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Analysis & player ratings: Union 2-1 Rapids

Better lucky than good, right?

That must have been what John Hackworth was thinking after he bunkered in for a road draw, only to see his team commit a three-point felony against a dominant but still subpar Colorado side.

Bunker ball

Steal a point here and there on the road, and win your home games. It’s a tried-and-true recipe for successful teams the world over. And it should come as no surprise that defense first was Hackworth’s mantra going into the snow-delayed showdown with the Rapids.

Yet, where was the organization? When Colorado had possession, Marvell Wynne had little trouble ghosting in behind Keon Daniel to torture Ray Gaddis. Hendry Thomas and Nick LaBrocca were never harried. The Union rarely looked to break out and test a makeshift and subpar Rapids backline.

The numbers don’t lie: The Union’s meager 35.3 percent of possession is only one of the glaring issues for this club. They simply could not maintain possession on Sunday. The Union completed only 63 percent of their passes and often failed to link up on even the first ball played out of the back. Players like Sheanon Williams and Brian Carroll preferred to hack balls up field as if the Union were defending a lead in the final moments of a grudge match against DC United.

Outside of the fullbacks, not a single Union player completed 20 or more passes. That includes center midfielders Brian Carroll (90 minutes) and Michael Farfan (78). Were these two rookies rather than the Union’s captain and alleged stud young playmaker, they could expect a prolonged spell on the bench, but the Union seem to place little value on control in the middle third.

Game plan?

There is no successful strategy in which a team tries only 280 passes in a match and turns the ball over on more than 100 occasions. Defend first is only the initial step in preparing a team to play, and it’s a fine first step. Between the conditions, high altitude and extra day lay off, match day preparations were likely far from ideal. But against such a poor and injured opponent, the Union rarely (if ever) looked to take advantage of what Colorado gave them.

And Colorado gave them plenty. The Rapids’ three-man midfield was as narrow and centralized as any the Union would have seen, yet when the Union gained possession, Keon Daniel calmly stood in the center of the pitch, while Danny Cruz took off up the wing like he heard a starter pistol. Had either of these players provided a viable outlet, the Union might have had more success out of the back. Yet, with the gameplan seemingly focused on the counterattack, the back four were forced to either lump the ball forward, seldom a smart way to start a counterattack, or play through Farfan or Carroll in the center of the pitch, which proved unsuccessful, given the match statistics.

As a unit, Carroll, Farfan, Cruz and Daniel completed 64 passes. Hendry Thomas completed 62 by himself. That is bad, bad news for the Union.

Lahoud or Torres?

When Michael Lahoud entered the match for Michael Farfan with 12 minutes to go, Hackworth’s motivation was clear: Pack up shop, take the road point and get on the bus. It’s the conventional thinking and under normal circumstances a move that is easily justifiable. But Sunday hardly represented normal circumstances, as anyone who watched Philadelphia and Colorado brutalize the game of soccer will tell you.

In a match in which the Union could not hold onto the ball at gunpoint, Torres would have been the right decision. Let loose on a tired Colorado side, he would have harassed Thomas and LaBrocca high up the pitch and made smart, possession-oriented passes to help the Union relieve pressure. It is an old adage that when you have the ball, the other team does not, or more simply put, the best defense is a good offense. With the Union sitting so deep, Hackworth got neither defense nor offense out of Lahoud. He failed to pressure high enough to trouble the Rapids midfield, who spread the ball wide with ease.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 4.5

When Jamie Smith received the pass from Brown for the equalizer, there was always going to be one outcome. Left-footed shot+open hips+goalkeeper moving right to left=curling effort to the far post. It was the simplest of reads, and MacMath got it flat wrong. Last year when MacMath was struggling with his decision-making, Union fans could fall back on him being a great shot-stopper. It’s not clear that still holds. He kept his rating near the equator with a strong final 10 minutes in which he got his hands on everything thrown into the box and courageously rushed off his line to deny Brown a late equalizer.

Sheanon Williams – 4

Where did Sheanon Williams go? Through two matches in 2013, the Union’s first choice right back has hardly looked ready to ascend into the conversation of elite MLS fullbacks. Rather than getting up field, Williams was far too quick to pull the trigger on an upfield punt, conceding possession back to Colorado. His chemistry with Cruz is negligible as the pair never looked comfortable finding each other.

Amobi Okugo – 7

Seemed to be waging a personal war with Deshorn Brown as the pair mixed it up all over the field. One of the few players in blue to play with visible emotion and passion as he was consistently called on to clear his lines and head to safety. Opened up the scoring and his own MLS account by overpowering Marvell Wynne before banging home his header from close range. With defensive performances this ferocious and dominant, Okugo may be closing the door on his own midfield future with the Union.

