Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 0-0 Timbers

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

It’s hard to imagine a match that features two more contrasting styles than Philadelphia vs. Portland.

In one short, half-season, Caleb Porter has transformed the Timbers into a quick passing, interchanging machine for possession. Even without Rodney Wallace, arguably Portland’s most dangerous one-on-one attacker, the Timbers brought plenty of firepower to trouble the Union defense.

The hosts countered with a style that has more and more become their calling card. Long balls out of the back and wide balls from the midfield look to spring their two wingers, who it’s almost impossible to call midfielders given their style of play and the location on the pitch where they operate.

The Union “System”

Since the club’s inception, the lack of anything even resembling a consistent system kept Peter Nowak from getting the most out of his side. Watching the Timbers play “Porter Ball” further reinforces that fact, considering that while this Portland team has played as a unit for only about 5 months, they have the chemistry of an elite club.

And what of the Union? Have they finally found their system under John Hackworth?

Supporters and members of the media may hem and haw about the Union’s lack of a fluid, consistent style, but one year into his tenure, Hackworth has showed his cards. The Union are a long ball team. Sit back, absorb pressure and counterattack. With Brian Carroll operating more as a de facto third centerback, the Union have a back 5 and a front 4. Whether it is Michael Farfan, Keon Daniel or Kleberson who wander the 40-yard void between these two lines matters little.

Against Portland, the Union lost the possession battle 60-40, while being outpassed 386-253. It would be hard to argue that the Union did not have the better of the chances, however. Whether it was Danny Cruz’s late first half flurry where he nearly teed up Sebastien Le Toux twice before ripping his own drive to the back post or Casey’s top shelf strike that Ricketts only just got his fingers to, the Union generated the better chances to win the game. Add in Leo Fernandes’ late volley off the post, and it is easy to point to a handful of truly dangerous chances for the home side, while Portland was reduced to forcing MacMath into two kick saves and a couple of daring sprints off his line.

Not only do Portland Timbers have the chemistry of an elite MLS club, they are an elite MLS club.

The Union may be living on a knife’s edge when it comes to leaving their fullbacks isolated with alarming frequency or allowing opponents to run at them through midfield, but results speak for themselves.

It’s not pretty, but in an Eastern Conference where teams spurn chances to win games with head shaking frequency, it will keep the Union relevant right down to the wire.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

If the his stoppage time spill against Dallas was a season low point, his performance against Portland was a fourth straight positive step. Quick and courageous off his line, he made the critical close range saves and handled low, skidding balls with aplomb. Even seemed to step up vocally, as he could be seen bellowing at his defense, imploring them to step higher to engage the Timbers in midfield.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Another player stringing together some strong showings after an inauspicious start to the campaign, Williams kept Ryan Johnson under his thumb almost by his lonesome. Against a team as dangerous as Portland, cutting off one flank from the attack took loads of pressure off the rest of the back line, allowing them to focus their attentions elsewhere.

Amobi Okugo – 6

Made a number of critical interventions, while dealing well with the threat posed by Piquionne’s physicality. Struggled in his chemistry with Parke as Okugo wanted to engage higher up the field, while his center back partner seemed to have other ideas.

Jeff Parke – 5

While he made a number of important interceptions and clearances from the back, Parke looked off his game, with the veteran defender growing easily frustrated with Portland’s physicality. Parke loses a point for his persistent arguing with referee Salazar, especially in one early instance where he took himself out of position, allowing the Timbers to try a quick free kick.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Gaddis’ trial by fire continued against Portland as Darlington Nagbe proved another incredibly tough assignment for the first year left back. While he acquitted himself well against Nagbe, he struggled to deal with the overloading numbers the Timbers threw at him. Whether it was the overlapping Jack Jewsbury or Diego Valeri and Ben Zemanski sliding out wide, Gaddis was seemingly always at a numeric disadvantage, with his midfield help MIA.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Le Toux certainly put in plenty of work on Saturday night. Unfortunately though, it was mostly of the inefficient, heavy-footed variety, and he never looked like finding his stride against Michael Harrington. Also, his set piece delivery made Union fans think back to 2011, and not in a good way.

