Featured / Player ratings / Union

Player ratings and analysis: Union 1-1 Chivas USA

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

True, nothing can take the shine off an exciting victory over a regional rival like a 3000 mile plane flight, but with so much on the line, it was hard to imagine the Union would not find the energy needed to match Chivas USA. Against a team who knows how to score goals and push numbers forward, the Union’s best defense was to keep the home side off the attack with tidy ball possession and potent attack of their own.


From the opening whistle, however, the Union sat back, conceding possession and territory, a dangerous game to play on the road. With Justin Mapp replacing Roger Torres, and Michael Farfan occupying a true wide role, the middle of the field was left wide open for Nick Labrocca and Co. to come and go as they pleased. Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll did well to tackle and clog up passing lanes when the Goats entered the danger area, but neither player is truly comfortable operating as a playmaker higher up the park and the gap between the Union midfield and their forwards was continuously exploited as the half wore on.

Take nothing from the defense

It was another headed goal that undid the Union’s quest for three points, but its hard to blame this one on the defense. Even the recently maligned Gabriel Farfan played a whale of a game against Justin Braun, putting on a tough and gritty display that was all the more impressive considering he was carrying a yellow card from the 27th minute. Then there were Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes rising above the crowd again and again—and AGAIN AND AGAIN—to head the ball out of danger and clear their lines as Chivas sent cross after unpressured cross into the Union 18.

The best defense is a good offense

Seriously, it really is.

It’s an old adage, but when teams turn off the offense and pack players into their own box to preserve a win, something invariably goes wrong. True, the field gets stretched when you attempt to find an insurance goal, but the positives of increased ball possession, running down the clock and playing the game in the opposition’s end far out weigh the negatives. With a defense whose biggest shortcoming this season has been marking players on set pieces and crosses, the Union simply closed up shop too early in this one—30 minutes is a long time to hang on to a lead against a team that has spent the entirety of the match pressing hard.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 8

Stronger in the air with each start, MacMath had a better game in terms of his positioning against Chivas USA. He earns an extra point for toughness after he gutted out the final quarter of the game in clear pain due to the ankle twist. By soldiering on, he allowed his team to retain their final substitution. Everyone will be keeping an eye on his ankle this week as the casualty ward for Union goalkeepers is reaching crisis levels.

Sheanon Williams – 7

The Sheanomenon did not get forward as much as he would have liked, but then again, who did? He had a fight on his hands against Laurent Courtois and Marcos Mondaini all night and was steady and consistent in denying both. He also did well to slide into the middle to help his centerbacks clear balls from danger. In the end, Williams was one of the players left ball-watching when Angel rose to score his equalizer, but after giving so much for the cause, it’s hard to throw much blame his way.

Carlos Valdes – 7

While his fellow Colombian made him look human, Valdes never backed down and kept Angel’s chances from being of the unchallenged/free variety. With his teammates collapsing in around him, Valdes and Califf both did their utmost to keep things organized and, in the end, turned away an enormous number of crosses to keep their box about as tidy as they could under the circumstances.

Danny Califf – 7.5

This was Captain Califf’s kind of game. Bodies banging in the box, elbows flying, clutching for position. And he stood up to the test, most times. With Angel in such rampant form, it was nothing short of amazing to see his ability to create space and rise to get a head on any ball. But Califf matched him nearly stride for stride. And while the eventual breakthrough did finally occur, it was not on Califf’s watch.

Gabriel Farfan – 7

An early yellow card could have signaled a long day for Garfan, yet the left back continued to play with tenacity and aggression throughout, denying Braun on multiple occasions and doing well to close down anyone who attacked his wing. His confidence and comfort with the ball at his feet continues to impress as he, along with his brother Michael, befuddle opponents with cunning trickery as they attack their respective wings.

Michael Farfan – 5.5

Marfan quickly realized that he would get no joy if he remained on the wing and tucked inside more and more as the half wore on. His chipped effort was cheekily conceived and expertly taken and it was agony to see it fall inches wide of the mark. Pulling off Okugo in favor an attacking player would have made more sense if Marfan had not been pulled back to play in Okugo’s holding midfield role, effectively removing the two most creative players of the first half from their positions. While his maiden voyage as a holding midfielder against Columbus was a successful one—due in no small part to the ineptitude of the Crew’s attack—Chivas USA proved a different animal. With the home team being able to throw five and six bodies into the attack, Marfan joined his teammates in dropping too deep and in conceding too much space to players looking to send service into the Union box.

Amobi Okugo – 7.5

What more does this guy have to do to get minutes in the second half? AmoBeast displayed range, vision and aggression in the tackle throughout the first half. Without an attacking central midfielder, Okugo slid forward as the games progressed and showed his quality spreading the ball around and even making a strong run into the box just before the halftime whistle. Okugo has been the Union’s best midfielder in the first half of both this and the DC United game. The question remains as to whether they can find a place for him after intermission.

