Player ratings

Analysis & player ratings: Union 1-0 TFC

Photo: Earl Gardner

Job done.

Again.

Entering into the five-match run-in following a bye week, the Union have begun with a possible 6 out of 6 points. While the quality of the soccer has hardly been of the caliber to merit replay on NBC’s inevitable “MLS Classic” channel, 6 points is 6 points.

This most recent victory was snatched at the death after the Union appeared to have squandered an opportunity to beat up on a struggling Eastern Conference foe. But fortunately for the sellout crowd at PPL Park, Fabinho’s ejection for a kick landed into Alvaro Rey’s back proved a galvanizing moment for the remaining 10 players on the pitch.

Direct, straight, linear soccer

The shortest route between two points is a line. That geometric truth has become a guiding soccer philosophy for Antoine Hoppenot’s brand of soccer, among others on the team. When the going got tough and the Union’s cluttered and clumsy, flat front four of Fabinho, Conor Casey, Jack McInerney and Danny Cruz bore no fruit, John Hackworth took a different approach than he has deployed in matches past.

There was no Aaron Wheeler.

Nor was there a panicked late flurry of crosses.

Instead Hackworth’s insertion of Hoppenot and Sebastien Le Toux signaled a desire to run at the heart of the defense, rather than try to cross over it. Perhaps Hackworth saw something. Doneil Henry’s awkward, dangerous tackles, for example, were on display for all to see throughout the match. And where McInerney’s nuance and guile had failed, Hoppenot’s storming, linear runs succeeded. Were it not for his inaccuracy in front of goal, Hoppenot might have grabbed the Union a goal or two, and the frustrated crowd would not have had to sweat the result until the final seconds.

Yet despite his inability to finish, Hoppenot changed the game. For all the times he beat his man into the box, it was the final run, when Henry cut him down at the knees, that proved decisive.

The first hour

Considering the glorious manner in which Kleberson got the Union out of jail, the immediate response would be to forget about the first 60 minutes of play where the Union proved the better side but ground to a halt in the final third. But that would be to deny the problems that are so obviously plaguing the Union and keeping them from finding the back of the net on a more consistent basis.

As soon as possession is won, both Fabinho and Cruz take off up field. It has been a running theme for Cruz throughout the season, yet with Fabinho casually sauntering up the left touch line, the problem is exacerbated. The potential chaos caused by runners slicing in behind failed to materialized as the pair of wingers broke off their runs at the Toronto backline.

With four men in a flat line, the providers beneath them — i.e. Michael Farfan, and Michael Farfan alone — not only have few passing outlets, but also limited targets to pick out going forward. From this condition, the result was, as it has been for the last two months (and most of the season), the same. Feeling pinched and crowded out, either Casey or McInerney would drop into midfield looking for a touch of the ball and some fresh air, taking the Union’s best goal scorers further and further away from Joe Bendik.

That is not to say that there weren’t were moments in which the Union wingers, or just Cruz, looked capable of altering his game to help his team win, but they were too few and far between. Unlike Fabinho, whose play since his move to midfield has been largely toothless, Cruz remains a player who can cause havoc at any moment. While his forward runs were nothing to write home about, on Saturday it was his defensive work rate and positioning that helped him to create some of the Union’s few quality chances. Whether it was bursting through and winning a challenge in midfield to set up Hoppenot or scrapping with Ashtone Morgan and sending Sheanon Williams up the line, Cruz proved that when he puts his mind to it, he can really help the Union’s midfield cause. He just needs to put his mind to it more often.

The red card

Throw out the fact that Alvaro Rey reacted to Fabinho’s kick as if the Brazilian had a dagger duct-taped to his boot. Also throw out the manner in which Rey wrestled him to the ground, which earned him a deserved yellow for the challenge. Fabinho’s reaction was not only out of bounds, but also occurred with both the referee and assistant referee close by and perfectly sighted. There was no subtlety to the action and once the whistle was blown, there was only one outcome forthcoming.

With one less body clogging up the attack, however, Fabinho’s early shower seemed to come as a relief to his teammates. Space appeared where before there was none. With Kleberson taking over for Cruz, the Union had a second player intent on spreading the ball, finding the final pass and pushing the attacking agenda from the midfield, rather than the forward line. While the goal came by way of a set piece, it was the Union’s fluid, attacking pressure that created the late chances and ultimately won them the foul they needed.

