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Analysis and player ratings: Union 4-4 Revolution

Photo: Paul Rudderow

As far as first starts go it was not what Zac MacMath would have wanted, but it was certainly not a contest he will forget anytime soon. The rookie goalkeeper will fondly remember the night the Union stormed back from 4-1 down in the second half to earn a gritty point.

He will also have to remember picking the ball out of his net four times before the halftime whistle in his home debut. Whether the knowledge that none of the goals were really his fault will offer solace only he will know.

Freddy Rising

Deployed alongside fellow playmaker Roger Torres, Freddy Adu and the Union midfield found the long-missing ability to unlock a defense. On multiple occasions in the early going, Adu and Torres were able to play both Sebastien Le Toux and Veljko Paunovic in behind the Revs’ defense. Neither could come good on any of their wide-open chances however, with Le Toux striking into Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis’ body and Paunovic missing the frame entirely.

For a Union team that has failed to create a sufficient volume of high-quality chances, the creativity and intent shown by the midfield  pair should earn them time together, as they will force defenses to cope with teasing balls played in from multiple angles. When defenders are made to concentrate on the two midfielders, fewer numbers will remain to mark the strikers, creating more space and opportunity for the men up front.

Whether both line up in the center in front of Brian Carroll, or whether Adu continues to attack from the wing, the threat they pose in tandem is worth exploring.

Crosses falling…

…To wide open Revolution players. Two Chris Tierney crosses found the heads of unmarked teammates as the Revolution built their first half lead on Wednesday night.

First, Sheanon Williams ate AJ Soares’ dust as the defender raced into the Union box to nod home Tierney’s free kick in the ninth minute. Next, Gabriel Farfan lost Moncef Zerka and was forced to watch Tierney’s 25th minute cross land on the Moroccan’s head for New England’s third.

With the dangerous domes of Kenny Cooper and Chad Marshall looming over the next two matches, the Union need to rededicate their efforts to winning physical, aerial challenges. There is only so much that can be done in practice. Once the players cross that white line, the onus falls on them to find a man and put a body on him. Plain and simple.

The Penalty…

…To New England, that is. Whether you agree with the penalty call or not, Migs simply cannot fly into a challenge in his own box with his boot raised, studs exposed. Yes, the contact was minimal. Yes, Lekic oversold it to the referee.

The fact remains, the decision to make a chest high challenge in the box gave the ref very little choice but to point to the spot.

Attack from the back

Over the last few matches, Sheanon Williams has been hell-bent on getting himself not just up the pitch, but into the box where he can kick-start the offense all by his lonesome. For even longer, Carlos Valdes has lingered around the penalty area after free kicks and corners, trying to get a sniff of the goal not only from dead balls but from open play.

The Union have given up more than one goal in all of their last four league matches and with Columbus and Kansas City on the horizon, the defense needs to stay home and rediscover its solidity against Portland. Explosive runs up the flanks are one thing, but loitering in the attacking third and cutting into the box like a striker are all together different things.

None of these attacking forays have led directly to a goal. And with the defense leaking oil as they enter the home stretch, they cannot be helping a brand-new, fresh out of the box goalkeeper trying to gain confidence in the net behind them.

Roaring back

There was no quit from the men in Navy and Gold despite the lopsided scoreline at the half. Revs’ manager Steve Nicol left both strikers up top, suggesting that New England would not pack it in and defend their lead. But the Union had other ideas. And as the Revolution sunk deeper, the Union midfield grew in confidence with a return to the quick passing game from days of yore (last year counts as yore). Dictating the play in a manner we have seldom seen over the past months, the Union showed MLS and themselves what they are capable of when they commit themselves to controlling possession and attacking.

The key now is to find that higher gear from the opening whistle and make Portland, then Columbus, then Kansas City pay.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 5

While none of the four goals can be attributed to mistakes by the youngster, his nerves showed through as the Revolution’s advantage grew. Whether it was miscommunication with his backline on flighted balls or his tendency to overshoot on his service up field, MacMath looked every bit the anxious rookie on Wednesday night. The good news is that he’s athletic, smart and has an immensely powerful leg and once the kinks are ironed out, he should be just fine.

Gabriel Farfan – 3

A night to forget for the left back as it was his unnecessary foul that created the free kick for New England’s first goal and later his poor positioning that allowed for their third. Reinstated into the starting lineup after missing out against RSL, Garfan struggled to contain Moncef Zerka throughout the first half, and the Moroccan international won the majority of their exchanges. The recent trend of the Union backline to wander too far forward in search of goalscoring glory has spread to Garfan and he would do well as a non-natural defender to focus on the defensive traits that earned him the job in the first place.

Danny Califf – 5.5

With his defensive teammates trying to do too much to spur the attack, it falls to Danny Califf as the organizer of the defense and team captain to restore order to the backline. Early in the season, much was made of how Valdes’ speed and distribution made Califf a better player, and now that Valdes is struggling for form, it is up to the veteran leader to reorganize the line and return the Union defense to their stingy best.

