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Player ratings and analysis: Sounders 0-2 Union

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Perhaps the Seattle media wanted to avoid talking about the unexpected beat down their local boys had just taken. Why else would the first question for Peter Nowak post-game be, “What has changed here since last your team visited?”

Nowak responded, “The results change and that’s more important to us than anything that’s changed since last time we were here.”

Comprehensive and impressive

When the Union played Seattle in April, they were coming off their best performance of the season. A comprehensive dismantling of the Eastern Conference favorite Red Bulls destroyed the illusion that this Philly team was only capable of beating the dregs of MLS. One could argue that the team hasn’t had as complete a performance as the New York game since.

Until now.

Ignoring the ankle

Let’s start in the back and work our way up the field. Zac MacMath does not have the vocal presence to make himself a part of every event on the field in the manner of Faryd Mondragon. But if we are only talking about the eighteen yard box… I would rather retrieve baseballs from the yard of the scary neighbor from The Sandlot than invade MacMath’s box. Crosses, breakaways, aerial challenges, anything. Once play enters the box, MacMath wants to be a part of it. Even on an injured ankle, he was chasing crosses with aplomb. It almost got him in trouble, but Brad Evans blasted a MacMath misplay over. This aggressiveness just makes the box an even less hospitable area for opposing forwards. Of which I am told there were at least two on Saturday.

More dangerous than T-Rex

Against Califf and Valdes, the striker can become a mythical being. The areas that strikers usually roam are hunted with such precision and intelligence that it would not be a stretch to call the Union center backs Defensoraptors.

Strong performances across the back line were of particular importance on Saturday because the Union re-introduced the midfield diamond that has struggled to contain the more dynamic midfields the team has faced. Not only were Califf and Valdes comprehensive in their smothering of Pat Noonan and Michael Fucito, but Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan limited Seattle’s ability to establish offensive sets in the final third. The Sounders rely on quick, precise passing to get deep into enemy territory. Both outside backs, but Gabe Farfan in particular, minimized Seattle’s chances to get behind the defense by playing smart angles and stepping forward early to force decisions before runs developed.

For ninety minutes, the Union back four played textbook pressure-and-help defense behind Brian Carroll.

Carroll cashes in

Until he scored, Carroll appeared to be heading for a rare poor performance. He was caught in possession more than once, and struggled with the twin responsibilities of preventing the counterattack and joining the offense. Michael Farfan’s hard backchecking was a key part of the team’s defensive success. Sheanon Williams was able to concentrate on Lamar Neagle and rely on Marfan to hold the zone just in front of the eighteen yard box.

Are you noticing the pattern here? Understanding responsibilities, adjusting to Seattle’s new ideas: The defense was on its game. But what about the offense?

Well, it was good. While Freddy Adu, Veljko Paunovic and Justin Mapp do not have the mind-meld understanding that would truly elevate the Union to a MLS Cup favorite, all three had encouraging performances in a tough environment.

Taking what Seattle gave them

There are certainly outside variables that allowed the Union midfield to be as effective as it was. The Seattle back line saw Seba Le Toux as their first, second and third areas of concern. If Adu and Pauno wanted to drop off to receive a ball, they were welcome to it. Nobody was going to step up and leave Le Toux isolated on one defender. Mapp and Marfan staying wide until possession was gained also went a long ways toward providing the central players the time they needed to move the ball effectively.

When Mapp got the ball, he dribbled vertically. Paunovic played simple facing back and Hollywood facing forward. Adu’s touch let him down at times, but his movement was vastly improved. It was a curious sight for most Union fans, who have had to adapt to static midfield performances whenever Roger Torres is outside the first eleven.

It should be noted that the midfield’s defensive performance leaves something to be desired. The diamond formation continues to allow ball carriers too much time to look for options. This doesn’t cause many issues when coverage downfield (i.e. the back line) is untroubled whenever Michael Fucito was calling a run.

One question remains

The back line is back. Garfan is confident and learning angles and how to time forward runs. The 4-4-2/4-5-1 formation is bearing fast fruit. Sebastien Le Toux has made the center striker position his own, and his ability to involve others and create space (not that we are drawing a distinction between the current Union center striker creating space and making others better and anything a former Union center striker did during any hypothetical brief and tumultuous tenure), has been a welcome answer to the adjustments teams made to counter the Union’s early success.

This win was a reminder that the team’s technical staff has built a deep roster of talented but inconsistent performers. How can one tell when Justin Mapp is going to be influential and when he will be offensive influenza? How does one know whether Veljko Paunovic will be a deft distributor or an abject absentee? Does anyone know yet what the Real Freddy Adu looks like?

It has become the defining question of the Union’s season: Who are the best eleven? Six spots are taken (back four, Carroll and Le Toux). Peter Nowak has clear preferences in some others, but a willingness to abandon his stand-bys was an impetus for the team’s late season surge.

