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Analysis & player ratings: Union 0-1 Toronto

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

With the dust still settling following Toronto FC’s first victory of the season over the Union, one thing is now abundantly clear. The Union, not Toronto, may be the worst team in Major League Soccer.

In a first half where third-string goalkeeper Chris Konopka had to come up big and did in his first start for the Union and Ryan “Couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat” Johnson got everything wrong, Toronto could have easily put two or three goals past the hapless Union. Now with 11 games in the books of this 2012 season, the starting XI that took the pitch at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon looked no closer to grasping the coaching staff’s game plan and gelling into a competitor than did the team that got spanked in Portland on opening day.

Go Go Gadget, STOP IT

The Union coaching staff’s gimmicks, gambits, gadgets, ploys and ruses are dragging players out of their comfort zones, and on Saturday it played right into the hands off their opponents. As a counterattacking team who looks to spring the speedy Joao Plata and Reggie Lambe on either wing with long balls from Torsten Frings and Julian de Guzman, the Union needed to cover two places to slow them down: The center of the midfield and their defensive flanks. By dropping Brian Carroll in between the center backs and pushing the fullbacks high in attack, the Union effectively did neither, allowing Toronto free reign of the midfield. Carroll was too deep to provide his typical defensive pressure while the fullbacks were always scrambling back to cover Plata and Lamb.

Freddy, watch Michael, you could learn something

While Freddy Adu was putting in another disappointing performance for the Union, Michael Farfan was working hard to be the midfielder the Union actually need. Adu’s routine is becoming repetitive: He demands the ball high up the pitch and treats every touch as if he will use it to score a goal. With Gabriel Farfan putting in the extra effort to overlap, Adu rarely so much as looks at him, preferring to cut into the pitch to try and create magic out of thin air with his every possession. It is played out and obvious, as evidenced by the shots and crosses that are blocked back in his face in each match. The defense is clear on their scouting of Adu: He’s going for goal, always. If you stand between him and the goal, half the job is already done.

Contrast that with the workmanlike effort of Michael Farfan. Happy to drop deep into defense to help his fullback, while being available to receive the ball from the centerbacks to start the build-up, Farfan was just as likely to be spotted in his own half as we was in Toronto’s. When he did attack he picked his moments, with his blast off the crossbar and well-saved shot in the 75th minute standing as the Union’s best two scoring chances of the contest.

Goal-scoring chances come from the midfield. Work must be done in the middle third of the park to create a consistent pipeline of quality service forward to the strikers. Michael Farfan has proved that he is willing to put in the hard work in that middle third to help his team control a match. Adu has not.

Don’t blame Danny

With Lionard Pajoy occupying the role of the lone striker, the Union struggled. Pajoy’s lack of strength with his back to goal kept him from adequately holding up the ball, with defenders regaining possession before the Union could bring numbers forward in support.

Eventually, the Union coaching staff turned to Danny Mwanga to partner Pajoy with the hope that they could share the load up front. One problem. Pajoy, brought to Philadelphia to be a big, physical presence has left all the heavy lifting to his young partner. With Mwanga up front doing battle with a new pair of defenders each week, the big Colombian has gone missing. Rather than stretch the defense with smart lines of running off of Mwanga or dart into the gaping space between the defense and midfield created by the Union no.10, Pajoy has shrunk from the challenge. He continues to sit wide on the left, making the occasional foray forward, but rarely attacking the goal or supporting his strike partner.

Mwanga’s effort and physicality has been greatly improved in recent matches, but with no one attacking the space he is working hard to create, the beating he is taking on a now weekly basis is for naught.

Player Ratings

Chris Konopka – 6

Deserved better than a loss in his Union debut, as he came up big for the Union, recording 6 saves, with some of the point-blank variety. Showed some nerves in the early going and struggled with his communication with his centerbacks on more than one occasion. But outside of one corner that he misjudged badly, Konopka was strong in the air and aggressive off his line. And when it came to shot stopping, the big man got down quickly to push away both Reggie Lambe’s early effort and Doneil Henry’s second half header, showing off

Raymon Gaddis – 3.5

Something was wrong with Gaddis from the opening whistle, and the rookie never looked comfortable marking up Joao Plata. Considering how well he performed against New York’s Dane Richards, Union fans would have expected a similarly tough defensive showing from Gaddis. But after picking up a yellow card for cutting down the Toronto winger, Gaddis was taken off in the 37th minute and headed straight down the tunnel. Union fans will hope that whatever was ailing Gaddis can be resolved quickly, considering how well he has performed in the Union’s critically understaffed defensive line.

