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Analysis & player ratings: Union 1-2 Rapids

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

In slumping to a second straight defeat to open the 2012 campaign, frustration ruled the day with more new questions arising about the Union and very few being answered. More questionable tactics, another new formation, and players tasked to play multiple positions. Yet, it was a winnable game and a dose of timely finishing would have seen the Union earn three points in a match in which they where the dominant side. Instead, they head to Chicago one of six winless teams in the East.

Go-Go-Gomez

Another day, another strong outing for Gabriel Gomez who was asked to play both midfield and defense in the Union’s new look 3-5-2. Fortunately for Peter Nowak, Gomez put in a tireless shift, charging forward once possession was won and retreating rapidly to aid Carlos Valdes when Colorado launched their own attack.

But two positions?

Can Gomez be this team’s number one holding midfielder? Yes. He should be. That’s why he was brought to Philadelphia.

Can Gomez play center back in MLS? Following Sunday’s performance, yes, he clearly has the size, speed, and defensive awareness to get the job done. Before we get to the issue of should he be deployed in defense (the answer is no, only in a pinch, but then still probably no), the final question is should he play both positions simultaneously for the Union. The answer to that is a resounding no. Jumping in and out of two units for the Union destabilized both, with Valdes being run ragged trying to cover the extra ground. In midfield, Brian Carroll was aided by the defensive work of Michael Farfan, but with Gomez playing in no man’s land behind him, Carroll conceded territory and allowed Colorado too much time and space in the middle of the field.

Shoot. Score. Win.

Whether it is a lack of confidence, a desire to be unselfish, or simple lack of technique, the Union must improve on their finishing before they can be considered a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. Despite controlling play and having the majority of the chances in the first half—and playing up a man for more than half an hour—they were only able to muster 5 shots on goal. An additional 15 shots, 10 wide and 5 blocked, never found the target. Not only did Lionard Pajoy and Danny Mwanga contrive to miss out on glorious chances, but Farfan and Sheanon Williams got in on the act. The former showed a hesitancy to fire, while the latter proved too eager, blasting over a first time effort in the 36th minute when he had ample time to take a touch and compose himself, having been played in through beautiful work from both strikers.

Taking shots when they present themselves and directing them on target with higher accuracy are two separate issues, but both kept the Union from taking the lead they deserved against Colorado.

Can they put the defense back together again?

If Califf’s demotion to the bench was form related, there were plenty of others from the Portland game who deserved a spot alongside him on the pine. If it was injury enforced, the Union captain knew little about it. “I’m OK, my knee is fine,” Califf said. “I feel fine. To be honest, I really don’t have any idea [why he did not play.]”

Whatever the reason, Califf needs to return for the Union’s trip to Chicago. Benching the captain after only 90 minutes of play in a new season is a troubling sign. Doing so and then failing to provide a full time replacement is worse. With so little depth at center back and Gabriel Gomez needed in the midfield, Peter Nowak and Califf must sort out whatever kept the Union captain out of the starting lineup on Sunday, and fast.

Porfirio Lopez’s inauspicious start to his Union career is a cause for concern for the Union, but it pales in comparison to the coaching staff’s tinkering with the unit that made the Union a playoff contender in 2011. Putting the defensive line back together must be the team’s first priority as they travel to Chicago in search of 2012’s first clean sheet.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 2.5

Two games, two major goalkeeping blunders from MacMath.

“I lost it in the sun a little bit, it was lofted up pretty high,” MacMath said. “I got clipped a little bit there, but it’s a small play and I have to stay concentrated on making the small plays for a full 90 and doing my best to keep the team in it, and I didn’t do that today.”

Neither excuse will offer any solace to the Union faithful and are poor justifications from the young goalkeeper who simply has to do better. Yet, this is MacMath’s team, and mistakes like these are part of the price of admission for a team that has pinned 100 percent of their hopes to the young goalkeeper. MacMath will need to dig deep to find a sterling performance against Chicago, as he is already beginning to build the wrong kind of reputation around MLS.

Chris Albright – 2.5

Asked to do very little on the night, Albright will go down as one of the goats of the match as his blunder handed Tony Cascio the matchwinner. Whether his heel was clipped on the play seems irrelevant given how slow Albright was to react in the first place, nearly losing the race to the ball despite a comfortable head start. Outside of the goal, he had very little to do. Yet while his teammates attempted a more patient approach, Albright too frequently resorted to pumping the ball aimlessly up the pitch.

