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Analysis & player ratings: DCU 1-1 Union

Photo: Barb Colligon

John Hackworth said it best after the game: These kinds of games may make great TV, but it’s not good soccer.

An ordinary, evenly matched first half led to DC United’s second half domination and an absolute meltdown that led to on-field chaos. The Union should be thrilled they left RFK Stadium with a point, because they did it against a very good team who are rightly furious they didn’t win the game outright.

Mark Geiger, the most famous ref in MLS

Mark Geiger may change games more than any referee in MLS.

He made the right call on the disallowed penalty kick.

It’s not clear he did on the disallowed Nick DeLeon goal. Hamdi Salihi, Zac MacMath and Gabriel Farfan all went equally for a loose ball. The foul on Salihi is a toss-up call.

And did anyone actually see specifically what earned Branko Boskovic a straight red while Gabriel Farfan and Roger Torres got only yellows? (If so, please share it.) United felt robbed in this game, and rightly so.

Further, the first yellow card on Sheanon Williams was ridiculous. Time-wasting in the 37th minute? Really? That’s a referee imposing himself on a game in the wrong way. The second yellow could have gone either way, but the debate should have been irrelevant. Instead, Williams will miss the Real Salt Lake match.

These teams always get very chippy when they play. They just don’t like each other. Williams and Gabriel Farfan are the Union’s worst offenders, while Brandon McDonald and Emiliano Dudar don’t help things for United. Even Danny Cruz and Lio Pajoy shoved each other, and they were on different teams a week ago.

If you want to maintain control of a game, you don’t do it by wasting cautions on something as silly as time-wasting. You give those cards early for the unnecessary elbows and harsh undercuts on aerial challenges so that you protect players’ safety. Those plays are what anger players most for 85 minutes and result in embarrassing spectacles like the ones that ended Sunday’s match.

The substitution that changed the match

Salihi came on for defender Dejan Jakovic in the 62nd minute, and it dramatically altered the game. Until then, United had deployed a back four that added nothing to the attack

Jakovic’s exit led to a defensive shuffle that shifted Andy Najar from midfield to right back, the position he played as a youth player, and cued the horde’s assault. Chris Pontius, Dwayne De Rosario, Salihi, Boskovic, and DeLeon are as talented a front five as any the league. When you add a monster on the flanks like Najar, it’s like breaching a dam and unleashing a river. United threw numbers forward that the Union could not handle. As good a midfielder as Najar is, his future may be as one of the most dangerous right backs around.

Gabriel Gomez was missed

As much as Gabriel Gomez has disappointed this season, the match was begging for him in the second half. Michael Lahoud seemed like a second yellow card waiting to happen the entire second half, and the United dominated in possession, holding the ball 64 percent of the second half.

Where was Gomez? Not in the 18, due to travel for the Panamanian international team, which scratched him for Sunday.

So Torres got the call instead and had an absolute nightmare game.

The situation didn’t call for Torres. It called for a steady holding midfielder without any cards. (Or alternately a defender who could allow Amobi Okugo or Gabriel Farfan to slide up to holding midfield, but shaking up the back line in the last 10 minutes wasn’t a great option either.) But Hackworth didn’t have one to spare. It may seem hard to believe, but for once, the Union’s options at defensive midfield were limited.

Alternatives to the Marf, Mac & Hop Show

The emergence of Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot and their connections with Michael Farfan keyed the Union’s great run in Hackworth’s first games as manager. McInerney and Hoppenot consistently made great runs behind defenses, and Farfan consistently found them open with well-timed through balls.

Teams have now seen enough of the new Union to recognize that is how the Union score goals, so they’ve adjusted accordingly. Stopping those plays is the focal point.

The Union’s attack options must broaden if they are to regain playoff team status. The Danny Cruz trade adds one option.

Another is Freddy Adu. He had some nice moments Sunday, including a dribble breakdown followed by a perfect cross to McInerney and a free kick that created a goal. He also single-handedly saved a goal.

Those plays, however, can be overshadowed by the times he slows down the attack, runs out of ideas, defaults to dribbling into traffic, loses the ball, dives, and then begs for a call he doesn’t deserve. Nobody likes a diver, least of all the hard-nosed fans of Philadelphia.

