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Analysis and player ratings: Union 1-0 Crew

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Winless since their 3-0 road victory over New England on July 17, the Union did just enough to take three points off of a depleted Columbus Crew side before a packed house at PPL Park on Saturday night. Zac MacMath earned his second clean sheet in three attempts and Sebastien Le Toux continued his resurgent goal-scoring form with the game’s only goal in the 32nd minute.

Rise of Roger

Since the heavily publicized signing of Freddy Adu, the Union’s best playmaker has been…You guessed it, Roger Torres. Long gone are the criticisms of Torres as a purely offensive player as the diminutive Colombian has cranked up his work rate and can be frequently seen dropping deep into his own half to nick the ball off of an attacker or make himself available for an outlet pass. On Saturday, Torres was the driving force in the midfield and not only put Le Toux in behind the Columbus defense for the game’s only goal, but was also responsible for setting the table on multiple other occasions, a claim that no other Union midfielder can make.

The Adventures of Michael Farfan

Perhaps taking a page out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s playbook, Peter Nowak deployed Michael Farfan in a holding capacity alongside Brian Carroll. Like Jose Torres for the Nats, a deep lying playmaker sitting in a holding spot allows for consistent creative link play between defense and attack if—and its a big if—that player has the defensive chops to hold down the ball-winning part of the job. And while Michael Farfan has looked uncomfortable playing on the left side of the pitch, his defensive sensibilities are dramatically improved. If you need proof of this, ask one Robbie Rogers, who is undoubtedly nursing a pair of sore ankles and a badly bruised ego following the rough treatment Marfan delivered over 90 minutes. Restored to his preferred side of the field, his overall comfort on the ball returned and his quick passing created time and space for the Union in the build.

Given his attacking abilities however, one is left to wonder if the Union would be better suited with Okugo slotting in alongside Carroll from the opening whistle, freeing up Marfan to create chances from a more advanced role. No matter the scenario, Marfan is proving himself a valuable, versatile asset for the Union, one who continues to earn playing time wherever it is available.

The Bash Brothers

When the Union defense has struggled during the 2011 season, it has been against speedy forwards who can operate in a pocket of space between the centerbacks and Brian Carroll, the kind of small, nimble strikers who can slip in behind the defense or attack with pace. Columbus’ Andres Mendoza and Tommy Heinemann are neither small, nimble nor pacy.

Time and again, Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf have hammered a sign into their lawn reading, “Big dumb animals need not apply.” One need only re-watch the pounding Stephen Lenhart received on his visit to Chester to realize just how unlikely either Union centerback is to lose a physical confrontation. Yet, Columbus insisted on fielding two loafing forwards and, as expected, neither found any space all night as they were hounded, harassed and hurried at every turn by the bigger, faster, stronger Union duo.

Good Job Alex Prus

Honored before the match as only the second MLS official to reach his 200th match, Alex Prus provided the PPL Park faithful with a flowing yet physical brand of soccer that needs to become a reliable staple of MLS play. Prus set the tone early, allowing strong 50-50 challenges to go unpunished and retained a consistent stance throughout the match. The players, perhaps used to the choppy, foul-strewn landscape of a traditional MLS match, seemed a bit confused by Prus, who was happy to allow play to flow smoothly. In the end, the spectacle of the game benefited from the performance of the referee and he kept himself out of spotlight. It is a style of officiating that other MLS referees would do well to emulate, and one that players and fans would be happy to get used to. Well done, Sir.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 8

Did well to turn Mendoza’s first half effort around the post and then had little more than catching practice for the rest of the evening. With each match, MacMath’s confidence has grown and the young keeper’s positional awareness, vocal leadership and distribution have improved with every appearance. Two clean sheets in his past two matches will have him poised and focused in time for his first road start against Kansas City.

Sheanon Williams – 8

Before we jump into the defenders, please note that none scored above an 8 purely due to the underwhelming nature of the opponent. The Union’s defense was strong and organized throughout but with no central midfield threat and two below average strikers who had nary a clue as to where the goal was, Columbus provided very little by way of a meaningful challenge.

Now, onto the Sheanomeanon.

While Robbie Rogers continues to wash out at the international level, he remains a well-skilled, rapid winger who has the ability to terrorize most defenders in MLS. Sheanon Williams is not one of those defenders and it cannot feel good for an attacker when he encounters a fullback who is not only faster, but also more skilled going forward. Yet, that was the reality of the situation for Rogers on Saturday night. And with Marfan stamping his authority on the right side of the pitch—and Rogers’ backside—Williams had ample opportunity to push up the field, the way he loves to do.

Carlos Valdes – 7.5

Amongst a defense replete with excellent performances, Valdes loses half a point for his recently developed tendency to go on meandering runs with the ball at feet. Despite the presence of a player of Michael Farfan’s quality sitting deep for the express purpose of receiving the ball from the defense, Valdes still chose to wander over the half too many times when a simple pass to Marfan, Torres or Sheanon Williams would suffice. Considering that is the only knock on the defender’s performance, it was a very good day at the office.

Danny Califf – 8

The first half nightmare against New England is already seeming a distant memory and the Union have the solid play and veteran leadership of Captain Califf to thank. Lacking the ingenuity to challenge Califf, Columbus found passage into the Union 18 to be nearly impossible as they were always going to come off second best in any physical confrontation against the Union hard man. While others ebb and flow around him, Califf continues to be as rock-solid in defense as he has been all year.

