalty. Califf made a fantastic tracking run to prevent a two-on-one opportunity late in the match. He only lost Conor Casey once, just at the end of the first half.

Jordan Harvey – 6

Harvey’s touch has improved considerably from last season, and he is much less prone to the aimless long ball. Is it just me or does Harvey play better when paired with Keon Daniel?

Gabriel Farfan – 8

It isn’t Garfan’s fault that he is not a 9. All Neon Keon had to do was tap home the wondrous through ball. Glorious footwork and commendable patience were on display in #15’s fine performance.

Brian Carroll – 8

The better Carroll is, the less defensive work his partner has to do. And in the past few matches, Carroll has been outstanding. He reads the game well and forces midfielders away from their preferred options. His passing has improved during his good run of form and he is keeping things simple.

Kyle Nakazawa – 7

Naka had the game winner just sitting there in the 55th. With the defender playing the pass, Naka passed! Inside the box, with the kind of heat he’s packing in that right leg? Put the biscuit in the basket and pass the butter later. A strong first 30 and a workmanlike second half will keep Nakazawa in the side. He worked particularly well with Jack Mac.

Justin Mapp – 6

Mapp was building on his great Toronto showing when his hammy gave out. A fine dribbling run to set up Nakazawa’s free kick and a delicate headed through ball to McInerney were two significant contributions in limited minutes.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

He hasn’t scored yet from open play, but it certainly seems like Le Toux is relishing his new strike partners.

Jack McInerney – 8

Playing the creator role, McInerney seemed to be inside the Colorado defensive playbook at times. He found space all over the pitch and laid off a pair of beautifully weighted balls to set up Le Toux and to start play that ended with a Keon miss. He’s gonna be so gooooood.

Keon Daniel (25th) – 5

Daniel came on and played strong help defense on Kimura, the only consistent danger in the first half. But he missed that sitter.

Danny Mwanga – 9

So… that was awesome. Mwanga hasn’t tried a lot from range, preferring to use his speed and tactical sense to tally. Great first touch, great turn, great finish. I wonder if he expected Nowak to leap into his arms.

Stefani Miglioranzi – n/a

Don’t feel like it.

The Geiger Counter – 3

That penalty call coughblewcough.

The subs

Nothing against Migs, but who wanted to see a 90th minute Pfeffer sub instead? (answer: ME!)


  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    It’s not just you – I think Harvey plays better with Daniel, too. And speaking of Harvey, I’d give him another point just for that wicked shot he took from distance. It didn’t miss by much…

  2. Adam. I love the optimism but the set piece defense was atrocious. We were very, VERY lucky that no one from Colorado could hit the broad side of a barn because they had a great number of chances to do just that.
    I agree with Carroll’s improved play, but still would like to see him and Nakazawa hold a higher line in defense. Especially against players like Mastroeni and Larentowicz I thought they dropped off too much and conceded too much of the midfield.
    Mwanga-McInerney against RSL? What a beautiful pipe dream.

  3. Adam Cann says:

    Mac’s passing was exquisite.

    And you’re probably right about the midfield.

  4. Thanks for pointing out Valdes saving that ball by popping it up over the defender’s head. Nobody in the group I was with noticed that and I cheered when it happened so I looked like a nut.

    Dear Peter Nowak, start Danny Mwanga. Start him next game and every game. He has earned it

  5. PhillyHotspur says:

    A soft penalty…….But, califf should know better about putting your hand on the opposition when they are in possession in the box…..That is a no-no.

    And, you missed one…

    Guatemala National Team: 10
    Thank you for selecting Fat Chooch……..doing wonders for the club so far. GS

  6. Matt Kirk says:

    Great call, PhillyHotspur, I think Guatemala NT deserves player of the week for the next 2-3 weeks, haha. I got very nauseous when Mwanga jumped into Nowak after he scored. My hope of winning the game also died when Nowak brought Migs on. We most definitely could have won that game. I hate settling for less when we have the talent to come back after such a terrible call. JacMac and Mwanga should start this weekend.

  7. Just imagine how good this offense will be when they replace the striker who gives the ball away 90% of the time. Start Mwanga and Mac. Can France choose Le Toux for some national team? At least Ruiz scores. Le Toux just screws everything up.

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