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Union 1-1 Orlando: 1st half player ratings & analysis

Photo: Earl Gardner

Given the erratic nature of the preseason, we have elected to invert our usual post-match format and lead with player ratings (click here for our match report of the game). Preseason games are opportunities for positional and tactical experimentation, and so individual player performances become the most important factor in the evaluation of the team as they build towards the regular season. While a poor rating means relatively little with the season still three weeks away, a strong rating does bode well as the Philadelphia Union look to determine which players will step into leadership roles and help guide the team in 2012.

Player Ratings

Starting lineup vs Orlando City

Zac MacMath – 9
MacMath looked every bit the confident starter the Union will need him to be in keeping Orlando City off the score sheet in the first half. The young keeper was tested in a number of ways and produced quality saves at every turn, including a reflex/redirection save, a penalty stop and a breakaway chance denied. MacMath was also fast off his line in commanding his area.

Sheanon Williams – 5 
Williams came out of the gate pressing extremely high up the field, even for him. Additionally, he switched places with Valdes at times and tried his luck in the center of the park. The entire back line was clearly operating with instructions from the coaching staff to be aimed at positional experimentation and consequently never looked the settled unit they were in 2011. Williams had one of the best scoring chances of the first half when he used his advanced positioning to ghost in behind the defense and was unlucky to power his diving header over the bar. He was beaten far too frequently by the counterattacking Lions who found the space in behind him on multiple occasions. Also, it was his poorly timed tackle that conceded the penalty chance for Orlando City.

Carlos Valdes – 5
With the Union dropping Gabriel Gomez into the back line when the Union fullbacks attacked, Valdes spent portions of the half out on the right touchline playing behind Williams. Removed from his comfort zone on too many occasions by the positional experimentation, the wall of protection that Valdes and Califf regularly provided in 2011 vanished. The Lions found pockets of space not only on the wings, but also straight through the middle against the scrambling Union defense.

Danny Califf – 7
The defensive struggles are mentioned above, and Califf was certainly included in them. But to focus on the positive, his 27th minute headed goal was a very positive sign for a Union defense that struggled on set pieces in 2011. Rising highest to meet Gomez’s delivery, Califf’s header was perfection, and Orlando keeper Gallardo had no chance to keep it out.

Porfirio Lopez – 5.5
The newest member of the Union defense had a similarly nervy performance to match the rest of the back line, but he acquitted himself well when it came to work rate, getting forward, and tracking back. The defense will sort out the positional kinks, but it was good to see Lopez work hard to join the attack, show comfort on the ball, and begin his partnership with Danny Califf on the left side of the back line.

Gabriel Gomez – 9
Gomez was as good as advertised and then some. He played in front of and behind Brian Carroll, working hard to create space for himself and his teammates. The Panamanian took all the set pieces, including the one that led to the Califf goal, which he whipped in with pace and accuracy. His 45th minute pass to Martinez was a thing of beauty, an inch-perfect ball from 40-plus yards away that both switched fields and cleared the defense. The center of the park just got a whole lot stronger for the Union.

Brian Carroll – 4
No matter where the ball was, it seemed that Brian Carroll wasn’t. Carroll found himself chasing the game a lot and dropping too deep in conceding midfield space when Gomez made a run up field. A team that wants to press their fullbacks high up the pitch cannot afford to allow space in the center of the park for creative playmakers to feed the ball wide to unprotected wings. Carroll eventually found the flow of the game, but a lot of the credit is due to Gomez moving around him and demanding the ball back.

Jack McInerney – 4.5
Jack McInerney is not a midfielder. McInerney thrives on sitting at the offside line daring a defense to forget about him. He wants to run forward, dart in behind and score goals. When he was called upon to play midfield in 2011, he looked lost. Saturday was similar. As a result, he put undue stress on Lopez by remaining too high up the pitch and only dropped into the midfield on a few occasions to receive the ball. While he had a couple of goal scoring chances he too often found himself taking space that Martinez was looking to exploit.

Freddy Adu – 6.5
Adu put in his most complete shift as a member of the Union and even threw in a counterattack-killing sliding tackle for good measure. We have seen Adu demand the ball before, but in this match his first touch was sharp, his eyes were up the field, and he was eager to challenge defenders. He worked particularly well off of Mwanga and was unlucky not to get a goal in the 29th when Mwanga deftly played him in, only for the ball to be cut out before Adu could bang it home.

Danny Mwanga – 7.5
Mwanga did the little things well and had as industrious a half a striker can have without scoring. With his back to goal, Mwanga showed strength and composure, distributing well to Gomez, Adu and most importantly, Martinez. It was his run that earned the free kick for the goal, and the coaching staff will have been pleased with his willingness to drop into midfield to receive the ball.

