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Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 0-3 Red Bulls

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

What a difference a year makes.

In the corresponding fixture a year ago, the Union had plenty to play for. Bubbling with excitement at the franchise’s rapid ascension to a playoff caliber squad, Peter Nowak led his men into Red Bull Arena knowing that a victory would see his surprising young squad secure one of the top two places in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

The story gets worse from there, with Nowak rolling his lineup dice, as he often did, trotting out Zach Pfeffer to try and win a midfield battle against veteran players, the size and skill of which he would never have seen in any of his reserve or youth leagues. New York pounded the Union on that night, reminding everyone that they were the more physical, talented, committed side.

Fast forward a year and now the Union faithful are clambering to see their youngsters. In a meaningless fixture where Hackworth and Co. should have played for a win, showing spirit and proving to their fanbase that they were committed to building a team the right way, the only lineup change made by the Union manager was to bring in the club’s oldest player, Chris Albright. Hackworth’s allegiances to certain players have grown downright alarming and with three meaningless fixtures to wrap up the season, the Union manager learned precious little about the quality and readiness of much of his young talent.

Playing for 0-0

It is a tale as old as time for inferior sides playing against the top programs in their respective leagues: Bunker down and play for the draw and you will inevitably lose, since any mistake creates one goal, and on a team built to defend, recovering that tally can prove impossible.

The final two matches of the season prove the point perfectly, with the overly-cautious Hackworth had to completely reshape his team at halftime, bringing on a striker to try and score goals.

Why not press for a goal in the first half, one wonders?

The best form of defense is a good offense, after all. And attacking high up the field allows a team to gain in confidence, playing the match further and further from their own goal. But Hackworth gave too much respect to Henry, Cahill and the rest of the Red Bulls attack, parking his team too deep and allowing New York all the time and space needed to pick the Union apart.

Also, by including both Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud, Hackworth insured that his side would have little attacking fluidity since neither player can list “quality distribution” on their resumes. It was quite the opposite, in fact, with New York gladly accepting both players mistakes, turning them into their second and third goals.

Too far from goal

Another critical issue with Hackworth’s use of bunker ball is that even when the Union mount an attack, the whole apparatus is set into motion too far from the opposition’s net. Twice in the first half, Jack McInerney was played in behind the defense, but could not muster a shot. Should the young forward have done better on both occasions? Probably. But McInerney is a poaching, predatory finisher who needs to work into the box. On both instances against New York, the Union midfield was serving balls forward from within 10 yards of the center stripe. McInerney, subsequently was picking up the ball more than 30 yards from goal, making his job far more complicated than he would prefer. A touch to set himself before lashing past Luis Robles is all McInerney wants, yet when he is required to make up ground with the ball at his feet, too many things can and did go wrong.

What now?

Hackworth needs to pick a system.

And make it known.

He also must accept the harsh reality that the Union will struggle to be an offensive juggernaut with McInerney as the only striker in a 4-5-1 set up. Hackworth need only look to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire to see a properly built 4-5-1, with big, powerful Sherjill MacDonald at the center of the attack. While he may not be listed as a striker on paper, Chris Rolfe’s predatory instincts make him a constant goalscoring threat with Patrick Nyarko, Alvaro Fernandez and Dominic Oduro always lurking, looking to get into the box.

As they are constituted, the Union simply cannot make this formation work and whether it is a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3, or any combination there within, Hackworth must do a better job of getting multiple attackers on the pitch and in the box come 2013.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 4.5

MacMath is far too nimble and athletic a goalkeeper to continually get caught cheating, as he did on Cooper’s second. Patience will come with time, but for Union fans sick and tired of shipping soft goals, patience has begun to wear thin.

Ray Gaddis – 7.5

Man of the Match performance from the phenomenally composed youngster who barely put a foot wrong for 90 minutes on Saturday. Came up trumps against Lindpere, Cahill, Pearce and others who found out early and often that Gaddis is not a player to be bullied.

Amobi Okugo – 5.5

Distributed well out of the back and threw his body around with reckless abandon against Cooper. Had no fault in any of the goals and his physical late game challenges proved that he, unlike some of his teammates, was not content to be beaten up and embarrassed in front of the home crowd.

Carlos Valdes – 3

The last of three phoned-in performances from the Union captain to close out 2012. Between leading the faltering Union and earning minutes for Colombia in World Cup Qualifying, the captain may just be exhausted after the grueling season, but he must raise his hand and accept his blame on all three goals. After conceding the spot kick to Cahill, Valdes was crossed up and torched by Henry before failing to step up, holding Cooper onside for New York’s third.

Chris Albright – 4.5

Looked every bit the worn down veteran he is, but still managed to do enough defend his flank. Even got forward once or twice, nearly earning an assist on a well struck cross that McInerney flashed over the bar. It may have been his final MLS match, but with the Union light in the coaching staff department, Albright may have a part to play for the Union in the years to come.

