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Union-Dynamo: analysis and player ratings

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

So, what the hell was that lineup?

I can’t believe I have to phrase it that way. I mean, it is really hard to be that surprised by the starting XI in a season where the starting XI has been a surprise almost every match. But not only did Peter Nowak start Stefani Miglioranzi, who has played a total of 19 minutes since September 17, he started him as a center back in a system we’ve yet to see the Union use all season.

With the Union in possession, it was a three center back system with Migs, Valdes and Califf. Gabe Farfan and Sheanon Williams were allowed the freedom to roam a little further up the pitch from their outside positions. When Houston had the ball, Williams and Garfan were responsible for returning to the back line. I don’t know whether to call it a 5-3-2 or a 3-2-3-2 or what. But whatever it was, it was disappointing.

Not only did the Union look disoriented in the new system, with the back three playing short balls to each other for periods of the first half, it was simply disappointing to see such a negative system employed. First home playoff game in franchise history and Roger Torres and Freddy Adu are both on the bench in favor of this baffling new system?

And clearly, it didn’t work. Houston found room in the channels behind Garfan and Williams playing as wing backs. Brad Davis especially found room behind Garfan. And if there was one guy you didn’t want getting open on the wings for Houston, it was probably Davis.

Going forward, the Union looked disjointed. The center backs passed amongst themselves, finding few options from Carroll, Mapp or Marfan. So it was hopeful balls lofted over the top for Le Toux and Mwanga, who struggled to create much when they could latch on to the ball.

The scouting report on Houston is…they’re tall

And they score a lot of goals from set pieces. Yet the Union could not stop giving Houston opportunities on them in the opening half. Four corner kicks. Three free kicks within 35 yards. Not to mention the crosses from open play resulting from Davis and Cruz getting in behind the Union back line.

Hainault was free for an open header on the first goal. But Houston had so many other opportunities. It seemed like every time the ball was hit into the box, an orange jersey was the first to get his head to it. The ball had to be cleared off the line after a corner on 22 minutes. Another open header flew just wide minutes after that.

Even with the addition of Miglioranzi, who if nothing else is tall, the smaller Union had trouble winning balls in the box for the opening 45 minutes. They will have to find a way to limit such opportunities to have any chance on Thursday in Texas.

A better second half and positive subs

Migs was moved up into the midfield next to Brian Carroll to start the second half. The Union immediately found more of the ball playing in a familiar and comfortable shape. Williams and Garfan were able to get up the flanks to support the midfield in a way that they couldn’t in the first half, even though theoretically they were pushed higher up the pitch with the Union in possession.

The subs were all positive additions to the game. Jack McInerney replaced Migs just ten minutes into the second half and was one of the hardest working players on the pitch for the last half hour of the game. He checked in to create triangles with midfielders and the outside backs. He ran in channels beyond the Houston back line to keep them honest and look for balls over the top. Roger Torres replaced Justin Mapp and put in a typical Torres performance. While his shots from distance kept Tally Hall on his toes and forced the Houston back line to sit a little bit deeper, for every lovely ball to switch the field there was a time when he dribbled into traffic and was dispossessed.  Freddy Adu replaced Danny Mwanga and put in an improved performance over what we’ve seen from him in the last few weeks. He linked well in the midfield and played some nice one-twos to isolate defenders and provide service. His shot from 20 yards was only inches high from being the equalizer.

Could have been 3-1

Every Union fan should be thankful to two players for the game not ending 3-1. Carlos Costly missed an absolute sitter on 84 minutes after Will Bruin rolled the ball across the box to the wide open striker. There was a strong hint of offsides on Bruin as he broke through, but the miss was still shocking for Costly in front of a gaping goal.

And Faryd Mondragon made an absolutely huge save on Brad Davis on 86 minutes when the Houston midfielder launched a fierce drive from the left side of the box. Say what you will about the rest of his performance, that save was class.

Could one of these misses come back to haunt the Dynamo on Thursday?

Player ratings

Faryd Mondragon – 5

Slow off his line, particularly on Houston’s second goal. Probably didn’t have much of a chance on the first goal, though it might have been close enough to claim. The three or five man back line (what do we call that disaster?) seemed disorganized from every perspective including Mondragon’s. On a night when he needed to be absolutely dominant in the box, he wasn’t. That save on Davis was sweet, though. The Dragon’s goal kicks and punts, not so sweet.

Danny Califf – 7

Hard to judge this game for Califf. Was forced to win a ton of balls played into the box in the air and did a fairly serviceable job. Spent most of the first half passing between Migs and Valdes when the Union had the ball, but he’s not out there for his distribution.

Carlos Valdes – 6

Similar to Califf in the fact that he won a number of balls played in the air, but probably still not enough. Kept Carr onside for Houston’s goal when the rest of the back line had stepped up.