If the team can secure a playoff spot, there is a good chance its playoff starters will be the eleven guys who led the line on Saturday. Whether that is truly the Union’s best side is the only question that remains for a team that has answered many over a long season.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

Two saves and a ton of crosses claimed. Big Mac was untroubled most of the night and had no chance at stopping Seattle’s best opportunity, a cute chip by Brad Evans that rung the frame. MacMath dropped two crosses but when you leap off a bad ankle that will happen.

Sheanon Williams – 8

If Kasey Keller wasn’t such a stud, Williams would have earned an assist for his brilliant back post cross that Paunovic pounded at the bottom corner. Given a difficult assignment in Lamar Neagle, Sheanomenon taught the young buck a lesson or two about one-on-one matchups. Sheanon’s two-way game was a revelation in 2010 and it has become a finely sharpened and dangerous tool in 2011.

Defensoraptors – 10

All points bulletin: Missing since Saturday, October 9 at 10:00pm ET: Michael “Mike” Fucito and Patrick “Noonan” Noonan. Occupations: Supposedly Striker. Last seen wandering in final third of CenturyLink Field near a Bearfight. Although reportedly dangerous in front of goal, eyewitnesses describe the pair as, “Tame, passive and smelling of pompously-described coffee.” If you see anybody fitting the description of these “strikers,” be very careful. You may be too close to the eighteen yard box for safety.

Gabriel Farfan – 8

Seattle was determined to run at Garfan early. That did not last. The defender was as rough as the referee allowed and got close enough to prevent easy crosses. He truly performed like a defender and not a converted midfielder. Kudos.

Justin Mapp – 7

Looking to attack with speed, Mapp showed his value. It’s a shame he hasn’t been more consistent, but as long as he can be an influence, he will continue to get minutes.

Brian Carroll – 7

Carroll was not good before his goal. He wasn’t terrible, but he often found himself lost on offense and gave away possession in dangerous places. That said, he has been and should remain a staple of the starting eleven into the playoffs.

Michael Farfan – 7

Less direct influence than recent weeks, but Marfan works so hard that it remains a mystery why it took a Mapp injury to get him significant minutes. The most impressive part of Marfan’s game was his reading of when to drift inside and when to hang wide. Responding to Mapp’s behavior, Farfan allowed the team to retain a good shape even with free-moving midfielders.

Freddy Adu – 6

Still not anything to write home about. Adu was active and involved but not the creative hub that his talent and his place in the lineup suggest he should be. That said, he showed strength to finish and as long as he is scoring goals his confidence should improve.

Veljko Paunovic – 7

A particularly strong showing from the Serb, with a goal-bound header the fruit of good positioning and constant movement. Paunovic did well to read and react to Adu. When the midfielder went forward, Pauno dropped back. In recent games, Paunovic has been too prone to dropping deep, but Saturday was a more cerebral performance that allowed the team to move the ball and keep shape.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

Completely shut out for the first sixty minutes, Seba snubbed his only chance of the match when a Mapp run left him with an easy shot. Perhaps that was in the back of his mind as he raced down the field on the counterattack and fed Brian Carroll a glorious assist for the insurance goal.

Amobi Okugo – 6

Aggressive, tackling, working with Carroll to build a virtual wall in front of the defense. Hey, this guy is pretty good!

Jack McInerney – n/a

Clearly the best Jack McInerney on the field.

Stefani Miglioranzi – n/a

Top one minute performance of the match.

Match strategy – 9

The shape wasn’t perfect but the mental preparation was. The Union played like a team and were prepared for all eventualities. It looked as though the players on the field were learning and adjusting as the match wore on and that is a key sign of a well-coached team.

Seattle television commentary – 9

I had forgotten what it was like to watch a MLS match where the commentators focused on what was happening on the pitch. It was weird. I…I liked it!

Geiger Counter – 7

Shoulder-to-shoulder is not a foul. This is the lesson Baldomero Toledo should teach other MLS refs and continue to abide by in his matches. Coming in from behind with your elbow (now known as Getting Jaqua’d) is a yellow card foul, this is something Baldomero Toledo should give a yellow card for in his matches.

23 Comments

  1. phillyhotspur says:

    That was far from a polished game from the union but it was a gritty win. And, these are type of performances we’ll need in the postseason if were going to go anywhere

    Those Farfan twins. What a revelation. GS

  2. Disagree with Carroll being poor. He was terrible with possession, as always, but was having a classic game in that no one was getting past him, which was how he got so much possession in the first place.