Michael Farfan – 5

The only Union midfielder with any interest in ball possession, Farfan did well to sit in the middle of the pitch and spread the ball around. Forced to deal with both Chara and Will Johnson in midfield, Farfan added a physicality that was lacking from his midfield mates. Despite being yanked for Leo Fernandes, still finished the match with the most passes of any Union player as well as better defensive stats than Brian Carroll.

Brian Carroll – 4

Weak in the tackle and caught running around too often, the Union captain didn’t have his A game against Portland. Was too easily pushed around by Valeri and struggled to shield his back line from the Portland attack.

Danny Cruz – 4

Mixed 10 extremely effective minutes into an otherwise anonymous performance. After being flattened by Ricketts, Cruz turned on the jets with one run that yielded a dangerous cross. On a subsequent play, he raced past Jewsbury and forced a full stretch save from Ricketts. Otherwise, Cruz was a non-factor, completing 10 passes in 80 minutes and while Gaddis was overwhelmed in the defensive third. He loses a point for a series of theatrical tumbles followed by aggressive and inappropriate confrontations with referee Salazar. Cruz is in danger of earning a reputation as a diver with MLS officials, considering that he has begun to hit the deck at even the slightest contact. Ricardo Salazar missed his fair share of calls on Saturday night, but none of Cruz’s wild falls make that list.

Conor Casey – 5

Looked clumsy and slow against the quick, efficient Timbers, conceding 5 fouls and earning a yellow card that will see him suspended against Vancouver. Still almost won the game for the Union with his near post blast that forced a tremendous save out of Ricketts.

Jack McInerney – 4

McInerney struggled through his first appearance since returning from national team duty. Much of that was not his fault, however, considering that he was forced to feed on the most meager of scraps provided by the midfield.


Leo Fernandes – 4

Could have rescued the Union in the final moments, but missed the target with a wide open look. Was otherwise ineffective at center midfield as he was unable to catch up to the pace of the match, despite entering with fresh legs.

Fabinho – 5

Worked hard to push play and get the ball into the box, but was unable to connect with a teammate on any of his crosses.

Antoine Hoppenot – 3

In his 10+ minute appearance, Hoppenot managed only a single touch on the ball. Not good enough.

Geiger Counter

Ricardo Salazar – 4

The much-maligned ref has certainly has had some shockers in his day, but Saturday night was not one of them. Salazar kept play moving and allowed overly physical play from both sides. He would have been well served to warn, or even caution, players who went to ground constantly, like Andrew Jean-Baptiste or Cruz.

Preferred Starting XI for Saturday’s Match at Vancouver


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

Camilo is in deadly form and Vancouver packs a significant offensive punch. With Casey suspended for yellow card accumulation, adding extra midfield quality allows the Union to possess the ball and grind out a road result.



  1. As I said elsewhere, a “bonus” .1 to Fabinho for stopping by Section 109 and giving an autograph to my daughter and the other kids there. Section 109 seems to be a tough spot for autographs, since we’re just to the side of the visitor’s bench and behind the ad boards. I’m seeing fewer players this year that year’s past, though I’m not sure if that’s actually true or just confirmation bias.
    Whatever, thanks to the new guy for stopping by and making the night extra-special for a bunch of kids who were all waiting patiently with Sharpies in hand!

    • +1 I was pleasantly surprised to see him also. We usually have at least one player wander over to the corner…usually if Superstar Earl is there. I miss the Califf days, he always came over.

      • We used to be down in the corner in 114, and moved to 109 last season. I’m definitely seeing fewer players in our new section than our old. My hunch is that the reason is access – players getting to the corner section is much easier than getting to our current section.
        Given how much my daughter likes getting autographs, I’m going to have to come up with a new strategy for this year, it seems. So far, we only have three this season – Roger Tores (he was sitting behind us for the 1st Open Cup match), Mike Lahoud (who she got to meet during a Jr. Supporter event), and Fabinho this past weekend.