Carlos Valdes – 6.5

Valdes covered an astonishing amount of ground on a day when the one-on-one battle against Omar Cummings seemed like enough of a challenge by itself. Outside of a late burst where Cummings was unable to place his chip on target, Valdes held the speedy Jamaican in check. Progressing through the season, he needs Califf back at his side as his task was simply too great to perform alone and he grew visibly tired as the match wore on. A more composed attacking unit, complete with a full compliment of 11 players, would have exploited the many holes left in the Union defense as a result of the Union’s three man defensive line.

With so many other players pushed forward, Valdes must cut out his 60-yard dribbling adventures, as they rarely bear fruit and more often end with the tired centerback crumpling to the ground in the opponent’s half, too far from his place in the Union backline.

Porfirio Lopez –  3

There was good news and bad news for the Costa Rican defender in his second match for the Union. The good news first. After a rocky showing in the opener against Portland, Lopez was no worse against Colorado. The bad news? He was no better. Slow to react and heavy with his touches, Lopez gave Brian Mullan far too much time on the ball. When he did choose to intervene it was always with some sort of violent, sliding challenge, rather than keeping to his feet to shepherd the danger away.

In Portland, Lopez got a small let-off given the lack of midfield support with which he was provided, but with Keon Daniel dutifully helping out on Sunday, Lopez’s inability to connect on passes out of the back was nearly as troubling as his struggles in defense. He will need to get a handle on almost every element of his game or the Gabriel Farfan chants will grow louder and louder.

Sheanon Williams – 3

Williams is not a midfielder. As with his performance in Portland, it must be remembered that Williams’ danger comes from joining the attack. Overlapping Michael Farfan and creating a numeric advantage on the wing, there is not a defense in MLS who can afford to ignore Williams’ surging runs. As a midfielder, Williams was stagnant and uninvolved, playing too high up the field and offering a negligible contribution to the Union’s possession game. In a match where the Union were already shuffling the backline, Williams would have been the correct option at right back, not midfield, allowing him to play alongside Carlos Valdes, with whom he has the chemistry built in 2011 with which to work. For Williams to get his season off and running, he will need to refocus on the defensive parts of his game that made him so strong last season. Only then should he concern himself with getting forward.

Gabriel Gomez – 6.5

Given his dual positioning, Gomez had everything to do for the Union and he performed admirably despite the adverse situation into which he was placed. As mentioned above, while Gomez can play in defense, he is far more valuable higher up the field, sitting at the base of the Union attack. In Chicago this weekend, and going forward in 2012, that must be where he is deployed in order for the Union midfield to have consistent success. He continues to show excellent dead ball prowess with a series of dangerously whipped in chances that only required the slightest touch from his teammates to tuck home.

Brian Carroll – 5

With his partner only available on a part-time basis, Carroll covered an equally immense amount of ground on Sunday. Even popping up in the attack at times, Carroll was forced to be constantly on the move and it is hard to fault him some of Colorado’s best build up play, as the region he was tasked with patrolling was both nebulous and expansive.

While he will never be considered an offensive dynamo, he worked hard to get up the field and played the ball more quickly than against Portland. His tidy passing was a welcomed improvement from a week ago and he showed versatility to drop into the backline when Roger Torres entered.

Michael Farfan – 5.5

One of the prime culprits in the Union’s opening loss in Portland, Nowak kept faith with Michael Farfan, and he responded admirably. With Williams occupying the right flank, Farfan was again given the task of running the midfield from a central position and he showed the touch, passing and vision that he will need to become a consistent playmaker. He combined especially well with Danny Mwanga, with Farfan being the striker’s first look whenever he latched onto the ball with his back to goal.

As mentioned above, finishing is not only a striker’s game, and Farfan was guilty of delaying his shot or passing on the effort all together, resulting in the break down of play.

Keon Daniel – 6

Restored to the starting lineup against Colorado, Daniel set about reminding the PPL Park faithful why he had become one of their favorites in 2011. Strong and assured on the ball, he helped the Union slow down play and keep possession. With Farfan, Freddy Adu and Josue Martinez always looking straight up the field against Portland, Daniel offered a needed change of pace, combining well with Gomez and the improved Farfan as the Union built through the midfield. He even showed his offensive chops when he slid in both of his strikers for dangerous first half chances. He tucked in well beneath Farfan and Torres with the Union chasing the second goal and should have seen out the 90 minutes.

Lionard Pajoy – 6

A ponderous day for the big Colombian who, despite managing to open his account for the Union, squandered a number of glorious chances to put the Union on the front foot before half time. Allowing Mwanga to do the back to goal work in the early going, Pajoy was played into space on multiple occasions, but his lack of pace was telling and the Rapids defense had no troubles in catching him from behind. He will need to improve on his accuracy in front of goal, as he failed to trouble Pickens’ in the first half.

