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Analysis & player ratings: Union 0-0 Whitecaps

Photo: Earl Gardner

First the positives for the Union:

They kept their first clean sheet of 2012. Outside of two incisive runs from Sebastien Le Toux, the Whitecaps had very little offense of which to speak. True, they were without target man Eric Hassli and midfield maestro Camilo Sanvezzo, but the Union’s four-man back line, finally reunited, got the job done. The progression is good: 3 goals conceded in Portland, 2 versus Colorado, 1 in Chicago and now a well-deserved clean sheet.

The goalless streak is at 203 minutes

While the Union had plenty of opportunities to pound home a match winner, none of those chances involved any recognized attackers. It was Brian Carroll, Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf who all failed to put the match away from close range.

Having now played all 360 minutes of the young season, Lionard Pajoy was effectively eliminated from the match by the combination of Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour. Slow to the ball, quick to foul, and terrible with his touch, Pajoy’s contribution to a Union maneuver meant its death on an afternoon where the big Colombian offered very little for the struggling Union attack. With his partner, debutant Chandler Hoffman, pinned to the left touchline for the first third of the match, Pajoy beat a lonely path up top and showed none of the physicality or technique required of a lone target forward.

When Hoffman moved into the center of the park, he proved brighter and more capable of stretching the defense, as did Jack McInerney upon his entry into the match. But neither displayed the quality that would lead to the breakthrough. Still, with Pajoy failing to find comfortable chemistry with Danny Mwanga and now Hoffman and McInerney, it seems that it is his turn to take a seat as the Union striker carousel continues to revolve.

Bad Behavior

Any time a team loses three matches on the trot, frustration begins to build. When those three matches come at the beginning of a campaign in which expectations are already sky high, the stakes are undoubtedly even greater.

That said, it was still disappointing to see some of the Union’s veteran players visibly and petulantly venting their frustration on Saturday. From childish arm flailing to condescending gesticulation, straight down the spine of the Union lineup, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Gomez and Lionard Pajoy were all guilty of remonstrating against the referee, Whitecaps’ players and, worst of all, their own teammates. With so many young eyes on the bench and pitch looking to these players for leadership and guidance, such behavior sets a bad example at a time when the Union must remain united in the cause of consistently improving their game. As the youngest team in MLS, the few well-seasoned veterans who remain must provide better leadership if the Union are to right the ship quickly.

Weekly formation plea

The Union need to get player’s back onto their natural sides of the pitch in order to exploit the width of the park. Given that the roster is already short on natural wide players, Peter Nowak’s choices for deployment at outside midfield must return to their preferred flanks in order spread the field as much as any group of centrally minded players can. Gabriel Farfan’s likely return to left back is a step in the right direction. Hopefully Keon Daniel will follow him over to the left, where he can use his dominant left foot to push the ball up the line. With this pairing opposite Sheanon Williams and Michael Farfan or Freddy Adu, Columbus will have no choice but to respect the Union’s ability to attack from the flanks, leaving space in the center of the pitch for the playmakers and strikers to operate. Spreading the field not only opens up the center of park, but it also drags defenders away from their own goal, opening up channels for the Union to attack.

While he is the exception to this right-foot/right flank desire, Freddy Adu seems set to work from the right side of the pitch, given that he doesn’t have the pure pace to get up the line. He has proven far more adroit at sliding the ball through a defense from the middle of the pitch than whipping service in behind them. As captain of the US U-23 side that suffered the recent shocking upset in the Olympic qualifying tournament, Adu clearly felt the full weight of that defeat. The pain etched on his face will not be soon forgotten, and Union fans will hope he returns to PPL Park with a chip on his shoulder and desire to get back to winning ways.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

MacMath had less to do than in weeks past, but given the action he did see, he handled himself—and the ball—extremely well. The most positive sign for MacMath is that he has retained his aggressiveness despite two early season blunders, at times even adopting a sprinter’s stance in case he needed to race out of the box. Indeed, on his most impressive save of the match, MacMath left his area to slide away Le Toux’s danger, tidily nipping the ball clear while being careful to avoid any contact with his arms.