Jeff Parke – 5

Parke hangs on to an average score only due to the fact that he was playing both his own and quite a bit of Ray Gaddis’ position as the match wore on. He struggled to deal with Brown’s pace, both on the goal when he clumsily whiffed on his tackle attempt and in the final stages of the match when MacMath saved the day by cutting down the angle. At times, he looks too casual at the back, leaving Okugo to organize the defense.

Ray Gaddis – 3

Through two matches, Gaddis has been perhaps the Union’s biggest disappointment. Not to say that Hackworth won’t continue the experiment. That said, Gabe Farfan today equals roughly Gaddis’ future upside if he continues to play on his far weaker side. Gaddis got his angles wrong twice on the Colorado goal to give away possession and let Smith in for the finish.

Danny Cruz – 2.5

Watching Cruz run away from Williams is becoming infuriating. To counter attack effectively, the Union must break out together. Cruz’s positioning is inadequate, and his touch is equally so.

Michael Farfan – 4

Created more chances than his Union counterparts, but just barely. Should have finished his chance in alone on Pickens with a first time effort. Drifted in and out of the game too often. Not good enough.

Brian Carroll – 3

Well off the pace for a second straight week, Carroll completed only 18 passes, for a 58 percent completion rate. For the Union captain and center midfielder, those totals are unacceptable. Carroll allowed himself to get stretched out of position rather than delegate responsibilities to his teammates and had to endure the soccer equivalent of getting “posterized” when Brown shrugged off his half-hearted tackle before springing Smith for the equalizer.

Keon Daniel – 2

So indifferent was Daniel’s performance that when he rang a free kick off the post in the first half, it seemed as if it had been done by accident. He threw Gaddis under an entire fleet worth of buses, offering zero resistance to Smith and Wynne as they streamed forward in the second half. Daniel was rightfully the first player subbed. When he departed, he had turned the ball over more times than he had managed to keep it.

Jack McInerney – 6

Saved a goal and scored a goal. Not a bad day for the young forward, but Union fans will look to see more consistency from McInerney. He showed a poor touch twice in front of goal when he should have done better but in the end delivered the goods to send the Union home winners. When Casey is healthy, the duo could pose a real threat to most MLS defenses.

Sebastien Le Toux -4.5

Worked hard to make the most out of the scraps that came forward, but that’s truly all they were. With no quality balls making it up to the forwards, Le Toux’s efforts were largely in vain and he was forced to leave the match after suffering what looked to be an ankle injury. He put in a few nice corner kicks, including his assist to Okugo.

Substitutes

Gabriel Farfan – 4

If his return to midfield is going to prove to be more than a passing fad, Farfan must be more clinical in the final third. His inability to take advantage of a golden opportunity in Colorado’s box led to the Rapids breaking out for the equalizer.

Antoine Hoppenot – 6.5

Conjured up a brilliant moment to help the Union steal all three points which began when he turned to face Thomas and fought through the Honduran’s foul to keep the play moving forward. With Drew Moor spying McInerney late, Hoppenot torched Calderon for pace and rolled the perfect ball into the box for McInerney to finish. Then he set about working his tail off to help his team kill off the game. The super sub returns.

Michael Lahoud – 3.5

Brought in to help absorb the pressure, Lahoud did the opposite, turning over the ball with 50 percent of his touches, allowing the Rapids to stay on the front foot until the final whistle.

Geiger Counter

Ismail Elfath-6

Hard to complain about the official when both teams were as poor as Philadelphia and Colorado. In the second half, Elfath made three bad and very strange calls to stop dangerous attacks based on minimal contact in 50-50 challenges.

Preferred lineup for Saturday’s match against New England Revolution

4-2-3-1

MacMath; Gaddis, Soumare, Parke, G. Farfan; Okugo, Carroll; Williams, Torres, Le Toux; McInerney

Didn’t see that one coming, did ya?

45 Comments

  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    Saturday’s lineup:
    Williams-Soumare-Parke-Garfan
    Okugo
    Torres-Farfan-Daniel
    Mac-LeToux

    Eh… what the hell, right?

  2. EPS you are funny. Williams has been having a rough time, so move him into midfield? this is not baseball.

  3. Jeremy Lane says:

    Interesting lineup prediction, Eli. I’d swap Gaddis for Williams at RB, but I wouldn’t push Williams up over Marfan. A Marfan–Torres connection in midfield needs to be seen first.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      You’re right, but considering the number of frustrated glances Williams is throwing forward each match I thought it would be good food for thought. Hand the defensive responsibilities to Gaddis and let Williams focus on possession and making the right flank a place of strength rather than weakness.

