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Player ratings & analysis: DC 2-2 Union

Since giving up the lead in the second half against Real Salt Lake, the Philadelphia Union have found themselves ahead on the scoreboard for all of eight minutes.

Whether you believe Veljko Paunovic was an inspired signing, an affable old Serbian, or merely another band-aid to cover up the most glaring hole on the Union’s roster (attacking midfielder), you have to admit that the Union have a) created more chances and b) looked disorganized at best and chaotic at worst defensively.

If you wanted the Union to sacrifice an unbreakable defense for more offense, you got your wish. And the results are… fairly similar to what they were before.

Mwanga’s return to the first half

On a weekend that saw similarly-hyped college phenom Darlington Nagbe of Portland unleash a piece of skill worthy of elite praise, Danny Mwanga was re-inserted up top next to Carlos Ruiz for the Union.

With Le Toux, Paunovic and Mapp behind the front two, Philadelphia displayed a very offensive set of feathers to an opponent that emerged with two new signings in the first eleven.

And the story of the first half was a DC squad that looked poised on the ball and dominated the flow of the game. DC assistant Chad Ashton said that his team would seek to control possession and limit the Union’s counterattack.

With Brandon McDonald firmly planted betwixt Danny Mwanga’s rear cheeks, Paunovic saving himself for the second half, and Justin Mapp attending the match disguised as Jane Goodall, DC was handling everything not wearing #9 without issue.

Le Toux’s involvement can’t reverse first half trends

Fortunately, Seba Le Toux found something of his old form against the team that helped put his name on the map by giving up a hat trick at PPL Park last season. Le Toux made runs with purpose and distributed with a better success rate than usual. To say that it was up to his 2010 standards is a stretch, but on a night when the Union could have easily been pinned back for most of the first half, Le Toux provided an outlet and level of creativity that was desperately needed.

But the fact remains that in four straight first halves, the Union have been brutally outclassed. While you can argue that the team deserved better in the first half against Chivas, class requires finishing and the Union have finished about as well as I did when my mom served seafood for dinner.

Although the Union have staved off losses since Vancouver, they have looked puny against Sporting KC and fallen behind to both Chivas and DC United.

How many character tests does this team need before it moves on to testing the limits of its full potential?

Midfield has no identity

The DC attack exposed an issue addressed after the Chivas match: Namely, that a talented offense can pick apart the Union, who are committing five men forward in every attack. Brian Carroll and Veljko Paunovic complement each other well but as a pair they are never more than two individuals. That is to say that, much like Carlos Ruiz and any other striker, the Union’s center mids do not so much work together as ply their respective trades in the same general vicinity.

Andy Najar’s wonderstrike was a fine example of what happens when Brian Carroll lets his guard down for even a moment. Carrying the ball unopposed from inside his own half, Najar had more than enough skill to challenge Faryd Mondragon from distance. Blame Jordan Harvey or Danny Califf for hanging back if you want, but a cohesive midfield never allows that much space in its own half. Never.

Ruiz’s strong individual play fails to bring others along

Returning to Ruiz for a moment, the Guatemalan has upped his level of play since the start of the season. But where a vet like de Rosario appears to make the young stars around him better, Ruiz has unapologetically strummed his own tune and required the rest of the team to join in. Recently, Ruiz has shown a penchant for flicks into space to release teammates. Seba was sent through against Chivas on just such a flick, but more often the rest of the squad looks on flat-footed as El Pescadito plays with unambiguous but unharmonious talent.

If we assume that Veljko Paunovic will continue to start and that one of the subs will be for the lumbering Serb, the Union need to choose between Seba Le Toux and Justin Mapp. As midfielders, they both play the same style: aggressive running at defenses and a clear desire to cut into the middle. If Philly is committed to this starting eleven, Mapp and Le Toux will have to learn to read each other and at least prepare to cover if the rest of the midfield is caught up.

What do we have here?

So are we happy with this brand of Union soccer? Counterattacking until we fall behind then pressing forward with near-reckless abandon once behind. It’s obvious that they can survive this way. But one would be hard-pressed to say the team has taken anything more than a lateral step since Paunovic arrived and Ruiz returned from the Gold Cup.

