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Analysis & player ratings: Union 2-3 Crew

Talk about a kick in the gut.

Just when the Philadelphia Union had finally managed to open the offensive taps, a terrible refereeing decision served to separate two teams who had each done enough for a point on the night.

Martinez fails to impress

Most painful for the Union is that after another first half in which they failed to record a single shot on goal, they sprang to life through their substitutes.

Following his performance against Houston, his first full 90 minute performance this season, Josue Martinez was handed a second consecutive start. While Martinez had shown sparks in that match, his hard running was always without reward, with his touch and confidence letting him down at every chance, until late in the match when he bundled Amobi Okugo’s volley over the goal line. It was hardly a sterling performance, and more than anything proved that Martinez needs a partner to thrive.

Deployed in isolation against Columbus, the young Costa Rican was completely overwhelmed, failing to make an impact on the match. Too intimidated by the physical presence of Chad Marshall at the back, Martinez didn’t even appear to really try, making his checking runs into the midfield his sole contribution. While Gabe Farfan and Danny Cruz did their best to sprint in behind and challenge the Crew backline, Martinez stood and watched the match from midfield, failing to make his way into the box on the majority of the Union’s attacking forays.

This was an enormous opportunity for Martinez to prove that he was ready, willing and able to demand his place in the Starting XI. And while Hackworth’s conservative tactics would have required Martinez to go 1-on-2 against Marshall and James, his lack of effort was troubling, even before Hoppenot and McInerney both showed the work and desire to get in behind the defense. In the end, it was the former setting up the Union’s first while the latter scored the second, both times exposing Marshall’s lack of recovery speed.

Both players have again shown why they have been deserving to play ahead of Martinez. With rookie first round draft pick Chandler Hoffman still under 200 minutes of playing time for the season, Martinez is unlikely to see much more of the pitch after squandering Saturday’s opportunity.

Defense takes a night off

Despite lacking elite speed in their attack, the Union defense had a rare sluggish performance, allowing Columbus too much space both in front and behind. Long before Amobi Okugo’s terrible three minute span late in the half, he and Valdes were twice caught out by Arrieta and Higuain as the savvy pair raced in alone on Zac MacMath, having beaten the offside trap.

With Columbus pressing high up the pitch, both Gaddis and Williams found themselves pinned back and the Union’s uncharacteristically flat backline struggled. Brian Carroll was less than his usual authoritative self as well, with Columbus at times targeting the Union’s veteran midfielder, who was too often shown a clean pair of heels by Higuain, Arrieta, Mirosevic and Gaven.

The combination of strong game planning from Robert Warzycha, and simply an off night from the Union back line, served to give Columbus ample chances on MacMath’s goal. Against a scorching hot Chicago Fire side on Wednesday, the Union will not be able to survive if they are similarly timid out of the back and do not reciprocate Chicago’s attack with offensive pressure of their own.

Better lucky than good

Again using his defensive midfielders as a safety blanket, Hackworth was fortunate to get contributions from unusual places and a little bit of luck, but it is not a blueprint for long term success. Yes, Michael Lahoud’s through ball to Antoine Hoppenot was a thing of beauty, but it’s hardly a staple of the midfielder’s game. And Roger Torres’ swerving cross to Jack McInerney owed a great deal of its accuracy to a deflection off Chris Birchall.

With Michael Farfan terrorizing the Columbus defense in the first half, even without the benefit of a striker in the box, Hackworth’s decision to move into a 4-4-2, empty bucket in the second half was surprising. The Union looked rudderless and confused for much of the second half, with the chemistry and awareness of the side compromised by the shifting players. It is hard to imagine that the Union would not have been a far more dangerous side with Farfan pulling the midfield strings for Hoppenot, McInerney, Cruz and his brother, instead of Lahoud and Carroll. The Union’s lack of size is apparent and relying on wing play to consistently generate chances on the deck is simply beyond the level the Union have shown in 2012. A full time central presence is required to keep the offense focused and no matter how many strikers Hackworth’s throws at the problem, leaving only Lahoud and Carroll in the center of the park will be a recipe for offensive anemia far more often than not.

