Player ratings

Analysis and player ratings: Union 2-0 DC United

Photo: Paul Rudderow

What makes the Union offense successful?

Look beyond the abstract arguments that focus on “good goal scorers,” “noses for goal,” and guys that just, “know how to score.” Focus instead on two strikers who move off the ball as well as any partners in MLS. Look at the way Jack McInerney’s front post runs draw defenders as Conor Casey ghosts in at the back post for a finish. Pay attention to the way each striker isolates a fullback and seeks to turn away from pressure.

This is a new reality for Union fans: Two strikers who work well together to open space and stretch defenses apart. Jack McInerney’s goal drought is lamentable, but his involvement in other aspects of the game continues to open spaces for his veteran companion’s devious movement. Philadelphia has many issues, but as long as they have two strikers who can act as playmaker to each other, they will be able to challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

It’s all about belief

Before the DC United match, NBC Sports played up the idea that McInerney would be higher up the pitch so the game would be simpler for him: Get the ball, go at goal. The idea is fine in theory, but in reality the Union strikers exchange positions constantly. Casey has a tendency to check deeper when the ball is on the left flank and McInerney often comes deep to connect play on the right.


McInerney heat maps

Saturday night offered a perfect example of what makes Jack McInerney both so dangerous and so mercurial. Cutting through the middle with speed, McInerney found numerous opportunities to drive on net. But like he did in his younger, less dominant days, the Union’s leading goal scorer chose to look for a final pass rather than take aim at net. For those that think the goal drought is a positional issue… no. This is a minor lapse in confidence that is rattling a guy with a ton of pressure on his shoulders every time he steps on the field.

Before leaving for the Gold Cup, McInerney was putting 40 percent of his shots on target. Since returning, only two of his fourteen strikes have been on target. And that stat doesn’t count the numerous opportunities he has passed up.

McInerney has also been covering winger duties more than he should. Both Union strikers like to drift wide to get involved, but Casey steps to the wing in a possession role, holding the ball up until the team can join. In contrast, McInerney plays the scene out and likes to put in a cross once he is in possession on the flank.


Casey heat maps

This in itself is not a bad development, but its implications for the Union’s attack are a bit troubling. For the second straight game, Danny Cruz was a non-factor on the wing, his one involvement a scuffed shot from a bad angle. McInerney is taking the space on the right that Cruz would be expected to fill. Whether this means McInerney is taking Cruz’s space or he is simply filling a role that Cruz has silently abdicated is unclear.

But what is clear is the way Philadelphia was able to lock down control of the midfield once Michael Farfan entered the game as a reliable presence on the outside who could collect the ball deep but also get deep into the final third without acting like he just pulled his head out of the world’s biggest bag of catnip.

Small adjustments pay off

Brian Carroll seems like a nice guy. But if he was a life coach, he would be the guy that makes you learn through failure. Carroll has a habit of turning in quietly dominating performances against young midfielders and Saturday night was no exception. Jared Jeffrey and Perry Kitchen are both excellent ball control central midfielders, but they need either depth or a creative presence to move the game forward.

Ben Olsen’s plan was to use Conor Doyle’s size to target man his way out of the middle while young buck Collin Martin tortured Fabinho up the flank. Carroll and the exceptional Jeff Parke ensured that these tactics offered no reward.

Combined (combined!), the United central midfielders completed one pass in the final third. Even more impressive is that Kitchen and Jeffrey only put three entry passes into the final third. Two of the brightest young American midfielders couldn’t find their way through Brian Carroll’s organized chaos.

Keon’s contributions

Keon Daniel’s return from suspension saw him replace Michael Farfan as Brian Carroll’s midfield partner. In the least settled position on the squad, Keon put in what might be called a “Yeah, but…” performance. Neon Keon has turned off his lights in 2013 and taken up a conservative position in the middle. Once again, he rarely joined the attack and kept things simple, leading all of us to say, “Yeah, but that’s what Brian Carroll is supposed to do!”

And it’s true. The Union are essentially playing a 4-2-3-1 with one of the strikers dropping into the middle to act as the top of the midfield triangle. Against teams that suffer organizational ups and down, this works. Either a central defender is dragged forward chasing or a midfielder is pulled deep, giving space to the Philly midfield to look up and pick out long balls to McInerney through the middle or Casey to the corner. Against Chicago, with Jeff Larentowicz sitting pretty in the center, that space between the lines was gone, and the Union’s Plan B suffered the fatal flaw of not being real.

All of this is to say that Keon Daniel’s quiet 94 percent pass completion performance (51/54) could be seen as problematic and uncreative. But on a team that has decided to live and die by the quality of its crosses, having two players that mechanically move the ball to the wings and sit deep is the reality, like it or not. And Keon could not have played that role much better than he did on Saturday night.