The transfer window may need to bear fruit for this team to attain the consistency needed to make a deep playoff run.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 4

No chance on the first goal, but even he admitted that he could have done better on the second if he had been healthy. With the team doing a lot of traveling for the rest of July, will MacMath make an appearance? It seems hard to believe the rookie won’t get at least a game and a half against Everton and Madrid.

Sheanon Williams – 5

Not a stellar showing. With Chris Pontius in fine form, Williams had his hands full and he may count himself lucky that Pontius didn’t finish more of his chances.

Carlos Valdes – 3

By far the worst performance of the year for the center back. When he wasn’t diving in he was chasing. When he wasn’t chasing he was torn between doubling deRo and holding his man. That indecision cost the Union on the first DC goal.

Danny Califf – 6

Califf was the standout of the back five against DC. The quiet leader has been exposed more often since the Union went to their current midfield setup, but thus far he has responded well. With Valdes having such a howler, Califf did well to take Charlie Davies out of the game and shut down his side of the pitch.

Jordan Harvey – 2

A long week ahead for Harvey, who finally got a full 90 but didn’t look like he wanted it. Whether it was trying too hard to get forward or just dealing with the energetic Najar all match, Harvey has to be much better at reading the game if the team is going to push both wings so far up the field.

Justin Mapp – n/a

Can we tag him with Fox GlowPuck technology when he’s having these Copperfield-esque performances? I can’t rate what I don’t see.

Brian Carroll – 5

Carroll’s rating depends on how you see his role with regards to Dwayne de Rosario. If he was supposed to keep the playmaker out of the match, he failed. If he was supposed to leave deRo to the back line and concentrate on helping with the wingers, he didn’t do too badly. I believe it was the latter, and that is part of what pulled him out of the middle and allowed Najar time to tweet, “Here comes a top ten nominee!” moments before he put DC ahead.

Veljko Paunovic – 4

He adds a level of calmness that Nakazawa, Torres and Migs haven’t brought to the table, but Paunovic’s defensive awareness would be more at home on the Sixers’ roster than the Union’s. Maybe I’m crazy, but a midfielder who can’t go the full 90 or play defense but can distribute well over the top… sounds like a substitute to me.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

He looked like he scored when Perry Kitchen knobbed the Paun cross into his own net. And Le Toux deserves player of the game credit for his most productive and efficient game since 2010. The confident and quick passing was a welcome change from head-down dribbling and this performance was for anyone who doubted that the Frenchman could still be a game-changing influence.

Danny Mwanga – 4

Fairly uninvolved and man-handled throughout. DC United knew that Mwanga and Ruiz would look to use each other about as often as Peter Nowak gives a straight answer during press conferences so they bumped Mwanga every time he got the ball or started a run forward. The Union stopped going to Mwanga and the striker failed to make an impression. Mapp and Mwanga also seemed to be playing different games altogether.

Carlos Ruiz – 7

Hard work all game from the Guatemalan but it remains the hard work of Iverson rather than the effort of a more team-oriented player. Ruiz would have been the goat if He hadn’t put away the late tying goal. The wide-open header directly at Hamid was a head-in-hands moment.

Gabe Farfan – 6

Finally returning to action, Garfan looked like he was feeling his way around a game that needed to be taken by the scruff of the neck. In fact, Garfan entered in a place where Marfan might have been more appropriate.

Keon Daniel – 5

A hard-working presence but rarely an influential one, Daniel must wonder where Peter Nowak keeps the dartboard he uses to decide where Neon Keon will play each match.

Jack McInerney – 5

It’s good to see Mac getting minutes and let’s hope he sees more in the late-July friendlies. This kid has all the tools but needs a lucky break to get the confidence back.

Starting Lineup – boo

Outplayed again, the Union’s starting eleven has seen only one change it the last three matches. How long before a more substantial switch occurs?

