Player ratings

Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 0-0 Red Bulls

Photo: Paul Rudderow

In acquiring their first ever point at Red Bull Arena, the Union did just enough to get the job done. While it may not have been pretty, road points rarely draw rave reviews for style and quality.

Yet it was hardly a typical road performance. It was neither energetic nor inspired. The Union did not enter the match flowing with confidence after dispatching a second-rate DC United side. They actually began the match identically to last week’s contest, sitting deep and absorbing pressure. As New York set to work building an attacking shape while they shredded through the nearly nonexistent Union midfield, the visitors struggled to find a foothold in the match.

Far from a group that has rarely been rotated over the first 25 matches of the season, the Union had the appearance of 11 guys lining up for their first competitive game together. The passing was forced and clumsy. Outside of Jack McInerney’s ability to consistently put himself in the right place, so too was the movement.

In the end though, the Union had three players at the back who made it their mission to ensure that regardless of how the rest of their teammates performed, they had no intention of conceding anything to their hosts.

Free range midfield

It was a dangerous game. That much is obvious.

With Keon Daniel and Brian Carroll sitting flat beside each other to screen the back four, New York was gifted all the time, space, and opportunity they required to create goal-scoring chances.

With Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill both active in the midfield build up, it was imperative that either Union center midfielder — but specifically Daniel — step higher to pressure the ball. He had no intention of straying from his defensive third when New York was in possession, however, and both Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola quickly grew wise to that fact.

The Red Bulls strike pair found undefended space bountiful when they dropped into midfield and were happy to make the trip in order to get on the ball and run at the Union back line. Clogging passing lanes will never prove as effective as denying a player the ball and a chance to turn, but the Union’s defensive strategy never altered and on too many occasions they were nearly ripped apart by a simple exchange of passes.

But between Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke, the Union had more than enough heroes on the night to ensure that all New York’s attacking forays, whether on the deck or by air, would come to nothing.

Growing in confidence on a seemingly weekly basis, MacMath was particularly impressive in his willingness to come off his line. Whether he was claiming a cross or diving low to snare a cut back or entry pass, his strong, secure hands reminded the Red Bulls that it would take something special to beat him on this day. Buoyed by their keeper’s solid and aggressive play, Okugo and Parke were free to roam higher, staying tighter to their marks and compressing the midfield.

Matchup mistakes

With Mike Petke working recent signing Ibrahim Sekagya into his lineup, the first year manager chose to keep Markus Holgersson in the starting XI, sliding the tall, awkward Swede out to right back.

It should have triggered an immediate response from the Union.

Danny Cruz’s simple and direct game is ideal for antagonizing a fullback, especially those who are deputizing out wide, like Holgersson. A straight swap of wings would have made obvious sense, setting Cruz up to create havoc while also putting Sebastien Le Toux back to the right flank where he is a far more dangerous provider. Yet the switch never materialized. While Le Toux managed to get the better of Holgersson in the 73rd minute, nearly grabbing a surprising opener, he never found looked entirely comfortable, and the Union attack suffered.

Don’t even bother playing CAM

Another reason for the inability to create chances was Conor Casey’s positioning. With McInerney maintaining a high line to keep some of the pressure off of Casey’s back for the first time in a long time, the Union’s big man tended to drop too deep to get service. While finding breathing space away from Sekagya and Jamison Olave must have been positive, Casey the striker too often found himself playing attacking midfield, with his support coming primarily from within his own half.

Rather than looking to spring McInerney from the top of the box or lay off to a flying winger, Casey was forced to turn and act as a central playmaker. The role suits neither the player, nor the team. Casey has a great many positive attributes, but asking the big man to pull the midfield strings is not in his repertoire. Nor should it be. As painful as it is to watch the chasm of space between the forwards and the center midfielders, Casey must resist the urge fill it himself, because it simply takes him too far away from the places on the field where he can make a real impact.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

MacMath’s aggressive play and safe hands made everything a little bit easier for his teammates. He loses a point for his late flap at a cross that could have gone anywhere after finding Cahill’s head. While he deserves plenty of praise for his performance, the fact remains that soccer is a cruel game for goalkeepers, and one mistake, no matter how minor, could easily have turned a draw into a defeat.

