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Analysis and player ratings: Union 0-0 Timbers

Photo: Earl Gardner

That starting line up…made a lot of sense

One of the major frustrations this season has been the instability in the starting line up. Lately, a lot of the comments on the PSP addressing how it sometimes takes until the second half for Nowak to put out a line up that many would like to see as the starting XI. Against Portland, the starting line up was one most of us would put out every week.

After Wednesday’s defensive nightmare where Philadelphia actually started with two holding midfielders in Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi and still gave up four first half goals, Migs was dropped in favor of an offensive player in Danny Mwanga. Carroll was left to do the defensive midfield role on his own, which is the way he seems to be most effective. Roger Torres and Freddy Adu were handed their second straight starts after some decent play on Wednesday.

It was good to see Nowak going with a positive line up against an opponent that seemed likely to be happy with a draw. Whether or not that line up was a success is largely debatable—many will look at the goose egg on the scoreboard and say that it was not. But it was a sensible, positive line up and it gave up no goals.

Michael Farfan is a very good outside midfielder…

But when he starts at left back, he struggles. Matched up against the speedy Sal Zizzo for most of the evening, Marfan had issues matching the pace of the midfielder and occasionally found himself too far up the sideline, shirking his defensive duties. He was completely undressed by Kenny Cooper on the dribble in the first half—while Cooper has many talents as a target forward, his one-on-one dribbling is not what he’s known for—and he was caught out late in the second half when Cooper almost stole the game for Portland on the break.

When Marfan does get the ball in forward positions, he is a very positive player. His own one-on-one dribbling is fantastic. Twice he took on multiple Portland players around the Timbers’ penalty area and got the best of them, serving up decent balls that the Union just couldn’t connect with. His left-footed delivery from the extreme wide positions probably left a little to desired, as a few times they drifted long over the Philadelphia players in the box. But as a right-footed player playing out of position, can we really expect perfection yet?

Freddy Adu…Where are you?

We were all hoping to see Adu as the driving force in an offense that so sorely needs a driving force, particularly after his promising play against New England. Unfortunately, against Portland we saw what was perhaps Adu’s most disappointing performance for the Union so far. He appeared reluctant to press forward on occasion, content instead to find easy passes and backwards balls, although he did provide a glimpse of his ability on the ball just seconds before he was subbed out. His cheeky step over moves on the right side of the Portland box were impressive, as was his service on the play, whipping in a low cross from his dangerous left foot. But those moments were too few and far between.

Look before you cross

A friend sent along this conversation overheard in section 119:

“The Union are the team most likely to get hit by traffic.”


“They never look before they cross.”

Michael Farfan, Roger Torres, Justin Mapp, Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux, and Veljko Paunovic, I’m looking at you.

Player Ratings:

Zac MacMath – 8

MacMath has to feel relieved after giving up four first half goals on Wednesday to get his first clean sheet so quickly afterwards. MacMath was confident (maybe too confident) coming off his line to close down defenders. He had a good save on Perlaza in the first half. His handling was comfortable, as he held on to crosses cleanly and snuffed out some Kenny Cooper shots from distance.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Reliable performance from the right back. Did a ton of running down the wing without seeing much of the ball. Had some decent combinations with Le Toux and Paunovic. Had probably ten chances to use his long thrown in with varying amounts of success.

Danny Califf – 7

Reliable in the center of the park. Left to deal with any balls in the air that were not toward the Cooper/Valdes match up, he did well to control his area.

Carlos Valdes – 7

After a few shaky performances from the center back, a better effort against Portland. Valdes did well do match the physicality of Kenny Cooper and was largely able to keep the big striker at bay. Cooper saw few balls played into his feet and Valdes did at least well enough to neutralize his aerial threat. He was beaten a little too easily on Perlaza’s first half chance.

Michael Farfan – 5

Marfan’s rating is probably more like a 7 or 8 for offense and a 3 or 4 for defense. As was said above, his offensive contribution was admirable from outside back, with some cheeky one-on-one dribbling and generally solid service. But defensively, he was out of position on multiple occasions and was too easily beaten off the dribble.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Should have kept his shot on target in the first half when Torres found him in the box. My notes from the game don’t contain a single mention of Le Toux in the second half.