  2. How does LeToux get a higher rating than Cruz? Sure, Cruz only completed 10 passes, but it was still at a much higher percentage than Seba who didn’t even complete 50% of his passes. Cruz was so dangerous in the attack that Portland changed their tactical set-up in the 2nd half to give Jewsbury additional cover. I think a 4 is a bit harsh.

    MacMath has really improved over the last few matches and played great on Sat. However, old habits dies hard he didn’t come out on a stoppage time cross when Parke & Okugo were expecting him to and Parke had to concede the corner. Afterward, you could see both of them yelling at MacMath.

    • Yup. And I’m harsh on MacMath, but I give him an OK performance. He made no GREAT saves. All were right at him.
      Can you ever see him making the save Ricketts made? Or the ones Rimando made on Sunday? Or Johnson the game before? Nah. But let’s keep paying him like that.

  3. Eli – If I told you that Hoppenot did have one touch (and a successful pass at that), would you change his rating? 😉

  4. Many good points as usual.
    I think if the Union are to play a 4-2-4, at least start the Brazilians, no? In the end, Portland looked every bit the visiting side, not what I was expecting, and Philadelphia looked tired. Jack looked tired. Parke looked tired. Casey looked so, so tired. The goalkeepers were both good. Pa Modou Kah was better.

  5. I want to see Fabinho starting before long. Cruz is all flash no show. Sure, he SEEMS like he is helping since it’s easier to remmeber those bombastic runs down the wing, but our memory tends to focus on that, forgetting the rec-league quality Cruz actually displays once he reaches the final third.
    Le Toux as well, while he has done well and earned the RM spot, there is no shame giving him a rest, especially when he strings together several bad performances.
    I would like to see this midfield:
    Fabinho – Carrol – Kleb – Marfan
    It’s funny (in a depressing way) because this lineup makes sense, as both LT and Cruz have the total skillset to be the menace off the bench. Of course, with Hackworth in charge I doubt we will ever see this.

    • Gaddis has struggled as of late—He would benefit from Fabinho defensive mind than Cruz whose all ‘offense’ (aka make a run and fall down).

    • For what it’s worth, Cruz does seem to get under the skin of the other team (see: all the red cards). He’s definitely not a complete package, but he’s been a better option than everything else I’ve seen (including Fabinho so far).

      He seems like he’s in the same bucket as Mapp (who I think was sorely missed last year) was — you take points off for what he “could” be, and neglect what he does give.

  6. Good article apart from “Porter Ball” CP absolutely hates that reference ;)… looking forward to watching you guys take on Sporting KC later this year (September)

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Yeah. I know he hates it, but given the context, it seemed fitting. I’ll take “Porter Ball” over “Philly Tough” every day of the week.

      • And twice on Sundays! And it’s Porter’s/Portland’s defensive movement as a team that I appreciate most. The same as Barca. The same as Brazil in the 90s (and a little bit now).
        Why so few American coaches can pick up on this is baffling.

      • +1. “Philly Tough” is almost as cliche as Hack quoting the Grateful Dead in his “Final Whistle” writeups!

  7. Good point about Hack showing his cards. For all the early talk about possession-oriented attack, I agree that we seem to be at our best when we skip our midfield. Whether that is by choice or necessity is questionable (I think the latter), but regardless, it is working well. Portland definitely exposed our lack of speed in a few key areas (namely BC and Parke) – could pose trouble if we lose defensive organization heading into the playoffs.

    • For the past few games, the book has been out on how to attack us: Pull Carroll out of the middle by moving the ball quickly in the middle and put your fastest, most dangerous threat on the right against Park.
      And Hack is full of crap. The long-ball is by choice. Go back to last year. From day one, it’s been long-ball. He fooled some with his 4-3-3-, but he’s never showed offensive movement. Look at Brendan Rodgers: ‘Pool don’t have the strongest squad, but they still were able to play a possession-style attack.