Sheanon Williams – 6.5

With Carlos Valdes off wandering around the midfield, Williams strengthened his credentials as a center back while covering for his partner. He threw his entire frame into aerial challenges and won foot races all night in support of the Union cause. He showed veteran wiles to body the speedy Plata off the play when it seemed the winger had him for pace. If moving to center back was not enough of an adjustment, the coaching staff’s decision to try and drop Carroll in among the back line has further muddied the waters. At times, Williams looked in two minds as to whether to trust his fullback’s instinct and attack the play or hang back covering the center of the pitch.

Carlos Valdes – 5

Now that the captain’s armband is his, officially, Valdes does not look like he wants it. Rather than proving himself as a rock in defense, organizing and supporting his young defense, Valdes looked shaky. Wandering too far up the pitch, breaking his positioning alongside Williams and generally looking a little out of sorts. With the Union conceding the center of the midfield to Toronto, it was always going to be tough on the defense, but Valdes took the wrong option when stepping up to help and was exposed more times than Union fans are used to seeing out of the usually reliable defender. He is the captain, and he needs to start playing like it. If he does not, the Union are sunk.

Gabriel Farfan – 6

Back after his three-game suspension and an extra week missed due to injury, Farfan put in a confident display at left back. His rough and aggressive style kept Reggie Lambe very quiet outside of his one early shot and Farfan pushed forward well in support of the midfield. No discredit to the work Ray Gaddis did at left back in his absence, but having a player with a quality left foot back at left back improved the Union up the flank significantly. Farfan’s comfort level led him to not only defend confidently, but also to being one of the most involved Union players on the night, picking up much of the midfield slack for Freddy Adu.

Brian Carroll – 5

As mentioned above, the coaching staff’s decision to tinker with Carroll’s positioning negatively affected both his and the team’s ability to cope with Toronto in the midfield. It’s hard to fault the player for following orders, and once the Union got themselves on the ball, Carroll had one of his better matches, moving the ball comfortably and efficiently through the midfield. For Carroll to return to top form, he needs to be allowed to go where he pleases, stepping higher to get in the midfield passing lanes and patrolling the center of the pitch to pick up scraps.

Michael Farfan – 6

Active and involved throughout, Farfan helped out Gaddis/Lahoud in defense and worked hard to find the ball. He is clearly most comfortable racing up and down the right touchline. He nearly pushed the Union ahead twice with his long range effort off the bar and his powerful shot, which Kocic did well to claim. If the Union could find a player to match his work rate, positioning and savvy on the opposite wing, they might be able to return a side that can dominate possession and take over a match.

Kai Herdling – 3.5

Utterly invisible throughout, the German failed to leave his mark despite starting in his preferred central, attacking midfield role. When he did manage to get on the ball, Herdling displayed a smart touch, moving the ball well and keeping possession, but those plays came in such small quantities that the Union coaching staff will be very disappointed out of his effort. Attempted only 18 passess in 65 minutes, completing 13 of them. That’s one completed pass every 5 minutes, which is far from acceptable for a central midfielder.

Freddy Adu – 3.5

Unlike Herdling, Adu had plenty of the ball. The problem, however, was what he chose to do with it. Stationed so high up the pitch that he took himself mostly out of the midfield play, Adu looked to turn every touch into gold. Selfishly looking to create either his own shot or the final ball on too many occasions, he was easily marked out of the game and was a dead end for possession. If the Union want to continue with Adu in this fashion, they must declare him a striker and bring in a proper left midfielder to offer defensive cover and possession in all of the space Adu leaves behind. Adu’s play continues to unbalance the Union midfield, puts too much pressure on Gabe Farfan and keeps the Union from finding consistency in the passing game.