MacMath also showed confidence in the air as well, clamping down on crosses and punching convincingly when called upon to do so. While the roller coaster that is life for a young goalkeeper may still throw some twists and turns, he is made of the right stuff to come out stronger and wiser on the other side, much to the Union’s benefit.

Sheanon Williams – 6

Returning from the disappointment of the Olympic qualifying tournament without seeing the field for the USA, Williams was eager to get back on the pitch. Having spent the first two weeks of the season far too focused on getting forward, Williams returned to his strong defensive ways in helping to secure the clean sheet for MacMath and the back line. Tidy on the ball and eager to win a footrace to help the cause, Williams did exactly the job the Union needed from him as they reasserted their defensive solidity. Without the threat of Camilo on the left to balance Chiumiento’s creativity on the right, Williams was able to cheat more centrally to dispossess Harris, who was already struggling with the presence of Danny Califf.

Danny Califf – 6.5

Captain Califf stepped back into the starting lineup and nullified Atiba Harris. While the neutral fan would have been disappointed to miss out on the heavyweight bout that would have been Califf-Hassli, the Union hardly could have minded, with Califf expertly shackling Harris throughout the match. In a performance complete with a classic, crunching, through-the-back statement foul, Califf nearly capped a strong return with the matchwinner when he knifed in front of Joe Cannon on a late corner, only to see his header fly agonizingly above the crossbar. If the Union back line turns this performance into a rich vein of form, the controversy surrounding Califf’s relationship with Peter Nowak will quickly slip to the back of everyone’s mind.

Carlos Valdes – 6.5

Outside of Le Toux’s two breaks, Valdes barely put a foot wrong over the 90 minutes. Still, those two mistakes could have proved vital were it not for MacMath’s speed off his line. With Califf restored alongside him, Valdes needs to get back into the full time business of focusing on the quicker of the opposing strikers. With the ball at his feet, he continued to make ponderous decisions and at times looked frustrated at the lack of options, though players were presenting themselves as outlets. He did well to get forward to throw his body into the mixer on set pieces and was cruelly denied the opener by the woodwork. He spent the final minutes of the match running with the strikers, looking to create havoc and get his head on the ball.

Porfirio Lopez – 1

As bad as we’ve seen from the error-prone fullback, Lopez was mercifully removed at halftime. Slow as ever in defense, Lopez was equally poor going forward, his passing erratic, and he was repeatedly caught in possession. While this may not be the end for the offseason signing, he certainly seems set for a spell on the bench. When asked whether Gabriel Farfan’s performance moved him ahead of Lopez as the preferred left back, Peter Nowak answered emphatically, “If he plays like today, yes.”

Gabriel Farfan – 6

Farfan appeared uncomfortable and isolated from much of the play in the first half as he attempted to acclimate to life on the right side of midfield. Following the intermission, he looked sharp and composed once restored to his post at left back. No matter where he was on the pitch, Farfan conceded far too many fouls, playing with his hands rather than moving his feet. As a midfielder, he can get away with those minor infringements, but in defense, they can be deadly and he must tidy up that portion of his game going forward. Still, fouls or no fouls, he is the best option for the Union at left back and will be able to both defend and attack better than what Porfirio Lopez has shown thus far in 2012.

Gabriel Gomez  – 5

It was his weakest game so far for the Union. Still, Gomez was stout in defense and delivered a number of precision crosses. But while he was assertive and smart in his aggression during the first three matches, Gomez appeared brutish and his tackles ill-timed against Vancouver. As mentioned above, he is one of the veterans who spent too much time complaining and not enough doing work around the pitch. Regardless, when he got around to playing and joining in the attack, his passing was crisp, and his efforts to change the point of attack were well-conceived. With goals still lacking for the Union attack, a home match against a weak Columbus side could give Peter Nowak the opportunity to field Gomez as the solitary holding player, as he has proven he can cover more than enough ground to do the job alone.

Brian Carroll – 4

In a match where Vancouver played with three holding players and could only rely on Chiumiento to pull the strings in midfield, Carroll’s presence in the Union midfield was unnecessary, and he should have come off with the Union chasing a victory. With so little pressure coming from the Whitecaps, Carroll was afforded more freedom and thus played his best match from a possession standpoint, moving the ball with greater ease than in prior fixtures. He loses a point for missing an absolute sitter on the back post from Gomez’s inch-perfect cross, but the fact he was that far forward in the first place is encouraging. With the offense remaining the largest concern going forward, fans will begin to wonder how long the Union can afford to have both Carroll and Gomez on the pitch, playing such similar roles.