Right now, Adu looks like a frustrated No. 10 playing out of position and trying too hard to live up to high expectations, yet another damaged, misplaced piece of Peter Nowak’s legacy.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath — 5

MacMath made the routine saves. That should help his confidence, as he told me after the match. But he didn’t look confident when he said it. He looked shaken. He could have given up four goals if Freddy Adu, Hamdi Salihi and Mark Geiger hadn’t bailed him out. MacMath was partially at fault for not calling off Okugo on the own goal. Still, the scoreboard said he gave up just one goal against one of the league’s most potent attacks, and that’s what matters most.

Sheanon Williams — 5

His first yellow card was unfair. His second may have saved the game. But Williams got away with plenty of rough play that wasn’t cautioned. He seems to be compensating for his injury-depleted speed with rough play. He still doesn’t look 100 percent healthy, and it hurts him on both ends, his near-goal notwithstanding. Some day, the adversity he’s faced this season may give him the perspective to be a great team captain. He has battled all year, and even if the end result is a shadow of his capability, it’s helping his team.

Amobi Okugo — 5

Okugo was all over the field against United, but unfortunately, that included the own goal. Chalk that up to a well-placed free kick and miscommunication with MacMath. If not for that, this rating is a 7 or 8.

Carlos Valdes — 8

Like Okugo, Valdes made play after play. The highlight may have been a reverse header to clear a ball perilously close to goal in the second half.

Gabriel Farfan — 6

Farfan was good in possession and had a few nice moments of trickery. On defense, he faced a continuous onslaught of pressure down his wing once Najar moved to right back.

Brian Carroll — 6

Scored a goal, switched fields well, was steady in his passing. Still, he and Lahoud too often left a gap in front of the back line that Chris Pontius and Co. found holes in.

Michael Lahoud — 5

Lahoud was lucky not to get a second yellow card, because there were multiple plays on which it could have been justified. He was nearly flawless, if conservative, in his passing and showed his usual good energy to close down spaces once they opened, but there was, as noted above, the fact that those spaces opened to begin with.

Michael Farfan — 5

It may be that no team in MLS keys on Michael Farfan defensively as much as DC United. They effectively contained him, and his wings offered few options.

Danny Cruz — 4

Cruz had a few exciting moments, including some deft dribbling through a pair of United defenders during a first half sequence, and showed a good work rate. He was not in sync with his teammates, however, as would be expected for his first match.

Jack McInerney — 4

McInerney put himself in terrific position for two great chances but didn’t finish either. Otherwise, he had few touches. United clearly focused on him and Michael Farfan.

Freddy Adu — 5

See above.

Antoine Hoppenot — 3

Hoppenot was no surprise to United, who were seeing him for the third time in two months. His runs weren’t there. He completed just two of five passes and lost possession five times in about 33-plus minutes.

Roger Torres — 2

A nightmare game for Torres. After coming on in the 80th minute, he was called for a penalty and a yellow card in separate incidents, and he did nothing with the ball the few times he touched it. There are some games in which you can’t help but feel bad for a player.

Keon Daniel — 5

Steady in possession, as usual, but he continues to struggle in a formation that doesn’t appear to have a position for him.

The Geiger Counter

Matt Geiger — 3

See above. Enough said. Some correct calls, some not, all controversial. Typical Geiger.

Preferred Lineup for Friday’s match against Real Salt Lake

MacMath, Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, G. Farfan, Carroll, Lahoud, M. Farfan, Cruz, Adu, McInerney


  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    Still want to see a game with Soumare in the back and Okugo pairing with Carrol. Lahoud and Gomez are decent, but they have holes in their game. Okugo can be one of the leagues great box to box midfielders. He is better than those two players in both offense AND defense.
    Also, with Okugo ability to play offense, whether it be the quick one two or the deft cross field lob, that should alleviate the pressure players like Marfan or Jack feel when they need to drop deeper to find the game.
    And from everything I’ve heard with Soumare, he is good with the ball as well.
    I think this change wil really help the team.

    • DarthLos117 says:

      How about we stop playing two denfensive mids all together? How about either Carroll or Okugo, not both?

