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Analysis & player ratings: Union 0-1 Sounders

After grabbing their first two victories of 2012, the Union have lost two on the trot and are back to square one. Against a makeshift Sounders lineup on Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the Union were completely outplayed. For the second straight match, the defense was under siege throughout, and were it not for some dreadful finishing from the hosts and the intervention of MacMath’s crossbar, the scoreline would have more accurately reflected Seattle’s supremacy.

Midfield? What midfield?

A week after taking a similar midfield beating against San Jose, the same analysis holds true:

“After being forced to sit deep and defend valiantly for the majority of matches, the Union attackers have begun to treat every spell of possession as a mandatory time to sprint headlong up the pitch in search of a look at goal. While it doesn’t necessarily sound bad to take an all-out attacking mentality, the Union are attacking at the expense of controlling the match and ball. Simple square passes and the switching of fields have been foregone in recent weeks, with the likes of Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan preferring to drive every ball down the heart of the pitch, powering forward like a bull in a china shop.”

Without a player like Brian Carroll or Amobi Okugo to make a quick pass to keep the ball moving, against Seattle, 100 percent of the Union midfield lingered on the ball and proved slow in possession. Gabriel Gomez appeared to refuse to take fewer than three touches whenever he had possession, and the midfield ground to a halt, with Osvaldo Alonso winning what seemed like every challenge he attempted.

Tasked with operating in the defensive midfield role, the coaching staff probably would have told Gomez to win the ball and start the attack, spreading the field and bringing his teammates into the game. Instead, Gomez tried to do it all by himself, dribbling into trouble and completing a shockingly poor 61% of his passes.

With Gomez struggling mightily behind him, Michael Farfan turned in his worst shift of the 2012 campaign. The two had no communication and rarely found each other. It was expected that with an extra striker in the mix, Farfan would have more options to search for, but with Herdling dropping deep into Farfan’s space and Pajoy doing very little to make space for himself, Farfan looked flustered. Sometimes he simply disappeared. Other times, he took too much on his shoulders, running at players and trying to make the perfect pass on every play, rather than locating the simple outlet so the team could keep the ball.

The performances of both Gomez and Farfan made easy pickings for Alonso and the Sounders, who enjoyed complete control of the center of midfield, with the Union scrambling to string together more than a pass or two.

GET UP!!!!

Seattle’s forwards—Fredy Montero, David Estrada and Eddie Johnson—combined to complete 71 passes out of 79 attempts, an incredible accuracy of 90 percent. While blaming the defense for the defeat is unfair, 90 percent accuracy is an alarming statistic. Part of the problem comes down to Gomez ranging too far up field and forgetting that, on the day, his primary responsibility was keeping a lid on Rosales and any of the Seattle forwards who dropped into midfield looking to find space.

Califf and Valdes must also shoulder some of the blame because, in their efforts to contain the play in front of them, they sat too far off of their marks. This allowed Montero and Estrada to turn, square up to the goal and make themselves infinitely more dangerous. Additionally, the defense found themselves stretched by the continued insistence of the fullbacks to get too high up the field. Sheanon Williams is at his best when he explodes forward on a surging run, not when he tries to play in the midfield. Seattle’s goal came when Gomez, Califf and Valdes were all sucked over to the right flank covering one of Williams’ runs. Montero switched fields and found the overload, playing Rosales in on goal.

On the other side of the pitch, Freddy Adu’s positioning had Ray Gaddis playing catch-up all night. As if taking on Rosales in his first ever match at left back wasn’t enough for the rookie, Gaddis also had to race up and down the field attempting to link up with Adu. In return, Adu failed to provide him with either adequate defensive cover or a consistent outlet pass from the back. While Gaddis is one of the fastest players on the Union, if not in all of MLS, he is a rookie. He needs support from his teammates to continue to develop good habits, rather than always relying on his pace when he gets exposed.

Fighting the formation

Just when the Union seemed settled into their 4-1-4-1 formation, the coaching staff changed to a 4-4-2.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

Taking a body out of the midfield, on the road against a Seattle team featuring both a top-shelf playmaker and arguably the league’s best ball winner simply made the home team’s  job too easy.

And while Kai Herdling did his best to create space and move the ball, he was the wrong player to deploy as a second striker.  Herdling failed to hold a high enough line and looked like he wanted to run the midfield rather than run off Pajoy up top. As a result, it was more like second striker lite. If the Union want to play aggressive attacking soccer, deploying two true strikers with Herdling as the attacking center midfielder would make a lot more sense.

