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Analysis and player ratings: RSL 2-1 Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Justin Mapp was active, involved and positive. Sebastien Le Toux scored a fine open-play goal. Zac MacMath played 45 minutes of shutout ball and saved a breakaway.

And the Union still lost.

No shots, but who to blame?

An indifferent opening half-hour turned into a desperate chase for a tying goal. The only thing missing? Any actual shots on goal.

This is a particularly difficult loss to take because there were no pointedly awful performances. Scapegoats: We have none.

There were absentees (Pauno), passives (Okugo, Marfan), and miscommunicators (Califf, Miglioranzi). But every game has these. The natural ebb and flow of a match and player form means someone will inevitably be better or worse than their average each game. What worries is that this team no longer appears to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Beckerman breaks them down

In their first matchup, the Union sought to neutralize Kyle Beckerman’s influence by deploying a diamond formation that allowed Kyle Nakazawa to step forward (and Seba Le Toux to step back) and bracket the RSL playmaker. Brian Carroll kept Andy Williams out of commission while Keon Daniel did his usual suffocation job on Luis Gil.

Last night, Jason Kreis made adjustments—both for tactical and personnel availability reasons—that freed up Beckerman and kept the Union midfield pinned too deep. Gil, Williams and, at times, Collen Warner were allowed to run into the spaces Fabian Espindola vacated with his runs across formation. With those three midfielders pushing high, Amobi Okugo and Kyle Nakazawa were dropping deep to either cover or cut off lanes.

The midfield! Take it, it’s yours!

When Brian Carroll is in a match, you can be sure the opposing midfielders know where he is at all times. This is what Amobi Okugo has to aim for. Andy Williams was the only RSL middie to suffer any fouls last night. As a young midfield playing against an experienced group—and a precocious youngster in Gil—neither Okugo nor Naka gave Real Salt Lake any indication that they were hungry and trying to make their mark.

And early in the year, this was what largely distinguished Union performances. The team was determined to leave their mark wherever they went. LA certainly has scrapes and bruises as tattooed reminders of Philadelphia’s trip to the City of Angels.

Returning to last night,  Justin Mapp and Sebastien Le Toux compensated for the deep-lying center middies by trying to cut off supply to Beckerman, which opened up space for Tony Beltran and Robbie Russell to exploit on the wings. And their involvement meant the Union were often leaving Danny Mwanga stranded alone up top on the counter attack.

Mwanga overthinks it

Mwanga has yet to find himself as a lone target forward. His movement remains reactionary rather than instinctual, and this allows MLS defenders to read his intentions and stay touch-tight as he checks back or offers an outlet run.

Both Carlos Ruiz (when willing) and Alejandro Moreno before him were excellent at reading the game during a counterattack and making runs to open space or guessing where a defender would angle a long clearance. It’s something that you would hesitate to call a skill if certain players didn’t do it so darn consistently.

In summary, Jason Kreis got a much improved performance out of his team this time around. Peter Nowak did not.

Positives

But that isn’t to say there weren’t a host of positives to take from this match. Justin Mapp’s performance was several levels above what we have seen lately. It is difficult not to look at Beckerman’s performance on Saturday and see exactly the sort of contributions that the Union expect from Justin Mapp. A goal from nothing, good corner kick deliveries, and a consistent hub around which the offense could build. Mapp was a dangerous player for extended periods of time yesterday. He looked to beat Tony Beltran for speed and he was patient with his crossing.

MacDaddy

The other big performance of note came from Zac MacMath. A goalie’s first MLS action will always be tough. But first action on the road? Against a high quality side? At half-time? With your side pushing for an equalizer?

That’s the rookie goalie equivalent of the dream where you show up for your first day of school naked.

MacMath handled himself with poise and confidence, looking like a veteran as he strode through the melee to claim a corner kick. It was a performance that will ease minds with the specter of a late season run without the team’s mental and vocal leader. Mondragon officially has a finger injury, with unconfirmed reports calling it a right ring finger break.

Captain Califf

And so, finally, we turn to Bear Fight. Danny Califf has had an excellent season. He opened the team’s scoring with a goal at Houston and has remained a rock at the back of one of the league’s best defenses all year. Maybe he was just more comfortable next to Carlos Valdes. Or perhaps Faryd Mondragon wearing the captain’s armband allowed Califf to focus more on his own game, letting the animated goalie handle the vocal side of leadership.

If Mondragon is out for an extended period of time, the armband should return to Califf. And he will be the face of the team as they hit the stretch run and fight for a playoff spot. He has the unquestioning respect of every face in the locker room. Now can he get them to rally behind him in time to lasso a spot in the postseason?

Will the 2011 team live up to it’s early promise? Only if the 2010 captain can lead them to the promised land.

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 7

The Dragon made one spectacular save and gave up two goals that can hardly fall on his shoulders. The back four looked disorganized at times, and perhaps Mondragon will use his injury layoff to examine the team from afar and figure out how to fix some of the holes that have developed.

