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Time for change

So much to discuss…

This is a looking like a long one. I left the Ruiz bit for last as incentive to get all the way through. Thanks for sticking with me.

First, the Union on the field…

“The Best Defense is a Good Offense”

This is clearly not a saying with which the Union have any familiarity. Otherwise, the Union midfield would have come out looking to attack Colorado rather than simply sit back and absorb their punches.

Friday night in Chester, Colorado did exactly what they were expected to do: they flooded the center of the pitch with bulldozers Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni dominating possession behind the lightning quick Sanna Nyassi. It has been their game plan ever since the season ending injury to Conor Casey with everything flowing through the three men in the middle of midfield.

Yet, somehow the Union didn’t get the message. Or see any video. Or read the paper or anything on the Internet.

Despite having already sustained a physical pounding from the Rapids on June 4 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Union came out on Friday and let it all happen again. In June, a meek looking Kyle Nakazawa sat beside Brian Carroll for the entirety of the proceedings. Rather than fight in the midfield, one on one, mano-a-mano, the Union conceded possession, territory and their pride, falling deeper and deeper towards their own net, until a casual observer might have assumed they were playing a 6-2-2. Which game am I talking about? Honestly, it could have been either. It wasn’t good enough on the road and it certainly isn’t good enough at home.

In my match preview, I listed the Carroll, Nakazawa, Larentowicz and Mastroeni grudge match as the main priority for the Union: Keep a high line, let your defense worry about the wings and striker and simply focus on taking those two players out of the match and the rest would work itself out. There was nothing particularly insightful about my analysis given that as long as the Union has been in MLS, it has been the league-wide standard method for coping with this Colorado team. Yet we all saw what actually took place on Friday as Carroll could not do enough to overcome Nakazawa’s inability, shrinking from the challenge time and again, hiding from the ball, the action and ultimately the game.

The Nakazawa Conundrum

What are you?

What is Kyle Nakazawa?

He’s a midfielder. I think that much is certain, but then what?

He is not a wing, he’s not fast enough.

If the coaching staff THINKS he’s a wing, he should be playing behind Daniel, Mapp & Marfan.

He is not a holding midfielder.

He misses too many assignments (see the first goal and you could argue second goal,as well, against Colorado) and is not talented enough as a ball winner.

If the coaching staff THINKS he’s a holding midfielder, he should be playing behind both Carroll and Okugo.

He is not a top of the diamond, attacking center midfielder.

He does not play high enough up the field, struggles with ball possession and lacks the vision to switch fields and play balls into dangerous areas.

If the coaching staff THINKS he’s an attacking center midfielder, he should be playing behind Torres, Paunovic and probably Marfan.

Here’s the problem.

When the Union landed Nakazawa with the 33rd pick (1st in the third round) in the 2010 MLS Superdraft, the question surrounding him was whether he could adapt to the speed of the professional game. Following the 2010 season, the same question lingered and it seemed that he still had a long way to go. Sure he could strike a beautiful free kick, but in terms of the run of play, Naka looked out of his depth as play consistently moved around him, leaving the Union number 13 as a spectator.

What changed in the offseason? From the looks of it, a whole lot of nothing.

Well, almost nothing. Entering the 2011 season, Nakazawa got the Peter Nowak stamp of approval, not based on his performances in any matches mind you, but on his offseason training. Sadly, on this team of rampant favoritism (more on that later), the coach’s backing means a whole lot more than, say, your ability to play the game (ask Keon Daniel about that).

Thus, Nakazawa remains a divisive figure in Philadelphia. On one hand, there is no denying that he has the skill set to someday become a strong contributor in this league. His beautiful free kicks, on the rare occasion he is actually allowed to unleash one, display just a bit of the skill he possesses. On the other hand, that someday seems like a long way away as he continues to struggle in nearly every match he starts.

What the crap, Mapp?

Speaking of players who are struggling, why is Justin Mapp a 90 minute player for the Union? It boggles the mind. How many times can he force me to write that he:

1. took too many touches

2. refused to use his right foot

3. has only one offensive move

4. offers absolutely zero defensive cover

I’m tired of it. This is not a player who is good enough to start in MLS. At this point in the season, the issue feels black and white: Mapp simply is not good enough.