Sub sooner

With the match falling further and further into Seattle’s control, the substitutions came far too late. When Brian Carroll entered the match, it was as a stop-gap measure to preserve a road point rather than a move designed to snatch the attacking impetus from Seattle, and it was never going to be enough to hold off the high-flying Sounders. Once the goal was conceded, stand-in manager John Hackworth should have rung the changes immediately. Instead he waited 13 minutes before introducing Danny Mwanga. When Josue Martinez finally entered the match with only 8 minutes to play and Lionard Pajoy moved to left midfield, it was clear that the Union were out of options and ideas.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 5

MAcMath cannot be blamed for Seattle’s goal as Rosales had an age to pick out his shot. Nor can he be faulted for either effort that clanged off the wood work: Rose’s header was from point-blank range, and Montero’s chip was well taken after he was allowed too much time to turn. With Seattle pressing so high up the pitch, the opening goal seemed inevitable, and the only mistake MacMath will have to improve upon was spilling Montero’s late blast into the path of Eddie Johnson. The fact he made the second save (and was aided by the offside flag) does not make up for the fact that he allowed an extremely juicy rebound. If a shot is too venomous to hold, MacMath must do more to parry it away from the danger area in the future.

Sheanon Williams – 5

There’s a big difference between pressing high up the field to mark an attacker—using that advanced position as a platform for attack—and simply holding a high line, far above both centerbacks, and so adding another body to the midfield. On Saturday, it was clear that Sheanon Williams was being asked to do the latter. Rather than use his explosiveness to burst up field, he is lingering too long in midfield and consequently being forced to scurry back in recovery.

Williams clearly has the defensive chops, but his orders appear to be attack first and defend second. One need only look at Seattle’s goal to see the entire Union formation shifting in to cover the space behind the advancing Williams. With the formation so lopsided in only took one ball, admittedly a beautifully struck cross from Fredy Montero, to expose the entire Union back line. Williams is a very good defender, but he needs to be allowed to assert his defensive dominance in matches before he goes bombing forward to join the attack.

Carlos Valdes – 5

Valdes held down the fort admirably alongside his fellow defenders but was equally guilty of running around at times. He didn’t hand out enough of the rough, physical treatment that Union fans have grown to expect from him, leaving Montero and Co. too much time on the ball in the final third. With the Union defense absorbing what feels like multiple games worth of pressure during each outing, it is hard to imagine how they can possibly sustain their form throughout an entire season without wearing down.

Danny Califf – 5

Califf showed veteran savvy to maintain position on the speedier Montero, though at times his lack of pace was a major concern. It is still unclear if what we are seeing is Califf continuing to make his way back to full fitness or whether, at this point in his career, this is the player he has become. Whatever the answer, Califf needs to continue providing veteran leadership to the back line and keep his teammates and himself from falling too deep in the face of the unrelenting pressure they have lately been forced to endure, inspiring his team to hold their nerve and find their form so that they can return to winning ways.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Handed the monumental task of taking on Mauro Rosales in acres of space, Gaddis coped about as well as the coaching staff could have hoped. He needs to continue improving his defensive positioning because living and dying by his pace and ability to recover is a dangerous game. With Gabe Farfan due to miss one more match, Gaddis should get the start against New York, setting up an intriguing matchup against Dane Richards for what could be the foot race of the season. His goal line clearance in the 7th minute may have kept the floodgates closed.

Gabriel Gomez – 2

An absolute stinker turned in by the increasingly less impressive Gomez, who looked slow in defense and lingered too long on the ball, frequently being dispossessed while failing to catalyze the Union attack. In what had been previewed as an enthralling battle between him and Alonso, the Sounders man proved that he is one of the premier defensive midfielders in MLS, at the expense of the thoroughly beaten Gomez. Even his typically dangerous set piece delivery was off target on Saturday. To cap things off, he earned his fourth yellow card of the young season, placing him one caution away from a mandatory suspension.

Keon Daniel – 4.5

Calm, cool, and collected Keon Daniel was not what the Union needed on a night when the entire side lacked energy. He was still more efficient and industrious than his teammates, but Union fans are losing patience waiting to see Daniel turn his strong, smart play into consistent offense, whether by putting his teammates through or creating chances for himself.

Michael Farfan – 2.5

With Gomez faltering behind him and Herdling dropping into his space, Farfan looked frustrated and failed to assert any influence on the match. Still learning the ins and outs of the attacking central midfield position, the biggest concern about Farfan’s game is that he simply disappears for long stretches. Completing 16 out of 26 passes over 76 minutes of work will simply not get it done for the Union and one begins to wonder whether the hustle and bustle of the center of the pitch might be too much for Farfan this early in his career. Arguably the best Union player in terms of attacking a defender one-on-one, the space afforded to a wide player would give him more opportunities to create in the attack.

