Featured / MLS

Dismantle the goal: Philly-San Jose

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Soccer is a blame game. Goals aren’t common, so when you give one up, everyone goes looking for someone to blame. But is it that simple?

Long-time PSP readers know I like to dissect goals. (I play center back. What do you expect?) So let’s play.

We’ll pick out the first San Jose goal, shown in the video below, not just because it’s an absolute clinic of good attacking soccer, but also because the defensive breakdown may not be where it seemed.

The sequence really begins with San Jose midfielder Khari Stephenson, who finds space to collect a pass from defender Justin Morrow.

Kai Herdling briefly steps toward Stephenson from his right but then peels off to mark a passing lane instead.

Philadelphia’s Gabriel Gomez fails to step up to Stephenson or close his passing lane forward, and Chris Wondolowski finds space to show to the ball outside the 18.

Stephenson passes to Wondolowski, so Danny Califf moves up to mark him.

Equally as significant, Marvin Chavez has been allowed to float in the center of the field just outside the 18. Califf had been the closest man to both Chavez and Wondolowski, so when he helps on Wondowlowski, it leaves Chavez open in a space between the center backs and center midfielders. Gomez and Amobi Okugo seem to pay him no attention. So once Wondo gets the ball, there’s effectively a 3-on-2 in the center of the field, with Valdes marking Lenhart on the back side.

Chavez makes a run through the center to his left, and with Califf up on Wondo, Gaddis is forced to mark Chavez once Chavez receives Wondo’s pass.

Valdes leaves (or loses) his mark and drifts into the center of the box to play help defense. He loses sight of Lenhart, who floats unmarked toward the back post. Sheanon Williams doesn’t slide in to help until Chavez’s cross is in the air. By then, it’s too late. The cross is perfect, and so is Lenhart. Goal.

So where’s the breakdown?

When goals are scored, people often blame the person closest to the ball. But it’s more complicated than that.

Who would you blame here? Anyone?

  • Herdling for not closing down Stephenson?
  • Gomez for not cutting off the passing lane to Wondolowski?
  • Gaddis for not checking to Wondolowski instead of Califf? (Califf could’ve then marked Chavez instead — theoretically. It was a stretch.)
  • The center backs for not communicating to Okugo that Chavez had found space behind them?
  • Valdes for ball-watching and losing Lenhart?
  • Williams for not closing to Lenhart soon enough?
  • Is it a team breakdown, where no one individual gets the blame?

Or did San Jose’s terrific foursome of Stephenson, Wondolowski, Chavez and Lenhart simply work together brilliantly to find and create space? Is it just a matter of a good team finding even the smallest gap in a good defense and exploiting it to perfection?

Penny for your thoughts.


  1. Go back a bit further – and Gaddis had ball under control, dallied on it and lost the ball. He doesn’t do that, we aren’t picked off. Good goal by SJ after that.

  2. Boys & Girls, this post is why PSP is a must read everyday. Great analysis Dan, well done.

  3. Everyone: there are 5 defenders in the box when the ball is crossed and only 4 attackers. Therefore there is no way that one attacker should have so much free time to cross a perfect ball and no way that a another attacker has a free header. All in all very bad marking.

  4. no wak mu st g o says:

    I will tell you that the keeper should have been able to make a play on both goals that the union gave up even with sall the breakdowns in front of him.

    • Jeremy L. says:

      No, you’re wrong. He had no chance on the first goal, or the wrongly disallowed goal. As for the second allowed goal, I haven’t watched a replay, but my sense in realtime was that he was again not at fault.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Second goal was perfectly placed low, to avoid MacMath. You could argue that he could have contested the cross, but he probably felt that his (TWO) defenders, marking Lenhart, would disrupt the service. MacMath deserves no blame, for the loss.

      • Sitting opposite the River End, I was able to see both goals from the GK’s perspective (and, unfortunately, watch both plays develop into goals). The first goal was the result of an ugly turn over that left the U’s defense unbalanced and well out of position. MacMath tried to close the angles the best he could, but Lenhart’s big fat head seems to be an all-too easy a target to hit.

        I would have preferred to see more of a play from MacMath on the cross, but again, as others have stated, he deserves no blame for either goal.

      • Gordon Thompson says:

        Great analysis. Would love to hear some of same review of the second goal. Three defenders, almost touching each other, watching Chavez leave JacMac on ground and Adu too tired to respond, should have been doing some movement to find a player or move toward goal to defend three in front of net, shouldn’t they? Looks like lack of communication on those three as well.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Thanks, Gordon (and Sean, and everyone else). I didn’t give the second goal the same repeated rewind/fast-forward treatment that I did this goal, probably because it seemed more apparent what the breakdown was: Fatigue. Chavez broke Mac’s ankles, and Adu was too tired to keep up. Califf got caught flat-footed on the cross in a way that looks like, after 90+ minutes, he was just that much more tired than the fresher Lenhart, who didn’t come in till the second half and beat Califf to the header.

  5. Jeremy L. says:

    I think this was a very good goal. Several of the passes were two-touch, and the cross was pinpoint, not to mention that it developed very quickly. Gaddis bears some blame for the original dispossession, but to be fair to him, he also recovered and effectively marshaled his man. That said, his challenge on Chavez was poor, even if he was being forced to backtrack at speed.