Sheanon Williams – 6

A fine offensive performance was somewhat neutralized by defensive lapses. Espindola had his way with Williams early, although the defender’s speed allowed him to recover. Williams was outmatched trying to mark Schuler on the second goal, and he and Miglioranzi left a few lanes open for through balls. But through it all, Sheanon was involved in the offense and he was the spark that kept hope alive during the final 15 minutes.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 6

It can be easy to heap blame on Migs, but he put in a fine shift on Saturday. His pass that hit Espindola’s head and his take down of Arnaux in the box were tense moments, but considering that the Union were pushing for a second goal the entire second half and still only had about 50% possession, the defense giving up no goals from open play is a fine return. It would be nice to see Migs get more aggressive on offensive set pieces, as he seems to have a nose for aerial balls in the defensive end.

Danny Califf – 6

Cleared one off the line and fought all game to keep his makeshift back line intact. It was a struggle at times, but Bear Fight worked his tail off for 90 minutes and mixed it up on offensive set pieces. The miscommunications between Migs and Califf highlight just how well Danny and Carlos Valdes have meshed this season.

Michael Farfan – 5

After a horrific first half hour defensively, Marfan put his big boy pants on and shut up shop on the left side of defense. RSL ceased to explore his side after the first half hour, and he showed more bite in the second half when they returned to test him again. The team’s inability to hold possession for extended periods of time kept Marfan from getting as involved in the offense as would have been expected.

Justin Mapp – 8

An assist. And that’s really just the sort of performance we look for from Mapp. Putting in crosses, keeping the defense aware of him, limiting his midfield dribbling. Yes, more of this please.

Kyle Nakazawa – 6

I wonder what Nakazawa thinks when he puts a 40 yard curling free kick behind the defensive line and it bounces harmlessly out of bounds. I mean, he can’t think, “Gotta do better.” Because he can’t. That’s the most dangerous place to put a free kick. There should be three or four attackers on the end of that. Can we get Naka one of those referee spray bottles so he can run in and mark off the spot that he wants people to run to? Would that help?

Amobi Okugo – 4

This rating is based on expectations. Okugo is strong, fast and a good passer. Even if he has trouble reading the game, as he did in the first half, he should be making the midfield his own. Nobody should get through the middle without going through Okugo. Take a few fouls, get up close to a few guys, check in to your backs early and often so you get into the rhythm of the game. Early touches are what it’s all about. Amobi: When you are in there, it’s your midfield. All of it. Never forget that!

Sebastien Le Toux – 7

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLL!!!!

Veljko Paunovic – n/a

Danny Mwanga – 4

Mwanga’s night can be summed up on the play where he checked in to try and play a one-timer to Sheanon Williams, who had nothing but space up the wing. Olave slid in from behind and deflected Mwanga’s pass, sending the striker sprawling. Olave and Schuler were certain they had Mwanga figured out all night and he did nothing to prove them wrong. You get the sense Mwanga tries to play “the right way” sometimes when he should let his instincts take over.

Roger Torres/Freddy Adu – 3

I still don’t understand Peter Nowak’s subbing policy. First you put a diminutive midfielder in the middle to kickstart the offense… then you put another diminutive midfielder in the middle to kickstart the offense. Now neither of them knows where to go or what to do. So Freddy Adu ends up hanging out in the space that used to be available for Sheanon’s runs. And now Torres isn’t demanding the ball. And now you have a striker sitting on the bench…

Zac MacMath – 8

It wasn’t easy. But he made it look natural. Yeah, I come to Salt Lake City and deal with breakaways and corner kicks all the time. Many questioned whether MacMath was the right pick for the Union in the 2011 draft. Now all us doubters are just hoping to be proved wrong.

5 Comments

  1. Okugo gets a 4? He puts the nice ball to Mapp to generate the offense that gets our only goal and is in no fault on either goal given up…a 4? The guy is a phenomal 1 v 1 defender and showed it multiple times when RSL countered and every time the ball goes through his feet to start the offense the team looks dangerous. A 4? LeToux had the goal but his game was trash the rest of the time. The subs were ridiculous, once Adu and Torres came in, the game was over.

  2. Grades are way too high for a loss

    • The grades speak to the issue. The players are doing their job. The formation and organization of the personnel being put out on the field is not. How can we expect a team to win when they are moving formations, altering personnel and changing tactics EVERY game and sometimes during the same game. Watching the team that comes out of the locker room or off the bench every game makes me think I’m either stuck in multiple dimensions or am schizofrenic.

  3. Andrew Desiderio says:

    Mapp was terrible other than the assist…Beckerman is a worker who clogs up the middle and distributes whereas Mapp stands out wide and constantly gives the ball away…not seeing the comparison there. Watching Union games over the last 5-6 matches really is getting painful and I simply don’t get the personnel decisions. On a positive note I think MacMath looked sharp

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