Freddy Adu – 3

A bystander for much of the match, Adu again treated his touches too preciously. Rather than work with his teammates to build a sustained attack, Adu tried to go it alone, over-dribbling and crossing aimlessly when he had a simpler option available to him. If the Union are to continue using him in this manner, he must either be deployed as a striker or more centrally on the pitch because the glaring gaps forming behind him simply make too much work for whichever fullback is tasked with covering all that extra territory. He snatched at his one shooting opportunity, lofting it harmlessly over the bar. Adu does not need to shoot more, nor does he need to take players on one-on-one. He needs to pass, and pass, and pass, and pass. It is the best part of his game and unfortunately the part that he has been the least focused on in recent weeks.

Kai Herdling – 5

Herdling worked his socks for the cause even if he couldn’t help the Union find a breakthrough. He deserves credit for taking the initiative to make runs to the corner and in behind the Seattle back four, stretching an opposition defense in a way no Union player has in quite some time. Less positive was how deep Herdling dropped into the midfield, showing that his true comfort zone is as an attacking midfielder, not as a full time striker. His eager attitude stood out, and with a few more weeks of training, some of his more ambitious passes will begin to find their target. If he continues to go to ground so easily, though, Herdling will begin to develop a reputation.

Lionard Pajoy – 1

Finally broke his shooting duck, registering the Union’s only shot on goal, a slow dribbler that Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith could just as easily have trapped with his foot. And that was about the only positive in Pajoy’s match, which shockingly played out over the full 90 minutes. He brutally misplaced his first touch on too many occasions, failed to hold up the ball adequately, and looked a statue when contrasted with the effort and movement of Kai Herdling. For the Union attack, it is Pajoy, and not the support that he receives, that is the problem.


Brian Carroll – 5

Settling the game when he entered, Carroll made the simple one-touch passes that Gomez refused to. Had the Union been able to hold out for a few minutes, rather than concede almost immediately upon Carroll’s entry, his calming presence might have pervaded the side, helping them to find the control that was sorely lacking in the previous 60+ minutes of the match. Gomez’s lackluster performance at the defensive midfield spot will further cement Carroll’s stalwart position in the starting XI when healthy.

Danny Mwanga – 4

Fans will remember Mwanga’s performance for his one run up the center of park, delaying too long and failing to play in Pajoy. It was the type of play made by a player lacking in confidence, which is hard to blame Mwanga for considering he has now played only 23 minutes in the last 5 matches. Whatever his past accomplishments, 14 minutes is not enough time for such a young player to be expected to change a match. With the Union struggling mightily in the final third, Mwanga should have been given at least 30 minutes in Seattle. Mwanga needs to start against the Red Bulls to find his confidence and give Pajoy a break.

Josue Martinez – N/A

Only had a few minutes to affect the result, but squandered his only real chance. Driving up the left wing following a Sounders turnover, Martinez failed to get a cross into the box with both Pajoy and Mwanga lurking. Still, there is not enough information of the young Costa Rican to form any sort of opinion about what kind of player he is. He needs more time on the pitch.

Geiger Counter

Ricardo Salazar – 3

Generally, Salazar called a good game, but when he had a real decision to make, he was found wanting. When debutante Andy Rose took Freddy Adu out from behind, Salazar should have shown the Sounders player a second yellow. The decision, which would have altered the course of the match, needed to be made, but Salazar choked on his whistle. Also missed Leo Gonzalez’s late stamp on Sheanon Williams, though it is unlikely the MLS Disciplinary Committee will.

Preferred Lineup for this Sunday’s match against NYRB


MacMath; William, Valdes, Califf, Gaddis; Daniel, Carroll, Herdling, Marfan; Mwanga, Martinez



  1. My god, is there anything to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before?
    This coaching staffs tactical ability, I think, is starting to be exposed as the worst in the league. It is frightening how amateur, incompetent, and stupid these guys are. PLayers out of position, formations that do not play to our strengths, doing the same stuff over and over again taht never works.
    ITs frsutrating.

    • snugsmac says:

      It is getting increasingly harder to even stay interesed in the games. Playing superheroes with my 4 year old son was more fun this weekend.

      Really bad.

      • I find this team almost impossible to watch on TV. I have season tickets so I am at all the home games. But the past two road games that I watched on TV have litterally put me to sleep.

  2. snugsmac says:

    These guys have to be kidding. The front guys, strikers and attacking players alike should give their checks back. To register as little offense against what was basically Seattle second team defensivley is pathetic.

    I was a big ra ra fan for these guys before, telling others to get off the ledge…but as the games progress they seemingly get worse and worse.