Freddy Adu – 5

Simply not effective enough: reluctant to take on players; offered little quality service.; left multiple passes too soft for teammates. After 90 minutes on Wednesday, the admittedly not fully fit midfielder just may not have had enough in the tank to offer much on Saturday.

Brian Carroll – 7

Reliable performance as the lone holding midfielder. Covered a ton of ground tracking in the midfield against Jewsbury, Alhassan and Zizzo. Did well in his job to move the ball from the defenders to Adu and Torres. Was responsible, however, for giving the ball away late in the game, leading to Cooper’s chance.

Roger Torres –  7

Still looks for too many balls over the top, but Torres is one of the only players looking to advance the ball with any pace. Did well to find Le Toux to create his chance in the first half. Decent on set pieces.

Veljko Paunovic – 5

Another player who looked tired after a 90 minute shift on Wednesday, Paunovic put in the kind of performance that has become to familiar as of late, drifting in and out of the game, going for stretches with no touches at all. Playing against a tall team like Portland, his aerial prowess was neutralized and he couldn’t knock down headers in the offensive third.

Danny Mwanga – 5

Mwanga looked lost for most of the match as he could not find his usual space around the opposing box. With no goals in 11 games, is he low on confidence after being in and out of the line up for stretches of the season?


Justin Mapp – 6

Is Mapp more effective coming off the bench? A semi-fast player who likes to take people on certainly makes sense against tired legs. More of what we’ve come to expect from Mapp though—mazy dribbling, sometimes with an extra touch or three, with occasional good service. His ball in the 88th minute to Nakazawa should have been an assist on the game winning goal but Naka hit it off the bar.

Jack McInerney – 3

Did the guy get a touch in close to 30 minutes? It sure didn’t feel like it.

Kyle Nakazawa – 3

That would have been huge, dude.


  1. – Overall the lineup was finally something I agreed with. However, I believe the person who played himself out of it is Pauno. One, He is slow (being beaten to that ball in the corner when he had a 10 step head start was pathetic). As a striker, he can’t finish (when he even gets in position too, which isn’t often). But most importantly, he plays like a midfielder. Drifts too often, he would rather deliver the final ball than be on the end of it. With Torres/Adu/Le Toux, Pauno is redundant. I would like to see Jack Mac or Le Toux replace him next to Mwanga.
    – I really thought Torres deserved an 8. I was disappointed you didn’t mention how he tracked back more than he used too. I think he even made a few tackles. He is totally growing and we NEED to purchase him for the future. His dribbling on the one run he had through the middle was nice too.
    – Nowak’s handling of the LB situation is borderline irresponsible. He won’t even let Gabe stay there – to grow – and has put Mike there the past two games because of training performances!? That’s ridiculous.
    – On that topic, if we don’t get a real LB, we might as well play a 3-5-2 with the Farfans on the wings – maybe as wingbacks.

    ——Valdes – Williams – Califf
    Garfan — Adu — Carroll — Torres — Marfan
    ———Le Toux —— Mwanga——

    – On the topic of Marfan, can we get highlights of his two sickening jukes!? Those are GIF opportunities for sure.

    • I like the idea of the 3 person back line, although that will limit Shaenon’s ability to press forward. However, one thing I think we have seen in the past few games is the LeToux is more effective from the wing/attacking MF position. He is much better running at the D with more of the field in front of him. Also, if playing 5 MF’s, why not play Amobi instead of one of the Farfans? I think he would be more willing to ensure he was back on D.

      • True but my decision was based more on needing coverage on the wings with a 3 person backline. The Farfans at least have some experience playing D (thanks to Nowak!) and if we give them the role of a wingback – tailored to getting forward – I believe that will cover our flanks. Also, Carroll does best when he is the sole defensive mid. Also, replacing a Farfan insinuates playing Torres or Adu on the wing, which is NOT their best position.