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        Honestly … I think Okugo is too good (or can get too good) offensively to be considered just a DMid. I just want to play him in a position where it’s less “Oh wow, his offense is pretty good relative to the usual crap we see at this position!” and “Man, his offense is so good that when combined with his defensive skills he can be a great box to box mid!”
        Though of course this depends on Hackworth having the tactical awareness to coach Okugo to play b2b instead of being another DMid next to Carrol.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        Im not sure where you have seen enough of Okugo to think he is a viable offensive threat? A quick glance at his seasons stats indicate that he has not scored a goal, registered an assist or had a shot on goal (3 total shots). A couple of forward passes does not translate to offensive prowess.
        I honestly feel that Valdes has shown more offensive spark than Okugo has all year. I love this about Valdes’ game and it speaks volume to his leadership skills.

      • actually counting the last game Okugo has one goal this year.

      • ouch

      • I would like to think he reminds me of what a holding mid is nowadays, like mike bradley, good on the ball with a good work rate who can play at both ends of the pitch. We still need to see more to make a good judgement. But the only way to know that is to see him in the midfield. I think he would be a great compliment in a 4-3-3 were the mid is kind of narrow and the outside backs mack runs up the sides, that would make carroll farfan and okugo playing narrow in the middle together leaving room for farfan and williams to run up the wings. There is presadence for this working great barca and liverpool have done this in the past to good effect.

  2. FYI – You only list 10 players in your preferred lineup.

  3. Philly Cheese says:

    Adu header to save a goal and a good cross kept him from overall 2 rating in my view. Other Union team members stop and watch Adu until two defenders take the ball from him, because it is unlikely he will have his head up looking for through ball to others. Chemistry with Cruz is going to take time, and his leg cramps or fitness issues certainly didn’t inspire confidence that he should be playing ahead of Hoffman in 11 on Friday. We can’t keep starting players who we know can only go 50-60 minutes. Subs should be able to strategically be inserted based on unique game performance, not that three players can’t go 90 minutes consistently.

  4. Branko Boskovic went in directly from behind, spikes showing, leg up off the ground. Straight Red Card!

    • Really? I thought that was Dudar who got the red for that. Not sure how Boskovic had a chace to do that on a PK.

      • When Geiger was mucking around calling back the penalty, either Farfan or Torres – I could tell who in all the bedlam – basically ran over Boskovic on their way up to the scrum. Boskovic took offense and grabbed whoever it was around the neck to pull them back. A bit of a case of the retaliator getting a more severe punishment than the instigator. And certainly proof that Geiger had completely lost control of the game.

  5. Is it time to give MacMath a break? I feel that he is a rookie starter who has hit “the wall.” My wife commented that he looks exhausted. Why not give Harrison or Knopka a start? Not a criticism of Zach, just acknowledging that he has been poor of late and maybe a rest will help him re-focus.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      too many people think of everything in black and white. he’s the best. or he’s an amateur masquerading as a pro. You’re exactly right. just sit him down for a game or two. why does it have to mean that he’s toast?

      • This where having a vteran backup would be key. Both of our back-ups have player relatively decently this year in limited opportunities, but an experienced back-up would have been ideal. At this point, with the playoffs almost out of reach, not sure it makes a difference. MAybe Zac could use a break though.

      • Not really sure if an experienced veteran GK would be content with playing second fiddle to MacMath. However, with that said, Konopka is a “veteran”, MacMath’s elder, and has experience overseas; granted, it was in the Irish top flight, but he did win silverware is him time there.

      • Good point, re: black and white. MacMath is what everyone knew he was: A young, talented but inexperienced keeper. We knew he’d have some bumps in the road, and now he has, ever since his concussion problems. Nowak put everyone in a tough position by starting MacMath too soon without a veteran there, because if you bench him now, that can crush his confidence too.

    • This is what we signed up for. Good decision or not, it was made by Nowak months ago.
      And the more I hear this the more I consider Hamid and Johnson LUCKY for hitting rock bottom so early and so quickly. Maybe MacMath would have been better served presiding over one of the most embarrassing failures in US Soccer history instead of having to go through the ups and downs a GK experiences over the course of a season.