Brian Carroll – 6.5

As always, Carroll quietly went about his business making the requisite tackles and pressuring the ball, but in a match that required a veteran leader in the midfield, he was unable to stamp his authority on the proceedings. For all of his positive qualities, and there are many, Carroll still struggles in possession. With the game hanging in the balance, he is unable to take the air out of the match by turning tackled balls into positive time and momentum killing possession.

Justin Mapp – 6

A six is about the lowest rating you can give a player who scored his team’s only goal. Yet, that was how ineffective Mapp’s performance was outside of his 59th minute effort in which he did well to drive at the Chivas net before unleashing an unstoppable worm-burner. Mapp’s cross to Marfan set up his delightful chipped attempt, but outside of those two moments, he was not a part of the Union possession game and failed to attack the box and support his teammates when they made the rare foray into the Chivas penalty area.

Veljko Paunovic – 3

It was his least effective display in a long time. Paunovic insisted on dropping deep into the midfield. We’re talking REALLY deep, as in, behind Okugo and Carroll deep. Sebastien Le Toux needed a partner up top and on the evening Paunovic was nowhere to be found. With so many minutes logged over the last month, Paunovic may be beginning to wear down, which could mean more appearances for Jack McInerney and Danny Mwanga (if he can get healthy) over the final three games of the season.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

This is less a reflection of Le Toux’s play and more an indictment of a midfield who starved him of consistent service for 90 minutes. As always, Le Toux was full of industry and pressured everyone from the goalkeeper back towards his own net. In the first half, with no one playing in the hole behind him, and Paunovic looking out of sorts, the hoped for Le Toux breakthrough looked exceedingly unlikely.


Roger Torres – 5

Torres ran hard and showed effort throughout the second half, but was mostly aimless with his possession. This was not all his fault given that there was rarely a teammate within ten yards of him. Too often, he was forced to resort to taking the Chivas defense on single-handedly to try and give his defense a small respite.

Freddy Adu – 3

While he did win possession of the ball that Mapp would send tearing into the back of the net, overall it was another disappointing showing from the Union’s big ticket signing. Brought on with Torres at the half, the intention was clearly to get the ball and turn the tides of possession. Yet, Chivas immediately settled into a comfortable passing rhythm, with Adu twice shying away from 50-50 challenges in the early going. Where Torres looks willing to both foul and be fouled, Adu seems disinterested in the rough stuff. That’s going to be a problem seeing as how MLS is a big, heaping helping of rough stuff.

Kyle Nakazawa – 2

Slow Chivas down, possess the ball and play defense. Those would have been Kyle Nakazawa’s three duties as he entered a 1-0 game with a quarter of an hour left to play. Nakazawa did not succeed in accomplishing any of these tasks, and settled into the defensive bunker with his teammates. Failing to help the Union hold onto the ball for any real duration, Nakazawa also ended up with the ignominious distinction of being posterized by Angel, the back of Naka’s jersey being rooted to the ground beneath the leaping figure of the goal-scoring Colombian.


  1. MikeRSoccer says:

    Thought we would have seen a Nowak rating of about 1 in the article. Taking out Okugo was a bad decision to begin with, but then to replace him with Adu? I don’t think Adu could have lost the ball more if he was intentionally passing it to the other team. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it appeared that Adu was pushed up to striker in some form with Le Toux behind him or in the midfield. As a result of the Okugo sub Nowak had no defensive players to throw on the field to shore up the D after the goal. Speaking of which….Nakazawa is not a defender. Never has. Never will. Stop trying. He is a Pirlo type player who sits in the center and sprays passes and crosses around and takes free kick. The issue is that, in my opinion, Pirlo type players do not work in MLS because the league is to fast and not tactically sound enough for them to be effective. I like Nakazawa and think he has some great talent, but unless he can pick up some speed and some form of a defensive mind set I can’t see him having success with this team.

    • Adu was technically playing behind Le Toux, but Seba did a ton of hard work to chase back on defense, while Adu hung out up high.

      It all comes down to workrate again. Sebastien Le Toux = Hardest working player in MLS.

    • did you seriously just compare kyle nakazawa to pirlo? nakazawa is not good at passing; he is good at free kicks and that is all. having voiced my strong disagreement, i couldn’t agree more about Okugo. He was pulled just so that later we could put Naka back in his role.

      I also think you underrated Michael Farfan and overrated Sheanon Williams. Marfan gave us several plays where you just had to shake your head and say, this kid is dirty. As for Williams, he got beat for the header at the end and that’s the truth. If it were Garfan, you probably would have given him a 5.5 for it.