Hopefully against an in-form Chicago side, Hackworth shows faith in Farfan, his most dangerous and creative playmaker, putting him in the center of the action with two wingers—his brother and Cruz—AND two strikers—Adu and McInerney—for which to aim. Sitting back defensively and trying to react to the roaring Fire will see the Union midfield sliced through like sponge cake, but being more proactive would require the sacrifice of either Carroll or Lahoud, something the typically cautious Union manager has been reluctant to try.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 6.5

Had his usual share of spilled balls and nervy moments positionally, but in the end, MacMath’s shot-stopping kept the Union in a match on a night where the back four let them down. Arrieta, Gaven and Renteria all would have expected their shots to find the back of the net, only to be stymied by the quick reflexes of the Union’s young goalkeeper.

Ray Gaddis – 4

Unable to get forward with his usual ferocity, Gaddis was pinned back and struggled to deal with the pace and power of Gaven and Arrieta. Did just enough to slow down the Costa Rican midway through the first half, but was beaten badly for Columbus’ second goal.

Amobi Okugo – 3.5

A terrible three minute span condemned Okugo to his worst performance since switching to centerback. Will relish the chance to play in a midweek game, putting this match as far behind him as possible.

Carlos Valdes – 5 

Struggled to keep tabs on Arrieta and Higuain, as the pair got in behind the Union defense with regularity. Offside or not, it was Valdes charged down clearance that led to the Crew’s winner.

Sheanon Williams – 4.5

Deployed at left back, Williams has never looked less left-footed than he did on Saturday night. Struggled to impose himself offensively and failed to mesh well with Valdes on the left side of the Union defense.

Brian Carroll – 4

When the Union needed a strong showing from their most veteran player, Carroll was found wanting Saturday night. From Higuain toying with him in the early going, to Gaven and Arrieta leaving him for dead, Carroll brought little to the table defensively, while remaining a non-factor going forward.

Michael Lahoud – 5.5

Consistently efficient in his short and backwards passing, “Mr. Negative” strapped on his attacking boots Saturday night, threading the needle to Hoppenot on the play that earned the Union their penalty.

Danny Cruz – 6.5

A tireless shift put in by the Union’s hardest worker. Cruz was well rewarded with his first Union goal after his left-footed drive went just over the bar early in the second half. Serious questions remain about his technical ability, however, as he turned the ball over frequently and unnecessarily.

Gabriel Farfan – 6

Responded well to his new attacking role and drove to the net with strength and determination. Smart and focused in possession, looked slightly rusty in terms of seeking out the ball from a midfield position.

Michael Farfan – 6

The Union’s best player in the first half, Farfan faded from view when Hackworth’s tactics removed him from center of the midfield where he was creating havoc with both his passing and dribbling. It remains a mystery why Farfan is not the Union’s free kick taker in the absence of Freddy Adu.

Josue Martinez – 3

An anonymous and disinterested performance from Martinez who was invisible in the attack. Failed to challenge Marshall or James at any point with his pace. Whether it was Gabe Farfan’s dangerous first half runs or Hoppenot’s immediate impact off the bench, the Union needed a striker in the box, and Martinez was nowhere to be found.

Substitutes

Antoine Hoppenot – 6.5

If there is one way to exploit Columbus’ defense, it is with quick, darting runs in behind. From the moment he stepped on the field, Hoppenot was more than either Marshall or James could handle. Easily sliced in behind to draw the Union’s penalty though James’ uncalled foul after Hoppenot skinned him was just as blatant. Back to his electrifying best off the bench.

Jack McInerney – 6

Despite barely figuring in the match before his goal, McInerney made a smart run and reacted well to the deflected cross, touching home the Union’s equalizer. That type of predatory instinct should delight Union fans who have rarely seen such composure in front of goal.

Roger Torres – 6

Pushing to create chances, Torres may not have the highest completion percentage, but the pint-sized Colombian created plenty of chances on the night, including the assist on McInerney’s goal. With Hackworth holding on to his tw0 defensive midfielder setup, Torres deserves an opportunity to prove himself as an offensive catalyst.

Geiger Counter

Matthew Foerster – 3

Obviously it was not Foerster who blew the match-deciding call, but the referee had plenty to answer for himself. For example, his desire not to affect the outcome of the game led to incorrect calls that drastically benefited the home side. Andy Gruenebaum’s takedown on Hoppenot, for example, was a textbook sending off as the forward would have easily tucked home the chance had the goalkeeper, as the last defender, not intentionally impeded him. James’ foul on Hoppenot was also a penalty kick, clear as day.