    My fear is that they string together just enough wins against the lower level teams this year to keep Hackworth and Nowak in their positions.

    Worst thing for Hackworth was to show his face on TV and basically explain that he has no idea what is going on with his club. May have cost him his job as well.

    The sad thing is that we have talent on the club, our back line, goalkeeping and even a few mid-fielders are good enough to compete in the MLS. But if you leave yourself such a small margin for error (basically we need a clean sheet EVERY game) it will never work.

    Never thought I would say this but….I bet they wish they had that Letoux deal back now. He may not be Clint or Roon but at least he fucking ran around in circles out there and pretended like he might be dangerous, and more importantly pretended like he gave a shit.

    Awful game, can’t believe these money grubbers have us in damn friendly this week, like that is going to help.


  3. We’re not going to get a fancy treat DP are we. (nodding) ok (still nodding and sighing) ok.

  4. Kensington Josh says:

    I agree that both Gomez and Farfan were disappointing. They are both able to play better than this. I’m pissed that Danny never gets a start. Is this the last year on his contract? If so we have a problem.

    My angry theory is the Nowak can’t deal with a player getting glory. Because I believe you give Danny three starts in a row, he proves himself a starter, and also, gets some glory. I’d like to see glory instead of mud.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I agree. If Mwanga gets a fair string of starts, he doesn’t give up the spot. He should be starting up top. He can’t possibly look worse than Pajoy.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Also, I think a lot of people overestimated Farfan’s talent. His decision making has been consistently poor, with a few dazzling plays strewn about.

      • I think you’re right. Good one-on-one player and some nice moments, but the fundies just aren’t there. As Eli suggests, playing him in unfamiliar territory probably doesn’t help, however. If you put him onthe wing, you maximize his abilities.

      • Adam Cann says:

        I’m not sure it’s fair to say Farfan doesn’t have the talent. He was a fantastic college player… as a winger. He was a ROY nominee… as a winger. And now… he’s a central midfielder. Of everyone in the midfield he deserves the most leash because he’s proven his talent on the ball but is learning a new position with a cast of underperformers. He’s going to have his bad days, but he has had some very good ones this season already.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Agreed, on all points.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I never said that he didn’t have talent. I said that many overestimate said talent. Possessing technical skills means nothing if you don’t know when to use them during a match. Far too many times, Farfan kills attacks by either; not leading a player, or dribbling himself into a dead-end. I am basing this argument on Farfan as a central midfielder, because that is where he is deployed now. In fact, many people touted Farfan for his excelling at the CM position, only a few matches ago. As a wing, I feel he would be far more effective. He has the ability to take on,(and beat) outside backs and penetrate to the inside. We have none of that right now. We simply fumble the ball up the middle of the pitch until we are dispossessed. Farfan doesn’t seem to have the vision needed from a central attacking midfielder. I feel that Kai better suits that position. Farfan penetrating from the outside and placing one of his chips to the far post sounds pretty good to me.

      • decision-making and talent are not the same thing. the talent is clearly there to make special moments happen. the decision-making still isn’t from a central role. put him back on the wing. these coaches suck.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Agree. A lot of blame should fall on the manager, for playing everyone out of position. It completely takes away from, what could be, a talented club…maybe.

      • Chum Chum says:

        Fire Nowak !

  5. The Black Hand says:

    Week after week, the Union show that they are fundamentally unsound. It is becoming frustrating. With Gomez’ poor performance, I think that it might be time to try playing one CDM. That would free up the spot to play two strikers, not one striker and one ST/CAM/CM/CDM. That would give our, mediocre, midfielders two outlets up top.(Neither of whom should be named Lionard Pajoy) Martinez and Mwanga would be my choice. We could run a 4-1-3-2, with the midfield consisting of Keon, Herdling and Marfan. Adu needs to come off the bench, until he figures out what kind of player he wants to be. Something needs to change. We are not a competitive team, at this point in the season.

    • Had my doubts about Gomez from game 1, but he was playing back into my good graces. No more. He’s too slow, doesn’t create, and he’s a bit of a powder keg. I’m absolutely, 100% behind Eli’s favored lineup. I think that’s exactly how I’d line us up against the cattle.

      I really hope they use the midweek friendly to good advantage. Let’s get a good, looooong look at guys like Hoffman and Hernandez.

      • The depressing thing is, does anyone HONESTLY expect this staff to sit both Gomez and Pajoy? This staff plays favorites worse than anyone. At this point theres a better chance of them resigning Miggy and playing him in a 5 man backline next week, than them sitting Gomez and Pajoy.