      • Luva Golazo says:

        Fair appraisal overall but I would give Amobi and Jack another point for 95 solid minutes in a bunker. Not to take away from Amobi’s goal, but Jack drew a ton of pressure. I’ll give your lineup a “worth a shot”.

  4. Andrew 'Calm' Down says:

    In the starting lineup, switch Gaddis and Garfan.

  5. JediLos117 says:

    This place is a trip, now Williams is in the midfield and M. Farfan on the bench.
    .
    Soccer experts round here.

  6. To me, these problems start and end with Carrol. We can’t ignore it. He is currently a 90 minutes guaranteed player at a VERY important position who is given a VERY important role tactically no matter what formation we play.
    As long as he plays, he will be playing vastly inferior brand of soccer that everyone else will need to make up for. Sure, its possible to make up for him with good lineup decisions, but I have no faith Hackworth knows how to do that.
    Also, MacMaths rating is harsh. He had a role saving that win, no matter what happened before that. My biggest concern with him is that I’ve never seen a GK simply give up on balls like that. Even if hes right in that he has no chance, I want to see my GK sprawling out for every shot.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Agree, fully, on Carroll. The sad thing, is that we knew he was holding us back last year. Hackworth answer: make him captain. MacMath, actually, appeared to pull his hand back from the ball (on the goal). He did get better after but, for the love of all that is holy, try to actually STOP THE BALL FROM GOING IN YOUR GOAL!!!!!! I really think that he might be scared to get hit with the ball, as some had mentioned before. He did get better, though.

  7. The Black Hand says:

    Spot on analysis. Ratings are fair, however a little high on Mac and way low on Parke. Aside from the goal line stop and the goal, very little came from McInerney. As for Parke, (a 5???) I’m not sure what more he could have done, really.

    Williams has been pretty bad so far, at his natural position. I’m not sure he is the answer to our fledgling midfield. Though I will agree that, based on production, Michael Farfan should not be a guaranteed start. In reality, he has been as bad as the rest of the midfielders and should be taken to task.

    I expect we will see much of the same. A Carroll anchored, empty bucket and low player ratings. I don’t see Hackworth upsetting the apple cart, much to the dismay of Union supporters that would like to see a little (JUST A LITTLE) quality play out of the club.

    • JediLos117 says:

      Im not sure you understand what an empty bucket system looks like.
      Against Colorado (4-4-2 Diamond):
      .
      X-X-X-X
      .
      —X—
      .
      X—–X
      .
      —X—
      .
      -X—X-
      .
      4-4-2 Empty Bucket:
      X-X-X-X
      .
      -X—X-
      .
      X—–X
      .
      -X—X-
      .
      Empty bucket has two dmids no CAM

      • The Black Hand says:

        Thanks Los. I was referring to the empty bucket being Hackworth’s default formation. Lahoud’s entry dropped us right back into the bucket. My fear is that Hackworth will opt for the two holding mids going forward, based on the ineffectiveness of the diamond and the fact that Carroll cannot hold down the middle on his own. I saw the formational troubles resulting more from chosen personnel. I would go right back to the diamond, against NE.

        Okugo
        Farfan Daniel
        Torres

      • JediLos117 says:

        The weird thing is that one would assume that a two defensive midfield formation would be more defensive than a single defensive midfield formation…yet against Colorado we started a single d mid formation seeking not to lose and we ended up winning. We had no possession or offensive spark…
        .
        Against SKC, the opposite happened. We start two dmids and have possession, scoring chances and looked overall good for much of the game…but we lose.
        .
        Maybe we should go back to two d mids?

      • The Black Hand says:

        Good point! Against CO, I think the starts of Cruz and Daniel doomed the formation. Starting one is OK, but both is offensive suicide. I would go with Daniel, because he does have ability. Cruz, for all of his hustle, is pretty worthless.
        .
        Against SKC, I think that the club played well at the start but faded as the match wore on. Carroll played timid and it lead to SKC goals. Lahoud was barely noticeable. The middle third was a bit of a black hole, for the Union. The pressure we applied more often came from the wings. We really didn’t threaten after the the first 30′. But, overall, we did play a better match.
        .
        I don’t think we should go back to the bucket, with Carroll in there. Maybe Okugo and Lahoud, with Okugo playing box 2 box and Lahoud staying back. Bottom line is: Carroll needs to be out of the starting XI, for the Union to take steps forward. He has become a bit of a liability, sad to say.