Michael Lahoud – 3.5

Completely overrun in middle of the park, it seemed almost inevitable that Lahoud would turn the ball over in a costly situation. It is rare that a player runs so much, yet is still consistently in the wrong spot defensively. When Henry picked his pocket 35 yards out from goal, Lahoud compounded his mistake by prodding the ball past Okugo to give Henry a head of steam flying into the Union box. Mercifully substituted at halftime.

Brian Carroll – 5.5

Playing with the ineffective Lahoud in the first half and alone in the second, Carroll covered a colossal amount of ground in addition to dropping into the box to make vital interventions. While he remonstrated violently for handball against Cahill in the build up to New York’s third, he should have played a smarter pass, avoiding that outcome all together. It was the only blemish on a gutty performance from Carroll in which he gave himself entirely to the cause, on both sides of the ball, moving it quicker and more confidently than Union fans have lately grown accustomed.

Danny Cruz – 3

The biggest concern about Cruz is his lack of upside. His hustle will always be top notch, but his touch, especially when passing or shooting, along with his decision making are very, very poor.

Keon Daniel – 4

Another agonizing performance from Daniel, who at times looks ready to take on all comers, and at other times forgets what he’s doing and dribbles directly at the keeper, failing to even attempt a pass or shot. Looked sluggish for most of his 90 minutes and even when he finally pulled the trigger, got it all wrong. The tools are there, the question for Daniel is motivation and focus, which just might make his ineffective play even more frustrating.

Michael Farfan – 5.5

Did everything in his power to ignite the offense, playing a part in the majority of the Union’s best scoring chances. Needs to learn to pick his spots a little better as he forced too many balls, but with the Union so flaccid in attack, its hard to criticize a player so committed to creating chances.

Jack McInerney – 4

Had enough chances that he will have been furious with himself to not have come away with a goal. The sitter he missed in the closing moments was surely embarrassing, but had McInerney been able to pull away and finish any of his first half chances, the match might have taken a new direction.


Antoine Hoppenot – 4.5

Gave his typical effort, earning a slap from Pearce and a flattening from Marquez, but like his teammates simply couldn’t apply the finishing touch to his chances. Nearly poked a late consolation goal over Robles. There will always be a roster spot available for a player with Hoppenot’s workrate and ability to rile up an opposing defense.

Roger Torres – 5

Brought life to the Union attack when he came on to he share the midfield quarterbacking responsibilities with Farfan. It is a shame that Torres was never given enough meaningful minutes to work himself back into consideration because the Union could have used his playmaking skills down the stretch. As it stands, his future with the club appears tenuous.

Zach Pfeffer – N/A

Four minutes of garbage time was more a ceremonial gesture that Pfeffer is still in Hackworth’s plans.

Geiger Counter

Chris Penso – 4

If it is a foul on the Union, it should be a foul on the Red Bulls. If it isn’t a foul on New York, it shouldn’t be a foul for Philadelphia. Penso did little to convince fans there is no bias towards MLS’ big spenders.



  1. I’ll be nice and giver everyone but Lahoud a pass. The media and fan-base thrashing has to have gotten to the players and I think they’re mentally and emotionally fatigued. It’s difficult to continually get motivated for games when there’s nothing to play for, let alone the fact the wheels came off the bus several months ago. A managerial change, questionable decisions before that, off-field distractions lack of performance on the field have visibly weighed on the players. No disrespect to Lahoud but he should still be in Chivas, as Danny Califf never should have been traded, and I just don’t see a spot for him moving forward. I look forward to seeing what Hackworth does with his first off-season, but if the starting XI in March isn’t improved I will be disappointed.
    Not mad, just disappointed.

  2. I’d give Jack McInerney a 2. The team’s most important striker needs to finish the chances he had. If the Union only depends on him for next year then they will remain a sub-par side. At best he should be a sub like Hoppenot; problem is that they are too similar in speed, height and impact.

  3. I’ve tried to keep in mind that this was our 3rd match in 8 days and everyone would be weary, but even with that mindset, I was still surprised at the lack of fight in our guys. Aside from Okugo, no one seemed to be irritated that we were getting blown out by our rivals. At some point, your pride has to kick in and you have to show some mettle. The only player that was trying to encourage the side was Carroll as he at least tried to lift people’s spirits. Typically, that would be the captain’s job, but Valdes was silent, probably because he was playing so badly.

    Torres – I think a 5 is rather generous as he really didn’t do much and the one chance that he had to create something, he made the wrong choice in playing in Cruz when he had Marfan and Hoppenot on the other side.

    Gaddis – Couldn’t agree more, he had Lindpere in his back pocket all day. Very impressive.

    This was the kind of loss that made me wish that I hadn’t renewed my season tickets already. I’m sure that I’ll feel differently in a few months, but the FO has a big job on their hands. I just hope that they’re up for it.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Make no excuses for this club. We played just as poorly as we would have if we were rested. The plain truth is…we are not a talented club.