  6. Good criticism of Torres not being correct substitution, but I disagree Hackworth had no choice. Hack left himself no choice by pulling Adu out at 69′ and wasting the substitution with Daniel. Adu was playing fine defensively and the best set play kicker. Leave Adu in 90′ and save Keon Daniel for the Jack Mac sub at 80′ instead of Torres. Again this week, when they pulled Adu out it I lose interest in the game because I know what is coming… It baffles the mind the low quality on the field and taking Adu out… we got a loooonggg road with this behavior.

    • Freddy. If you’re going to write in, use your real name.

      • frankswild says:

        I agree completely that they should have left Adu on (I am not one of those partisan defenders of Adu either). Adu wasn’t the best player on the field but he was playing competently and there didn’t seem to be any reason to take him off.

      • That comment was funny the first ten times it was typed. It’s now no longer amusing. He’s right that why play Freddy 90 when he is ineffective and yank him in the 69th when he was actually making an impact. I like hack but come on does he even game plan those subs. I like roger but against the bruts of DC how is he a good choice.
        People can complain about Olsen complaining but at least he tried to win and like it or not deflected criticism from his players to him with his post game comments on geiger.
        Now the story is out on us and what we can do. Now is when coaching, game plans and mental toughness come in and so far hack appears to be a one trick pony.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Not sure I saw any effect out of Freddy, with exception to every ball that left his foot, arriving on a United boot. Same as the match before, and the one before that and the one before that… He is a poor football player, simple as that. He may be able to juggle and show fancy moves in practice, but as far as matchday…he is our worst player.

      • Sacchi would say he is a good footballer but not a good player. I would agree. Of course, Sacchi would say it in Italian.

      • Really? Worst player? His ability to deliver dangerous balls off set pieces is reason enough to place him on the field. Marfan may be worse than Letoux at corners (if thats possible). In my opinion Adu is simply not being placed in a position to thrive.

      • DarthLos117 says:

        “Adu is simply not being placed in a position to thrive.” May very well be true…have always wanted to see him play CMid in a 4-2-3-1.
        William..Soumare..Valdes..G. Farfan
        ..M. Farfan..Adu..Cruz

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        Now that’s a formation I could get behind.

  7. It’s a Friday match after a Sunday match. For that reason, I don’t love the proposed starting XI. I’d go with

    MacMath, Gaddis, Soumare, Valdes, G. Farfan, Gomez, Okugo, M. Farfan, Martinez, Cruz, McInerney

    • Yea we got Soumare to play him. So play him. he will get better as he plays.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Agree with Soumare, and honestly the Gomez/Okugo combination is fine by me too. Okugo can cover Carrols defensive responsibilities with an offensive skillset Carrol probably never had.

  8. That was Adu’s best game this year. 5 seems low, 7 more like it. We all wish he wasn’t so dramatic, but he delivered the only offense with those set pieces, if only his corner kicks would get the same air his free kicks from 40 yards out do.

    I thought Okugo, besides the OG, chased the game a bit. There was another play where he was caught so far upfield the U were caught in transition in counter attack.

    MacMath a 5? I think Geiger earned him 3 of those points. He looked just awful on the Pajoy header Adu saved, and the fumbling of the ball before the wave off had me cringe. He’s an adventure. He needs to sit before what little confidence he has left is Seitzed into oblivion.

    Hackworth has not shown yet that the interim tag should be removed. DC is a good team, and when Olsen adjusted with Najar, he didn’t have an answer. We can get away with that vs Toronto, but the better MLS teams will eat our lunch.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      I’m still not sure where the author gets “he could have allowed 4 goals from.” What did he do wrong on the Pajoy header? He shifted to that end of the goal, he didnt try to punch the ball or do anything badly. It simply looked like a perfect header to me.
      His one on one save on Rosario (aka one of the most dangerous players in the league) was good and far from a simple save, and for all his bobbling he was about 3 inches from jumping on it until Gabe decided to kick it out of his hands.
      And is the author really pinning a PK on him as well?

      • No. I’m doing math. Two goals were waved off. A third was saved by Adu. A fourth was scored (own goal). That adds up to four. That’s what I’m referring to. There’s no value judgment on the PK or the play with the Garfan clearance.

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