Danny Mwanga – 6

As mentioned above, it was not supposed to be this way for Mwanga. In fact, it should have been the opposite with Pajoy holding up play while Mwanga ran off of him. Yet with the Colombian’s contact-shy approach to the game, the Union’s first ever draft pick has had to pick up the physical slack. And he is succeeding. Mwanga took on both Adrian Cann and Doneil Henry for 83 minutes on Saturday afternoon, putting his body on the line and challenging everything in the box, including a charge down of a Milos Kocic clearance.

That kind of pressure is essential for a team looking to find its offensive feet, with Mwanga pushing the defense deeper into their own defensive third and stretching them wide with his runs to the corner. But he cannot do it all. All of that hard work and smart running created the perfect pocket of space for a second striker or attacking midfielder to thrive, but neither Pajoy nor Herdling were anywhere to be seen. It will not be until someone, anyone steps into the space and proves dangerous that Mwanga will be able to break free and find the cracks in defense necessary to run at players and score goals. For now both center backs can focus all of their attention on him.

Lionard Pajoy – 2

Stayed away from the danger area all afternoon, preferring the quiet anonymity of the less crowded left wing to the hustle and bustle of the center of the park. With Mwanga taking a pounding at the hands of the Toronto defense, Pajoy looked disinterested in joining the action. Union fans would have been infuriated to watch Mwanga, Adu and Michael Farfan power forward into the box while Pajoy strolled behind the play. Even on defense, Pajoy chose to dally in midfield too frequently, forcing Kai Herdling to race ahead of him to pressure the fullbacks.

Substitutes

Michael Lahoud – 3.5

Swing and a miss. That was not aimed at Lahoud’s terrible attempted clearance that led to the goal, but rather at the decision to include the former Chivas USA man in the match at all. He continued to work hard as he ran around the field, but he was weak in his positioning and did little to help the Union. On Toronto’s goal, not only did he whiff on his clearance, but he was beaten twice after that by Nick Soolsma, first in the race to the endline and second in failing to cut off the pass in to Danny Koevermans. And that is why it is not as easy to convert midfielders into defenders as the coaching staff seems to think.

Antoine Hoppenot – 4

In yet another week where the opposition’s subs proved more valuable than the Union’s (See San Jose and Seattle), Hoppenot’s inclusion ahead of Martinez (or McInerney or Hoffman for that matter) made little sense. For all the hustle and effort Hoppenot provides at the Reserve level, he simply may not possess the physical tools to battle it out in MLS. Was reduced to clutching and grabbing as he found the size and strength of defenders too much to overcome.

Josue Martinez – n/a

Huffed and puffed a bit, but 7 minutes was never going to be enough time for him to get into the game, especially with his defense conceding a bad goal in the middle of it.

Geiger Counter

Juan Guzman – 1

Still seemingly with an ax to grind with the Union following his dismissal of Keon Daniel, Gabe Farfan and Peter Nowak in Los Angeles a month ago, Guzman had a shocker in Toronto. Showed clear bias when failing to award free kicks in favor of Adu while buying into every flop, flail and dive from Plata on the other end of the pitch. Failed to censure Toronto’s violent Julian de Guzman until after he had handed out an absurd card to Pajoy for shielding Plata off the ball.

Inconsistent, slow to make decisions and showing an odd tendency to call fouls in bunches and then none for a period, Guzman is the type of referee that infuriates players, and coaches, and fans. Amazingly blow par.

Rigby Radar

Bob Rigby – 0

This has gone on long enough. Comcast needs to relieve Bob Rigby of his duties, immediately. Before you get to the awful pronunciation of names, the inability to correctly identify players or the analysis that is flat out wrong, there is one major flaw in Rigby’s commentary that is too egregious to allow him to continue.

Commentators are not players on the teams for which they call games. While Rigby belches pro-Union propaganda, he refers to the Union  by saying “we” did this well or that such and such a decision was a great move by “us.” As a broadcaster whose goal should be to maintain even a modicum of objectivity, it flies in the face of professionalism to hear a commentator openly rooting for one side as if only a call from the coach is keeping him from leaping off the bench and running onto the field to help his teammates.

