Player ratings

Analysis & player ratings: Union 1-0 Sporting KC

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Call it gritty if you’d like. You’re entitled to your opinion.

But only two words accurately describe the Union’s slump-breaking 1-0 victory on the road at Kansas City:


And sloppy.

That Zac MacMath played his best match of the season on Friday was fortunate, because his top-shelf performance along with the bargain basement finishing of Kansas City’s forwards were the only things keeping the home side from claiming the victory. With Kansas City looking primed to put the Union in a deep early hole, MacMath’s big first half saves kept the Union in the match, while Kansas City forwards Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong took nine shots and put none of them on frame, with Dwyer sending five headers off target from inside six yards. It wasn’t until the 85th minute that a Kansas City forward (Claudio Bieler) actually put a shot on target.

KC dominated the run of play

That Kansas City racked up more than 60 percent of the possession is not surprising. They are a quality side with a forward-thinking mentality and three midfielders who are comfortable and dangerous on the ball. Considering the Union’s bunker first, second and third road approach, they were always going to cede possession and territory to their hosts. What should alarm John Hackworth, his staff and Union fans everywhere was their side’s inability to string passes together at any point of Friday night’s match.

Not only did the Union fail to reach the 300 pass threshold (they completed only 277), their completion percentage was an paltry 64 percent. Put in simple terms, the Union turned over possession with more than a third of their passes. Out of the back, no outlet was presented for the frustrated fullbacks. On the rare instance when the Union got the ball into the midfield, they dallied on the ball and were quick to either hoof it back to their opponents or get caught in possession.

Despite the 1-0 scoreline, the Union hardly kept out SKC once they had conceded possession. Despite the Union deploying five midfielders, one of whom is typically a fullback, Kansas City carved the Union apart with alarming ease, and it was only Dwyer’s inaccuracy in front of goal that kept the hosts off the board.

Employing the same unexpected 4-2-3-1 that backfired on opening day against Kansas City at PPL Park, John Hackworth’s Union arrived at Sporting Park intent on a full 90 minutes of bunkering. And bunker they did. Yet despite their 5 to 3 numerical advantage in midfield, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber had little trouble slicing past the static figures of Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud.

Peter Vermes’ wrong call

At the other end, the Union owe Kansas City manager Peter Vermes an enormous debt of gratitude for his surprising managerial blunder in starting Ike Opara instead of the speedier Matt Besler. With Fabinho a black hole of quality on the Union’s left flank, it was down to Danny Cruz to push play forward on the opposite wing. As he does week in and week out, Cruz did just that, running straight lines up and down the right touchline. Only Vermes failed to read the email sent to him by every coach that has had success against the Union this season: Drop your left back 5 yards deeper than normal and voila! No more Cruz!

Instead, Vermes allowed his aggressive nature to get the better of him, and with Seth Sinovic politely trapping himself upfield, Cruz found the space he needed. His sum total contribution to the match consisted of two forward runs and two mishit crosses. Luckily for Cruz and the Union, Conor Casey got the touch needed to feed Farfan for a volley on goal before the big striker barreled home the rebound for the match’s only goal.

A 1-0 scoreline was always what the Union were after. Once they had their goal, it was back to the bunker, where they were protected by the calm, safe hands of Zac MacMath, the heady defensive play of Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke, and the comically inept finishing of Dwyer, Sapong and Co.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 9

There are games where, despite a team looking a total mess in front of him, a goalkeeper can steal a game. For MacMath, this was that game. It was his first and came at an ideal time. MacMath now sits alone atop the MLS charts for most shutouts with 11, 8 of which have happened since June.

Sheanon Williams – 7

For all that is made of Williams’ pace and long throw-ins, his defensive body positioning is very underrated. Whether it was Sapong, Peterson or Saad, there was no joy for Kansas City down his flank.

Amobi Okugo – 8

Showed just how far he has come as a defender with intelligent defensive movement and critical interventions. He might have been found wanting on a handful of the same plays earlier this season.

Jeff Parke – 6

Strong in the air but exposed for his lack of foot speed at times. Isolated himself from his center back partner while being careless with the ball, leading to a completion rate of only 9 out of 20 successful passes.

Ray Gaddis – 4

Exposed often at the back, Gaddis struggled to deal with Zusi while being put under additional pressure by Fabinho’s slack play.

Brian Carroll – 4

Ran his socks off, but unfortunately for Carroll, his socks are no longer quick enough to keep up with top tier MLS competition.