When the halftime whistle blew I turned to a friend and said, “Wow, Mapp sucked! Still, I’ll bet you a dollar they take off Keon instead.”

Keon. I don't get it either.

And you know what? My friend wouldn’t take the bet because he was thinking the exact same thing. Talk about a deeply troubling commentary on the manner in which the Union are being coached and evaluated by those who matter in the organization.

Keon Daniel had a very strong first half against Colorado. He held the ball, linked well with Garfan on the left and looked dangerous chasing down through balls played into his corner. If one of the wingers was due to be dragged off, it CERTAINLY, without a doubt, had to be Mapp. Yet, this is the status quo we must accept with the Union.

Despite my list of the big four Mapp-ups, it still feels worthwhile to reiterate just how poorly Justin Mapp played on Friday. Whether it was turning the ball over with nearly every attempted pass, dribbling the entire width of the pitch or offering no effort in terms of tracking back to support on defense, this was a performance that has become all too familiar in the matches following his one and only standout performance against Toronto, a match which feels like it occurred ages ago.

Further frustrating is the fact that a better option already exists on the Union roster. Michael Farfan has shown the potential to be one of the top rookies in the league—when he’s had the opportunity to see the field. Like his brother, Michael is not afraid to get chalk on his boots, consistently stretching the opposition defense and looking dangerous in every appearance. He will likely earn a start midweek in place of the suspended Sheanon Williams and maybe, just maybe, a solid performance will earn him more minutes higher up the field in his natural position.

Shut up Sheanon

Dude. Chill out.

Speaking of Mr. Williams.

MLS officiating is atrocious. Piss-poor. Disgraceful. Embarrassing.

And it has been for a long, long time.

It has often been said that the only consistent thing about MLS officiating is that it is consistently terrible.

While that is gut-wrenching thing to have to admit about our league, it’s the truth. You just have to deal with it.

So, yes, the play in question was definitely a foul. Drew Moor launched himself into a two-footed tackle where he got about 5% ball and 95% Sheanon. Any referee with even a modicum of ability could see that it was a foul. But again, this is MLS, so expecting anything other than the worst possible decision from the official is foolish. The bumbling assistant referee waved the play on, which was especially helpful for the match referee, who was too busy conversing with a Rapids’ player to have seen the incident occur in real time.

But it was not a malicious tackle, there was no intent to injure. Rather, it was the kind of strong, committed challenge that Williams himself puts in frequently during the course of a game. There would have never been a card issued for that foul, so rub your ankle, have a little gripe at the ref and GET ON WITH IT. A brief airing of your frustrations will make you feel better and perhaps you’ll get the call next time, but that has to be as far as it goes. Williams’ reaction stepped COMPLETELY over the line (any lip readers out there?—this one isn’t too hard to decipher) and his immature inability to control his emotions, even after receiving a caution, is unacceptable.

As fans, we can only hope that this is a simple blip in a talented young player’s development and maturation and he can quickly put it in the past. After all, the team is in Chicago on Wednesday. So when they line up at PPL in a week’s time to face Houston, he will already have served his suspension and be back in the lineup.

The chicken or the egg?

Bad finishing or good defense? Which kept the Union out on Friday?

Certainly, the finishing was inadequate, and that’s putting it lightly. Both Mwanga and Le Toux need to turn on the ball much more quickly and cut down the long release times that only allow defenders to recover. Despite displaying good touch and vision, Mwanga did not appear to have any interest in turning his hips up field and having a go at the slow, 36-year-old Tyrone Marshall. Instead, he checked back and played the safe ball to his midfielders all night. Where his confidence has gone, I couldn’t tell you. He certainly felt good enough to try an audacious bicycle kick. Yet, with the ball at his feet, he failed to take his chances and attack the Rapids’ defense with the voracity we are used to seeing.

Merde. Pas encore.