Preferred Starting XI for Wednesday’s match at Chicago Fire

4-4-2

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

13 Comments

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

    Maybe I am just trying to find a reason to be optimistic, but maybe most of Hackworths questionable tactical choices is simply because this isn’t his team, and he feels like he is doing the best with what he has.
    There is really no reason to play defensively anymore, there is really no reason to play one striker anymore. Besides the fact that it’s questionable to whether those choices would work for this team even if the games mattered, if there is a time to go all out and test out new systems, it’s when your team has nothing to play for.
    But maybe he is going with one striker because he realizes everyone he has to play that position is basically the same type of player – fast, smart runs, stretches defensives. Maybe he keeps playing that empty bucket because they player he REALLY wants to play as the sole holding mid – Okugo – is stuck at CB until Soumare is healthy. Maybe he keeps rotating Adu/Marfan on the wings because he realizes we really don’t have any real, dangerous wingers.
    Of course the other alternative is he has no tactical sense.

    • The reason to set up a little defensively on the road against a superior opponent: the team needs to learn how to earn a point on the road when playing a superior opponent. 0-0, 1-1, and 2-2 would have been acceptable results. 3-2 is not, although it was a little bit unfortunate, but I think the team learned a few things.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I completely agree with you about the merits of a road draw, but entering a match playing for a draw is usually a recipe for disaster. Should the Union go up a goal, or want to tighten things up after a loose first half, then the introduction of a second DCM makes perfect sense. Starting with him already out there, in my opinion, is weak and reactionary.

        If the team was built to score goals they would not need to make substitutions and formation changes as soon as they concede the inevitable opener.

      • I respectfully disagree with your recipe. Teams play to draw all the time without disastrous results. Sometimes it doesn’t look very pretty, but a point is a point. Perhaps the recipe metaphor we can agree on is “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        That’s fair. I maintain however, that with the Union’s back 4 and Brian Carroll, they have plenty of defensive fortitude to sweat out a draw. Especially with converted and reverted Gabe Farfan covering the left wing and the tireless Danny Cruz on the right. Both players play excellent defense for wide midfielders. That is why I think they should add the second striker, because without 2 CDM, they can still defend like champs, while looking more dangerous on the counter and with the ball in possession. yay or nay?

      • Reasonable people may disagree about tactics, but I think it is unarguable that this team has conceded far too many points based on a lack of overall discipline. Should they be able to defend with 5 and attack with 5? Yes, they should. Have they proven that they can do it?

  2. I think Marfan played well but he missed a clear chance to stuff it far post in the first half with a rookie overdribble that is all too common on this team. Look I know that the game moves fast and that everyone loves the farfans and I think they are fine players but lets face it someone needs to step up and make plays. Macks goal was not a thing of beauty and neither have many of our goals this year. They all count as one but trying to win ugly everyweek doesn’t yield a good results most weeks

  3. Before the 4-2-2: 8 game winless streak, 4 goals scored.
    The 4-2-2: 135 minutes, 5 goals.

    Stop playing the 4-3-3 and stop using 2 defensive midfielders.

  4. My only rebuttle about josue looking useless is tha jack also looks the same way when up top on his own. We need to take away that second dcm and put two guys up top who can help each other. I know it may not be popular to say but I would like to see josue and jack up top Wednesday just so we can see if there is anything there.

  5. Philly Cheese says:

    Although I suppose Hack needs to determine if Martinez should be back next year, and is giving him every opportunity to try to earn a spot for next year. I don’t know what his contract looks like, but might he need more than $71k to stay? I think GA status for Jack Mac and Okugo kept them from developing as fully as possible over last year. IF Hoffman’s GA status is playing into whether Union will give him opportunity to see if he is the striker of the future they drafted him for….or not….that GA “number of minutes played per year” makes it just economical decision on playing time. I would rather see Hoffman with McInerney up top, if Adu is not fully healed and ready to go 90 minutes. We can’t put Adu on pitch if he is a 60 minute maximum player.

  6. Roger Torres needs to have an opportunity to set up the attack. He has the skills and the vision.

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