Michael Lahoud – 3

Fairly typical performance from Lahoud as he played slowly and conservatively, often putting his teammates under pressure. Looked like a player who hasn’t played 90 minutes in a long time as he was unable to track Kansas City players who consistently crashed passed him into the box. Did well to break up a KC passing sequence to jump start the series that led to the Union’s goal but we need to see that more.

Danny Cruz – 5

At this point in the season, two solid runs from Cruz before an injury around the hour mark is roughly what can be expected out of the attack-first, defend-rarely winger. Might have had an extra point for setting up the goal had he not been caught on camera so often walking behind the play, watching passively while Williams took on two men by his lonesome.

Michael Farfan – 6

Starved for touches for much of the game, Farfan still added quality and a body in the box, when he had the opportunity setting up Casey’s goal and nearly grabbing one for himself with a neat redirection that Nielsen did well to save. Fought hard for 90 minutes, giving the Union midfield some of the steel that was missing from Carroll and Lahoud.

Fabinho – 2

Had an absolute shocker at left midfield. Was a liability on both sides of the ball, turning over more than half of his passes while only completing 10 over the full 90 minutes. Conceded possession cheaply in his own half and offered Gaddis negligible defensive cover.

Conor Casey – 6

Looked to have had some of his energy restored in the bye week, as he was again at his combative best. Grabbed the all important match-winner, while also helping the ball along to Farfan earlier in the play to keep the scramble alive. His constant berating of the referee continues to win him no friends though, as he has an obvious reputation, the proof of which is that he failed to win a single free kick despite being subjected to a heavy beating from Collin and Opara.


Sebastien Le Toux – 3

Came into a sloppy match, and made it sloppier. Le Toux’s first touch on the ball, never a strength of his, was particularly bad. His passing too was well off the mark.

Aaron Wheeler – 3

While the big man for big man move made sense on paper, Union fans may have to accept the fact that Wheeler simply does not have the tools to compete at this level. He certainly had the chances, but he managed to connect on only 2 of 9 passes and sent his one shot opportunity badly wide of the mark. Was not successful in his task of either putting the game out of sight or simply holding on to the ball.

Jack McInerney – 5

The only substitute to offer the aggression and energy fitting of a player trying to help his team secure a precious road victory. In his brief cameo, he helped slow down play and set the table well for Wheeler, who lacked the poise to finish the chance, or cut the ball back for McInerney in the box.

Geiger Counter

Ricardo Salazar

From a Union perspective – 9

From a Sporting Kansas City perspective – 2

Playing in dominant fashion in their home arena, Sporting Kansas City would have been furious at Salazar’s no blood, no foul approach to refereeing. The 17 fouls that were whistled against the Union (compared to 11 against SKC) were a paltry sampling of the clutching, grabbing and cynical play the visitors used in an effort to slow down their hosts. But Salazar ate it up. The Union got away with far too much, allowing them to slow Sporting’s pace to a furious crawl. Like the violent, negative approach the Union bellyached about when Toronto came to PPL Park, the Union flipped the script to great effect, using the same tactics to steal a precious three points. Considering Salazar never seemed to bat an eye over it, fair play to them.


  1. Yeah I think the rest really helped Casey. Can this guy really play week in and week out?

    • Trouble is – we need him so badly in terms of style, and Wheeler is just not anywhere near as good.

      • Soccer Smarts says:

        Gee, it’s a 38 game season plus cup, etc. Maybe having 14-15 guys who rotated all year, instead of riding the hottest guy no matter what, would help. Particularly with older players returning from injury and younger guys finding their legs.

        How hard is this: set nice rotations with clear 1st and 2nd choices, and rotate so that your top guys stay as fresh as possible into October.

        This requires both depth and a manager with confidence….

      • all year long the very confident manager has been telling us how deep his roster is

      • to be honest forward it pretty much the only position where we have any sort of depth.

  2. Think a bit harsh on Carroll/Lahoud and a bit kind to LeToux. In a scrappy game – Lahoud and Carroll did what was asked, and did it well enough i think a 5/4 is deserved over 4/3. LeToux was as bad as Fabinho. May have given MacMath a 10 too – if only because he basically single-handedly (pun intended) won the match for us, and it was that important.

    • I think Lahoud is spot on. He is nowhere near game shape and he was clutching and grabbing and could have easily gotten two yellows and been shown the door.
      No way he starts if Daniels is healthy and no way he should. Like it or not Keon offers more.

      • did you just say that??!! Awesome 🙂

      • Agree with Barry on Lahoud.

        On a night when the Union struggled to retain possession, Lahoud completed the most passes on the team at an 80% rate. Also, he covered a ton of ground (look at his heat chart).

        Also, look at Rosell’s stats, Lahoud essentially had the same match as him statistically on a worse team that was under constant pressure.