      • Truth! This place for some reason over rates Williams consistently…here’s an example: “Williams was one of the players left ball-watching when Angel rose to score his equalizer, but after giving so much for the cause, it’s hard to throw much blame his way.” Really?! C’Mon Man?!?!

      • Having watched the goal again, a number of times, Nakazawa is just as responsible as Sheanon for the blown coverage.
        The blame really should fall on Freddy Adu. The Union won the ball and cleared to Adu who tried a ludicrous over the back flick that gave it right back to the Goats allowing the defense no time to recover or breath.

      • Really really stretching it there blaming Adu for that goal…the ball was not won by the union nor was it cleared to Adu…are you watching the right game?

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        His style of play is similar (and he’s quite good with long balls, usually), but obviously no where near as talented as Pirlo. Same player mold though, a trequrista in the early years destined for a deep midfield role (as naka is now, supposedly).

  2. Josh T. of Kensington says:

    So- almost all the substitutions were wrong.

  3. Well, the starting lineup was wrong to begin with. You have depth so that you don’t have to start all the same starters three days after another game after a cross-country road trip. For all Nowak’s lineup juggling in the past, this was one game that juggling should’ve happened at the kickoff. Guys were tired at the end, but it didn’t have to be as extreme as it was.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of fatigue lately. When the Seattle game was postponed so the Union could play Real Madrid, most of the concern at the time was about players getting injured or tired for the league games in the weeks that followed. No one was injured (thankfully) but I wonder how much fatigue played into the winless streak, which began with the Colorado game right after the Real Madrid friendly. For a good portion of the winless streak, the defense was uncharacteristically sloppy and I wonder how much fatigue, physical or mental, played a part.

      Fast forward to now and, against Seattle on Saturday, the Union will finish up three games in ten days, two of which involve transcontinental flights. Will playing in tonight’s USOC final be a factor for Seattle when they face the Union?

      If the Seattle game hadn’t been rescheduled, the Union would have been off this weekend for the international break. Will fatigue be a factor for them in the final three games of the season or is it maybe better that the Union stays on a match footing for those games instead of having a weekend before the Toronto and NY games?

    • We have depth? Where?

      • Pretty miserable coaching decision this game. First, we really couldn’t find a spot for Jack Mac in this game? It an insult Pauno started again – and was invisible, again – while we had young fresh, fast legs in Jack Mac.
        Then we honor Mapp with another start even though he hasn’t shown us anything even as a sub. And the worst part is his goal may give Nowak reason to keep giving Mapp minutes which would be a TERRIBLE thing for us going into the stretch run.
        And I can’t even blame Torres or Adu or Marfan for our offense, because Nowak CLEARLY went in there playing for the tie. It was an INSULT to hear him talk after the game – how he was happy with the tie, because 1) This was a game we should have won and 2) It was a game WE WERE WINNING.
        Nowak reminds me of Bob Bradley in the worst ways. Questionable lineups, questionable subs, and miserable tactics. You mean to tell me we still need to play scared, we still need to play young after our recent run of form? You mean to tell me he still doesn’t trust young, fresh legs like Torres or Jack Mac or Marfan to control the game, when all we’ve seen recently is that they can?
        And when he finally starts to give Okugo minutes, he SUBS HIM OFF AT THE HALF even though he played as well as anyone.
        I was optimistic about the end of the season, but I won’t be anymore if Nowak reverts back to his questionable decisions.
        I fear the Seattle game. Because quite honestly, I think if we played our best lineup, and played to truly control the game and win it, I like our chances.
        But all history puts to starting 3 holding mids, allowing Seattle to bomb on us, and us losing 3-0.
        I mean christ, how many times does Nakazawa need to be subbed in to “provide midfield defense” when he gets burned on defense and can’t contribute anything to offense?
        In a way I feel like Nowak underestimates his own team.

      • Torres and Adu subs at half indicate to me that Nowak was going for the win…Ultimately if he was content with a tie, he woulda kept Okugo in the game…fear for the Seattle game because they are a better team than us not because of Nowak’s lineup.

  4. When we lose a lead in the 90th minute, no one should rate higher than a 6. When final possession reads: Chivas 60.8% and Union 39.2%, no none should rate higher than a 6…end of rant…for now…

    • Only conceding one goal against a surging team with a potent offense means certain players aka THE DEFENSE, played well. It stings tremendously that it went down in the 90th minute but that does not justify trashing the players who kept Chivas out for so long.

  5. You all for got to mention the handball that was left fortunately uncalled against the U…who handled it Williams or Califf?

  6. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Hey Los117, did you drink a big cup of bitter coffee this afternoon or something? Crikey.

Leave a Reply

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