Pajoy turned on the gas in the second half, displaying an improved touch and more eagerness to attack defenders. While he and Mwanga found each other occupying the same space too often on Sunday, their partnership is definitely one to cultivate though they will be better served to let Mwanga run off of Pajoy and not the other way round.

Danny Mwanga – 5.5

Excellent in the first half, Mwanga could have easily been the architect of a number of Union goals had his teammates’ finishing not let them down. He was equally guilty of missing chances, however, as he had enough looks to find the net against Matt Pickens. He was strong with his back to goal and did not shy away from contact, although he appeared to tire and fade from the match when Colorado clamped down defensively in the second half and so failed to stretch the defense the way he would have wanted. Deserves another start alongside Pajoy to continue on a promising performance, assuming that both can become sharper in front of goal.

Substitutes

Roger Torres – 6.5

Provided all the energy the Union could have hoped for when he entered the match for his first minutes of 2012. Delivered the perfect ball to Pajoy for the Union’s opener only four minutes after his introduction. From then on, he never stopped probing as he spread the field, trying his luck going over, around and through the Rapids’ defense. It is only a matter of time before Torres cracks the starting XI because performances like these continue to prove that the young Colombian is maturing as an influential playmaker.

Christhian Hernandez – 2

With the Union in need of a goal, it was not the time to hand the newly signed academy player his debut. Hernandez was unable to keep up with the speed of the game and, given Keon Daniel’s strong performance, his introduction was a step in the wrong direction. This says nothing about the player himself, as he will likely be fine given more opportunities, but the choice to include him against Colorado was the wrong one and he brought little the table.

Josue Martinez – 6

It was a brief cameo for the Costa Rican, but he brought a spark into the team immediately upon his arrival. With Mwanga and Pajoy attempting to stretch the compact Rapids’ formation, Martinez darting runs added a new element to the Union attack and he nearly nabbed the late equalizer when he skipped past his defender, toeing his effort just wide with time running down. If this is how Martinez plays when he is deployed as a striker, the Union need to find a way to get him more minutes up top.

Geiger Counter

Mark Geiger – 5

Clearly missed the Drew Moor foul on Mwanga in the opening minutes, though a penalty kick and a red card were never the likely outcome. Would a yellow card for Moor and a free kick outside the box for the Union have made that much of difference? We’ll never know. More questionable was the alleged heel clip on Albright in the build up to Colorado’s second goal. The referee gives the benefit of the doubt to the defender on nine out of ten challenges. Sadly for the Union, this was that one odd time out.

Whether he is right or wrong however, Geiger continues to infuriate players and fans alike with his aggressive style of interaction, his theatrical, almost taunting, delivery of cards and his obsessive compulsion over the location of throw-ins.

Preferred Formation for Saturday at Chicago

4-4-2

MacMath; Williams, Valdes, Califf, Lopez; M. Farfan, Gomez, Torres, Daniel; Mwanga, Pajoy

Have questions that you’d like the PSP’s Eli Pearlman-Storch to answer in a post? Send them to [email protected] along with your full name and where you live, both in PPL Park and in the world, and he will get to them in an upcoming post on the Philly Soccer Page. 

41 Comments

  1. DarthLos117 says:

    I would not be surprised if Geiger represents the US at the next world cup. I like your lineup but Im leaning towards G. Farfan instead of (SloFro)pez…I might even prefer Seitz

  2. Any thoughts on how nowak is going to handle all the bad comments in the press and Califf calling him out on the injury and that he doesn’t communicate WITH THE CAPTAIN

  3. Your a smart guy eli but i gotta disagree with your pajoy rating. I think he should get a 6.5 or 7. The shots he missed were very close none that he missed i felt were easy. And his dribbling between defenders in the crowded pentaly box was great. He was working and trying and creating chances. A lot more then anyone else.

    • That’s fair. I knocked him down a little because I felt his lack of pace and finishing was a glaring problem in the first half. No doubt he was excellent in the second and his goal was courageously taken, but had he buried any of his first chance opportunities, it would have been a very different game. Either way, I think the Union have something with Pajoy and Mwanga and I hope they continue to let them grow together.

      • Bill Bergey 66 says:

        I agree that they need to continue to play Pajoy. His work rate was exceptional but he really needs better touches when receiving balls in and around the box. Nowak needs to allow Mawanga and Pajoy to play together to develop chemistry. I think anyone who watched the game would agree that Torres must start for our offense to flow well. He has excellent attacking midfielder skills and vision and an excellent work rate. Slo-fro-pez needs to be benched and replaced by Garfan asap. They need to play a back 4. Hope that Nowak will ditch the back 3 for good!!!