  3. Overall I think it was the best win in our history and it shows that even players who aren’t fan favorites are still good and can play good games when they are on.
    I still personally want to see another striker next to Seba, and I wonder exactly what Torres did to get dropped. But in the end it is nice to see the team play well and take advantage of the game plan for 90 minutes.
    And really, what makes a team great is depth so to have players on the bench who most of us think could/should start says a lot about the personnel decisions of this coaching staff as well.

  4. how long until we consider Marfan a “must start” along with the back four, Carroll, and Seba?

  5. Great performance, would have been happy walking out of Qwest with a point, but how Farfantastically Awesome was it to beat the Sounders in their house. It’s becoming a regular thing that one of the Farfans does something that makes me say “WOW” in slack jawed amazement. I say let the Great Philadelphia Keeper Debate commence. MacMath has been a stud while Mondy has been recovering from the broken finger. Unbeaten in his seven starts, with three clean sheets and a GAA average identical to Mondy, is it time to hitch the Union bandwagon to Zac? I say, hell yeah! One last thought, JP ,I love ya, but Arlo White is the best commentator in MLS. NBC/Versus get this guy to be the lead play by play man for matches on the network.

    • Watch MacMath become the future US keeper, after Howard. How about the Farfans: Marfan played in the 2005 U17 Youth World Cup; time for a senior team call-up?

  6. Josh T. of Kensington says:

    Who is the best surprise of this year? It was surprising to get Freddy, and exciting to see the Ruiz pick up. Carroll has been great in his role.

    But what I keep coming back to is how much I like this Farfan twins. They have hustle, heart, and plenty of skill. Both are willing to take on any MLS player one on one, and while they have different games, they also have the look of brothers who have played together long enough to have learned every trick they have.

    I think about this in the context of thinking that Shea Salinas was such a big loss last year. To me now, either one of these brothers has filled his shoes and outgrown them.

  7. Garfan is slowly winning me over…question for the off season: Does Garfan stay at left back next season or do we move for a specialist and move Garfan back to midfield?
    Im on the MacMath bandwagon…keep starting him!!! Let him gain playoff experience.
    What happened to McInerny this year?

    • Good points you bring up. On Garfan: I still want him in midfield and a real LB here. Not because I don’t trust Garfan, but because he is a natural midfielder and I would hate to see his high ceiling lowered because of a move to LB so late in his career. Honestly a winger tandem of Garfan/Marfan sounds fantastic next season.
      MacMath: Totally agree. Experience is the most important thing for him. Getting him high intensity game so young in his career is HUGE and the chance to get him in a playoff game will only help him forever. I love Mondragon, but as a 40 year old it simply doesn’t mean as much to the team moving forward for him to get playoff experience in the MLS.
      McInerny: And Mwanga too! For what its worth, I still think they have potiental and could have contributed more if they were called on more. Bringing in Ruiz simply stunted their growth, and for some reason Nowak likes Pauno up top more than Jack/Mwanga right now. I would personally still start either of them over Pauno.

  8. Not ashamed to say I didn’t think this team was capable of that. Very impressive. It’s going to be a long wait until the next match, and not of the “I really want to see them rebound” manner but “I can’t WAIT to watch this team play!”

  9. MikeRSoccer says:

    Can we go ahead and sign the Farfan’s younger brother already? While Sapong seems to be getting all the RoY attention Marfan certainly is making his case and getting the two of them, one through an amateur draft, is certainly the transfer coup of the year. May I be so bold to say that the value of their combined pick up is approaching the level of Le Toux in the expansion draft? Nowak had one hell of an off season. Carroll, macmath, farfans, valdes and mondy.

    • And Keon. Never forget.

      • Man do I miss Keon. Him on the left with Marfan on the right would be my dream lineup. I hope we havent seen the last of him because of his visa problems

      • I think I have already given up on Keon coming back. He seems to be the Knighton of the year…that player that does well, but everyone knows is not coming back. I’m already thinking of the 11 that will need to be protected in the expansion draft as well…

      • Someone needs to create a Free Keon image so we can plaster it on PSP. Really, this needs to happen.

  10. I just want to give a quick shoutout to Okuuuugo for his performance when called upon as a sub. Seattle has traditionally scored a ton of goals late in games and I though Amobi did a really great job of coming in and defusing some of the pressure on our net. I personally think he offers a lot of things that Caroll does not as a passer, and that he is potentially a guy who could really elevate his game in the future. It’s crazy that we have okugo, marfan, garfan, mwanga, torres, jackmac, adu, sheanon, and macmath at such young ages. Really a terrific job in building for the future.

  11. All I can say is WOW. Throw the numbers and individual performance out the window. Did you guys see that midfield possession? The crisp passing? Thats how you play the game and thats how you get max points on the road. This match passed the eye test because the Union just LOOKED much better then Seattle. Things are starting to finally come together. I can’t wait to invade RBA 10/20!

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