Featured / Player ratings / Union

Player ratings & analysis: Union 1-2 Rapids

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The Philadelphia Union’s 2–1 loss at home on Friday night was overshadowed by Peter Nowak’s post-game comments.

And that is probably a good thing.

Scenes of 2010

The team that was so impressive in two international friendlies failed to show up on Friday night. Instead, the 2010 Union gave away possession, played disjointed defense, and struggled in front of net.

Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux were partnered in front of Kyle Nakazawa. Each member of the trio has had it’s ups and down this season, but the hope was that together they could produce. It was not to be.

Kyle Nakazawa has succeeded when he embodies the Union’s approach as a team: Hard-nosed defense, unselfish offense, and no let downs. Nakazawa was already struggling to impact the match when he let Pablo Mastroeni slip by him on a throw in. The Rapids midfielder’s fine juke and finish left Nakazawa angrily blaming himself as Faryd Mondragon offered external confirmation that the young midfielder was the guilty party.

Naka v Torres

It might be useful to compare Nakazawa’s approach to the attacking midfield role with that of Roger Torres, who was tapped to replace Naka at halftime. Nakazawa sat in the middle and waited for a Colorado midfielder to commit to Califf or Valdes as they advanced the ball. Naka would then dart into space to receive a pass and, presumably, start the offense. What actually happened was the patient Rapids midfielders forced the Union’s center backs to play deep balls, and Nakazawa chose to play the way he was facing even when given space to turn.

Torres was more effective by dropping deeper to receive the ball from his backs. This created space for him to look upfield and draw the Colorado midfielders out of position. While this has always been Torres’ strategy, he is exhibiting more responsibility with the ball these days. And it has made him much more dangerous. It has also showed his teammates they can trust him to make the right decisions. Torres is still prone to the useless pop-up pass, but at least it isn’t the first option anymore.

Be simple, not perfect

Although Peter Nowak blamed the fans and media for Carlos Ruiz’s exit, PSP has recognized the Guatemalan’s improved play over recent weeks. In particular, Ruiz has been the outlet that Justin Mapp never really became. His ability to fend off defenders and control deep balls has greatly contributed to the Union’s rising possession numbers.

Mapp had one of his more effective outings as an outlet, but his involvement generates quick counterattacks, not extended periods of possession. A big reason for this is Mapp’s desire to find the perfect pass when a simple one will do. Kyle Nakazawa won’t look up, Justin Mapp won’t look at what is right in front of him.

Was there anything to be positive about?

But there were bright spots on Friday. Torres and Michael Farfan had immediate positive impacts as subs, and Gabe Farfan had another strong defensive performance. The fight the Union showed in the second half is the kind of thing we’ve come to always expect from the Union and is part of the foundation laid down by the team—and its supporters—from the beginning of its short history. It is thrilling, and entertaining, and ever to be admired. Unfortunately, save for the late Torres strike, the finishing, or lack there of, is also something that we’ve come to expect.

A matchup against the bottom-feeding Fire on Wednesday is a good chance to get back on track, but with Ruiz gone and the midfield still in flux the second place Union are a team in transition at the midpoint of the 2011 season.

The red card.

What can you say about it? This is the same ref who saw nothing when Michael Farfan was mugged in the Real Salt Lake match. Now a defender comes over the ball on a tackle and, again, nothing. A league that has had the injury problems of MLS needs referees to follow plays more closely than perhaps the general guidelines dictate. Also, if a player is walking away there is never a need to run in front of him. That is confrontational behavior and should not be in any ref’s repertoire.

Player Ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 5
The Mastroeni goal was the first shot on goal for either team. The Dragon had no chance at either Colorado shot, but he did his best to rally the troops when heads dropped going into the end of the half.

Sheanon Williams – 2
I won’t blame Sheanon for his initial reaction to the uncalled foul or the yellow card. The referee was confrontational and incredibly quick to card, given his non-reaction to the foul on Williams. But the team knows this ref and knows that he loves to be the center of attention. When you see him coming, just walk away.

Carlos Valdes – 5
Valdes spent a lot of time on the ball and was visibly frustrated by a lack of options in the first half. But no frustration should lead you to force passes into tight spaces and take off upfield. Valdes had a great chance to tie the match at the death, but he hit Matt Pickens in the hands.

Danny Califf – 5
A few opportunities to score went wanting for Califf, but he took care of the Colorado attack. What can Califf do if midfielders are allowed to run at him unopposed? Not much. Califf is a leader though, and he was already pointing out areas to improve on in the locker room after the game.

Gabriel Farfan – 7
He didn’t get forward as much as he has in the past, but that was a function of the Union’s trouble possession of the ball. Garfan showed fantastic tackling ability when challenged and continues to look like he can lock up the left back spot. His locker has been moved next to Sheanon’s.