Josue Martinez – 4.5
With Jack McInerney playing so high on the left wing, Martinez struggled to find space of his own. This is hardly a knock on Martinez, because not only did McInerney eat up space, but he also brought extra defenders into Martinez’s hunting ground, clogging up lanes, and making things more difficult for the Costa Rican striker. Both Mwanga and Gomez did manage put him into space, but he was unable to convert on either occasion. He will need to find ways to get himself more involved in the game other than simply providing a target for the final ball.

First Half Analysis

The Enforcer
When Faryd Mondragon left the Union to return to Colombia, he took with him much of club’s fierce demeanor from 2011. In one half, Gabriel Gomez asserted that he can be the Union’s most intimidating player. Strong on the ball and tough in the tackle, it is clear that Gomez has no desire to back down from any challenge. While he will work to improve his English language skills, his tough, passionate play already speaks for itself.

If the Union deploy one defensive, holding midfield player, Gomez should be that man, as he always found himself closer to the ball than partner Brian Carroll, both on offense and defense. If the Union play a 4–5–1 or 4–3–3, Amobi Okugo might prove a more dynamic foil for Gomez because either player can spread the ball around the pitch and begin the build up play going forward. With the Union intent on dropping a midfielder into the backline on counterattacks, it was strange that Gomez was the one who dropped back rather than Carroll, as this decision led to his playing both in front of and behind the Union No. 7. The 4–4–2 deployed in the first half was still a version of the empty bucket that frustrated fans and gave the opposition far too much possession in the middle of the pitch in 2011. A central midfield pairing of Gomez and either Freddy Adu or Roger Torres would provide a more vertical shape and better suit the Union in attack, thus allowing them to play higher up the field, limiting the space for the opposition.

Defensive Rotation
It’s not just for the offense any more. Sheanon Williams and Carlos Valdes changed places. Valdes and Danny Califf changed places. All in all, it was frustratingly ineffective as the Union contrived to make the top defense in MLS look incredibly porous on Saturday. With the only real offseason defensive need already addressed with the signing of Lopez,, the preseason should be about building chemistry between the new left back and the rest of last year’s backline. Yet against Orlando City, the Union did everything but that. They were not helped by their midfield, who gave away too much space all over the park, making it easy for Orlando City to exploit the real estate behind both Lopez and Williams, who were pressing extremely high throughout the half. Experimentation is important for development and growth, but in this instance, such “gadget” plays and tactics only served to weaken the Union all night in Orlando and will not be employed once the regular season begins.

What to do with Jack McInerney?
Jack McInerney is not a midfielder. Not at all. And with each appearance in the midfield, he proves it. He is a striker, poised to finish off plays, not start them. On Saturday, his high line left Porfirio Lopez consistently without an outlet up the line, and his advanced position made it unnecessarily difficult for Josue Martinez to find space on the left. With Gabe Farfan, Keon Daniel, Nizar Khalfan, and Martinez as potential outside midfield candidates, the McInerney experiment ought to cease as soon as possible. His positioning and instincts all force him forward, and the left side of midfield became a wide open area for Orlando City to exploit.

Maturing Mwanga
On Saturday, Danny Mwanga made sure that the Union offense flowed through him. With Josue Martinez keeping the defense in check with his high pressure and runs in behind, Mwanga eagerly showed for the ball in midfield, displaying the excellent touch and good vision that had left him for long stretches in 2011. His delicate early chip almost sent Martinez off to the races and he combined consistently with Adu and Gomez to good effect. When he did press forward, Mwanga showed his devastating pace in beating the Orlando City defense with ease. He would have tucked home the opener if not for Gallardo’s tackle, which only set the Union up for Califf’s set piece goal. While it is only a small sample size and Mwanga must continue to prove that he is capable of being the focal point of the Union attack, Saturday’s efforts presented a strong statement from the third year striker.

Click here for second half player ratings and analysis.

9 Comments

  1. Josh Kensington says:

    In terms of personnel- this sounds really encouraging. In terms of coaching decisions, it seems like more of the same- too much involvement, not enough just putting personnel where they are going to be successful and letting them do their thing. At the same time, this is the preseason, so there’s still hope the dictator will settle them in.

  2. I really think the Union could be a great team this year if we had sensible lineups. Would love to see a midfield of Gomez as the holder, Adu as the CAM, with Keon and Marfan as the LM and RM. That midfield could really possess.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Gomez was a revelation to see see in the flesh. If what we saw on Saturday is any indication, he is going to be a monster in MLS, the perfect combo of smarts, physicality and technique.

      • Monster may be an understatement. He drives and carries Panama and makes them a real contender in World Cup Qualifying. He was great both times he played the US recently and he’s not afraid of the big stage. In fact he seems to relish it. GREAT signing.

  3. It’s really too bad that the “tinkerer” nick name for a coach is already in use.

  4. Great to hear that Freddy looked good too. Ready for him to prove the haters wrong.

  5. Lots of positives. Good to see #10 has progressed and improved on identified problem areas from last season…and Gomez sounds great!!! I like the starting 11 minus Jack in MF…Question: Did Adu look 100% healthy, efficient?

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