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Player ratings and analysis: Whitecaps 1-0 Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

To start off, we must tip our hats to Alain Rochat. That was a well-hit winner.

Also, please note that there will be no Eric Hassli discussion in this post. If you want to know anything about how Hassli can cure your dog of rabies with a mere shoulder check from his massive and serene frame, just listen to the Union broadcast from Saturday.


Maybe we were getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe we looked at the improved play of Kyle Nakazawa in the middle, the rediscovered bromance of Le Toux and Mwanga, and the Jane Austen-level connection of Harvey and Keon Daniel and we thought this team was turning into something special. Something consistent, dangerous and tenacious.

Maybe three games in eight days convinced the technical staff to blow up the squad that allowed one shot on goal by Real Salt Lake (and should have scored four in the first half alone).

Maybe it was the travel. Zooming back and forth from Mountain time to Eastern Standard then out to Pacific..

Maybe it is simply this: The Union can put any front six out on the pitch and compete. But they can only dictate play and dominate a match with the right front six.

The right stuff

Even with a misfiring Le Toux and an inconsistent Nakazawa, the Union can control a game with ease when their midfield and strikers show even a whiff of chemistry. I’m not sure what type of chemistry set Paunovic used growing up, but dropping him into the mix resulted in a frothy mess more fit for Science Fair volcanoes than professional soccer matches.

The message in the post-game locker room probably centered on having a short memory and moving on as quickly as possible. But there are definite lessons to be learned here.


1) If the other team is pressuring you high up the pitch (and any coach who watched the first ten minutes of Saturday’s match would be foolish not to do just that), you need ball-moving midfielders. That means one, two touch passes to work the ball from back to front. Kyle Nakazawa was the closest thing the Union had to that player, and he was out of position on the right. Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi have not responded well to high pressure defense this season, and it is unfair to them to suddenly expect that to change. Justin Mapp’s first (second, and third) instinct is to dribble. That’s a problem when both of your center middies are behind you and your new Serbian hitman just checked so far back that Mondragon had to punt him back up the field.

2) Two deep-lying midfielders is going to result in more long balls. Here is a brief description of what consistently happens when a ball is dumped long in MLS: A defender wins it and nods it down without direction. What this means is that long ball is not an ineffectual strategy in this league. But you can’t play a long game and pretend you aren’t. Teams have success by tucking their midfielders in behind the strikers to collect second balls. But if the midfield sees the long ball as a restart instead of an offensive strategy, you won’t have any support behind the strikers and the opposition will start build-up play without trouble.

Vancouver? Really? Vancouver??

And come on. Vancouver generating passing moves against Philly? If David Chiumiento is out of that lineup they might as well start a kickball team or join the Canucks to toughen that squad up a bit.

The Union are a very good team but they will live and die by their gestalt. There are no superstars that will regularly take over a match. Mwanga could be that in the future and Le Toux was exactly that in 2010. We are stuck in 2011, with a team that needs to be more than the sum of its parts to succeed.

Bewildering list of the Union’s bench players on Saturday

Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga, Keon Daniel, Michael Farfan, Roger Torres, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Zack MacMath.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 4

Not going to say Mondragon should have saved the shot. It was very well placed. But will say that if ever there was a time to start Zack MacMath it would be in Vancouver after your 40 year old goalie has traveled across country for the past two weekends. And MacMath was picked fifth overall to get a hand on that very shot.

Jordan Harvey – 3

Jordan played his typical game behind Justin Mapp, which is to say he looked hesitant going forward because he had to constantly be aware of the space Mapp left behind on his wild adventures across the pitch. Harvey was not the physical presence he had to be against the rough and tumble Vancouver front line.

Danny Califf – 4

Califf was a step slower than normal and he gave Hassli more room than he did in the previous fixture. The biggest issue for Califf was his response to Vancouver’s high pressure. He could not find quick outlets and the Union had trouble getting the offense started from the back.

Carlos Valdes – 4

Even though the game winning shot came from his side, Valdes did little wrong in this match. He covered well for Williams, who spent a ton of time up the pitch, and he recovered well to protect the middle when the Whitecaps sent speed up Califf’s side. Valdes might be faulted for Hassli’s open shot in the first half (skyed over, luckily) but otherwise he had a similar match to Califf: No major mistakes but not much distribution.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Yeah, The Sheanomenon has a new nickname thanks to MLS: Snub Williams. How this guy did not make the All-Star ballot is a mystery that would take an entire season of Blue’s Clues to solve. Williams had the energy to push up the wing all game, and some better service would have seen him slip behind the defense on multiple occasions. It does not matter who plays in front of Snub because he dictates play on his side of the pitch.

Justin Mapp – 3

The coaching staff says it after every match: Mapp is supposed to be the outlet for the defense. When he isn’t, or when he tries to dribble through the midfield, he becomes a liability.

Brian Carroll – 4

Whether Carroll was expected to take on a greater distributor role with Migs on the pitch was unclear because neither player did it. Carroll kept Vancouver to the outside for much of the match, but both he and Migs played too deep and allowed Vancouver’s only dangerous player room to run. Chiumiento won this battle.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 2

He did not play well. Missed tackle on Chiumiento’s run to set up the goal. Not sure if he was fully healthy.