      • @Spugger “In the land of the blind the One-eyed man is king.”

  3. This is literally one of those wins where you wonder if winning did more harm to us than good. A performance like that is nothing. Nothing. Yet it has enabled Hackworth and half the team to pat themselves on the back and act like they accomplished something.
    Despite 3 points, there is nothing to take out of this game and apply to the next. We need to be better from top to bottom. I just wonder if the team is too busy throwing itself a party to realize you can’t be a winning team playing that kind of soccer.

    • As long as they realise that that kind of plan/performance isn’t going to win either of the next 2 games. I think the tactics were spot on for this game – and while we did get lucky, especially in the first 30minutes, it was a decent away performance at a team like SKC.

    • We’ll see if this formation was a one off then it is what it is. If they think this is the way going forward we have problems.

    • I love hearing about when fans think that a win is worse than a loss

    • Seriously. It must be a bummer to not be able to enjoy a win.

      • Remember Mike Schmidt, and I paraphrase, “Only in Philadelphia do you get to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”

      • The win was the only enjoyable thing.
        The game its self was like a prolonged visit to a kitten cancer ward.

  4. I too would give Carroll and LaHoud each an extra point. They had their hands full with Zusi and Feilhaber and after the early storm where MacMath bailed everyone out, they held up as well as can be expected.

    I would also give Wheeler another point. When he came on, his substitution was as much about protecting a lead as it was going for the needed insurance chance. The fresh legs, and strength in the air added a bit more pressure and helped slow down SKC’s attack. Would love to see him finish his chances, but I think he did his job.

    Would have enjoyed seeing Klebberson instead of Seba, but where was he?

    As for the goalkeeper, he showed why the Union stick with him. He is as good at reaction saves as anyone in the league. Those are the reflexive saves you don’t have time to think about. He made some huge ones. It’s when he has to think that he gets in trouble.

    • Kleberson doesn’t play defense. No way he was coming into that gameplan!

      • But Kleberson can hold the ball up. Le Toux is not a dribbler/possessor, and I would argue Kleberson should’ve come in when Wheeler did so he could at least maintain possession for more than 3 touches.

      • Was Kleberson even in the 11? I don’t think he was… I know Torres was, and we all know there’s no chance he gets into that game (or any game, it seems).

      • and by “11” I mean “18” of course. Stupid fingers not doing what my brain is thinking…

  5. I think you are overly generous to Cruz. All he does is run fast in a straight line with the ball. Given, at times he is the only player on the Union showing any hustle or desire to get the ball in the 18 and shoot, but that doesn’t make up for his deplorable decision making once he is at the end of his run, or his lack of skill in effecting that poor decision.

    He brings to mind a quote from the movie “The Dark Knight” where the Joker tells Harvey Dent, “I’m like a dog chasing a car, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one…”

    Why he plays week in and week out while Torres and Kleberson ride pine is beyond me. It is the one question I’d love to ask Hack if I ever had the opportunity. Not that I’d get an answer, but I’d love to ask.

    • Because once every 3 months he creates a goal, and that’s all Hackworth needs to justify his inclusion. Between the 2 goals against Seattle and the [poor] “cross” into the box against SKC Hackworth feels he is correct in choosing Cruz OVER the MLS assist leader Le Toux and used-to-be-future-playmaker Michael Farfan, who is better on the wing then in the middle. The lack of service, the lack of defense and the lack of an outlet pass on the right side don’t seem to matter much, apparently.

      • There seems to be some sense that Cruz provides “grit” or “hustle,” and yeah, he charges hard, but to me, a one-way player who never tracks back isn’t “hustling” productively. He burns himself out on sprints and doesn’t ever have much to show for them. His cockroach-like survival in this lineup is really a marvel.

  6. I think the ratings are pretty accurate. One small quibble, though. MacMath is no longer alone atop the league in shutout. Ricketts tied him yesterday.

  7. I think your rating for Lahoud is certainly fair, and Carroll deserves no more than a 5 at best. I mean hell, somebody has to take the blame for the fact that KC dominated the midfield despite playing with only 3 midfielders to our 5.

    Part of that was a tactical problem too. Starting only 1 forward (who was marked extremely well buy Aurelien Collin), left KC the opportunity to get their wingbacks up into the action. Sinovic and Myers were up in the Union’s pelvis all night, taking wide outlet passes from the middies and helping overcome the numerical disadvantage. I sure hope Hack goes back to playing 2 up top. On a team with good forwards and an underperforming midfield, getting more midfielders on the pitch at the expense of the forward corps is not the way to go.