Keon Daniel – 6

Strong and confident on the ball as ever, Daniel even got off a powerful blast that unfortunately targeted Cannon’s chest. Still, being deployed out of position on the right seems to be affecting his game, as he lacks the quick first step on his right foot to beat a defender up the line. His propensity to cut into the center of the pitch also negatively affects his ability to find the streaking Sheanon Williams on the overlap. With Adu available for consideration following the layoff, a return to the left side of the pitch and a partnership with the similarly robust Gabriel Farfan could make the Union’s left side an unpleasant place for opposing attackers to venture.

Chandler Hoffman – 3.5

In his postgame press conference, Peter Nowak suggested that Hoffman was not deployed in the midfield, but rather as a wide-lying forward. Regardless of the verbiage used to describe his positioning, the debutant occupied a very small territory along the left touchline for the first 30 minutes of the match. Tidy in defense and mobile in his space, Hoffman did very little to effect the game. His passes were mostly return balls to their supplier, and he did not figure in the attack. While he appeared far more dangerous once he was released to run up top in his natural position, he failed to received the service required to create chances in the dour first half.

Playing out of position in his first match, it was ultimately an inauspicious start to his professional career. Hoffman certainly deserves more opportunities to play, but with playing time hard to come by for the five Union strikers and the Generation Adidas tag weighing heavily around his neck, the reserve league seems Hoffman’s best chance to develop in 2012.

Lionard Pajoy – 3

A very poor showing from one of only four players to feature in every minute of the 2012 campaign. Pajoy was completely dominated by Bonjour and DeMerit, failing to challenge for the ball in the air and displaying a granite touch on the deck. Incapable of running at players given his lack of pace, Pajoy was a turnover machine for the Union, conceding far too easily all over the park. As the match wore towards its conclusion, he resorted to the embarrassing tactic of running a shoulder into the chest of his marker with no effort to play the ball. It was cheap stuff, and his petulant reaction to the whistle made it hard to remember which striker was 30 and a decade older than his partners.

Substitutes

Michael Farfan – 7

Oddly supplanted by his brother in midfield to start the match, Farfan brought the quality and flair to the midfield that had been lacking in the first half. Eager to attack Vancouver’s defense with guileful runs and smart passing, he has yet again put up his hand as a player who should be in the lineup from the opening whistle. While the goal the Union needed failed to materialize, it was not for lack of chances with Farfan driving the Union attack forward and moving the ball with pace and purpose. Like his brother, he must cut down on the silly fouls and keep his head, having earned a yellow card for an unnecessary and cynical foul.

Jack McInerney – 5.5

McInerney looked quick and motivated coming in for Hoffman early in the second half, but running is running is running is running. Though the failure to connect with Pajoy was mostly the Colombian’s issue, it resulted in McInerney failing to get the chances he needs, running at goal, to succeed. Without those chances, he was left to run around with reckless abandon looking for work. The fact that his best touches of the match came with his back to goal tell the story.

Danny Mwanga – N/A

Mwanga sprinted onto the pitch faster than Pajoy had run all night, but with much of the Union’s energy already spent searching for a goal, he had little chance to make a difference. The one look he did get, he was well covered by the Whitecaps defense and could not make space to shoot.

Geiger Counter

Elias Bazakos – 5

Whistled 20 fouls against the Union, but given the combative nature of Gomez and the Farfans, most were warranted. Toward the end of the match, the Whitecaps seemed to go down under less and less contact while still winning calls, though the blame for those decisions rests with the Union rather than the official. Aggression and physicality are mandatory traits for top-tier professionals, but they must be applied at the correct time and in the right places. In the end, the high foul total was deserved, and Bazakos could easily have been more liberal with his distribution of yellow cards against the home side.

Preferred starting XI versus Columbus on April 14

4-4-2

Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan; Freddy Adu, Gabriel Gomez, Michael Farfan, Keon Daniel; Danny Mwanga, Josue Martinez

Substitutes: Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney, Roger Torres

Have questions that you’d like the PSP’s Eli Pearlman-Storch to answer in a post? Send them to epstorch@phillysoccerpage.com 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. 

