Match previews

Preview: Union vs Sounders

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

What: Seattle Sounders at Philadelphia Union

When: 4:00pm EST

Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA, USA

Watch: 6abc, Direct Kick, MLS Live

Referee: Jorge Gonzalez

The mark of a good club: Even when they are sitting in the cellar they scare you. Seattle Sounders under Sigi Schmidt have established that pedigree of success over the past few seasons, even though they come to PPL Park with a team offense only half as good as Jack McInerney.

But while the Union are coming off their worst performance of the season, Seattle is rested and ready following their first win of 2013. And while the Union have shown little improvement week to week, Schmidt has slowly righted the Sounders ship after a slow start.

Seattle struggling

The 2013 Sounders suffer from an issue familiar to the Union faithful: A distinct lack of offense. Unlike Philly during the lean, pre-our-striker-is-player-of-the-month years, Seattle has attacking options. They just can’t keep them healthy.

Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson bring a combination of speed and movement that should disrupt a defensive back four. Injuries have kept the two boys up top from establishing a partnership, but even when Seattle has gotten one or the other on the pitch they have lacked the type of support required to pin a defense back.

Similar styles

Shalrie Joseph. Osvaldo Alonso. Add either one to a midfield and you have a much better midfield. But what if you add both? This is the problem facing the Seattle Sounders. A team with two talented distributors who both like to control play from deep positions has created an offense so stretched out that it can’t move forward as a unit.

This is only a problematic issue if a team plays with two out-and-out wingers who keep their heels on the chalk and treat the middle of the pitch like a fire swamp. Steve Zakuani and Brad Evans have done just that so far, leaving a hole in the center of the park so big you’d think you were watching the Philadelphia Union play.

Union adjustments

This flaw in the Seattle system—no linking player and true wingers—poses an interesting problem for the Union. The much-maligned “empty bucket” assumes an attacking midfielder for Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel to bracket. Without that player, how will Philly adjust their system to control the midfield?

The clearest, though maybe not the best, option is to move Michael Farfan into a central role. Marfan will stay higher up the pitch than Daniel and has the work rate to pressure Shalrie Joseph in deep positions. Pairing Marfan with his brother will give the Union at least the general foundations of a possession midfield, though the other half will be the vertically-inclined Danny Cruz and Brian Carroll.

The best, though definitely the least likely, option is to move Amobi Okugo into midfield.

The truth is out there

At some point, someone in the club has to look at the numbers and make this embarrassing admission: The Philadelphia Union defense, which has been set in stone since game one despite viable personnel alternatives, is not that great.

The New England Revolution had scored two goals prior to last week’s match against the Union; they doubled that total in 90 minutes. DC United had scored two goals prior to their match against the Union two weeks ago; they doubled that total in 90 minutes.

The Union have given up two goals in three of the past five matches. They have one shutout on the season (against the aforementioned offensive juggernaut from New England). Twelve goals against puts Philadelphia firmly in the middle of a mediocre Eastern Conference and it would put them last in the west.

Will the fix come?

Pump the breaks: Nobody is blaming Amobi Okugo, Jeff Parke, Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis exclusively for the team’s defensive frailty. But what these numbers indicate is that if other options exist, they should be explored. I’ll stop there because we all know what those other options are and how unlikely they are to materialize.

The Philadelphia defense meets another anemic offense this weekend on the home turf of PPL Park. Pitching a shutout would do a lot to justify John Hackworth’s faith in his lineup choices.

Giving up more than one goal should be a clarion call for change.

Ideal Lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Williams, Soumare, Parke, Garfan
  • MID: Marfan, Kleberson, Okugo, Daniel
  • FWD: McInerney, Casey

Sounders

  • GK: Gspuring
  • DEF: Yedlin, Hurtado, Traore, Gonzalez
  • MID: Evans, Joseph, Alonso, Zakuani
  • FWD: Neagle, Johnson

34 Comments

  1. I hate how the “ideal” lineup is a lineup we will never see 🙁

  2. Yes…good the return of the real suggested lineup. I don’t enjoy placating Hack’s illogical selections

  3. JediLos117 says:

    This may be the worse match preview Ive ever read.
    .
    Previews are not the forum to perpetuate speculation based solely on subjectivity.
    .
    Exactly what numbers do you have that indicate Soumare is currently a better option than Okugo in our D?
    .
    G: MacMath
    D: Williams, Okugo, Parke, G. Farfan
    DMid: Kleberson
    Mids: Cruz, M. Farfan, Daniel
    F: McInerney, Casey

    • Cruz on the right will get eaten alive by Zakuani putting Sheannon under way too much pressure and spreading our back 4. I’d love to see Garfan match up with him instead of Cruz.

    • The fact that you have Cruz in your suggested/ideal line-up should disqualify your opinion.