    • I think it’s less out of necessity than it is the fact there are no midfielders present. Danny Cruz is often next to or right behind Casey/Jack waiting to get the ball, and Le Toux has been providing great service but is not a dribbler or a central playmaker. Marfan has been better at coming back to get the ball and send it forward, but as you said the best option is to skip the midfield because there is no one in the midfield who can possess and create. Yet.

      • See, I think there are those players. It’s obvious that Hack doesn’t want that player. Evidence: He refuses to play Torres. But even more so, a real technical coach would have been constantly on Farfan in training teaching him how to play ticky-tack through the mid (he has the ability). Or even pressing Keon to do what he does but higher up the field.
        Face it: with Hack, that player will never be the focus of the team (see Farfan year 1-1.5, Torres, Keon year 1-1.5, Kleberson for one game as a sub without restraints).

  8. kingkowboys says:

    I definitely think that Fabinho needs to be the starting LM. He has already shown better dribbling, crossing, and he can help Gaddis defensively. All 3 of those things Cruz cannot do. I’ll sacrifice Cruz’ wasted speed for Fabinho’s quality every time. Then if we need fresh legs and speed Cruz can come in later in the game and maybe his speed will give him more time to run down his terrible touches. I think leaving Seba on the right is the way to go for the rest of the year. Marfan can’t play a wide game on the right. He tucks in too much and gets eaten up. If he can play like he did this game more consistently I would favor him in the middle. Fernandes got some minutes, now it’s time to get some more minutes out of Kleberson. I know he’s nothing but an expiring contract but there is still a chance he makes a small impact. Then there is Torres who continues to ride the bench. Just transfer him already and get it overwith. Hell, let him start a game, hope he looks good and attracts some offers. It’s better than having his contract ride the pine all year. I hope we are looking for another young CB. Parke has looked average the last couple games. If he’s replacing Carlos Valdes, he needs to way better than average.

    • kingkowboys says:

      I would also like to add that i’m satisfied with a 0-0 draw against a team like Portland. The defense and MacMath looked good. It was nice to blank someone for a change. We had ample opportunities to win, but a scoreless draw against an elite team is good work.

    • **We better sign another CB, period. But Okugo is the one replacing Valdes (unless we manage to get him back next year…we would be sick btw).
      **If Hack wasn’t the coach, I’d go with an offset 4-3-3 (Jack tucks inside from left on attack & 2 dmids) with Fabinho at left back. He seems to be mostly a LWB.
      **But for next week: 4-2-4

      Le Toux—————-Farfan

      I think we know we need a target-man, especially with our long-ball system. The back line would be fast and we’d have two holding middies.

  9. I think people are being far too kind on Hackworth and some of the players. Some of the guys had pretty solid games (looking at you Macmath) but Le Toux, Casey (don’t fault him he looked dead tired), and Gaddis were not very good at all. Danny Cruz is mind boggling, he had 2 good runs, 2. He was embarrassing the rest of the game. But above all else, Hackworth is to blame. Granted Portland did not generate some of the chances they should, but anyone watching that game can see their tactics are light years beyond ours, it’s not even close. With an organized defense the long ball just doesn’t work.
    I feel bad for Carroll, and I’ve never been the highest supporter, but Hackworth leaves him out to dry consistently every game.
    Lastly anyone, ANYONE who thinks this will not be our lineup this week is completely insane.
    Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis
    Marfan, Carroll, Daniel, Cruz
    Macinerney, Letoux
    Hoppenot, Fabinho, Fernandes as subs

    • I think we all know that there is pretty much 1 lineup that Hack will send out everygame.
      Without Casey, this is probably what he’ll send out. Unless he decides to keep Le Toux wide…but it’s more fun for us to put out a line-up that actually makes sense with the personell we have.

      Cruz will really kill us on the turf.
      You could play a nice drinking game for the amount of times he collides with the opposition after a bad touch.

  10. Montreal inks another DP. Is there another sponsor on the horizon for the Union. Our brand needs a upgrade starting with Hackworth. We need a manager with game smarts and courage.

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