29 Comments

  1. Sadly, the only number that really matters = 1 point.

  2. DarthLos117 says:

    I was very impressed by Bonjour and Lee, solid game against us…on our end…did anybody else notice how easily we got pushed off the ball? All game? Very good ratings…I woulda gave Zac an 8…my only complaints about his game were his distributions and that one play where he got “injured.” If the ball ended up in the net it would have counted. He needs to get up unless he is knocked out…once the ball is out of play he can go down and pretend he is hurt not while the ball is in play.

    • Lee was impressive; so poised.

    • He wasn’t pretending man. Harris nailed him and when he fell to the ground he landed on Harris on his waist, bending backwards. I saw his face & right when he landedd he looked to be in severe pain, he was almost dazed.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        I sit in section 117, I saw it too…either way if its in the back of the net it would have counted…also note that he wasnt strecther’d off.

  3. Don’t agree with lopez or pajoy. Lopez was kinda slopez but he seemed better than usual and i saw a lot of good passes from him. Garfan was better than him though. And pajoy needs to finish but his pace was better than usual and he was working. I do like the idea of martinez and mwanga for the next game just to see what happens.

  4. I really did not like Valdes’s game. I thought he turned over too many balls and fouled players too frequently because he was out of position. I also give Jack Mac a much harsher score, but I like the ratings overall.

    I would add that Zach’s distribution was much better too.

  5. The Black Hand says:

    Overall, good ratings. I,normally, would find it tough to rate a goaltender so highly, when he did not face a single shot on goal, but he did make a couple of nice challenges on attacking players and his aerial game was much improved. The defense was our strength by far. Good to see that Nowak might have actually noticed that as well. The Farfan’s had their best game of the year, however I would try Adu or Torres in an attacking mid position before I would start Michael in the middle. If it doesn’t work, bring Marfan in as a sub. The other two have more upside and have to awaken sometime. Carrol looked bad. Age is catching up to him and I no longer see a place for him in the starting XI. We should move him to free up some cash and unclog an overcrowded CDM. The only rating I completely disagree with is Jack Mac. He looked awful to me. His touch was miserable and he just seemed to be running around blindly…really fast. I agree that it is time to see what Martinez can do up front, but I would start him with Pajoy and see if they can make something happen with skilled touches. Pajoy has shown that he cannot start as the lone striker, but he does seem to be the only striking player who even considers putting the ball to goal. He did earn his ranking because he completely folded against the quality of Jay Demerit, offering nothing but blind collisions at the hope of drawing a free kick. Progress was made, but there is still much more “refinement” needed. It will be interesting to see if Fred comes back ready to actually contribute for the U, as he did for the U.S.

  6. Solid ratings. Lopez looks like a lost rookie out there. Garfan slotted so comfortably into the back line and made them look solid. The Mwanga sub came too late and should have been for Pajoy, who lost nearly every physical battle. A Mwanga/Martinez strike partnership is interesting. They both have speed and mobility and Danny has strength where he can play some hold up if he has to. I would very much like to see on holding mid against the Crew, and it should be be Gomez.

  7. Always A Fan says:

    I would have preferred that this be the 1st game of the season, and not the 3d…lots to work on!
    The Union midfield did not connect the passes, despite playing a very weak looking Vancouver team. Flat footedness steered its head, and no one seemed ready to push the pressure on the Caps through the middle. This has to be fix #1. I wasn’t sure Hoffman received a good ball….

    Playing at home, we have to be more resolute and caring with the ball. Lopez, Valdes and some others gave the ball up for no reason, other than lack of focus. Gomez added little. Daniel needed to attack the defenders more, as Adu will need to do in the future. Fix #2: Hold on to the ball, and attack the defenders with crisp passes to the forwards. Stop overpassing at 40 yards out on the wing.

    The last fix (#3) is the most important: Care about the score. Pressure the goal from the whistle….don’t save your legs until the last 15 mins.

    We may be young, but we can play maturely. It all begins with the attitude. The ref is not th enemy, it is the other team. Make them sweat with aggressive runs and passes…. We cannot beat ourselves!!!