Kyle Nakazawa – 3

Naka had one great forty yard ball up to Le Toux that resulted in a blocked shot. Otherwise he was confined to the right and occasionally drifted inside to fill the gaping maw that was the middle of the Union’s setup. Naka played smart defense, which is why Vancouver rarely had opportunities up his wing. It is notable that he and Mapp had switched sides when Rochat had his open look and fine finish.

Veljko Paunovic – n/a

In order to receive a rating, you must play in the game, not just appear on the starting lineup card.

Seba Le Toux – 2

Stranded alone for large portions of the match, Le Toux needsneedsNEEDS to finish in away matches when the opportunities come. One came late in the second half…

Danny Mwanga – 3

Mwanga was able to hold the ball and give the Union a chance to play offense. But he found few holes and did little aside from forcing Vancouver to respect his speed and thus lessen their high pressure on the Union’s back line.

Michael Farfan – 4

Farfan added energy to the midfield but he looked as lost as everyone else. One thing that I did not expect from the rookie is his tough tackling. Farfan may not have his positional sense down pat, but given a chance he gets stuck in as well as anyone in the Philly midfield.

Roger Torres – 4

Torres drove at the Vancouver defense with more purpose than the rest of the midfield combined. Unfortunately that isn’t saying much. He created a good chance late in the match but still overuses on his pitching wedge.

The Geiger Counter – 1.344444

What the heck does it take to get a consistent match out of an MLS referee? And let us be clear: If someone comes through another player from behind it is a foul. There is no ambiguity there. If you have to run over another body to get the ball, you should be called for a foul.

The subs/starting lineup

I’ll let Eli handle this in his rant later this week.


  1. U need to get off snub’s nub…he def didnt have his best game against vancouver and the fact of the matter is that while he is a decent back williams is not all star quality!!! How about a Nowak rating?

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Re: “How about a Nowak rating?” Like Adam said, he’ll let Eli handle that in tomorrow’s rant. In the meanwhile, fire away, Los117, fire away.

    • williams is definitely rated way to high. give him the 4 that seems average for the team. he was not good. i love his play usually and think he deserves a all-star nod but this game of his is best forgotten.

      • Williams was the best Union player on Saturday, as he has been on more than one occasion this season.

        Goal.com thinks so. Despite the loss, he made their Best XI.

        He is all-star caliber. Clearly.

  2. That game was pathetic. First, MLS needs to have a ref system similar to MLB. All ref calls go under review, and if it is found that a ref has a high enough percentage of bad or missed calls, he is fired, period. The league doesn’t even seem interested in addressing the issue, regardless of terrible officiating week in and week out.

    Second, I can’t imagine what Mwanga must have done to become a sub and not a starter. Did he key Nowak’s car or put a whoopy cushion on his chair? What they SHOULD have done was started DM and subbed in our latest overpaid, old, forward in the 80th minute.

    Third, Migs… sorry, dude, but you just have to fake an injury or something. I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but you have no business on the pitch.

    Fourth, Nowak, you cannot consistently screw with the lineup game after game after game. We need consistency. The players we all know should be starting need to play with each other every game.

    Looking forward, Guatemala is out of the Gold Cup, which means FatChooch comes back. NOW what the hell is going to happen? July 15 trade window is still a few weeks away regardless of whether or not our fat little fish stays or leaves.

    The problem lies exclusively with the lineup changes. Keep our 11 in there – LeToux, Mwanga, Carroll, Daniel, Naka, one of the Farfans, Havey, Califf, Sheanon, Valdes, and Dragon. Let them play together as starters for five or six games and you will see great things happen.

    • Haha! Whoopy cushion! That’s good stuff…Nowak is gonna start Ruiz and Pauvonic against KC…how’s that for comedy?!

      • Ed Farnsworth says:


      • ruiz at his worst wasn’t as bad everyone in that vancouver game.

      • still can’t figure out why we signed pauvonic in the first place. you wan’t him to teach the youngsters then make him a coach but please never put him on the field(he was on the field right?) again.

    • josh, the refs are graded and developed by the ussf. the problem is there just aren’t top level refs to replace them. there’s a reason there weren’t any u.s. refs in the world cup pool. the mls refs are grade 3/4. international games require a grade 1(grade 2 for assistants.

      • recertification happens yearly btw.

      • Nick, this isn’t just a problem of this year. If the USSF does, indeed, develop these refs, then at some point someone needs to stand up and smack the elephant in the room in its ass. There’s a solution to every problem, and if I were to just throw up my hands and say “oh well” in my job then I wouldn’t have one. If the MLS intends to expand the league then this needs to be its highest priority. People aren’t going to continue to buy tickets and watch games if they are decided by bad reffing.

      • yes they will, they’ll just be angry about it

      • i agree something needs to change at the ussf. i’m just saying no one is gonna be changing the “system” as such unless you wanna take that one up with fifa too. the mls doesn’t really have control over it. the ussf needs to step it up.

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