Stop proving me right, Danny

After praising one player who has had his struggles this season, it is a bit painful to turn now to one who seems destined to remain the same no matter what. Look, it’s not like a guy who sprints whenever he moves is a problem by default. The problem stems from an On/Off switch that only reacts to the ball, ignoring the rest of the game. When the ball comes close to Danny Cruz, he turns on and goes through the following Choose Your Own Adventure in his head: Does other team have the ball? If so, sprint at other team. Does my team have the ball? If so, sprint forward.

This can be effective, like when Cruz took off in the second half and McInerney’s deft flick sent him through alone. But it would be much more useful if the calculation factored in events other than ball position.

Take, for example, the Union’s second goal. Michael Farfan makes a powerful run into the center of the box that pulls James Riley out of position (reminiscent of Chicago’s first goal last week) and gives Conor Casey the space to fire home from Fabinho’s back post cross. This type of movement is proactive rather than reactive, and proactive running is what makes defenses look disorganized in replays.

Fabulous Fabinho?

When judging Fabinho’s performance, one thing must be kept in mind: This was an understrength DC United side with little to play for. Thus, Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, and Jeff Parke were two steps ahead of their opponents for much of the match. Fabinho was a few gallops behind to start, but came into his own as the match progressed and as DC abandoned the wing after Dwayne De Rosario joined the fray.

The ease with which Fabinho was beaten and dispossessed was disconcerting early on, but the quality of his crossing proved he has something to offer, even if that something is not a direct challenge to Raymon Gaddis’ starting position. Count me among the first who find it refreshing to see quality crosses coming off the left side, but any MLS winger with more than five starts under his belt would have dusted the Union’s Brazilian and pulled Jeff Parke off of his main role as Conor Doyle’s nightmare.

Once again, Fabinho’s game has to be kept in context. In the second half, the left wing was so empty, it looked like a DC United home game. Sebastien Le Toux actually stopped playing as a winger and just… became a striker. Fabinho’s change of pace and danger in the final third are a welcome addition to the Union, but if this team is going to make noise in the playoffs, it will be with Ray Gaddis at left back playing actual defense.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

Rarely troubled, but when he was, the young goalie was more than ready. Had his bacon saved once by Sheanon Williams, but that was more a function of poor defense/De Rosario’s Canadian magic than anything else. MacMath’s distribution remains a glaring issue, but when you’re talking about how poorly he cleared the ball, you know your goalie did everything else very well.

Sheanon Williams – 8

It remains a travesty that The Sheanomenon is treated like an “average back” in MLS while the guys on possession-oriented teams are consensus All-Star picks. Williams has adjusted his game to fit the players around him. Against DC, he saw Fabinho’s Tasmanian Devil impression on the left and decided to play a stay-at-home game, only venturing deep when the ball went out of play or when he could carry it up the field himself. Add in a secondary assist and a goal line clearance and you have another fine performance from a guy that should be in Philly a long time.

Amobi Okugo – 6

What, you want a higher rating when you mishit headers at the edge of the six yard box? The miss does, however, highlight how Okugo has improved the little things in his game as the season has worn on. Early in the year, he crashed the box well, but now he is finding good positions for the second ball in after a set piece. The next thing for the Union’s young central defender to do is shake his natural inclination to cover space when retreating. When running toward his own goal, Okugo will take on the mentality of a midfielder and take up a good position in space. This is all well and good in midfield, but in the box, as a defender, you have to go to the open man and put a body on him.

Jeff Parke – 7

Parke dominated Conor Doyle for long stretches of the game while offering Fabinho much-needed support. In a match where he had to rely on his guile rather than his size, the veteran stepped up and gave the Union all the support they needed to push forward. It won’t be as easy next week against New York, but if Parke keeps playing at this level, the Union will be able to take all the points they need from the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.

Fabinho – 5

A wonderful cross to set up the goal, and a cross earlier in the half with no run up to the back post was equally impressive. But anyone who thinks the Brazilian is something other than a midfielder is cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

Brian Carroll – 7

Hey, remember when Brian Carroll did that thing? Nope. And that’s exactly perfectly alright because Jared Jeffrey, Perry Kitchen, and Dwayne De Rosario didn’t do anything either.

Keon Daniel – 7

Keon was not neon, but he was calm in possession and moved the ball faster than he has at many points in the season. There was more purpose in his play and when the Union slowly wrestled control of midfield away from DC after the first half hour, it was largely due to Daniel’s pressure that forced United to look long for openings. Philly has not been a great possession team this season, so anybody who can complete 51 out of 54 passes is thinking fast and helping the team.