Sheanon Williams – 6

Had plenty of defending to do as he faced Jonny Steele and Henry at full flight more times than he would care to count. Strong for the most part, Williams was occasionally guilty of lunging at the Northern Irishman, allowing him to cut onto his right foot to serve dangerous balls into the box.

Amobi Okugo – 8

Defending on the front foot, Okugo clearly took his Henry assignment very seriously after the Frenchman got the better of him in the 2-1 loss at Red Bull Arena back in March. His partnership with Parke improves weekly, with Okugo as the first to step up, using his athleticism to slow down free runners through the midfield.

Jeff Parke – 8

The more stay-at-home of the defensive pairing, Parke got his head to plenty of balls in the box while keeping a tight eye on Espindola.

Fabinho – 6

Showed some impressive defensive chops as he blanketed Eric Alexander, nipping at his heels every time the winger tried to get on the ball. Had a negligible effect going forward. Must learn to pick his spots in attack while remaining strong defensively.

Danny Cruz – 3

Outplayed comfortably by Roy Miller, Cruz played little part in the match, moving only 3 of his 13 successful passes forward and rarely getting into the box in attack.

Brian Carroll – 4

Forced to stray from his comfort zone too often on defense with Daniel sitting deep in his spot. Was slow and uncharacteristically sloppy in the face of New York’s high tempo attack.

Keon Daniel – 2

His 81st minute entry pass to Antoine Hoppenot was his first attacking move of the match. Attempted only 3 passes in the attacking third while leaving the bulk of the midfield defending to Carroll. Not good enough by a long shot.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Rattled the cross bar with a powerful drive that could have snatched all three points, but was otherwise unremarkable running up the left wing. New York’s dominance in the center of pitch insured that Le Toux was met with more bodies than he could handle when he tried his luck there.

Conor Casey – 6

The effort was there, but New York’s rough treatment—and referee Jair Marrufo’s failure to call most of it—got under Casey’s skin. That did not stop the big man from scratching, clawing and giving everything he had to the Union’s cause. A quicker turn in the box and he might have been the hero.

Jack McInerney – 4

While he has every right to be disappointed with his teammates inability to find his runs time and again, he was very wrong to be so demonstrative about his displeasure and frustration.


Antoine Hoppenot – 4

Received more chances on the ball against a tired New York back line but failed to change the game and was wasteful in front goal.

Michael Farfan – 5

Played simply and efficiently while offering Williams support at the back.

Aaron Wheeler – N/A

Wheeler had little time to do more than show Union supporters that he had dispatched his mustache.

Geiger Counter

Jair Marrufo – 5

Anyone who watched Saturday’s match saw why a referee whose sole goal is to keep play moving is rarely successful. Fouls exist to be called for a reason and Marrufo simply let too much go, allowing the match to veer from entertaining towards dangerous and cynical. Gets an extra point for waving away weak penalty claims at both ends of the field.

Preferred Starting XI for Sunday’s match at New England Revolution


MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis; Carroll, Daniel; Le Toux, Farfan, Fabinho; Casey

McInerney could use a day off, or at least a start off, and the Union need to do a better job of getting and keeping the ball in the midfield.


  1. My worry now is, maybe Hackworth knows EXACTLY what he is doing with Daniel? That he is playing an empty bucket, that he doesn’t care about Daniel’s ability to go forward cause to him, Le Toux and Cruz are good enough to provide offense from the wings (LOL)?
    Which I don’t know, I think that kind of tactical approach is even worse than playing Daniel as a CAM and being happy with his performances.

    • I agree with the above. It looks like Hackworth has dispensed with any pretense of playing with a CAM and is just using Daniel+ Carroll in a 2 D-mid setup.

      But, of course, someone’s gotta set up the offense. With both Le Toux and Cruz playing as hybrid midfield-forwards, this essentially leaves Conor Casey playing as a sort of hybrid striker-CAM. Which is ridiculous, but honestly, I’m not sure I blame Casey. If he took Eli’s advice, and just waited in his usual spot, he’d have been as starved for the ball as Jack Mac was.