    • That’s good stuff there James! Hah! I hope your just joking about the 3 man back line? Where have Jack Mac and Mwanga gone? Did anybody else see Nakazawa’s eyes pop out of his head? Like he never took a shot before…Gotta win the game Nakazawa! Cmon man!!! Torres plays with heart and I appreciate that and his work the last couple of games, thanks Roger!!!

      • Sadly right now I think LB is THE liability on the team. Even Twellman said like 5 times during the game that Williams and Farfan can’t be forward at the same time, and that means Williams needs to stay back anyway because the Farfans get caught out of position a ton. I just think the LB situation is so much of a flaw that a 3 person backline is a reasonable alternative – if we do it right.
        And I agree about Roger. He is the kind of player who makes up for his flaws – his vision and ability to dribble on the ball is so good right now we can overlook the occasional low percentage pass. I just hope we buy him for good.

      • In a three man backline, gotta have the biggest body in the middle. So Valdes left, Williams right, DC in the middle.

        That said, it wouldnt be a bad experiment in June. But in September…

      • Haha has Nowak showed any sign of stopping his experiments? Every game is a chance to experiment to him!

      • @james – truth

  2. On Willliams’ throw ins they need a tall player closer to Williams who can flick the ball on. Too many of his throw ins were too easily cleared by the Timbers since all our players were too far back.

    Letoux, Pauvnovic and Nwanga are all tall and should be able to get many more headers!!!!! It is just incredible that a professional does not head better since it is such a powerful attacking asset.

  3. In the PSP non-soccer reference pool, Adam had Hakeem the Dream at 25,000 to 1 odds.

  4. I think Adu was reluctant to press forward because he got absolutely no support. There is no movement towards the net at all; everyone just waits to see what the person with the ball is going to do. Adu was clearly frustrated with Torres as well during the 1st half. I’m not saying Adu was right – no idea what his frustration was about – but there were HUGE communication problems throughout the game.
    What has been killing me is that even this far into the season we’re still seeing the same fundamental issues not being address – look before you cross (great comment, btw!), shoot the ball, crash the net, one- and two-touch passing… still seeing these problems this far into the season.
    We should have had a win; it was very attainable, but once again poor coaching, poor communication, and no team cohesion leaves us without those two desperately needed points.

    • True. This ties into why I want Jack Mac starting. When he plays well, he makes those runs we need in the final third. Pauno and Le Toux both love to drop back to collect the ball when they play at striker. So does Mwanga for that matter (thought at least Mwanga can take people on and shoot from distance). In a way Jack Mac is the most traditional striker we have.
      And I forget, was Adu playing on Marfans side? Either way, him and Le toux are Miserable on the wing. Neither get down the line with conviction. Our best wingers are playing LB, and the other is stuck in Jamaica or something. The only time we played with width was when Torres would switch the field.

  5. After a long post-game discussion with some fellow season ticket holders we all decided upon 2 problems: a fast guy and a tall guy. There’s no one to head set pieces, and I watched Roger Torres (who I thought was fast) get out run to a ball by a guy wearing a bandage over half his head. We get those 2 things, we’d be unstopp…we’d be fine.

    • I really hope we add speed to our team in the off season…I feel like we are one of the slowest teams in the league. From what I understand, Justin Mapp is our fastest player…that says a lot.

  6. Someone I know who was in the locker room after the game said that Torres was taken out due to a shoulder injury that had been bothering him since the first half. If that is true then taking Torres out was logical, but besides this game why is it that Torres never gets the full 90? If he is so tired why does he go ahead and play in reserve games two days after (like New England last week). For once Nowak’s starters made sense (Pauno being the excpetion), but then he goes and takes out both Torres and Adu for a striker and a wide player meaning that for about 15-20 mins in the second half we had no central attacking options. Losing Torres and then Adu really deflated the team and you could see it in the possession. Nakazawa was atrocious on Saturday. He is a free kick specialist and his best free kick went over everyone and out of bonds. While I admit he is unlucky for hitting the post a professional should be able to put the ball on net from that range and with that amount of time.

  7. When your left back was your best offensive player, you have a huge problem.

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