Stefani Miglioranzi – 1

Maybe the score is harsh. But I don’t care. I don’t know what to write here. Played center back in the weird formation. Stood and watched Hainault head in the first goal. Looked a step off the game (how could this be after over a month of almost no game time!). Took a silly yellow card after he gave the ball away cheaply in the first half.

Sheanon Williams – 6

Was all over the pitch in the first half—driving through the midfield with the ball. Overlapping on the outside. Settled down in the second half and was a consistent threat down the right wing. His long throw in is impressive, but Philly has to work out some sort of plan for them because I don’t think they won one all evening.

Gabriel Farfan – 5

Lucky to be eligible for the game on Thursday. Gabe’s early yellow card put him in a tough spot for the rest of the match and he could have been sent off for a deliberate “professional” foul later in the game. Brad Davis found plenty of room behind the rookie left back and got off far too much service. Was better in the second half with the change in formation and got forward in support of the attack.

Brian Carroll – 6

Forced to cover about 40 yards of midfield by himself in the first half, Carroll struggled to contain the Dynamo’s possession. Was better in the second half with more midfield help. With the positive substitutions, he was able to do effectively do what he is best at, winning the ball back in the offensive half of the field.

Michael Farfan – 6

Couldn’t get on the ball in the first half but was better in the second. He offered good service and is probably the best one-on-one player on the entire Union roster. Was maybe a little too zealous with his shooting from distance as the game wore on. But he’s capable, so it is hard to fault the youngster for trying to be positive.

Justin Mapp – 2

Saw very little of the ball for the entire game. Looked like his main responsibility when he did find the ball was to try and run at as many people as possible and look for a foul. Which actually worked twice, but made him look foolish the other times. Should not start in Houston.

Sebastien Le Toux – 7

Another big goal from the talisman. After conceding early, Le Toux found a great finish on the half volley to score the Union’s first ever playoff goal to equalize the game. Settled for long balls over the top without much success in the first half. Found better service in the second half and combined well through the midfield.  His free kicks were as inconsistent as always, with one forcing Hall into a good save and the next blasted straight into the wall.

Danny Mwanga – 6

Hard to be too harsh on Mwanga, who saw little of the ball in the first 45 minutes. Decent on the counter attack when the Union were able to break, and drove a 50 yard run into a decent chance early in the game. Had very few chances to combine with Le Toux.


Jack McInerney – 7

See the above paragraph on the second half for more details. But Jack Mac did well both checking into the midfield and stretching the Houston defense trying to run behind. One of his best games all season was almost capped off with what would have been a huge goal when he headed the ball off the bar late in the game.

Roger Torres – 7

Typical Torres performance really. Got on the ball more than any other midfielder had all game and sprayed passes around the pitch. Took some decent shots from distance (and some less than decent ones, as well). Still occasionally dribbled into traffic and was dispossessed.

Freddy Adu – 6

Better stuff from Adu than we’ve seen the past few games. Had some poor shots from distance but also a few decent chances including the one that just went over the bar. Seemed to hang a little bit too high up the pitch waiting for the ball to get to him, though. Still waiting to see him start taking defenders on one-on-one.

Peter Nowak starting selection- 0

See the comments from the match report. Or fill your own in here. Or just look at the starting XI one more time. The subs were good choices.


  1. Mwanga was strong for the first 15 minutes maybe, but seemed to go missing after that. In particular, he had the 50 yard run (where despite having open players on either side, he ran right into defenders), and then barely saw the ball after.

    Also, Mondragon’s service is consistently bad. That was maybe the thing I liked most about MacMath. In terms of Mondragon’s leadership/organization/whatever, I really like how he ran out and grabbed Gabe Farfan while he was wandering around aimlessly before a corner, and literally pulled him into position.

  2. Actually I have revised my desired formation for Thursday:
    Williams – Califf – Valdes – Farfan
    Farfan – Torres – Adu
    Jack Mac – Le Toux

    I don’t mean to hate, but the LAST thing we need is Pauno back. I don’t want our last game of 2011 to be another inept offensive performance where Le Toux is on an island because Pauno wants to play ticky tac with Valdes the whole game.
    Jack Mac looked good – he did exactly what I like about him – and deserves a start.

    • I think Houston’s tactics emphasized that we need to find a true LB in the offseason. Much love to (Gabe?) Farfan, and maybe it was due to the formation and/or stratgery, but he seemed way too exposed in this (and the NYRB) game. Same goes for the other Farfan … by the end of the game, he seemed too gassed to track back and cover for Williams’ vacated RB position. Mapp’s antics really make me miss Neon Keon.

      • We are pretty lucky the Union don’t have to find a new LB for Thursday. Garfan’s early face-tackle gets you sent off in leagues with real refs.

      • Was it just me or was Migs tackle also a clear sending off? He was so late, so violent and so nowhere near the ball.

      • both were yellows. this is the playoffs. only the harshest of reds should get you sent off in my opinion.