Preferred lineup for June 16 vs DC United

4-3-3

MacMath; Gaddis, Williams, Valdes, G. Farfan; Okugo, M. Farfan, Gomez; Hoffman, Mwanga, Martinez

32 Comments

  1. James 4-3-3 says:

    Rather than stretch the defense with smart lines of running off of Mwanga or dart into the gaping space between the defense and midfield created by the Union no.10,

    Hey, sounds like something that is Jack Macs strength. You know, that kid we used to have on the team who scored two goals in the reserve game.

  2. DarthLos117 says:

    We lost to TFC and somehow some of our players still managed to rate a 6+?!?! Really?!

  3. DarthLos117 says:

    How frustrated does Williams look? He reads like a book…the dude ain’t happy out there…

  4. James 4-3-3 says:

    Though it still boggles my mind how inept this coaching staff is. From what I gather about Winter in Toronto, it seems like he is simply trying to push a formation on players who aren’t ready for it. With Nowak, it’s worse. not only does he have NO plan, he actively tinkers with success every week.
    I mean, how many times do Carroll need to dominate a match by anchoring the back line, cutting off passing and breaking up attacks before Nowak stops moving him around? How many times does our backline need to be exposed – through the other team or injury – before they go out and address it?
    It’s insane at this point. It’s one thing to simply be a bad coach and over your head, its another thing to tinker each week and throw away the successful parts of the previous week.

  5. I’m gonna play Adu’s advocate a little here- first he got shit for not going for it enough, now he’s getting shit for going for it too much. I like the decision to let him play the wildcard role with free reign on the pitch, a la Le Toux. Yes, he should change it up a bit and not ALWAYS go for goal, but with this offense I refuse to think of his aggression as a bad thing.

    If Adu has something to learn from Farfan, Pajoy has something to learn from Adu.

    • James 4-3-3 says:

      You’re right; but that just shows how much of a mess this team is tactically. And it feels like these coaches have no reign whatsoever.
      I can only wonder what comes out of Nowaks mouth during practices.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Le Toux was a striker. When he ran wherever he wanted, it didn’t leave enormous holes in the midfield, nor did it affect anything the Union were doing in the possession game. The two are not comparable, in my opinion.

      • What about straight-up switching out Pajoy for Adu? I Questioned a few weeks ago about letting Freddy shed his defensive responsibilities in order to focus 100% on scoring as a “target forward” like…gulp…Carlos Ruiz?!? Otherwise the kid is looking pretty darned useless to us in the other spots he’s lined up at.

      • I generally bow to your tactical expertise, but on this point I must argue. First, like Adu, LT often occupied the gray area between a forward and a mid, so thinking of him as a pure striker isn’t totally accurate. 2nd, Le Toux’s positionlessness did seem to create problems for everyone else from where I was standing. Le Toux’s being everywhere and nowhere all at once cost the team opportunities that would’ve been present had Le Toux stuck to a given position. Since he chased the ball all over Chester, often times he wasn’t where the rest of team expected their forward (or mid, whichever he was that day)to be. Both he and Adu consider all of PPL to be their “position.” LT just did it better.

  6. Philly Cheese says:

    Although I don’t “blame Danny” I don’t think the energy and ability to finish is strong enough to be giving him consistent start. Pajoy rating is right on, and his overall weakness does drag down others. Adu has little/no vision of the field and seldom even thinks a give and go might allow him to get the ball back. Way too much standing around by everyone.
    Time to have defense think defense first.
    I’d like to see a 4-3-3 with Jack Mac, Hoffman and Martinez up top…..with Hoppenot coming in for weakest immediately after start of second half. Okugo should start. Lahoud, Pajoy, Adu should watch and learn.

  7. James 4-3-3 says:

    Also, it is nothing short of insulting how Pajoy makes more than Le toux. Or Lopez makes more than Harvey.

    • Agreed. When I saw those figures, i was absolutely disgusted.