    During the buildup as discussed, I think the blame primarily falls on Okugo/Gomez for not dropping deeper into defense to help out. Gomez watches it all happen while jogging back doing nothing. Communication might have been an issue here, but the play developed so quickly that asking our CBs to notice the threat, communicate it while also defending other players, and _then_ for the midfielders to react would have taken too long, regardless. Gomez and Okugo need to be dropping instinctively.

    In the end, though, the blame for the goal is really shared by Valdes and Williams. Valdes is just in no-man’s land as the cross comes in, marking no one. Williams, for his part, is watching Lenhart stand between him and the goal. He may have another concern to his outside, but Lenhart should not be allowed goalside of the defense, period.

  6. It was just a good goal, much better in the past than when we gave up bad goals and weak goals. We got broke down but a good move.
    Now the question I have is when will I be able to watch the Union offense exhibit this kind of attacking savvy and prowess? It feels like the Union offense is still on the practice field during games.

    • The anemic offense has required that our defense be perfect. That is too much to ask of our back four and our talented but young goalkeeper. Five goals in seven matches just ain’t gonna cut it.

      • Of course- have a look back to last season’s first 7 games, and count how many goals we scored.

      • The answer to that question would be FIVE! However, our record was that exact opposite of our current 2-4-1. Last season, at 4-2-1 we were a defensive juggernaut, this year all we have is an inept offense. Winning cures all things.

  7. The problem in Saturday’s match was overall, not poor defense, but lazy ball handling, out of shape and apathetic forwards, and an overall malaise. I think MacMath was the only one who showed any heart out there.

  8. Excellent analysis, plenty of breakdowns, but in the simplest terms Williams was the closest to Lenhart as the end of the play developed, he had no one else to mark and had time to at least get his body goalside of Lenhart. That’s soccer 101, never let an attacker float inside you like that, always stay goalside of him. Otherwise you are watching Valdes and Williams just floating back on defense without either committing to a mark. They need to be more vocal and communicate, call out marks, check off, etc. MacMath could help with this as he could best see plays developing. A vocal keeper is worth his weight in gold. It’s a lot to ask of young MacMath, but he needs to take a page out of veteran Mondragon’s book and just own the defense (and River End) and make it his. Lastly, I know not everyone was playing in their usual position, but that just means communicating becomes more important.

    And I know watching a replay often makes it seem like a keeper may have had a chance on goals, but I can’t say MacMath could reasonably have been expected to stop any of the balls that found the back of the net.

    In the bigger picture, when you have no discernible offensive presence and give up most of the possession, even the most solid defense will eventually break down. We are looking more like the season one version of the Union right now except with a bit more midfield composure with Daniel and M.arfan holding and creating well. In the striking third of the field, we have nada. Same problem the Phillies are facing, you can have the best pitchers in the league, but if your offense isn’t generating, your back’s really against the wall (or net).

  9. Richie The Limey says:

    The answer to your question, Dan, of who is to blame is “all of the above”. I think that there is a simple explanation and it boils down to one word – fatigue.

    Defending is much more tiring than attacking and the U (and in particular the back four) were sitting back and giving up way too much space and possession. Fatigue not only makes the players less likely to close an attacker down, or perhaps more importantly mark an attacker aggressively / tightly but it also affect your decision-making and concentration. That goal is the result of several players making tired plays. It is no coincidence that the ‘Quakes substitutions made a difference (in shape, formation, tactics, as well as in energy level) and ours were terrible (putting on a 17 year old Hernandez in THAT situation?!).

    I therefore posit that the blame for the goals is in fact down to coaching, and less so on the players. We were out-coached (yet again) by a more experienced and flexible coach who makes adjustments upon viewing the game unfold before him. They were there for the taking but instead our coaching staff let us down again.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Blame the coaches for the first goal? Not so sure about that one. I agree with you that fatigue is probably most to blame for the second goal, but the first … I certainly can’t blame the coaches for that one.

    • Gordon Thompson says:

      How much energy was expended by Gomez bizarre post goal high speed ramble, and the rest of the team chasing him around the stadium to congratulate him. That same energy by a number of players marking someone could have been better expended in stoppage time.

  10. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    Obviously it is Nowaks fault.

  11. DarthLos117 says:

    Footballers are conditioned to go 90+ minutes not 75…fatigue sounds good though…The U conceded 3 time this year after the 75th minute. Once at Portland (we were losing 2-1 at the time) in the 76th and twice (3 times really) against San Jose…fatigue is no excuse at this level…they are only in one competition and its early in the season. If you cant run at this level for 90+, its time to hang em up…Im talkin to you Califf. If Im not mistaken, San Jose outclassed us globally the entire game. Tactics, possession, substitutions, coaching and etc…but lets blame fatigue…awww our boys in blue are tired.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Califf was decent for most of the game. A muscle injury needs to heal through rest, meaning that Califf could not maintain conditioning. The Garfan suspension meant he pretty much had to suit up for the match, although Albright was available at CB. Our back line is under pressure all game long. Defending at that pace, would tire the best conditioned athletes. Yes, San Jose outclassed us far beyond the scoreboard. It could have been much worse for our club. Somehow, we almost managed to steal a point.

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