      I will say that while Cruz was his usual useless self at the offensive end, I did see him getting back and playing much more defense than he usually does. So that’s something.

    • I can’t get into the coach’s head any more than you can, but I know what I see on the field. It’s been an empty bucket pretty much all season, most obvi v Chicago

    • Agreed. I think a 2 is harsh for Daniel. I think all of our frustration is that we expect an attacking midfielder, but Hack clearly wants the safety of someone who can decently hold the ball in the defensive third, and for that Keon did a decent job.

      • Jim Presti says:

        All year I’ve said that we are playing an empty buckt, that Daniel is being asked to play CM/CDM not CAM. Watch him play for T&T. Completely different.
        The Hack system is an empty bucket with high pressing wingers and fullbacks. It’s been this way since March.

    • Perhaps the empty bucket style of play is designed solely with the counter attack in mind. We live and die by the cross and rarely ever attack through the center of the field. That said, it’s no wonder why Kleberson never sees the field or Torres for that matter. Why would we want to see creative play from our wingers when we have our left and right backs and midfielders serving in crosses all games (lol)..or at least that’s how it’s supposed to happen.

  2. I could see predicting that Daniel will be in the starting eleven next week but why is he in your preferred eleven?

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      He makes my 11 because in a 4-2-3-1, he plays as a proper DCM, which he is reasonably suited to. At a certain point it just isnt fun to pick Kleberson and Torres since we know they won’t play. I’m almost ready to give up on the section entirely considering that barring injuries or suspensions, there are only 13 guys playing for 11 spots.

      • Fair enough.

      • But is that your preferred formation as well? I guess you’re right…why “prefer” a CAM when we know we will see otherwise…

      • Southside Johnny says:

        I rarely comment on ratings, but seriously? A 6 for Casey, 5 for Le2 and a 4 for McInerney? Is Casey getting Cruz hustle points or what? Casey has not played well in the past two games, but, like McInerney it is hard to evaluate either of them while playing in front of totally incompetent midfielders. One missed shot redeems Le2’s crap performance? Maybe you are as frustrated as Jack, but I think both of you are letting your feelings get the best of you.

  3. Eli – you didn’t get the memo. The Philadelphia Union have outlawed the use of the acronym, CAM.

    I’ll grab the handcuffs.

  4. Actually, I’m pretty sure that Coach Hackworth’s on the forefront of tactical deployment, seeing the evolution of the trequartista to the tregallonista. It’s the combo of target man and playmaker.

    • Assuming this is sarcasm…
      But yea, Casey has been our playmaker for the past two months.
      The problem is that Hackworth surely doesn’t mean for this and Casey just does this out of necessity.
      Jack actually had to and still does have to pull up to make plays because there is nobody else to do it.
      I’d actually be in favor of Casey in that role at this point if Hack would just play LeToux and Mac up front and attack with those three and Fabinho/Williams and he can keep his empty bucket.

  5. Think Zac should have an 8 as well, especially since he did not make a mistake and was just as valuable (if not more) than Parke and Okugo.
    Another low score for Hack…; well picked up on how by looking at the opposition one should adapt and make the most of it.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      As I mentioned above, Zac was worthy of an 8 were it not before his 85th minute flap at a corner kick that easily could have easily resulted in a NY win. Zac was very strong, but 90 minutes of focus are required.

      • You could see it in his eyes…he was always gonna go after that ball, even before it was kicked.
        He’s good for this at least once or twice a game.

      • At least he attacked the ball and tried to punch it rather than stay static on his line (as he used to do). Since I believe he touched the ball slightly it fooled Cahill enough so that he did not score. Had Zac not come out it may have been a goal.
        Was actually watching the game with my sister and her family in Rochester. Kudo’s to NBC for showing the game! Even though my sister’s family are big soccer fans they were completely unaware that this game was shown on NBCSports (they were still of the impression that soccer was only on shown on FSC and GolTV, and had no clue on which channel NBCSports was on their cable package)….