  4. Josh of Kensington says:

    This loss goes on the coach’s head. A Valdes Califf pairing never lets the second goal happen, and might have prevented the first. The goalkeeping roster- MacMath- is still in question. While it would be precipitous to say that this is Seitz all over, that fear gnaws at the heart of the phaithful. It’s not hard to find decent veteran keepers. The finishing needs to improve, but that’s a given with the young and still geling squad. One goal should have been enough to win.

    • McMath will be fine I really believe that. But he needs some stability in front of him. It is like he has no comfort in front of him.

    • I am also disappointed that there is already an outcry of massive criticism for MacMath. Was it not clear this would happen? Did anyone expect NOT to see a handful of blunders this season? This is the risk/reward of playing a young GK and it’s no good that people are already starting to question and turn on MacMath.
      Where Johnsons or Hamids first full years starting flawless? Now look at them, the unquestioned #1, #2 for the USA U23 team. How about overseas, with De Gea and Sczeny? What up and downs did they go through as they strive to prove themselves?
      It’s just that its important to let MacMath have these blunders and fight through them, because the repercussions of pulling him or questioning him or booing him will be A LOT WORSE for our future than letting him play and learn.

      • Growing pains are part of the process, but you have to admit, he didn’t make mistakes like this last season.

        Something else you should consider, this was a playoff team last year. When Mondragon left we were told ZM is the guy and he’s ready now…not “we’re putting in a 2nd year guy and letting him mature”. This team was set for a little tinkering and going forward, not being blown-up and rebuilt. THAT is the real frustration, unfortunately for ZM, he’s at the point of the attack.

      • Well, for that (and trust me this only makes me angrier at Nowak) last year he had a set backline – probably one of the best in the league – to help him. What has he had this year? A new LB signing who looks to be only the second bad signing the Union have ever made, that LB + our top 3 RB being told to get forward as much as possible in a hostile road environment, then a 3 man backline experiment which included a CM and our backup RB who looked all of 33.
        As much as we hate it when Andy Reid gives us his “I gotta put players in a position to succeed.” line, Nowak has NOT put MacMath (or the defense) in a position to succeed so far.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        I get what your saying James but the fact remains that Zac MacMath committed two t-shirt league mistakes which very much cost us games. And on top of that he says…lost it in the sun

      • Josh of Kensington says:

        I’m not mad at Zach. He had a Mac Match in Portland, even with the gaffe. I just think the coach’s could have let him have another year or two as back up. I’m not saying that his season might not be great- I’m saying why gamble with 1) his confidence 2) the season.

      • Think we are spoiled from last year when ZM was very decent and did not commit any memorable blunder while he started.

      • Actually, I very much believe MacMath when he says he lost it in the sun. I think a lot of defenders could sympathize. (Hasn’t it happened to you? It’s happened to me.) Does it excuse his error? No. But it adds context to it. A more experienced goalkeeper may have developed better ways of coping with such a situation. These are the growing pains you get with a 20-year-old goalkeeper. It’s not his fault the Union didn’t sign a veteran.

      • I (unfortunately) watched him lose it in the sun. I was sitting right behind goal and on plays before and after any time he even looked as far to his right as the benches he had to cover his eyes to see. Yes it was a rookie mistake but he (overall) did have a good game it is just a bummer his one mistake had to lead to a goal

      • That’s why an experienced keeper would have worn a baseball cap (to keep the sun out of his eyes as much as possible …).

      • DarthLos117 says:

        Last comment about the sun. The Union have been playing at PPL park going into 3 years now. They should have an understanding of how the sun sets and use it to their advantage. In the first half vs the Rapids, Pickens got to play in the shade…both halves MacMath played in the sun, advantage Rapids. I know traditionally we like to open with our keeper at the river end but we should really reevaluate that stance and start taking any advantage we can get.

      • that’s true. but can we afford to wait for him to improve? maybe he isn’t ready to start. He shows potential. he has good reactions and showed maturity in some of his decisions at portland on last year. He needs to learn to hold on to the ball. he seems scared sometimes too he needs to be more aggressive. He needs to practice saving headers and high balls from crosses and set pieces.

  5. I am really warming up to this team. I want to like them. I think we have good, even great personnel. I think Pajoy and Mwanga will be sick up top. We have more than enough talent in the midfield and there is no reason our defense can be where it was last year. But it always comes back to Nowak. We spend our time talking about Nowak almost as much as we spend our time talking about the team. It is frustrating. I wish he would get the hell out of the way of this team.