      • JediLos117 says:

        Cruz does have two assists which is most for a Union midfielder

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Maybe it’s a problem of perception. Cruz does not play midfield, he plays as a winger. that’s why he has so few touches on the ball and never takes part in the build up.

        call it a 4-3-3 and it looks a bit better.

        MacMath
        Williams, Okugo, Parke, Garfan
        Kleberson, Daniel
        Marfan
        Cruz, Casey, McInerney

      • JediLos117 says:

        That makes sense, the question remains, does Kleberson have the gas to go 90 in the MLS?
        .
        What build up? Wouldnt that be awesome? I would love to see a well made possession based goal.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I really think Daniel’s future in MLS is as the box to box guy in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Kind of like Rosell for SKC, though the Spaniard probably has a higher upside. Daniel just lacks that cutting edge in the final third.

      • JediLos117 says:

        You guys sure like moving people around.
        .
        Cruz to RB, Daniel to DMid.
        .
        How about Le Toux to CAM?

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Dan and I argue about Cruz to RB all the time. I am not for it. Don’t think he has the technique for it, far too dangerous to have him that close to his own goal. As for Daniel, he’s been a center mid his whole career. If you ask him (and I have) he prefers to play center mid. I don’t think he has the attacking drive to play CAM at this level, thus box-to-box would allow him to be in the middle of the pitch and help run the game without requiring him to take on a ton of the attacking burden. I actually think that has been his position always.

      • Jim Presti says:

        @Eli, in regards to Daniel I’ve been saying for a while now that Keon is playing a CM role and not a CAM. I’m glad you and others are noticing.
        .
        I think a 4-2-3-1 with Daniel as a box-to-box could be successful

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        been saying that for a month.

    • There is no subjective evidence that Soumare is going to be better. All we have is reality and the results of 8 games to judge that. And what we know is
      1) Carrol is no good.
      2) Okguos natural position is DMid and that is where he was heralded at for years.
      3) Okugo displayed top defensive abilities that are at this point equal to Carrol and no one can argue his offensive abilities are miles ahead of Carrols.
      4) Previous to leaving Soumare was a All Star MLS Defender.
      5) His stays in Germany and France were not “disasters” and were not a reflection of bad performance. He faced injuries and I believe he was on bad teams.
      6) Soumare is healthy, offers us height and nothing indicates (see point 5) that we should beleive he regressed into some terrible defender.
      This, take this all together and the Soumare – Okugo – Carrol swap makes more sense than anything else we can do right now.

      • JediLos117 says:

        Don’t you mean there is no direct evidence that Soumare is going to be better? Your list of rationale is littered with subjective declarations.
        .
        Especially your #1 “Carroll is no good.” Have you even looked at the infograph? How could you realistically still make that claim?
        .
        The fact that you identify the soumare okugo swap as the only sensible thing to do really highlights your narrow-minded assessment of the Union.
        .
        Here’s food for thought, If your still living in the past (I.E. Soumare was an MLS all star) maybe you should focus on Kleberson. He won a World Cup.

      • The one thing we’ve seen the past few weeks is that Cruz and Daniel have been ineffective and incapable of providing any kind of good offense. Pushing them up a bit on the field doesn’t fulfill me with confidence that they will be reborn.

      • Jim Presti says:

        Cruz has two assists and the most offensive productivity out of any of our midfielders. I will concede on Daniel. He isn’t a CAM and should not be playing there.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Jim. It is very shortsighted to only quote the assists stat. In your infographic, you also show that Cruz has attempted less than half the amount of passes as the other midfielders. Looking at heat maps and positioning shows that Cruz plays as an a mostly all out attacker whereas the other midfielders play further back, in the midfield. The assists stat is one small indicator. Okugo and Williams have two assists too. The fact that Cruz has the most assists of midfielders is bad on the midfield, not necessarily good on Cruz.

    • Adam Cann says:

      @Los – The part of the comment that wasn’t subjective was the numbers. The Union’s defense has given up quite a few goals and it has done it against teams that haven’t scored much against anyone else. The subjective part is saying, “Hey, how can the defense be changed in ways that might foster improvement?” The possibilities have to involve players that are either on the bench or playing other positions (see: Farfan, Gabriel).

      And I’m afraid that subjectivity is the name of the game in soccer. Even advanced statistics or bootstrapping analyses would require reams of data on how good a team is with and without a player in the lineup, and then we’d just be getting a bit less subjective because we could have still started with variables the skew things toward a certain conclusion. One thing to think about: What numbers did John Hackworth have to indicate that Jack McInerney was a better option last year when he stuck him up front midseason? What numbers did he have to suggest that Okugo was a good option in an unfamiliar position? He got those moves right, and others, like Gaddis on the left, haven’t looked quite so good.