  6. A 4-5-1 replaces an effective striker with an ineffective midfielder. The strategy won’t work, especially because our best open field play is to push the ball wide and cross it in for the forwards to find. McInerney may need to be benched, but we should not change our formation. My solution sans Jac Mack:
    LeToux – Casey
    Fabinho – Daniel – Carrol – Farfan
    Gaddis – Parke – Okugo – Williams

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Considering we both propose lineups sans Cruz, we’re both wrong. I think Jack’s frustration has boiled over and he needs a breather, but I do agree that generally speaking it would be the removal of a better player for a lesser player.

      We both picked the same 11 players, i just think that acknowledging keons role as a CDM allows others to better compensate for his play.

      • I think if your putting Fabinho in at Left Mid, you might as well Leave LeToux on the right and pair Casey and Wheeler to get heads on these old-fashion German-style crosses.
        As I mentioned above: 4-3-3. Just attack with 3 (LeToux, Casey, Mac) and let Fabinho or Williams join in. Put Keon, Carroll, Farfan, Lahoud, Kassell, whoever the heck he wants to play 3 Dmids. This would make sense even for Hackworth.
        Still, we all know he’s starting the same line-up and Hop will be worthless off the bench, followed by Marfan too late. 3rd sub is Fernandes or Wheeler depending on the situation.
        We’ll still be seeing this line-up next year too, since we’re getting to the point where we know Hack will be back. SMH.

  7. That time of possession by New York 63.3% is disturbing. I need to watch the replay MLS Live gets rid of the silly blackout.

    • I will say though that Okugo did very well to shut down Henry for most of the match (he started to get in a groove toward the 60th minute there). So most of the night, NY had crap chances. We had the better of the chances I would say. We actually looked a bit like we should: a counter-attacking team. Except we have no defensive discipline through the MF.

  8. I completely understand Jack’s frustration. When you are running off the ball and looking at your teammate who has time and space to look up and pass it to you, but you know it’s not going to happen, it’s got to piss you off. Cruz can’t make the pass, and won’t try while Daniel has the ability to make the pass, but won’t see it quickly enough. LeToux sees it, and will try, but his skills are too inconsistent. Farfan is who Jack needs out there to succeed. They see the game the same way.

  9. Jim Presti says:

    Daniel also had an excellent ball into Casey in the first half. Sekagya ended up blocking the shot.

  10. OneManWolfpack says:

    I am so tired of this team creating nothing offensively. They are 100% a counter attacking team. It is so frustrating that Hack refuses to acknowledge that this team, with Daniel and Cruz specifically in the lineup, create nothing. I get sticking with a starting XI, but only to a certain point.

    – John Hackworth = Andy Reid… stubborn and completely unable to adjust.

    • onemanwolfpack, I understand your frustration but I have to disagree with your comment that Daniel in the lineup creates nothing. Daniel is one of the most vital players on this team. He’s one of or maybe the best player on this team with his touch on the ball. He also creates plays in the midfield to create chances and most importantly He’s the only center mid that keeps possession and controls the play. on the other hand, He needs to work on his defensive play and I would like to see him progress forward more often.

    • onemanwolfpack, I understand your frustration but I have to disagree with your comment that Daniel in the lineup creates nothing. Daniel is one of the most vital players on this team. He’s one of or maybe the best player on this team with his touch on the ball. He also creates plays in the midfield to create chances and most importantly He’s the only center mid that keeps possession and controls the play. on the other hand, He needs to work on his defensive play and I would like to see him progress forward more often.

  11. I would rate Fabinho a 7. He had a very impressive game as NY couldn’t do anything when he was around the ball. The lack of offensive production came from both Cruz and LeToux occupying the flank instead of pinching inside to fill the bucket on the attack.
    Again, a 2 for Keon is harsh -seems like you’re criticizing Hactics more than the player. Keon had some of the more creative ideas of the game, several of which were either cut off by an excellent defensive play or slow reaction from McInerney/Hop. More of a 4 for me – he does well at what Hack wants him to do (sit deep, break up plays, be safe with the ball under pressure).
    Would have liked to see Casey and McInerney on the field at the end of the game. Gotta believe that if Jack was in at the end, he may have toe-poked us to a win. Casey’s quality is just too good (even if tired) to be taken off in a game like that.