    Also, I think your rating of Wheeler is much too harsh. He did blow a good chance, true. But in those circumstances, Wheeler was essentially inserted, strange as it may sound, as a defensive forward. And he played that role well, pressuring KC on the ball, getting back on day, and helping to break out on the counter a couple of times. I thought he played pretty well overall.

    • Agree that Wheeler was quite effective, especially after he just came in; he stole the ball couple of times and caused chaos.
      Too bad that Letoux did not perform; think that Hoppenot would have been a better choice; him, Wheeler and Jack could have caused total chaos last 10 minutes.

      • Considering the circumstances, and the role in which he was inserted, Wheeler was sufficient. But moving forward that is not good enough for a striker. Hoppenot isn’t much better but at least he can run and find space. Wheeler provides aerial presence, but is not good enough on the dribble to justify an appearance over Hope, or Jack if he is on the bench. He should be used in the same role, to finish out a win or grab a late winner in a cross/corner heavy match.

  8. I’m pretty pleased with this win. Hackworth and the team decently executed a classic catennacio performance. The finishing of SKC wasn’t great to be sure, but a lot of their chances came under pressure. I think the ratings for Lahoud/Carroll and Gaddis/Parke should all be a point higher IMHO. The first 20 minutes were scary, but they remained pretty well organized after that. Very low completion rate of passes are due to the fact that about 50% of those “passes” were really just hail-mary clearances. MacMath showed a truly class performance, and if he can consistently produce at that level, he might just break into the top-tier in MLS. As for the shutout record- you have to attribute that to style of play and excellent defending as much as the ‘keeper. Sure it was ugly, but you have to admit, Hack’s tactical plan played out exactly as expected and achieved the desired result. Not right for every game, but against one of the best in the league…no complaints here.

    • Spot on.

    • Agreed. Well said.

    • I agree with you here. I don’t like how often we see this game plan because it often doesn’t work and will never land you at the top of the heap in the long run but it worked here and I’m glad we won.

    • Wrong.
      While luck is is an unavoidable fact in every game.This game plan depended on luck. No creating your own luck or overcoming adversity it literally was we are going to bunker up and hope for the best.
      I don’t see how the game plan was well executed when Graham Zusi was carving up your defense when you had literally every dude back there with had one job to do, defend. The Union got lucky, it happens, go us.
      When you are lucky Danny Cruz weak hopeful cross that bounces off 6 dudes til finally Conor Casey puts away it suddenly a great pass.
      I get it.
      Go us.
      But this was a desperate tactic by an overmatched team who have decided to forgo creating your own luck or chances or whatever in hopes of getting lucky.
      And they did.
      Go us.
      But it’s not good, it’s not sustainable, it’s not something I want to watch… ever. Let alone spend money on it.
      This game was what it was and it was more telling of our limitations than anything else.
      Also I disagree with your assessment that the first 20 minutes were hairy. they wern’t. The first 10 or so minutes had KC backpedaling. It was after that when KC figured out our gameplan then they started to carve us up and create chances.
      so yea I disagree

      • As Branch Rickey once said, “Luck is the residue of design.”

        No one was saying that they loved that performance, but sometimes it’s just about getting results by any means necessary.

      • Sometimes luck is just about luck.
        Design was for a tie, luck good for us and bad for KC dictated a victory.
        Our design wasn’t executed well enough to win on its own.

      • Usually I’m KenZolo- Sieve! except for your opinion of the first twenty- I’m with you. I don’t want to see it. And if I do, I’d like to see a nice looking counter attack, where three players run out, complete passes and have a quick try.

    • Well stated.
      The U performed well for a totally outmatched team.

      I like to believe that one day the Union will actually dictate the flow of the game rather than just clear or counterattack.

    • in catennacio the opposing team wouldn’t have had so many chances and would have looked better on the counter. i’m with sieve. this game was down to dumb luck/poor kc finishing.

  9. Southside Johnny says:

    The ratings seem fair enough and a win is obviously better than the loss we deserved and the tie Hackworth played for. On the other hand, other than another fine performance by Zac, Amobi and Sheanon, as well as a chance for Farfan to get some minutes on the field and Keon some minutes on the bench, I saw nothing positive in overall team performance or coaching to offset the indignity of playing in this mode. I may be a negadephian or perhaps a hopeless romantic, but as much as I sorely hate to lose, I would rather have lost an epic battle well played than win like this. I guess I’m also hung up on what I see as the unrealized potential of the group of players that came out of preseason and the

    • Southside Johnny says:

      Oops. Hit send accidentally, but I need another drink after reflecting on this game and season again. So, whatever…I’ll just brood quietly…

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