And what more can you say about Le Toux other than that he is in the mother of all slumps. It’s painful to watch as he desperately works for that breakthrough goal, running harder and harder, yet continues to over-hit his passes and under-hit his shots.

But before we kill the Union forwards too much, what about the defense?

Entering the match, it seemed obvious that Wynne and Marshall are one of the weaker centerback pairings the Union will face this season. Yet, as the match played out, they had all sorts of help as the Union’s continued lack of width again reared its ugly head. With Justin Mapp cutting into the center of the field at every opportunity and Keon Daniel being a center midfielder masquerading as a winger, neither outside back Kosuke Kimura nor Drew Moor was stretched wider than the confines of their 18-yard box. Subsequently they were always on hand to add secondary pressure to any work done by a Union striker. Add the fact that Kyle Nakazawa rarely ventured over the midfield stripe and it is not hard to see why Mwanga and Le Toux were enveloped by the Colorado defense at what seemed to be every turn.

And Finally, Ruiz OUT

Following what seems like months of speculation, Carlos Ruiz has finally made his exit from the Philadelphia Union.

And honestly, so what?

That is not to say that the goals he scored will not be missed. They will be. When Ruiz actually got around to putting in the effort, he proved that he still has something left in the tank. His nose for goal was the one thing he had going for him over the other strikers on the roster. But with so many other holes in his game, the Union will be better served in the long run without him.

I wish Carlos Ruiz the best of luck wherever he ends up, but no, I’m not sad to see him go.

It is funny that in the end his biggest fan and supporter, Peter Nowak, was probably one of the main reasons for his downfall. For all of Nowak’s grandstanding about developing a team first mentality and a roster not based around a single star, the Ruiz signing represented the absolute opposite mindset from the Union coach. Regardless of his level of play, Ruiz was never likely to remain in Philadelphia for more than a year, two years max, and his selfish, me-first approach to the game spat in the face of the well-rounded, quick-passing, hard-working soccer the team had worked hard to nurture in 2010.

Perhaps, plastering his face on every inch of the Union website and the rest of the hype was simply a case of overselling the player. Or maybe, in an offseason that netted Brian Carroll, Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes, the Union’s use of their own propaganda machine to focus so heavily on Ruiz set the bar too high and he couldn’t live up to the expectations. More likely, however, is the fact that on a team of wildly friendly, outgoing players, players who appreciate the support they receive from the fans and never shy away from an opportunity to reciprocate the positivity that rains down on them from the PPL bleachers, Ruiz just didn’t care. We marvel at Sebastien Le Toux’s or Sheanon Williams’ willingness to stay on the pitch for 20 minutes following the match signing autographs and snapping photos with young fans. In his brief tenure with Union, Carlos Ruiz never even walked the pitch with his teammates following a match, regardless of the outcome. Respect is not given, it is earned, and Carlos Ruiz simply did not earn the fans respect.

So, Peter, it is time to shut the old pie hole. These most recent remarks blaming the fans are bush league, junior varsity stuff and are an embarrassment to the Union franchise. Sadly,  they are also not entirely unexpected from the coach who lives on the corner of Disillusionment Street and Egomaniac Boulevard.

Peter, you might want to write this down:

The fans made you and they can damn sure destroy you.

Without them, you’d be sitting at home waiting for Jurgen Klinsmann’s inevitable “Thanks, but no thanks” phone call.

We love our team. Never forget that. And never question it. We love the players on our team. When they succeed, we are over the moon about it. When they give it their all and come up short (most of 2010), we will stand behind them and give them the benefit of the doubt. But when they dog it and the team suffers, you’re damn sure we’re not going to sit idly by and say nothing. Because we love our team. The team that you preached was more important than any one individual.

We called Ruiz a diver not because of any preconceptions about him. We called him a diver because he dove. We called him lazy because he was. Yet when he got back from the Gold Cup with a new energy, we all acknowledged it, because he was a Union player and when he decided to give it his all, that was all we were asking for in the first place.