  8. Let me throw this out for consideration: Might we see many of the Union regulars get 45 minutes in next weeks reserve team match vs. New England? Given a chance to tinker and experiment without points being on the line, this might be a great opportunity to let players gain confidence and (hint, hint) “Bring Danger”.

    • The Black Hand says:

      It would be nice. Especially our midfielders, to see if we can get some quality play going. However, the risk of injury will make this scenario unlikely.

  9. Like the preferred lineup

  10. I find it surprising that no one has mentioned the switch at around 30min of Carroll and Gomez in ctr mid. Carroll’s strength is holding mid, why would they switch off and have Carroll try to distribute as an attacking mid?

  11. Matt Kirk says:

    Really liked the player interviews! Would like to see that all season if possible!
    I feel like our starting formation hindered us greatly by the 3 central midfielders clogging the midfield when we had the ball and the only option was to go wide, go back to the backline and play a hopeless long ball to Pajoy.
    I believe McInerney deserves a start, he brings great touches, great intensity to the side when he plays

    • Dan Walsh says:

      We hope to keep it up. Credit PSP’s Daniel Gajdamowicz for adding videographer to his role here. He’s been shooting great photos for PSP for nearly two years, and the hope is that he’ll be at every postgame with a video camera as well.

  12. Can we hold steady til July? When we get this guy in a BEEEEEMBO shirt?

    Raul has enjoyed an incredibly productive two years in Germany and is playing a leading role for Schalke in the club’s quest for Champions League football next season.

    But with his playing career entering its twilight, a big money move to the USA or Asia could be a possibility for the Spaniard come the end of the season.

  13. Also a big fan of the preferred line up and the post game interview. I think the preferred lineup is good but I would start Pajoy with Martinez just to see what two strikers speaking the same language looks like, if Pajoy plays like this week then get Mwanga in there at the half. I agree that Freddie should start center of the park with marfan out right and Neon on the left. Gomez as our holding midfield. D is obvious and I’m itching to see that lineup play. This is going to be a long two weeks.

  14. The problem I have with the preferred lineup is that it does nothing to fix a Nowak problem at striker – lack of consistent starters. Mwanga-Martinez would be yet another new partnership up top. Does anyone actually expect those two to produce when they never played together before, not to mention a lack of playing time overall for both of them this season?
    We simply need to pick a partnership and give it a GOOD run of games – as in 10-15 games. Just like every other position on the team, we can keep on throwing players to the wolfs and expecting them to wow us at will.
    I would place Pajoy-Mwanga as starters. Tell Pajoy to hold up and get Mwanga running hard for his whole shift. Jack Mac would be my impact sub at striker if I need one. Martinez, because he can play wide, would be an impact offensive sub at either striker or wide attacker.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Well, whatever that striker pairing is, I think everyone would agree with the point that there needs to be consistency there to build up some chemistry. The Le Toux-Mwanga chemistry became terrific over time. That needs to get replicated. The suggestion of Martinez isn’t a bad one to me, but I’d just as well like to see McInerney-Mwanga. Regardless, speed at striker matters.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I think starting Jack Mac would be a mistake. His form as looked poor and, aside from his blind speed, he offers little. H would be best suited for a very late sub, to utilize his speed. If Jack Mac were to start, we would simply try to dump the ball over the top and hope he could chase it down. That strategy hasn’t worked for us in 2 1/2 years and it’s time to get away from that mentality. The striker pairing means very little if you don’t field a set of midfielders that can link play from back line to striking players.

      • True, re: midfield. Regarding Mac, I wonder what he’d bring if given a few games to develop some chemistry with a strike partner. You could be right, but we’d only know if Mac was given a chance over a few games.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        I agree with the Hand’s assessment of Jack…also think its funny how he always seems to lose his footing at least once a game on his own…its like he is running out of control.

  15. I would tend to agree with The Black Hand.

    Get Carroll off the pitch, Gomez has clearly taken his spot.

    Keon is a 90 minute player for us

    Let’s try Martinez and Pajoy, they may get something done together.

    Give Lopez back to where ever he came from

    All in all a better game, but without goals it will continue to be a long season

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