  4. Philly Cheese says:

    Although individual ratings can be argued, the overall analysis of poor decisions by Hackworth on formations and continuing to play poor performers, who probably were tired from three game set, is spot on target. Jack Mac did not finish well Saturday, but it wouldn’t have been so obvious if Union at least pretended to try 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Instead of what often looked like 4-5- ………. 1……..with about that much space between Jack Mac and his reammates in the first half. Could not agree more in analysis that trying to create all midfielders and forwards to be stronger on Defense, than on Offense, is a mistake. Look at goal scorers in MLS and tell me how defensive minded is Freddy Montero, Robbie Keene, Henry, or Chris Wondolowski? That doesn’t mean that they can’t help out on defense, but you don’t make that their overriding priority when you need two finishers and goal scorers on the pitch at the same time. If the 8 in back can’t provide defense and service to two forwards, you are going to always be playing for a 0-0 tie.

  5. Jack Mac missed a total sitter.. Keon missed a giveaway that should have been a goal-azo. Zac-Mac should have saved that last cooper shot. That game summed up our season to perfection… Dull, boring and we couldn’t do squat with the chances we had. Sad to say I’m glad I didn’t re-doop (worst sales slogan ever) for 2013.. They need to make some moves to get my attention.

    • welcome back Letoux

      • What what?

      • Well if this is the attitude of a significant portion of the fan base the Union have to bring in new players (we knew they were anyway but still)
        So they can
        A) Bring in a high priced DP. But odds are they won’t do that.
        B) Bring in a bunch of Latin American players. But we have been burned by Latin American players in the past so that probably won’t excite the fan base into buying tickets.
        C) Bring back a player like LeToux still can play, cheap compared to expensive DPs and is still loved by the fans. So it seems like a likely fix if their season tickets seriously lag.

      • …. and WHAT, WHAT!!!

      • So………….you’re not breaking a news story, you’re just sayin…OK I thought you had some sort of inside information

      • No. For future reference, I am an idiot and everything I say is either stating the obvious, an educated guess or wild ass speculation.

    • As bad as it all was, I re-dooped. I still beleive in some of the young players — the Farfans (Garfan should perhaps play next to his brother), Sheanon, MacMath, Gaddis and Valdes (assuming he stays) are all solid pieces. And young guys like Hernandez and Pfeffer could slowly start to see more minutes. With a creative signing or two (and maybe a healthy Soumare?), the team could be back in the playoff hunt. They do need to cut bait on a few players and make some tough decisions, and (to understate matters), they don’t have a particularly strong track record. But it’s not hopeless. And the atmosphere is always terrific. I figured I’d give them a mulligan.

      • Forgot Okugo. As good as he’s been at the back, I’d ship out Carroll (who could actually bring something back) and return him to D-Mid. But if Soumare can’t come back, I’m happy with our back four as is (if healthy.) It’s the six in front of them that need an overhaul.

  6. Im willing to give Hackworth a full offseason to implement his system, and get players that fit it. But so far he has not shown me anything to hope for in his ability to create a decent starting lineup.

    • I agree with this. There was a bit of a honeymoon as the players were clearly relieved to be out from under Nowak’s thumb, but by the end of the season, the team was indistinguishable from the one that started so miserably. They still looked clueless and out of sync. They took the interim tag off way too soon.

  7. Thank god it’s over… Ok let’s get some DP’s. and some hungry strikers

  8. I dont understand the clamoring for DPs. We definitely need some experience and some very specific roles to be filled but that doesnt necessarily mean signing some big star

    • DP isn’t necessarily a big star. Columbus got a great DP in Federico Higuain. I wouldn’t call him a star, but he gets paid enough to be counted as a DP and does the job very well.

    • While watching the game I was thinking “Man we could use Jordan Harvey right now” a couple of flashy signings would be great. But some solid workingman type players ala Justin Mapp and Jordan Harvey would go a long way in stablizing this line up.

    • Dp does not mean big star. Just means a quality player. A lot of silly confusion. A good player in Europe gets payed a day what some of these guys get a month. Just bring in talent and pay them the fair market value, I.e. a Dp.

  9. Not sure a good offense is always the best defense — plenty of teams counterattack successfully. That said, for this team, it’s a sensible analysis. They don’t have the speed (except Gaddis), quick decision-making, or accurate long passing that would make a counterattack work. And I’m not sure that was their strategy, anyway. They didn’t appear to be hunkering down as much as dithering on the ball, unable to decide where to go with it and lingering in their own half rather than taking the match to the Red Bulls.

    There’s some Keon love at this site, but frankly, I’ve never seen it. The attack grinds to a halt as he figures out what he wants to do with the ball. His only defense is that he’s not alone in that. Farfan is decisive, but lacks vision. Lahoud is hopeless, Cruz unskilled, and Carroll very limited going forward. We need better all-around midfielders — especially on the wings. Cruz and Daniel simply can’t cut it.

    Agree that Jack Mac is not the right guy to leave on an island up front. He badly needs help, and the Union desperately need some size and strength in attack if that’s the way they want to play.

  10. James Korman says:

    The last 3 meaningless losses SUCKED. Have we seen enough of Lahoud, Daniel, and Cruz yet to finally realize they are NOT the answer? Is Coach hack watching the same games we are? IT’S NOT WORKING COACH…

    No doubt that if we still had one more game this year those 3 would still be in the starting 11. I just don’t understand why?

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