      • Gordon Thompson says:

        Agreed. Only hope a good showing might result in opportunities for the youth.

  6. DarthLos117 says:

    Key point taken from article: PLAY OUR PLAYERS IN POSITIONS THAT THEY ARE BEST SUITED TO. For example: M. Farfan on the wing. Gomez attacking mid. Adu on bench. Pajoy on the bench. And so forth.

  7. Does anyone else find it troubling that the effort this team has shown of late seems to be lacking? There seemed to be a lot of ball watching late in the match, kinda like our boys may have……….quit.

    I can forgive many things, but lack of effort is not one of them.

    • I wonder just how disillusioned some of these players are. People like Gomez and Herdling and hell Pajoy are veterans and have been around. Unless they are dumb and blind they must have some questions about the coaching staff. The young players must be frustrated too.
      Most athletes are professional so you never hear about it in the media, but I wonder what the attitude is like in the lockers and how they view these decisions by the coaches.

  8. Why not keep herdling as a forward?

    • uhh….because he is a midfielder. That is why he was tracking back so much and looked uncomfortable.

  9. Kensington Josh says:

    Gomez is still good for this team. He had a bad couple outings, prolly frustrated with his team and trying, wrongly, to do too much himself. How much can you blame him when he looks up and sees Pajoy and Adu begging for a chance to lose the ball?

  10. philsoc8 says:

    I would grade Daniel lower. His lack of interest in defending led to the header that went off the crossbar and he left Gaddis out to dry on the goal that was scored. Go watch the tape and you can see how far away he is from covering anyone on that play.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Agree on the header, he needs to be more physical and at least get off the ground. On the goal, I think that one is really a full blown team goal. He’s running down the middle of the field because the Union have 6 players compressed onto the right flank.

  11. snugsmac says:

    This is absurd.

    We are running with some of the best teams in the MLS and doing a fairly good job of it, just tends to look like shit when you do absolutely nothing in the attacking part of the field.

    We need someone who can generate offense, the rest of the lineup is playing fine in my opinion.

    Are we perfect, hell no, but many of the boys are playing well enough to keep us in these games.

    WE HAVE TO SCORE!!!!!!!!

  12. Stephano says:

    All I know is that the back line can’t do all the work………..hmmm

  13. Gordon Thompson says:

    Great analysis. Team is playing to intensity and quality of lowest scoring player week after week. Hope the “powerful” breakthrough SOG is played repeatedly as representation of Union offensive efforts. As was reported on KYW radio show, loving pats on back of opponents and clapping for good passes that are botched, Pajoy’s lack of passion is contagious. Team only seems to be able to focus on one thing at a time. Nowak tells team to ” fight” and shortly two red cards are issued and coach ejected. Nowak tells team they need to shoot more, and everyone starts ignoring passing and possession fundamentals to dribble until they can get off a shot, which results in lost opportunities. When striker is inept, everyone thinks they need to pick up the slack. Two energetic finishers needed up top. 4-4-2 proposed good start with multiple options at forward as subs.

  14. I think adu and farfan have both shown flashes. Problem is Adu looks like people are telling him he’s the only offense so he’s trying to do everything himself. Farfan they just need to put back on the wing.

    I’d like to see them play adu and farfan out wide w herdling as an attacking mid and Carroll behind him. I dont think this will be too big a deal defensively bc herdling has shown a propensity to get back on defense and has shown plenty of effort. I’m not sold on Mwanga and Martinez just hasn’t been impressive at all, but someone needs to be given a chance bc pajoy clearly is not going to get it done.

    The 4 new big additions this offseason were pajoy, Gomez, Lopez and Martinez. The coaching staff at least recognized that Lopez was no good. Gomez and pajoy need to be removed too. But mostly it is very disappointing that the offseason yielded no positives that are showing on the field.

    • Martinez has not been impressive. He also has not been UNimpressive. He hasn’t been either because we’ve barely seen him. I’d give him a shot.

  15. Five words – Why is Pajoy still starting?
    Last year Le Toux went however many games without a goal – and a lot of people said HE should’ve sat a game – but at least with Le Toux you got that hustle & effort for 90+ minutes, even if it had the appearance of aimless running. I rarely see Pajoy running full speed, and he more often than not gives up on 50/50 balls and never seems to be in a favorable position for Marfan or Gomez to get him the ball. I hope I’m not the only one who feels that way …

  16. I need Mwanga to show us something. Pajoy is not gonna run balls down,and the mid field is not making any meaningful service forward. How about Williams and Valdes up front? Can’t be any worse than what we have now! We need more than 2 or 3 shots on net.I hope Nowak makes some moves that dont have us wondering what he’s been drinkin!

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