Dwayne de Rosario – 0

A goal dance after an assist? What about Josh Wolff who actually, you know, scored. I don’t care how nice the build-up play is, you don’t see Luis Suarez doing the Urkel after he beats most of Manchester and leaves it for Dirk Kuyt to finish.




  1. Adam, I love your work, and not to pick nits, but when you imply the Sixers are a bad defensive team, I wonder what you’re relying on. The best measure of team defense in basketball is defensive rating; i.e. points allowed per 100 possession, a simple system that corrects for the different paces at which teams play. For the past five years, except for a bad year under Eddie Jordan, the Sixers have been a decent to good defensive team. This last year they were excellent.

    Unless you were talking about their defensive abilities in SOCCER. That’s a different story. They’re probably terrible at that.

    Sixers defensive rating rank since Iverson departure (All via basketball-reference.com):
    2006-07 (Mo Cheeks): 18/30 (includes 15 games w/ Iverson)
    2007-08 (Mo Cheeks): 8/30
    2008-09 (Mo Cheeks): 14/30
    2009-10 (Eddie Jordan): 24/30
    2010-11 (Doug Collins): 7/30

  2. PhillyHotSpur says:

    These player ratings seem to be spot on….Nice work Adam. Digg the Sixers analogies even if they are a little off.

    Clearly Valdes worse game in a Union kit….i think he got a little arrogant on the first goal when doubling up on Rosario who was covered just fine at the moment. A humbling experience which we wont see again..IMO.

    Letoux…….misses another lovely chance, but was great in the middle…..Had a perfect pass to Ruiz that was a pick your corner header and dropped a lovely thru pass to Williams which was the key to that 2nd goal….He just needs to bag a few and were back in business on the ’10 version.

    Willams – nice cross on the game-tying goal….deserves a better score even though he did look very vulnerable defensively.

    Danny Wags – an abbe ration or is he simply a better player off the bench…got TBD ?

    Fat Chooch: Still not my kind of player but im starting to come around to the man…..got slightly scared ?

    The Serb playing the MF…..i think i would simply prefer the Farfan/Mapp dual-wing approach w/ Daniels subbing for Mapp who is always gased by the 60th minute or so….

    A point on the road….not about to complain…..lets go for three in San Jose…….GS

  3. Ruiz is killing it recently. Making really good runs too, easily could have had another goal. Nice to see Seba playing well outside. Time to slide neon keon in for mapp and marfan for pauno. Keep danny up top he will get loose. Kid is a beast.

  4. Sheanon and the boys deserve better marks the reason pontius played crap and didn’t score was he had sheanon on his ass right thru.. Sheanon actually saved a couple of goals also with a great foul outside the box and another inside the box…great assist from him and le toux..Danny M should continue to reign of the bench and they should deffinitely start mr. Keon Daniels …. Great game when u salvage a tie in someone else’s home….

  5. MikeRSoccer says:

    Mapp does not get back to help Harvey enough when he is in form. Now, both are suffering from poor form so the left sides defensive shape is essentially a vacant lot. I would really like to see a Farfan slide in a LM and Daniel as LB. Daniel looked at home there when he got minutes in the Chivas game………I could careless about what the offense was doing if one day we have flanks as fast and creative as Williams and Daniel.

  6. You guys are fickle. Every time Mwanga starts a game and doesn’t score everyone jumps on the “he’s a supersub” bandwagon. I’d like to see him start at least two games in a row before we declare that he is a first half failure.

    Marfan for Paunovic. Without a thought. 4 or 5 nice plays are ok for a striker but not a midfielder. The old serb went missing for huge stretches, not getting even a touch on the ball for 5-10 minutes on the trot. He just isn’t good enough.

  7. First Place is only rating I need now…still feels good!!!

  8. Stephano says:

    Glad to see mls.com agreed with me about Sheanon Williams

    • Adam Cann says:

      @Stephano – Yes, but MLS.com’s credibility is somewhat undermined by the sentence, “None of the DC goals came from his flank.”

      I’m not sure where flank begins/ends, but it sure looked like deRo was renting space out there when he set up goal #1.

      All that said, The Sheanomenon still rocks.

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