  3. Mondi was definitely slow off his line for the second goal, but in hindsight I think he held off because Valdes was coming (and sliding) across to close down Carr, which I think threw FM1 off.

  4. MikeRSoccer says:

    Very generous player rating for Mwanga. Lost the ball repeatedly and had a low work rate all game long. On the counter attack in the first half where he ended up taking a shot he had at least two options for an easy pass, but chose to go it alone.
    What is there to say about Nowak? He and Hackworth have done such a great job at assembling a team in such a short period of time, but they continually disappoint on game day. The work he has done to assemble the team makes me say that we cannot possibly sack him, but on game day I want to kick him out the door. His game day choices are even effecting the locker room. Califf looked furious in the post game when he berated the idea of “experimenting in the post season”. Unbelievable.

  5. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    Your ratings show too much personal bias.

  6. Novak = Very Very good GM, terrible gameday and in-game coach. I defy you to find another team whose coach makes 1-2 halftime subs a game, then while trailing 2-1 at home in the playoffs waits till the 60th to make a sub.

  7. How can you not mention Marfan’s weighted pass to set up the goal? Regardless of what he didn’t do for the other 90 mins. that pass deserves credit. Le Toux just had to step up & one-time it home. Torres can provide those too & should definitely start opposite Marf in place of Mapp.

  8. The last time I checked hand ball in the box is a penalty was I the only one that saw it… The refs are fricking blind… Mac is going to be great when he learn t score. Can’t wait to c a great midfield. Team is to inexperience but they have there chances and I am proud of them. Stop rating these players you guys suck at it……….. Don’t mean no disrespect but please stop.

    • No disrespect, but PSP does some of the best game day analysis out there for soccer that I have come across. Especially when they are compared to the competition (I’m looking at you goal.com). Disagreeing and debating is one thing, but just saying you suck and please stop is not helpful.

      • Couldn’t agree more Mike. Stephano, why are you here and reading the ratings then? Why don’t you just stop reading them if it harms your life? While I don’t agree with everything in these ratings (I thought Marfan and Adu were both sharp and better than Califf who looked out of place in new system), the PSP provides the best Union coverage around. Up there with Soccer by Ives and Fox Soccer as the must-read places. We all appreciate your hard work guys; please don’t stop.

      • Thanks, guys. You know we always appreciate the compliments. Keep spreading the word please. We can take the hits too.

        Separately, we’ll probably say more about the good GM, bad coach thing later. Writing about it last Tuesday and then seeing it punch everyone in the face Sunday is probably all anyone could stomach about it right now.

    • PSP is by far the best place for Union coverage so I’m not quite sure what your issue is

    • While I believe the PSP is the best place for Union coverage, I have a hard time taking these ranking seriously. As someone noted earlier, there is too much personal bias and sometimes they seem to be based on the popularity of players around here. These ranking would never fly on MlS.com or Foxsoccer. They are very much a reflection of the Union fanbase’s current views…whether accurate or not. That being said, I’m gonna continue reading! I totally appreciate the effort whether I agree completely or not.

  9. @Brian – from our vantage point in Section 113, Farfan’s pass looked liked it was supposed to be a chip shot that deflected off of a defender. I could be wrong, though.

    Biggest props should go to Mondragon for making that save late in the game. He then stood up, looked around at the fans, and started raising his hands in the air to pump up the crowd. It was only then that everyone started to stand up and cheer and get back into the game for those final 10 minutes. It’s fair to say the Union had several decent chances at equalizing in those final 10 minutes. And saving that potential 3rd goal could prove to be very, very big for the U.

  10. Stuart, Destroyer Of Worlds says:

    I wouldn’t say either of those two goals were Migs’s fault, and subsequently I think he gets far too low a rating. He should not have been playing in the first place, I grant you that, but the first one was pretty much Califf escorting Hainault to the ball (though to be fair maybe if we didn’t have as many CBs it’d be a little clearer whose assignment that was). On top of that, he was much better in terms of turning over the ball, which has been a big issue with him. Subsequently, Mwanga’s rating was too high simply because I noticed him once all game (dat run) and because he failed to clean up on that dust-up inside the 18. He should play Thursday, but he must play better.

  11. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    I think the coverage is great, can’t think of a better place to get good Union coverage. My only issue was with the Migs rating. Other than that I think your analysis is right on most of the time.

  12. Everyone has their styles of ratings, and there are even different styles among PSP writers. For example, I’d probably have handed 4s to Migs & Mapp, while Carroll and Mwanga probably would’ve been just 5s. But this is always the thing with player ratings. We’re watching the same game, but we’re all seeing it differently.

    I think Mike was sending a message with some of those ratings, a message that, to be honest, after my post about Nowak last Tuesday, we didn’t feel like hammering into people’s heads beyond Mike’s wrap-up, so it was his job to encapsule it in the ratings and analysis post.

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