Justin Mapp – 4
He got the ball deep when he had it, but it was clear that Mapp was struggling to read the runs of his teammates. Crosses were short, passes were into tight spaces, and the confidence to take people on was lacking. Still, he showed flashes of the game-changer he has been in the past.

Brian Carroll – 6
Asked to distribute by a skittish Nakazawa, Carroll looked less comfortable than in recent weeks. Playing very deep, he gave up a lot of space to a Rapids midfield that had no intention of coming forward until it was time to receive a cross.

Kyle Nakazawa – 2
A really rough one for Naka. Nothing went right from moment one, and he will have to watch that Mastroeni goal multiple times on replay.

Keon Daniel – 6
Daniel was not bad. But with Michael Farfan clearly deemed a dynamic force that would change the flow of the match, it was Keon who took a seat at the half. While his calmness and responsible play seem like positives to fans, the coach obviously wants something more from the talented Trinidad international.

Sebastien Le Toux – 4
Le Toux’s improved form in recent weeks has come in large part from his willingness to get off the ball and make less direct runs. He found good spaces on Friday, but returned to his flawed do-it-all approach. Aside from almost costing the team a goal late in the match, it put Seba on a different page from Torres and Marfan, through whom the offense clearly should have flowed in the second half.

Danny Mwanga – 5
With Marvelle Wynne tattooed to his tailbone, Mwanga looked to distribute more than drive at goal. It made him less of a threat—something he acknowledged after the match—and should be a learning experience for the young striker. Going forward, he should get the minutes he wants, and that means he must learn to demand the ball and shoot when he sees light.

Roger Torres – 8
A fine, fine goal capped a strong showing from Torres. The desire to have the ball, coupled with a willingness to give it up when passing options become apparent, point to a more mature player who can see the long-term benefits of simple play.

Michael Farfan – 7
He should have scored to open the second half, but a poor miss didn’t stop Marfan from pushing play and looking to make an impact. Along with Torres he clearly set the tone for the Union after the break.

Veljko Paunovic – 7
Paunovic was operating in the same space as Torres. Luckily, Roger pushed forward to give the two middies room to operate, and Paunovic did well to find gaps and play simple balls to more dynamic players. His most impressive contribution was a first time shot that was handballed down moments after he came on. Someone on the team had to show the rest of the squad that it was alright to shoot. Paunovic did that.


  1. Marfan HAS to bury that shot.. if he does the WHOLE dynamic of that match is changed.

  2. PhillyHotspur says:

    I’m not going to get to down on Friday’s results.

    We dominated possession and had a majority of the opportunities , but couldn’t finish & lose the game on two great finishes……Futbol in a nuthshell

    Unlike dog-fight games that are up and down where Ruiz would stand around and be useless……….the club could have really used his leverage clinical finishing and nose for the back of the net.

    This is where Fat Chooch will be missed the most….IMO.

    YO NOWAK ….Word on the street is the mighty Union made close to a Half-Million on the pending Ruiz sale………Funny how you blame the fans meanwhile it pads the club’s back-pocket and their P&L. What a w@nker move

    • I tend to think many fans dont understand the true dynamic of the Ruiz move…look at it this way. If a player does not want to play for a team any longer wouldnt it make sense for the team to get as much money they could for said player? I tend to think that Ruiz requesed the transfer and good business says sell to the highest bidder. Ruiz prolly said to the Union FO I want a transfer because the fans dont like me…

      • I believe if Nowak valued the player, even if he wants a trade/raise, Nowak should tell him that he’s under contract until the end of the season and that’s it.
        We’re not rebuilding, we’re projecting to 5th place (overall) right now, which, considering the 7th seed won the MLS cup last season, tells me we’re legit contenders. No time to sell off your leading goalscorer

  3. If Harvey never got above a 6 for good defense and limited offense, then Garfan shouldn’t get a 7 for make a couple nice tackles and barely ever getting up field.
    I also thought Marfan was rather lousy, skying that shot when he was too close for that to be common, and he turned the ball over a number of times with bad passes late in the game. Maybe I was just in a bad mood, because no one else seems to have noticed that

  4. Giving Nakazawa a 2 is incredibly generous…

  5. I’d like to know what Mwanga did to earn a 5 while Le Toux got a 4. Mwanga had a terrible game, appearing lazy and disinterested. He gave up on plays before they were through and when he should have been available to receive the final pass, he was nowhere to be found. This is a player with a lot of developing left to do, not a 90-minute man.

  6. Why can Mwanga never get on a cross? He has shown a stunning inability to get a head on balls and finish in front of net. His long shots have been incredible and he has made some nice dribbling maneuvers but if he took anything away from Ruiz, it should have been to just get on the ball and pound it home in front.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: