Player ratings

Analysis & player ratings: Union 1-0 Fire

Photo: Paul Rudderow

If only Philadelphia Union could play Chicago every week.

Six points from two matches has given them a major boost as they seek cement themselves as a fixture in the Eastern Conference’s top half.

Do like Le Toux

For 60 minutes Wednesday, the Union gave the LA Galaxy all they could handle before folding in the final half hour. Then Sebastien Le Toux left the game, and the Union lost much of their energetic spark.

On Saturday, Le Toux was back in the starting lineup doing what he does best. While he will never be the most technically savvy forward on the pitch, Le Toux’s ceaseless movement and boundless energy leave opposing defenders exhausted, nervous, and prone to errors as they look to move the ball too quickly, lest they be charged down by the buzzing Union forward. Le Toux’s defensive contributions are a model for the Union to follow.

On Saturday night, his teammates did just that. The Union back 5 all did the extra work on the second go-around with Chicago to ensure their marks had little room to breathe. With Chicago lacking a consistent playmaker in midfield, the additional pressure neutralized Chris Rolfe and, thanks to Soumare’s aggressive, physical challenges on Patrick Nyarko, kept the Ghanaian from being the same player he was a week earlier.

Now that the Union possess a striker capable of stealing points and a midfield that may be rounding into some sort of form with Kleberson at the CAM, the most recent clean sheet held by the defense is good news. There will certainly be better competition coming down the road, and the Union need only look ahead to their weekend trip to Montreal to find it. But, regardless of what center back pairing takes the field against Montreal, the high pressing approach they showed against Chicago can be a sustainable solution.

With speed to burn from Williams and Gaddis on the wing, they can afford to step higher on the pitch, not only as attacking wing backs, but as defenders, jumping into the passing lanes and making early challenges before their opponent can turn and take off at full pace. And after watching Soumare fall off his mark inside his own box against LA, Union fans and coaches will have certainly applauded the big defender on Saturday when he arrived to put a body on Nyarko more than 40 yards from his own goal. All three of the Union’s center backs have the smarts and talent to win many of those challenges, but considering how far they occur from goal, committing a foul and sending a message is hardly a problem either as the Union continue to reestablish their defensive toughness and grit.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 5

Again showed his chops as a talented shot stopper, but MacMath’s weakness in the air continues to concern. He flapped at an early corner and often allows himself to be bowled over. Whether the referee blows the whistle is immaterial. MacMath must defend his goal and body with more aggression in the air.

Sheanon Williams – 6

Paired with Michael Farfan on the right flank, Williams was active and aggressive in a manner that Union fans have not seen enough of. Were it not for his silly foul on Sherjill MacDonald, he could have shared the highest plaudits with his fellow defenders. MacDonald entered the match with two goals and proceeded to throw elbows and try to draw a penalty. Were it not for a smart decision from Allen Chapman, Williams would have allowed him to achieve both in one play.

Amobi Okugo – 7

Quietly threw a blanket over Chris Rolfe and kept him from figuring in the match. After only a week playing alongside Soumare, the pair have built a chemistry that is hard to ignore. His improvement in the air, especially in the attack, makes him a player who must be man-marked at all times.

Baky Soumare – 7

Likely running on fumes from the start, Soumare played the dangerous game of pressing high on Patrick Nyarko and won big. His early, robust challenges knocked the Ghanaian off his stride, and while he remained the focal point of the Fire attack, Nyarko’s performance was lacking the venom it possessed last weekend in Chicago. Only one week removed from his shaky season debut, Soumare looked every bit the polished defender he was in Chicago.

Ray Gaddis – 7

Joined Soumare in playing a high line and made a habit of making a play on the ball before Dilly Duka or Nyarko could get their first touch. As the match came down the stretch, Gaddis only got stronger as he stepped higher, won more tackles and turned defense into attack quickly.

Michael Farfan – 5

Busy on the ball up and down the Union’s right flank, Farfan tucked inside enough to allow Williams plenty of chances to bomb forward. Looked at ease back on his preferred wing, but continued to lack the cutting edge to drive directly at goal or hit a crisp, final ball into the box. With Kleberson settling into the side and assuming the primary playmaking role as the Union build through midfield, Farfan must devote himself to getting in on the attack and either getting on the score sheet for himself or setting the table for others.

Kleberson – 5

Struggled to find his place in a match where Chicago threw two defensive midfielders at him. Remained sharp and quick on the ball, but was unable to replicate his incisive passing from midweek. Based on the past two matches, it is hard to imagine anyone wrestling the CAM spot away from him.

Brian Carroll – 7

Carroll was as dominant as he’s been in recent memory. The Union captain flourished as a lone defensive midfielder sitting behind Kleberson. He kept the ball on the deck and fed all the right people as he pushed forward and ate up all the ground the defensively minded Fire gave him.

Danny Cruz – 5

As with most of his typical performances, Cruz, now playing on the left flank, earns praise for his hard-nosed runs up field but loses points for his chronic lack of participation in midfield. McInerney, Le Toux, Farfan, Carroll and Kleberson completed 33, 31, 43, 35 and 31 passes, respectively. Cruz connected on 12. He was dispossessed 48 percent of the time he touched the ball. He simply must stop treating his every touch in midfield as a layoff before sprinting off goalwards. His tenacity remains unparalleled, as Wells Thompson found out, but the rest of his game needs improvement.

Jack McInerney – 7

After scoring a relatively simple goal in the 3rd minute, McInerney did everything else he could think of to help his team. He worked wide on both flanks to help the Union maintain possession, while threading the needle on a handful of dangerous through balls. He finished the match buzzing around center midfield ensuring that Chicago could not get a touch. Once he sorts out his shot from distance, McInerney could become even more lethal.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

Another Chicago match, another inch-perfect assist from Sebastien Le Toux. As the first half ended, Le Toux nearly had a second from the opposite side as Okugo’s header flashed over the bar. Pairing his improved delivery with his much-discussed tireless work ethic, Le Toux should result in more minutes for the Union’s talismanic forward.

Substitutes

Keon Daniel – 3

Entering the game for the injured Cruz, Daniel failed to produce the robust performance the Union needed to help hold on to possession and see out the victory. He was ponderously slow on the ball and lacked sharpness with his passes.

Conor Casey – 6

Fully committed from the moment he stepped on the pitch, Casey charged around like he had been let off his leash. Eager to receive, distribute, and throw his body into tackles, he led by example in showing his teammates how to see out a win before flattening Nyarko for good measure.

Leo Fernandes – N/A 

Came on in stoppage to run around and see out the victory. With the Union roster perilously thin in midfield, Fernandes’ debut on Saturday could be the first of many appearances in 2013.

Gonz-a-Meter

Allen Chapman – 7

With his calm, composed demeanor, Chapman may begin to earn a reputation as the Anti-Geiger, Anti-Gonzalez or Anti-Salazar. For MLS fans, that can only be a good thing.

Preferred/Expected Starting XI for Saturday’s trip to Montreal

4-4-2

MacMath, Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis; Farfan, Carroll, Kleberson, Cruz; Casey, McInerney

It’s the same. Imagine that! Assuming Cruz’s injury is not severe, the Union should make only one change, with Jeff Parke giving Soumare a much deserved weekend off.

 

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