  12. To actually be serious, I’d go narrow. The fluency in midfield is way down, and the thought of sending Cruz and Le Toux into the attack phase before midfield possession is established is killing any attacking verve.

    Carroll the ball-winner, Farfan at the point of the diamond, and Kleberson and Daniel as box-to-box MF’s. Up top, McInerney/LeToux/Hop and Casey/Wheeler.

    You get numbers in that central midfield, and the forwards won’t feel that gulf that shows up when Daniel sits too deep.

  13. The Realist Brian says:

    Keon Daniel is utter SHIT. He has no business being on the field. If he is being used as a second holding mid, he isn’t nearly as disruptive as Lahoud would be. If you rate his passing ability, his passing is mostly negative or lateral passing. Daniel does nothing for the Union, and his lack any foward passing at all in the final third drives me nuts. He is SLOW as constipation, and he takes far too many touches on the ball. Guys like that kill someone like JMac because his movement and off the ball running NEVER gets rewarded by Daniel (think back to the WTF look that Jack shot him in the beginning of the season). Why would you run if you know Daniel will always make the easy, lazy pass every single time. When you see Brian Carroll run out of midfield to push forward, and Daniel is behind him, you know we will have issues further down the road.
    Kyle Martino has ripped Daniel every NBC game. So the question that should be asked if Hackworth- “Why Daniel? He does nothing? Why do you like him?”

  14. A bitter sweet game overall. Happy we got our first point there, unhappy because Hack has to be the most stubborn, consistently unaware tactically, and delusional coach in the league and he’s here to stay unless we start losing…ALOT.

    He plays Daniel as a CDM but continues to talk him up like a CAM. Saturday night was further evidence that he is slow and harmful to the team when attacking (he should have been ripped by his teammates for walking to those passes). And I love Cruz’s work ethic and the fact that he has bones and muscles of steel (seriously, the guy takes a beating) but he kills that entire side of the field for us. I think using them as subs might work wonders.

    Good ratings overall. If our DF and Zack can play every game like that we should be good rolling into the playoffs. I think a 2 for Keon is generous but that’s because I hate him. And Carroll was a ghost all game. Here’s to hoping Le Toux goes on one of his signature Fall Union scoring runs

    • I don’t think Hack is under any illusions about this team. He knows who his players are and what they are doing. I think he is very much a company man as opposed to Nowak who was completely renegade. He will talk up Daniel as a CAM because he thinks that is what fans want to hear. Just the same way they think we want to hear Philly Tough.
      Fact of the matter is Hackworth is a conservative defense minded coach blessed with the fact we tare in a conference mired in mediocrity. the only way to miss the playoffs is to not be actively horrible. And this team is set up for just that purpose, To not suck. And that is what this team does, it doesn’t risk, it doesn’t create, it sure as shit doesn’t excite… but it doesn’t suck. And that good enough is more than good enough for this conference and probably good enough for the MLS.

      • Ok, maybe delusional was a bit much. But that was in reference to his comments about not only Keon and how “hes the best possession and technical player we have” but also his comments about players in the past too.

        And at some point he’s gotta realize this strategy only gets us so far. Its not enough to win the league or a regional competition. And finishing mid table or barely making the playoffs will only suffice for so long

      • Well what is he gonna say. “Keon is out there primarily because he is tall.”

    • Cruz has bones of steel and bricks for feet.

  15. The negativity in these comments is a bit extreme. We are one PK away from being tied for the Supporter’s Shield race right now. Sure it’s not always the most attractive brand of football, but considering the types of players we have, you can’t argue that it hasn’t been effective.

  16. Andy Muenz says:

    What about maybe letting Lahoud play for Daniel?

  17. All of our comments are drivel. The lineup hasn’t changed much all season, and with 9 games left and a chance at the playoffs nothing will change. Our collective frustration is that currently this line up is in trouble for an extended playoff run.

  18. Excellent, what a blog it is! This website gives helpful
    information to us, keep it up.

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