      The point of including an analysis of the defense in the preview is that Seattle is a low scoring team on the road, and it will be interesting to see if the Union’s current trend of giving up multiple goals to poor offenses continues. Hope this helps the preview look a little better.

      • JediLos117 says:

        If moving Okugo was the right decision made by Hackworth, than why are you moving him other than personal motive?
        .
        Your focused on that fix like many other Union fans. And i totally get it. But moving Okugo into midfield really is a gamble, his possession and passing stats as a CB will not automatically translate as a DMid. For one thing, he wont have the time afforded to him as he does in defense…he will be pressured much more heavily and frequently.
        .
        Saying that “the best…option is to move Amobi Okugo into midfield.” is really just what you want to see and not an absolute.
        .
        How about fixing our offense? Offensive analysis?
        .
        Our offense has only scored more that one goal in a game once this season (DC). How do we fix that?

      • Adam Cann says:

        That’s a good point about Okugo’s play not translating. I think I addressed that in a sideways fashion when I wrote about Carroll earlier this season. I guess I think you can make a few assumptions in the Okugo vs Carroll debate, and two of the main ones are that Okugo will at least try to move the ball faster (as he does at the international level with U21s) and that he will show the good passing range he showed when he played in midfield for the Union and at an international level. Both of those things should help the offense. Though I take the point you made in your potential lineup, which is that Kleberson may do the same thing.
        I disagree with the personal motive comment. I think the situation Hackworth inherited when he took over is instructive. When Nowak left, he was using Sheanon Williams as a CB over Okugo. Sheanon wasn’t a bad CB, but it wasn’t the position in which he excelled. Even if Okugo hadn’t been very good at CB, adding him to the lineup allowed Sheanon to go to the right, which helped the offense by returning a dynamic RB to his best position.
        At the time Okugo took over last season, he was the only other viable option at CB. Now he isn’t. Both Hack and Sakiewicz say that they let Soumare, Okugo and Parke compete for spots each week. And that’s fine. Maybe Okugo beats out Soumare week after week. And if the defense was playing really well, I wouldn’t say there was an issue here. But the defense is giving up mucho goals to bad teams. So in much the same way that adding Okugo freed up Sheanon Williams to move to the right, adding someone else to a struggling back four could a) Possibly help the back four (or, it’s true, they could start giving up 3 goals per game to bad offenses!) and b) allow a guy who has started at CDM for the U21 national team to play CDM for a team that could probably benefit from having a player with good technique at that position. And once more, this isn’t to say Carroll is a bad player, but as CDM he is also part of a defense that has given up a lot of goals recently AND his forte is never going to be possession or ball retention, while Okugo at least offers that possibility. If there were CDMs other than Okugo waiting on the bench, I wouldn’t say, “NO IT HAS TO BE AMOBI!” I focus on him because he IS the only other real option if you want to play with a deep-lying CDM, which is what Hackworth seems to prefer based on his lineup choices.
        So to sum up: Okugo to the midfield is the best option because it’s the only move (aside from Garfan to LB, which I also noted) that offers a possible fix for the defense while also keeping one of your best players this season on the field while also adding another player who is very comfortable on the ball to the midfield. Adding all those factors up is how I arrive at the “best option” conclusion. Of course it’s a gamble, but every lineup card is essentially a gamble. And when winning involves preventing goals, and you are giving up multiple goals to bad offenses, you might want to ask whether it’s time to change gambling tactics.
        I hope this at least begins to address the offensive analysis and “personal motive” issues you bring up.

      • JediLos117 says:

        Not at all.
        .
        Winning involves scoring more goals than the other team also.
        .
        In the end you can not argue subjectivity and you seem to have made up your mind on what would fix us both offensively and defensively.
        .
        I do believe Kleberson is a viable option (see my initial lineup) at DMid.
        .
        We let in multiple goals in four games this season. 3 against SKC, 2 against NYRB, DC and Revs. I would say 2 bad teams. In the same respect we only scored more than one goal in one of those four games.
        .
        I maintain that an overlooked major issue with our current squad is the lack of quality in front of goal. We need to finish our chances, ruthlessness in front of goal. It is rarely discussed in favor of Okugo speculation and Soumare fantasy.

      • Colorado? Or are you just talking about our offense, not defensemen scoring.

  4. Adam Cann says:

    @Los – So my arguments that Okugo is good technically, has played CDM before, could help the offense with his passing range and ball control abilities, that the team isn’t carrying any other CDM alternatives, and that the defense isn’t good enough to argue that we should keep the status quo don’t sway you… but on a team that gives up 2 goals in 3 of the past 5 games, replacing Carroll’s defense with Kleberson does. Just out of curiosity, what would it actually take to change your mind? I could run some FIFA2013 simulations with Soumare in and Carroll out, I guess (or get someone with a gaming system to do it for me).