Carlos Valdes – 4.5

The unflappable composure that was the trademark of Valdes’ first half of the season has worn thin of late. Unfortunately, the hope that his one game suspension would bring him back rested and refocused did not prove true, as he was bullied by both Lekic and Carraglio. While he did not make any high-profile mistakes, it was Valdes’ soft clearance that allowed Tierney to cross into the box for Zerka’s headed goal.

Sheanon Williams – 4.5

Left for dead on Soares’ opener, Williams spent most of his night trying to get forward. He and Freddy Adu were not on the same page, though, with the midfielder consistently cutting away from the touchline, wasting the hard running of the Union outside back. The Sheanomenon needs to pick his spots a bit better not just when it comes to getting forward, but  when to stay forward, as he often lingered too long in the attack.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 3.5

See above. Keep your arms and legs down inside the box.

Brian Carroll – 6

Carroll still looks more comfortable on his own than with a partner. Despite playing in his first game since having recovered from a foot injury, Carroll worked a tireless 90 minute shift and played a vital deep-lying distributor role during the Union’s comeback. With Miglioranzi positioned slightly ahead of Carroll, the Union number 7 struggled to maintain a high enough line with players collapsing in in front of him. It must be said that he should have done better to pressure Benny Feilhaber on New England’s fourth goal, but all in all, he helped the Union make the most they could out of a bad situation once the hole was dug.

Freddy Adu – 7.5

It was his first full 90 for the Union and Adu grew throughout the game. Again deployed outside, this time on the right, Adu did not look comfortable until he cut the ball back towards the middle of the park on his left foot. This deprived the Union of width and caused the majority of Sheanon Williams runs to be for naught. But once in the middle of the field, Adu enjoyed an immediate chemistry with Roger Torres and their swift-passing game bodes well for the future. His first goal with the Union was calmly and confidently struck. With the midfield stretched as the Revolution tried to park the bus, Adu found a lot of joy late in the match after Torres’ departure made him the main provider. Adu has yet to feature in middle of the pitch, where he would have complete creative control, but now that his first full match is behind him, that time may be coming.

Roger Torres – 7

In the stunned aftermath of New England’s first three goals, Roger Torres gave his all to inspire a midfield that had fallen static around him. He threw his weight into Shalrie Joseph, dropped deep to look for work, endeavored to put Paunovic and Le Toux into space, all before he turned smartly and placed a curling shot beyond Matt Reis. True he turned the ball over, but that is an inevitable outcome when a creative player seeks to pick out the final ball and create goalscoring opportunities for himself and others. The 2010 Torres has been replaced by a smarter, more savvy model and if he and Adu continue to see minutes together, the danger of their partnership will grow.

Sebastien Le Toux – 7

Le Toux was on his way to a low rating. The Union hitman was having another tough night with his touch before his renowned work ethic earned him the penalty kick that he calmly converted for the Union’s third goal. Imbued with new confidence as he raced the ball back to the center stripe, Le Toux did not cease to look menacing until his stoppage time volley made the comeback complete. Following a 2010 season where he was allowed to race in behind defenders at will and was therefore less intrinsic to the possession game, Le Toux’s continued struggles with the ball at his feet are magnified in 2011 with him in midfield. Hopefully now that he is beginning to find the back of the net with greater frequency, his confident touch will return.

Veljko Paunovic – 5.5

His knock down saved the day, but again Paunovic disappeared too frequently and was not the lynchpin of the attack that you would hope a lone striker would be. Paunovic does, however, remain the only consistent aerial threat in the attacking third as he never shies away from a challenge. In a normal game, perhaps he would have been one of the substitutes, as it is always a tough task to play a forward as a solitary striker, but with the scenario the Union set up for themselves, it was all attacking hands on deck.

Danny Mwanga – 5.5

Whether his teammates need to get him the ball with greater frequency or whether he needs to take it on himself to go get it, that is a discussion for another day. What is clear is that Mwanga makes good things happen with the ball at his feet and he needs more touches. The vision to direct the ball through to Freddy Adu for the Union’s second goal was excellent and for the Union to make a run towards the playoffs, they need to help Danny find his confidence. When confronted with a pass-shoot decision later in the match, Mwanga backed himself (much to the chagrin of Paunovic, who had made a good run into the box) and had a crack on Reis’ cage. But the effort lacked the usual conviction and a great chance went begging.

Justin Mapp – 5

When he entered the fray, the stretched midfield was perfectly suited to Mapp’s long runs. While he did not bag himself a goal or assist, his value on the night was racing the ball back at New England. The Revs were given no time to gather themselves after a defensive clearance with Mapp charging back up the field looking to launch the next wave of attack.

Michael Farfan – 4

He’s not a left-sided player, and unlike Mapp or Adu, he’s not a player who prefers to cut into the middle of the field from the opposite wing. Marfan is a winger in a much truer sense, hugging the touchline and trying to beat players to the endline where he can serve the ball into the box. The best of his abilities are wasted on the left, whether at fullback or midfield, and he again struggled to influence the game from the left side of the pitch.

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