Danny Cruz – 4

Cruz had as many attempted passes as Sebastien Le Toux had incomplete passes. While that may not speak incredibly highly of Le Toux, it does point to one player being involved and another being absent. The makeshift DC United lineup should have given Cruz more space to work with, but the winger rarely found the box and drifted inside as the match wore on, mirroring Le Toux’s movement instead of complementing it.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

A primary assist followed by a secondary assist. Plus, he was the only outlet for the first half hour when the Union were still finding their footing. Whether he made the decision to tuck inside in the second half or was told to doesn’t matter: It was the right tactical move and it gave Philly the entire left wing to play with as they pushed United back.

Jack McInerney – 5

On the one hand, McInerney was excellent in possession. A few slow decisions will stand out, but for a striker to attempt 33 passes, let alone complete 26 of them, is quite an achievement. On the other hand, the young star missed wonderful chances in tight, chose to pass when defenders backed off, and let his frustration show more than it should.

Conor Casey – 9

The first goal was a dirty one, but the second was a beaut. Casey started the move with a pass to Le Toux, then hit the gas and made it to the back post to smack in Fabinho’s cross. It was everything a good striker should do in one concise set of events.

Michael Farfan – 6

Farfan’s involvement was minimal, but it was effective. Brought on for Cruz, Farfan sat a bit deeper and made himself available as a midfield outlet. This let the Union hold possession and burn off clock. The aforementioned run that pulled Riley away from the back post made Casey’s job a lot easier on the second goal.

Aaron Wheeler – 6

Paolo Maldini would be proud of that slide tackle Wheeler pulled off to start the late breakaway. He would be less proud of the two open headers Wheeler failed to finish.

Michael Lahoud – n/a

Welcome back!


  1. no Parke rating?

  2. No rating of the ref? I haven’t watched it on TV yet, but I thought most of his calls were reasonably good. There were a couple of times when the SOB’s were yelling for his head, but in most of those situations I think he got the call right. He did a good job of talking to Sheanon early rather than giving a quick card, but when Sheanon had a hard tackle in the second half, he was pretty much forced to give him a card.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    “Once again, Fabinho’s game has to be kept in context. In the second half, the left wing was so empty, it looked like a DC United home game.” – NICE

  4. Agree with the ratings overall. I felt for once like many players simply did their jobs. le toux, keon, carroll, mac, casey, sheanon just played the game without fits and spurts or relying on poor play from the other side. I have also decided that we need to move past cruz. he has his place and I won’t spend time hating on this or that just simply he shouldn’t be good enough to play night in and out so priority one for me is finding someone much better than him. I am not sure what that will look like but I am also not being paid to know. The real question is does hack and sac know.

  5. Fabio isn’t a perfect defender, but it is amazing how having a player with a left foot is huge at LB. His teammates would hit him in stride and he didn’t have to cut back to find his right foot. Seems too simple, but I doubt Hackworth with see the value once Ray is available again.

    • I agree – having a guy at left back who is an actual left back could be a stroke of genius by Hack…….

      Seriously, i know it was only DC, but the overall shape of the team was far better when you have both full backs able to get forward and be comfortable putting in crosses. It instantly makes us a better team – as we aren’t relying on Sheanon and LeToux to get the ball into the box. We’ll see how he does defensively, but even defensively Gaddis isn’t a rock.

      For me Keon is a bit high a rating because, well, he played behind Carroll for most of the game which should never happen in a game like Saturday.

      Also a bit harsh on Jack, bit generous on Le Toux for me, but there’s arguments that can certainly be made.

  6. When will Roger Torres be traded? 🙁

    • free roger torres!

    • The Chopper says:

      Roger Torres will not be traded because there is no market for him in MLS. Every team in the league knows he is and has been available and there has been zero interest. Perhaps that should tell his legion of supporters in Philly that maybe he isn’t all that. If someone really thought he could help their roster, they would have at least fired off an inquiry by now. Believe me the team would bend over backwards to deal him, but can’t.

      Look for Roger to move on to a non MLS entity after the year.

      • So you are saying in the whole of the MLS there is no team that has a spot for a young creative playmaker?

        Sure, no where else.

      • The Black Hand says:

        He looked to be “all that” for the 16′ he has been given this year. He was the only one, who even remotely looked like a 10.

      • The Chopper says:

        Fans love Roger. He has flash. He looks good to us. But You don’t see his team mates on or off the record questioning why he doesn’t play.

        Every MLS team saw him in pre season. They saw he was fit, recovered from injury. Yet none has shown an interest in acquiring him. The Union have no use for him and would happily give him away.

        So it isn’t just John Hackworth. It is an entire league of managers who don’t see the value in him.