    Also, the Union are 5th in the league in shots on goal percentage, which is as close as you’ll ever get to measuring “ruthlessness” statistically without adding something subjective like “how clear was the chance” to the mix.

    • Adam, I have really enjoyed this RUTHLESS takedown of a terribly misguided Los.

      • JediLos11 says:

        Can you explain how I have been taken down or how Im misguided?
        .
        Or is passive aggressiveness all you have to bring to the table?

  5. JediLos117 says:

    Ruthlessness=goal scored per shots on goal(IMO). Union score one goal every 3.8 shots (Toronto 1 per 2.8, Chivas 1 per 2.5)
    .
    Again you want to argue opinions…you continue trying convince me “that the team isn’t carrying any other CDM alternatives” after I identified one…apparently you dismiss my option just as readily as I do your.
    .
    I believe Okugo has been our best CB this year and that moving him out of the back four would be most disruptive to our defense. I also dont rate Soumare at all and believe he should not be in any discussion regarding the current state of the Union until he plays or in on the bench, its self defeating. I value quality at CB more than quality at Dmid and as such Okugo should remain there.
    .
    I also maintain that our off season priority should be finding an suitable replacement for Okugo in defense that would allow him to move up a spot.

    • Adam Cann says:

      That’s a pretty cool stat. It looks like it could have some good predictive validity, even though the Union had the 4th best “ruthlessness” in the league last season with a pretty poor offense. Did you consider last year’s offense more ruthless?
      I’m not dismissing your opinion about Kleberson, in fact I noted that it seemed viable, though there is about as much evidence that Kleberson will be a good CDM as there is evidence that Soumare will be a bad CB. So I wonder what, beyond how you rate them, makes you think Kleberson-for-Carroll is a better option than Okugo-for-Carroll? Is it just that Okugo has been the best part of a mediocre defense this year? Might using an offensive-minded player like Kleberson possibly expose the defense more?

      • JediLos11 says:

        Its a what’s better for the team as a whole approach point of view Im taking. And it’s just my opinion, do you really need me to agree, to change my mind?
        .
        Could it be that including Soumare could weaken an already weak defense?
        .
        Stand alone, Okugo for Carroll sounds wonderful but for the good of the team Soumare in our defense may not be. Dont you think the coaching staff processed this preseason?
        .
        I really dont understand how anybody could realistically believe that one move would all of the sudden make the Union more efficient both offensively and defensively and that a professional coaching staff hasnt already thought about it?
        .
        As you know, we had the least amount of shots on goal last year in the entire league. So maybe a better measure of ruthlessness would be goals scored per scoring chances and SOG.
        .
        In the end your not gonna convince me that moving Okugo into his old Dmid spot is the best thing for the Union when I have my own thoughts on what would be best.

      • Adam Cann says:

        I definitely don’t want to say you can’t have your opinions. All I’m doing is laying out the reasoning behind my preview to show you that the statements in it aren’t based purely on “personal motive” or random conjecture, but on the realities of the Union’s personnel options. If you think that the only way you’d ever support Soumare playing is by seeing him on the field, that’s a circle I can’t quite see a way out of. Though I would still be interested to know why Kleberson-for-Carroll is a better option in front of the back four. Is it the “more offense means less defending” idea?
        Finally, I will disagree with your “coaches know best” argument. By that logic, wouldn’t coaches always make the right personnel decisions? Or is this a Hackworth & co. argument, saying that this particular coaching staff is too good to make the wrong call on who to play where?

      • JediLos11 says:

        Your putting words in my comments. I never said it was a better option. But rather just another option.
        .
        You said “If there were CDMs other than Okugo waiting on the bench, I wouldn’t say, “NO IT HAS TO BE AMOBI!” I focus on him because he IS the only other real option if you want to play with a deep-lying CDM.”
        .
        All I was saying is that there is another option.
        .
        Soumare isnt on the bench and he hasnt’ been. And I dont rate him because of what I have seen of him when he has played.
        .
        I tend to believe that the coaching staff has more understanding than us fanboys of the roster. Lets not fool ourselves to believe we arent anything more than that.
        .
        Also take the time to read what I wrote and maybe you’ll understand my point of view.
        .
        Even this is subjective: “the statements in it aren’t based purely on “personal motive” or random conjecture but on the realities of the Union’s personnel options.”
        .
        I get it you have to be right. Your opinion is valid but I dont share it. Take comfort in that many do.

  6. At least the weather tomorrow will be better than the last time Seattle was in town!

  7. The Black Hand says:

    A giant F**k You brace from Danny Cruz. Well played, sir…well played.

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