Gabriel Farfan – 8

A statement game from the Union left back who returned to the starting lineup after a week on the sidelines. His defensive positioning was strong and he made sure to fulfill his defensive responsibilities before venturing into the attack. Though not quite as flashy as his brother, Garfan is no slouch when it comes to beating players on the dribble and with the Union playing a compact formation up top, both wing backs will continue to be important in the attack.

Michael Farfan – 8.5

See above. After a nervy start in his new role alongside Brian Carroll, Marfan grew into the game on both sides of the ball. As a deep-lying distributor, his clever one touch passing allowed the Union to settle into possession in the middle of the park rather than simply racing the ball to the midfield stripe and chipping it into the attacking third. On defense, he was robust in the tackle and showed excellent range. May have earned himself another run out in the same position.

Brian Carroll – 7.5

I barely mentioned Carroll’s name all night and that is exactly how he wants it. Cut off the entire left side of the field as he worked well with Garfan to limit Duka’s inquests into the attacking third.

Freddy Adu – 3

Looked lost and disinterested. This was not an issue of match fitness, given that his struggles could be seen from the opening whistle. When he was on the ball, he was unwilling to take players on and too often settled for the simple pass backwards. When he wasn’t on the ball, Adu shied away from 50-50 challenges and ceded aerial challenges to the opposition and he could have no complaint when he was subbed in the 75th minute. With Roger Torres picking up steam, he will need to raise his level to retain a starting spot.

Roger Torres – 8 – Man of the Match

See above. Torres has quickly become the focal point of the Union attack and in the majority of promising build-up play, he features prominently. While Paunovic, Mwanga and McInerney could have converted the Union’s lone goal, Torres is currently the only player capable of playing that ball in behind the defense. For that he earns MOTM honors.

ZachPfeffer – 5.5

The speed of the game seemed a bit more than Pfeffer could handle, but he certainly showed the skill and confidence to be a star for the future. While his body positioning was strong, often he found himself in traffic of his own creation, taking too much time on the ball and being caught from behind. He also disappeared for long stretches. In such an important contest, his inclusion remains suspect given that, despite his vast potential, his inexperience at the MLS level meant that he was too often chasing play and ultimately was unable to influence the outcome of the game.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

The goal was coolly taken. The run to get on the ball was better. Attacking from the center forward channel, Le Toux’s angles of attack were excellent against Columbus. When the Union elect to play such a small lineup, his runs in behind to chase down through balls played on the deck represent the Union’s best chance to score goals.

Substitutions

Danny Mwanga – 4.5

Entering a stretched match in the 62nd minute, Mwanga should have been licking his lips. Columbus was already throwing numbers forward in search of an equalizer and Eric Gehrig’s jersey number might as well have been “OLE”, yet Mwanga lacked the killer instinct to put the game to bed with a second goal. The hunger that made him such a valuable substitute earlier in the year has vanished and until he rediscovers his confidence, both goals and playing time will remain tough to come by.

Amobi Okugo – 6.5

Job done. Entering the game to batten down the hatches, Okugo did just that. His tough-tackling approach was perfectly suited to a match where the referee allowed players to determine the outcome. As the match wore towards the final whistle, Columbus had to settle for lofted crosses from distance with Okugo and Carroll offering no joy to any runners attempting to attack through the middle of the field.

Morgan Langley – 7

Exciting debut for the recently signed winger. Raise your hand if you get goosebumps thinking about a right wing attack of Langley and Sheanon Williams. Lets hope the Union grounds crew have the secret for scorch-proof turf.

Fans – 9

The soccer on the pitch may not have reached its electric best, but you would have never known it from the sound cranked out by the packed house on Saturday night. With the first chills of fall in the air, the atmosphere inside PPL Park was toasty warm as the animated crowd played their part, spurring the Union on to victory.

13 Comments

  1. Josh T. of Kensington says:

    I was disappointed in Adu. Your analysis of him was spot on, many back passes, lost balls, and seeming joyless, hopeless attempts at covering made for hard watching.

  2. Coach

    Nowak – 10

    He got it right. All of it.

    Also, I would have rated Pfeffer higher. Good game from the youngster…he’s got speed and I’m stoked to watch him going forward. Earned another start in my eyes.

  3. Adu has been a turnover machine since he’s been added to the team. He needs to get it going and soon.

  4. Why dont’ we just get this tinkering over with and play a 4-5-1? No more playing players out of position. Adu Torres Carrol in the middle. Gargantuan and whoever on the wings. Let’s play to everyones strength.

  5. For what it’s worth, Torres seems to have been performing better since he’s been playing with Adu. Perhaps Adu draws attention away from him? Also, side-note, but I love the one foul per game when your classic monstrously large MLS defender sends Torres literally flying.

    Huge fan of the lineup. Nowak has got to start both Farfans more often. He now has two people who should be ahead of Migs as second holding midfielder.

    • Very good point, re: Adu and Torres. I can’t explain why that is, but Torres has definitely played better with Adu. Is Adu a factor in that? Or would Torres be playing better regardless? Not sure. Probably a bit of both, and more of the latter.

      We won’t see Adu at his best until he gets to play his natural position.

  6. Curious what happens when Keon and Paunovic return from injury.

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