      • You have no idea about what other managers might or might not see in him. And you don’t see Union players asking publicly why ANYONE doesn’t play. I see that you’re making a case, but it’s baseless. It’s pure conjecture.

      • Firstly, I know what I do see, and that is all of the players we have out at CAM failing miserably, as well as the midfield being out consensus worst positions by a huge margin. Why had Leo Fernandes been given chances?
        Also, no one knows that there haven’t been trade offers. Hackworth has said consistently they’re not looking to trade him.

      • Who knew?!?!
        Baseless cases and conjecture on this website?! Say it aint so!!!
        That really sums up Torres fans in the first place, doesnt it?
        Chopper has got a point, a valid point…it just seems to go against the PSP grain.

      • The Chopper says:

        Maybe it’s conjecture Dan, but when i am told from two different friends within the Union hierarchy that we can’t give the guy away, no one in the league is interested, I will make the assumption that other managers must not think too highly of him.

      • Torres a young creative midfield? Creative? Maybe? What about undersized, a defensive liability and a player who can not be consisent for 90 min. Yes, Yes and Yes. We saw Leo get muscled off the ball who has much more size than Torres in the Chicago game which led to the game winner and he was not in the 18 against DC. Torres will not be a presence in the midfield any time soon.

      • Torres has a $125k salary and takes up an international slot. That’s for a young guy who can’t get off the bench and who has never played 90 minutes in MLS. How many teams have the roster flexibility to do do that? (He’s Colombian, not Mexican, so it won’t be Chivas.)

        Now, Torres with a freshly scrubbed 1-year, $55,000 contract? If you wouldn’t take a shot at him for that, then you didn’t see his impressive preseason. It’s not conjecture to say that a guy who plays consistently well in preseason and has previously played well in spurts might actually have some quality on the field, Los.

        I will back off a bit on my previous comment though. If you have some inside information, Chopper, that’s not so baseless.

      • The Chopper says:

        Your certainly right Dan that the salary plays into it. At his current number there are just no takers out there.

        I am like everyone else. I like watching him play. I would like to see him play, think it would help. Being associated with a team sponsor I have had the chance to sit and talk with front office types and ask what’s up at meetings and functions.

        Everybody likes him. Says he is a good guy, works hard, but the coaching staff just sees him as being further down the depth chart than we do. They would be happy to move him because it would be better for him and at this point would even makes his fans happy.

        But no takers. Maybe next year he does get signed at 55. But then we are really talking about a 55k guy and not a starting CAM.

  7. Southside Johnny says:

    I’ll take Fabinho as winger over Cruz on either side — especially left.

  8. I agree having gaddis at lb and fab at lm would help the defending cuz cruz is always disinterested in tracking back on D. His position seems to be strictly LAM lol. Maybe even
    Switch ray over to rb and moving sheanon up to mid and put anding at LB

    • Southside Johnny says:

      I’m all for that. Fabinho is the first guy to understand how and when to provide a wide outlet. Ray gets sucked inside too often and if he isn’t he can’t do much with his butt on the chalk except drop the ball back to Parke

      • The Black Hand says:

        Ray is doubled up for 90′. His one-on-one defending is far better than Fabinho’s. Swapping Fabinho for Cruz is a win/win…which is why we know it will never happen.

  9. The Black Hand says:

    Accurate ratings. Casey is a beast. Imagine where we would be without his goals…yikes.

  10. Oh and there is no way that Gaddis should ever play left back for us again.
    Too many bromances develop around here.
    The team above all folks. The team above all.

    • Is that why you advocated for Carroll to stay on the field no matter what, which essentially led to Spumare being traded and us losing all depth at CB? team above all.

      • I advocate for Carroll to start because I understand how good he really is and what his role in our system should be and is (but this thought isnt shared or recognized by the masses on this fansite, it goes against the grain).
        Soumare wanted to be traded…your understanding of the situation doesnt seem so great.
        And dont be surprised when Carroll start again next year at CDM…and when Gaddis doesnt against NYRB

      • He asked to be traded bc he was given no chance to play… But really I was just trying to show there are multiple thoughts on players, and the “team above all” argument is a lazy one.

    • The Black Hand says:

      The fact that Fabinho can’t really defend doesn’t factor in at all, Los?

  11. Jaaaap Stam says:

    You have to keep Ray on the starting back line because Fabinho cannot defend. That said, how great is it to see Fabinho sending tasty crosses into the box for us? Huge upgrade to Cruz. Hack will NEVER replace Cruz though.

  12. well now I have a pretty intense craving for some Cocoa Puffs and 28 minutes til lunch. Thanks a lot, Adam.

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