Photos: Paul Rudderow


  1. Good article, I agree with most of it.
    Nakazawa is quickly becoming a completely medicore MLS midfielder. you are dead on about everything, he does nothing well but everything medicore. Hopefully we finally see him ride the bench and put Torres or Marfan playing instead.
    My only gripe: no topic on Le Toux? If anything, he has gotten worse in recent games. Terrible decisions, terrible touches, he totally needs to sit.

  2. can we start calling le toux a diver

    • Le Toux is starting to let his frustrations show BIG TIME. I was disappointed with how much time he spent on the ground. He needs to get up and get onsides. I am wondering if it isn’t time to sit him for a match so he can compose himself.

      • UnionWestHamMan says:

        Its a shame… I love Le Toux but you say “starting” to let frustrations show…. I believe starting was about 5 or 6 weeks ago. I wan him to stay our main man, but his ass needs to sit a game and get his shit together. I hate seeing a grown man struggle (unless he plays for NY or DC). Hes our number 9, will be our number 9, but needs to play like a number 9

  3. i’m obviously much more of a defender of ruiz than you, eli, but i must say that if they union brought him in knowing he was a poacher and didn’t change the play to suit that then he was never going to work per se. so if they want to continue with the style they have in build up i’m fine with a different option. that said, i don’t think we have anything better at the moment and i think this will hurt unless someone else is brought in.

  4. Dead on with Naka. I still don’t get why we haven’t seen more of Michael Farfan. I assumed it was something with Nowak trying to protect rookies/young players (a la Mwanga) from getting worn out, but then there’s his brother starting.

    Interesting that there wasn’t too much play at all up the left wing until after the red card. Not sure if this was Colorado turtling or what, but it seemed like after that, both Farfans got a lot more space up the wing. I have to imagine from watching that Gabe Farfan still has pretty strong instructions (for good reason..) to err on the side of caution in pushing up the wing.

  5. This is spot on. Was Mapp intentionally trying to dribble into 3, 4 or 5 defenders? all. game. long. 2 very forgettable games for sheanon (real and this), but hopefully the game off will give him a chance to re-focus.

    A couple of bright spots from the awful loss 1. garfan looks like a real answer at FB; strong on the defensive end and a threat on offense; I thought he had the best game out of anyone in the Real game as well. 2. Roger Torres is shooting and not trying to dribble into the goal. This quick left foot needs for PT.

    When are we going to see more of Amobi? LeToux is slumping and pressing, but he is still running his tail off all game, every game. It will come for him.

  6. I like Nakazawa as a player and a person, but yes, his skill set is a little bit of everything and not enough of any one of the Union’s midfield positions to be a starter. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place on the team or a place in the game for his skills, its just hard to watch when he’s not playing the same game as everyone else. It reminds me of watching Jacobson for the Union, who has gone on to success as a box-to-box midfielder for FCD. Jacobson wasn’t a bad player – far from it – but the Union formation did not emphasize his rounded skill set.

    He probably fits better on the outside in the empty bucket 4-2-2-2 than he does in any position in this diamond midfield. Can we start pointing to that shortened roster as a continuing problem forcing personnel decisions?

  7. I’ve seen players spend an entire match jawing at the official. Williams says a bad word and gets sent off? Please. Maybe Sheanon should have sat in time out for a few minutes and then apologized for hurting the refs feelings. Makes more sense.

    I’m sick of these attention whores taking over games and putting on their own show. We’re there to see the players.

  8. Mapp has only played 90 minutes in 1/3 of his starts (obviously less in appearances). Usually he’s pulled off in the 70’s.
    Did I miss something? Especially in the first half, I saw almost no pressure on the left side of the field, so I’m not sure where the 1st half praise of Keon and Garfan comes from. I don’t think they didn’t anything badly (and Garfan did nicely defensively, probably Keon too though less noticibly), but at least Mapp gave us chances. I think he played lousy overall, but I don’t accept that Keon’s lack of chances is a substitute for failure to make use of plentiful chances. I especially won’t take that swap when we’re down 2 goals.
    Agreed with Nakazawa, I was never terribly high on him except that he is valuable for a 3rd rounder.