  8. I have a crazy idea. Coming off a road victory, playing at home, against a weak opponent, what do you all think about having the head coach name the best XI to be the starting XI? His formation of choice, with the very best players playing their positions. No experiments. Not the PSP best XI, not the supporters’ best XI, not the facebook-voted best XI, but Coach Hackworth’s best XI. So, who are they? I’m still not sure. That’s a problem.

    • I’m also not sure that Hackworths Best XI would be the Unions Best XI either.

      • My point is: “The Union’s Best XI” is a topic to discuss. “Coach Hackworth’s Best XI” should exist, should be something he has in his mind, the lineup he has when he has all players available/fit. But we really don’t know who those players are, do we? Coach has had a preseason and two matches to figure it out. I can’t tell whether he knows and he’s keeping it a secret, or he still doesn’t know. This is my greatest criticism of his coaching.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I think that Hackworth does have a preferred starting XI. Trouble is there are about 14 of them.

    • Lets start taking stabs. I think all allegiances aside this might be close. Happy to be disagreed with.

      Konopka
      Williams, Soumare, Parke, Garfan
      Okugo
      Marfan, Torres, Daniel
      Casey, McInerny

      Now I realize that my two huge assumptions are that Soumare and Casey are as quality as they looked in one or two preseason games.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I would stick with MacMath, in hopes of continued improvements. Might even consider putting Williams at LB and bringing Gaddis to the right. That would keep Garfan, as a midfield sub. Up top I would go with LeToux and Casey, to start. I didn’t love the 90 minutes that I saw out of Jack. I think he might be better as a 60′ sub for Casey, after Casey’s physical play has weathered opposing backs.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        Don’t get the lack of Mac love. The kid is coming on strong and needs the minutes to continue to improve. Besides scoring goals he creates a lot just by drawing defenders. Gave 95 mins. of work in tough circumstances on a tactical leash. We have no idea what he can do with effective midfield support. I’m betting we will need him as good as he can be sooner and later.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I think that he would be more useful as a sub. I feel like our attackers are less involved, when McInerney starts. Now, I don’t know if that is Jack’s fault, or not, but I think that LeToux and Casey would be better in the starting XI. Bringing Jack in as a sub would have him fresh and hungry. Defenders will have tired and Mac would have his chances getting in on goal.

  9. I think the most telling things about the last two games is how glaringly weak Hackworth is as a coach. His formation, selection, and use of substitutions are almost as baffling as Nowak’s.

  10. No mention of the absurd 5 minutes of added time in the 2nd half? That was a sham.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      MLS just wants more drama. It could have been 0-0 with no subs or injuries and somehow there would have been at least 4 minutes.

  11. Think you gave M. Farfan about 1 point too high. THe fact he was deservedly subbed and Cruz stayed on shows how bad he was. His miss was terrible too – has to start scoring more goals. Was going to say same about LeToux but his corner was better than normal. Was a terrible performance overall but we somehow stole 3 points.

  12. Philly Cheese says:

    Cruz, Daniel and Carroll need to take a seat and give Soumare( moving Okugo to DM) Torres and Casey the start. Williams and Marfan need to step it up or take a seat as well.

  13. I think I’m the only one who likes Gaddis playing LB, I know he needs to learn, but so did farfan and now everyone is glad to see him play there, letting Gaddis learn LB allows farfan to move into midfield, which is his natural position, it’s the same reason I want soumare to play CB so Okugo can move into the midfield were his natural position is. At least Gaddis is a defender at heart he will just be learning a new side, were farfan is a midfielder who had to learn the left side and the defense, and I would love to see both farfans starting on the flanks to give width and Torres to pull the strings. With Carroll or Okugo playing deep( presumably Carroll since he has the arm band)

    • The Black Hand says:

      Gaddis has been a weak spot for us, due to him having SUCH difficulties using his left. I think that clubs will expose him and prey upon him, which could crush his confidence. He is too good of a player to feed to the wolves. I would like to see him in the lineup, it’s just a question of where. Swapping Gaddis and Williams seems, to me, the only way we could keep Ray in there.

  14. Good win, bad play. Considering the extra day in the altitude, I’m not surprised the team was sluggish. My biggest gripe was with Marfan’s miss. He’s gotta step it up in the scoring department. If he shows the same aggression towards shooting that he does on 1v1 situations, he should bag a few this year.

  15. eli, i don’t think you give parke enough credit for playing two positions but i’d glad you mentioned it. gaddis needs to not play LB. carroll needs (at least) a game on the bench.

  16. lineup should be

    konopka
    garfan parke soumare williams
    okugo caroll
    marfan, torres, letoux,
    mcinerney

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