  6. I may be in the minority here, but I really don’t think Torres has a place on this team. Granted, he provided a great assist, but when he comes in and completes something like 4 of 15 touches, you’ve got to be worried. We needed an attack, sure, but when you don’t have the ball, you can’t score. Compounded on the fact that he leaves us helplessly exposed on defense, I really don’t see him much more than a 75th minute substitution. I can’t stand the love affair with him, especially when we already have a surplus of solid attackers.

    • He has the chops to be the playmaker and is a proven impact player (Assists Pajoy’s goal 4 minutes after coming on). Getting him to a fitness level where he can play a full 90 is the way to go.

      And a surplus of “solid attackers”? So far, Adu and Marfan have been rather anemic in ’12.

    • Steve I also thought that the number of times Torres took excessive touches was disconcerting but keep in mind the situation. We were pressing for a second goal and his risk taking paid off. In a longer stint perhaps the first 75 minutes, I expect him to be more patient while at the same time ready to take advantage of gaps and find the strikers on runs. I think before you write off this 20 year old, let him start in the absence of Adu. I like Eli’s lineup alot, I think Gomez free to just have the CDM responsibilities coupled with Keon on the left and Marfan on the right would be plenty support for the risk taking Torres

  7. Steve he is the only one of our midfielders that has the guts to go forward most of the others play the ball backwards…dont get me started on williams in the midfield what a trainwreck…

    • Williams is overrated, to say the least. Sorry. So, he’s got pace and a long throw-in. Other than that, he should really work on his defensive game and no, he has no business in the midfield.

  8. Love the preferred lineup. I recommended it before the Colorado game as well.

    Also, quick note, congrats to Freddy Adu for being named captain of the u-23s. He clearly is a good player. Hopefully he starts to step up for us when he returns.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Hopefully Adu will be away on “captain’s business” more, so we can try to put a strong midfield together without his god awful touches. That is if he touches the ball at all. He has been 100% ineffective as a member of our club. Let the u-23’s have him. We pay a great penny for the dis-services of Fred Adu.

      • the lack of patience is abysmal. give freddy a chance when he comes back playing his natural position.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Adu was not brought to the club to be a work in progress. He was brought in to be a gifted playmaker who’s has had top level experience and was paid accordingly. He has not been able to get himself involved in any aspect of our game. He ties up a lot of money that could be used to bring in an impactful player, or could of allowed us to have kept impactful players.

    • I agree with Black Hand on Adu. I just want to see him sold ASAP.

      But I like that preferred lineup. I’d prefer Garfan and Martinez to Lopez and Mwanga, but it’d still be an excellent lineup.

      This team has a lot of talent, they just need to click.

      • Sell him and go after Ballack! Read the rumor mill, we are on his October list of three…

      • I think they want to sell him (remember the training stint in Spain). No one wants to buy him…

  9. I think we could be better than last year. I see a lot of potential in pajoy and gomez. The main thing holding us back now is Macmath. He showed talent with the portland match. but he really lacks experience. He needs to a lot of practice defending high balls. I think we’ll be good with out le toux. torres is stepping it up, we have keon back, new back up strikers and like i said pajoy and gomez. We are good. we just need to stick with a somewhat consistent formation and lineup. Also, I am annoyed by Adu but I dont hate him… yet. jk but kind of not. This is the last year he has, no more excuses. If he doesnt blow us away this season then I give up on him. I still have faith though.

    Eli, what do you think the best line up for chicago will be?

    • Apologies. the end of the post said “against Colorado” when it should have read “at Chicago”
      this is my pick.
      Preferred Formation for Saturday at Chicago
      4-4-2
      MacMath; Williams, Valdes, Califf, Lopez; M. Farfan, Gomez, Torres, Daniel; Mwanga, Pajoy

      • Eli, I am liking this formation. The diamond 4 MF, with Gomez holding and Torres at the top feeding Pajoy would be great. Unfortunately, Nowak will probably do something crazy….

  10. Hernandez entering the match was a joke. Nowak will never run a 4-4-2 because he thinks he is smarter then everyone else in the world.

    This should be our starting 11 always, barring anyone not being availabe

    Defense: MacMath, Lopez, Califf, Valdez, Williams

    Mid: Keon, Roger, Gomez, Carroll/Adu (depending on what kind of team we are playing against)

    Up front: Pajoy, Mwanga (or Martinez)

  11. Exactly the lineup I want to see Keon must play same with Roger. No more 3-5-2 either. You are spot on about Williams; he is much more effective when running at defenders than participating in a slow buildup where he receives the ball in a stationary position in the attacking half.

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