Featured / Union

The provocateurs

Photo: Earl Gardner

The New England Revolution hate Antoine Hoppenot. Particularly Benny Feilhaber. And his red card.

D.C. United hate Mike Farfan. His battles with Perry Kitchen are becoming great sideshows.

Everyone hates Gabriel Farfan. Except Union fans and players.

Sheanon Williams gets grudging respect. But he probably hates almost everyone else once he steps on the field, particularly referees.

Jack McInerney just hates Peter Nowak.

See a pattern?

The Union’s core of young players has one common thread through all them. They infuriate their opponents. Gleefully.

They play hard. They foul hard. And sometimes they go down hard, although occasionally a little too easily. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Gabriel Farfan. Those dives are killing your rep.)

The Union are finally developing an identity. They’re young, hard-nosed upstarts who back down from nobody and occasionally pick stupid fights. Either they’re Nowak’s wayward offspring, rebelling against the domineering and rejected parent with some of his infamous traits, or they’re the legacy of Danny Califf, the not-forgotten captain who never backed down and was exiled for it by the dark lord to the distant and primitive Chivas galaxy.

How else could the Union have such a collection of young fighters and instigators?

It’s entertaining at times. Don’t deny it. You know you laughed when Hoppenot prompted referee Jorge Gonzalez to call two fouls against New England players (Feilhaber and Ryan Guy) in one five-second sequence. Then when Feilhaber drew his second booking two minutes later for a push on Hoppenot, you had to be saying, “What does Hoppenot do to irritate his opponents this much every game?” I don’t know either. He’s fast. He makes contact. He has no problem going down, sometimes a bit too easily. And when he comes in around the 60th minute, he’s as energetic as a black lab puppy. It’s like a mosquito ate a Mexican jumping bean laced with amphetamines and started biting defenders.

Then there’s Mike Farfan, second in the league in fouls caused, 10th in fouls suffered. Those stats tell the story, no? Only one other player ranks in the top 10 in both those categories: Fredy Montero.

The Union’s fullbacks have their own issues.

If Gabriel Farfan was a wrestler, his theme song would be “Kung Fu Fighting,” and his signature move would be a drop kick. He might be opponents’ most hated Union player outside of Hoppenot. He thrives on contact, attacks like a streetballer, and talks trash like one too.

The classic Gabriel Farfan sequence goes like this:

  • He takes the ball from an opposing winger with hard contact just barely within the rules,
  • counterattacks,
  • jukes a defender with some nasty footwork,
  • goes down from a hard foul,
  • looks up,
  • demands a booking from the ref,
  • curses out his opponent,
  • starts a fight from the seat of his pants,
  • and inadvertently prompts his brother to join the fight.
  • A shoving match ensues.
  • Yellow cards follow.

As for Williams, he may be the Union’s most intense player. Nobody seems to take it as hard after a loss as Williams. Nobody flings his body around with as much reckless abandon in the name of his cause. And probably nobody fouls opponents as hard and still consistently disputes the calls. Give him a pass. He’s been jerked around all year. And yet he’s soldiered on. He’s had a wholly remarkable season.

Only one team in the league has committed more fouls per game than the Union, and that’s Vancouver. Interestingly enough, the only team that’s taken fewer shots this season than the Union is Vancouver. Logic would dictate the two stats are probably connected: A game spent less in the attacking third may lead to more midfield battles for possession.

Will the Union foul less if their attack improves next year? Maybe.

Union manager John Hackworth and the addition of a few key veterans might bring more discipline next year, but it’s unlikely to tame these guys or make their opponents like them any more. The trick is translating that to a winning season without earning the label of being a dirty team.

It’s fitting that one of the Union’s best performances this year was last week’s win at Chicago, where their ousted manager, Nowak, was being feted for his role as a player for Chicago. It was a big, fat message win. And it probably pissed a few people off. Typical.

9 Comments

  1. I always imagine the Farfan’s in high school, where someone would pick a fight with say, Gabe, and Michael would flying out of nowhere and jump the guy.

  2. This isa problem though. The Union are getting a rep. Much like Daniel Carcillo and now Zac Rinaldo for the Flyers, Players on the Union are not only going to not get the benefit of the doubt on calls they will get fouls and penalties based on reputation alone.

    They play a rough game but they have to be cagey about it like Danny Califf or it is gonna cost us big going down the road.

  3. Sara Laughs says:

    No one likes us, no one likes us, no one likes us
    WE DON’T CARE
    We’re from Philly
    Filthy Philly
    No one likes us
    WE DON’T CARE

  4. Size wise, the Union are probably the smallest team in MLS and to make up for that shortcoming (sorry for the pun), they have to play very aggressively. And I don’t care what the sport is, but bigger players always get irritated when smaller ones press and battle them vigorously. It’s a clash of styles that’s bound to cause constant conflict on the pitch.

    If I were a centerback and had to deal with Hoppenot constantly nipping at my heels, I’d probably give him an extra shot whenever I could.

  5. I like a Team that plays hard and fights for a win the blance for the Union part is the WIN. Hit hard when it makes sense. But do it clean. Shoulder to shoulder the hold game. It’s not losing that truely piss me off it’s losing and not putting up a fight giving in to the loss. I want a team and players that go for the win or the goal when everyone else would go for the draw. When down 2 to 1 fight to make it 2 to 1 and keep playing at 2 to 2 as if it was 2 to 1. play smart soccer good passing attack and defend shoot on frame and pick up the trash in the box. An this Club this Boys in UNION Blue will WIN…

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