  9. Okugo Okugo Okugo, why the eff isn’t Okugo getting the nod over Naka? Mapp you have a hell of a shot (when you shoot) and your right foot works, just use it. Ruiz good luck but maybe now Letoux and Mwanga can create something up top. Anyone have a Idea about who we’re bringing in? friday night felt bad, really bad actually like last season frustrated, nothing was going our way bad. Williams I dont blame you, being 2 goals down at home and taking a knock like that Sh*t happens. we could pick up 6 much needed points this week put your friggin DOOP caps on boys!!!

  10. Horrible write up. “The fans made you they can destroy you” Really? No wonder you waited til the end to write that…I would have stopped reading immediately. We love our players…clearly that is not the case. Eli you just lost all credibility. Take your ego out of your writing.

  11. Eli, did you stay at a La Quinta before writing this piece. You nailed it, dude.

  12. So much to say. First, great article! I agree with most of it.

    I think Naka’s value on the pitch would be greatly increased if he started taking corners and more FK’s again. Why LT9 is taking them now makes absolutely no sense to me; he’s not good at them at all.

    Mapp certainly has his issues, but I don’t think they are his alone. EVERYONE on the team is double- and triple-touching the ball, fancy-footing it way too much in the 18 and, for some inexplicable reason, refuse to shoot the damn ball! I honestly don’t understand (1) why they aren’t shooting, and (2) why Nowak doesn’t seem to be addressing the issue. Clearly it hasn’t improved over the past several weeks.

    Give Williams a break. He works his ass off more than anyone else on the U, and it was the first time he really blew up. He’s a young kid, a great player, and a huge asset to the team. The ref overreacted and the game absolutely got away from him.

    I think Mapp either needs to sit or actually trade positions with Williams. Sheanon seems to spend more time upfield anyway, so why not let him try it out? He did start out playing as a forward. It doesn’t seem like Mapp can handle the midfield position, so why not put him in the back four?. Radical? Possibly. Would it work? No clue.

    Nowak has become a huge disappointment for me. Blaming the fans for Ruiz leaving, being so secretive about transfers and signings, his inability to settle on a consistent starting 11… I simply don’t have faith in his ability as a head coach right now.

  13. Great Piece Eli!! I would love to see the Union bring in a ball controlling midfield player to sit in front of Carrol. Akougo? Pauv? perhaps, but I would love to see a vet that still has something in their legs and can control the pace.

    Lest we forget, Seba cashed in a bunch of his goals using his greatest asset – his hustle at the end of a long pass. Let’s get someone that can make that pass.

    Couple that with the fact that middle of the field is now open because we dont have a $300k+ paperweight sitting there. I know Ruiz is a poacher, but how many goals did he potentially prevent from Mawanga and Seba because they had no where to go??

  14. Hey, Williams had all right to express himself after all his ankle could have been broken from a non call. Can’t recall Williams ever loosing his cool in any of the previous games so this tackle must have sent him over the edge. All I have to say to Williams is “WELCOME TO MLS OFFICIATING, IT SUCKS!”

  15. good piece and to a previous comment above, the reason one writes is that one has a crazy amount of emotion and enough of a ego to put it down on paper and then publish it, so Eli keep your passion in your writing, it is what makes it so great. Besides that, Did anyone notice that Torres did Ruiz’s celebration when he scored? Maybe a foreshadowing or tribute to the departing of el pescadito? The starting XI def needs some changes and the young talent the Union have should really start seeing sometimes especially with the slump that the starting XI are going through. I just do not comprehend how Mapp does not see that it is always the 2nd or 3rd defender that gets him, its a clear pattern that anyone and everyone can see and I think Nowak wants to be hated he just makes decisions that have no really merit to them just what ever he feels like throwing together and to blame someone leaving on the fans. When can we run him out of town?

  16. Has anybody realized that Ruiz requested a transfer? It wasnt the Union FO that wanted him gone…Ruiz did not want to play for the Union fans. Typical arogant Philly fans…yeah we are in second place with two games in hand…lets get rid of our coach!!! He obviously isnt doing something right!!! Stay classy Philly!!!

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