      • Also agree. But at least now a shitty coach is getting the results he deserves. The only question is how long will Sakewicz make us put up with it?

  8. I think you’re giving Mwanga far too much credit.

  9. Exactly right about Rigby. He is not a good announcer, period.
    Hopefully the U figure it out soon. Have a bad feeling they won’t

    • I’m looking at it this way … in our first two seasons the “color guy” has gone on to bigger at better things. Maybe Rigby will do the same?
      My ONLY solace in losing to Toronto is seeing what they did to LAG (current Western Conference cellar dwellers) in the CCL. The Galaxitives were stacked to make a run, only to have TFC deny them outright.

  10. Let’s see…hmmmm….Midfielders Nowak misused as Defenders: Keon Daniel, Michael Lahoud, and Michael Farfan. Why oh why would anyone take Marfan out of the offensive mix? Why? We’re so potent that we don’t need him there? Defense is clearly not his forte. Shaenon Williams misused at CB despite being a bright spot at RB. Gaddis misused at LB despite being a right footed rookie. Now we have no height on the back line….seriously what is the FO doing? Is Hackworth on-board with all this? Or is Piotr the mad scientist who has outsmarted all conventional wisdom of what a Defense should look like?

  11. I’m already giving this season the wash… Next year.. New coach, and hopefully we spend that “money” we’ve amassed. I’d like to see them dump Albright and sideshow Lopez and they’re gonna have to figure out what to do about JacMac I think it’s starting to get similar to the agudelo situation, play him or use him as trade bate for a good Healthy natural defender.

  12. I think Adu gets a bad rap, what you said is right he looks like he’s trying to do too much, but that’s bc we have ZERO other offense. Pajoy is worthless and Danny is barely even noticed as being on the field. I think Kai looked good with his touches when he actually made them. I don’t mind seeing Okugo come in but please don’t put Keon back in, no finishing ability at all and a MAJOR defensively liability. Go 4-3-3 and let Freddy play forward with someone like Marfan on the other wing and Okugo as a midfielder.

    Hate to beat a dead horse but I think a huge majority of this is on the coaches, that formation with Carroll dropping back as just astounding. Gaddis looked messed up by it, Carroll looked messed up by it, and it created massive holes in the defense while killing any kind of possessive distribution. I wonder if anyone knows what’s going on over there.

    Besides any of this, it’s just SO disheartening to watch this every week and it kills me as a die hard fan to see the ship sinking.

    Finally thank GOD Rigby was brought up, he has been awful since being added last year. I actually kind of liked the fill in play by play guy. Does anyone else think that it really effects the ability to call a game when you aren’t even in the stadium??? They at the Comcast studio calling games from a tv and it shows completely, that gives you no ability to see what’s going on overall on the field.

    PS I LOVE coming on sites like this to read articles and comments and feedback on soccer and I was so excited when the state of the union program was announced last year, but it is utterly unwatchable w Rigby. NO analyzation of the game and completely a team propaganda device.

    Better luck next week

    • If you liked State of the Union as a propaganda device you will love the 90th minute radio show.

      Actually the 90th minute is essential listening this week, I gotta see how they spin this. My money is on “A tough loss.”

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  14. The issue with Rigby is partially that it’s not his fault. If anyone has noticed, there is an extreme dearth of quality American-based soccer announcers out there. JP is being pulled in every direction possible. Our last two analysts have been poached by the networks simply because there is no one else. Thank god for former US national players retiring early due to injuries. If Martino and Twellman weren’t around it’d be even worse. This is partially due to the big expansion in MLS. Every team needs a local set of announcers but you simply can’t develop that talent in five years. So, unfortunately, they’re having to take anyone off the street. Now, Rigby might be great for other things, but of course he sucks as a color guy. But who else you gonna get? Or maybe, just ditch him and have JP do it all.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I would rather have Sylvester Stallone commentating on the match, while eating an entire box of salt water taffy. Rigby is awful.

  15. The Black Hand says:

    Far, Far too generous with the player rankings. We, as a team, looked awful. Shame on the Union. Management, players, announcers…shame on the whole lot.

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