Praise should be lavished on the Union for their fight to final whistle, especially down a man. But it should not be forgotten how much better they appeared once Fabinho had been removed from the match. He will miss this weekend’s match through suspension, but following that, it is hard to see how Hackworth can continue to include him once he is again available for selection.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

It seems like just weeks ago that questions about MacMath’s quality and readiness were a major talking point. All the Union keeper has done to quiet his critics is pitch 5 shutouts in his last 8 matches.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Put a hurt on Bobby Convey whenever the local product tried to get the better of him. Benefited from Cruz’s more central running, as he got up the wing with great frequency, serving in a number of very dangerous balls.

Amobi Okugo – 7

Beat up on Dike in the early going and was able to move higher up the pitch to shut down Osorio after Toronto’s lone striker shifted his focus to Jeff Parke. Okugo’s comfort and confidence on the ball at the back continues to take some of the load for basic distribution off of Brian Carroll.

Jeff Parke – 5

Had a poor night by his standards, as he lost out in a number of physical encounters with Dike. Fortunately for the Union, none of his mistakes cost them, and Parke often manage to clear the danger, recovering from his own mistakes.

Ray Gaddis – 8

Without Gaddis’ perfectly timed challenges late in the match, the Union not only don’t get three points, but they don’t get one either. Having the pace to chase down an attacker is one thing. Having the poise and body control to dispossess an opponent without conceding a foul is entirely another. Gaddis has both in abundant supply.

Danny Cruz – 6

Perhaps Cruz’s most complete match of the season, the Union winger did more of the little things that help teams win. Chased back to help his defense, played quick one and two-touch passes and looked for Williams on the overlap. Could easily have had an assist had Hoppenot buried the chance Cruz served him up on a silver platter.

Michael Farfan – 7

Another player who gave a consistent, all-around effort, Farfan was the driving force in the Union’s midfield. Spreading play quickly, he kept his wing backs involved even when the Union’s wings had abandoned the midfield cause. Based on the confidence he showed in taking players on and pushing his side forward, it would be hard to see him lose his place in DC.

Brian Carroll – 5

Against an inferior opponent, Carroll was unable to raise his game above the status quo and he sat too deep and lumped too many aimless balls forward.

Fabinho – 2

Even before his well deserved red card, Fabinho was having a second straight shocker. Completing only 50 percent of his passes, Fabinho also continued his habit of being dispossessed far too easily. When he became more active in the second half, it was ill fated as he took space and touches from his teammates and lacked the quality to create. As for the red card, it was the right call. Rey got his yellow for wrestling Fabinho to the ground, but the reaction to kick out at him was foolish, selfish and could easily have hurt his team. Had the Union lost, this could have been a one.

Conor Casey – 4

Not too long ago, Casey was consistently lauded for having impressively nimble feet for a player of his size. Recently though, whether through fatigue or not, the softness of his touch has left him, leaving the Union with a clumsy target man, prone to sloppy turnovers.

Jack McInerney – 4

What a different story it might have been had he managed to get on the end of Fabinho’s cross when the Union countered early in the first half. Yet again though, McInerney could not find the finish and he struggled for space up front as he was crowded out by Cruz and Fabinho’s aggressive positioning.

Substitutes

Antoine Hoppenot – 6

It’s pretty rare that a substitute forward would come on, brick three gilt-edged chances and still change a match. Hoppenot is that kind of player, and he showed Doneil Henry no mercy as he ripped the clumsy defender to shreds, with the last foul setting up Kleberson for the matchwinner.

Sebastien Le Toux – 3

If Le Toux’s most recent pair of substitute appearances are at all representative of his current form, it is hard to argue with John Hackworth’s decision to remove him from the starting XI. Whether it is injury or a loss of confidence, the Union attack is far from what it was when Le Toux was prowling the right touchline.

Kleberson – 8

To get his free kick up, and then down, from as close as he did was simply sensational. To do it after sitting on the bench — or in the stands — for most of the season is even more impressive. He may not become an automatic starter for the rest of the run-in, but it would be surprising if he was not a more consistently used substitute.

Geiger Counter

Armando Villarreal – 7

Got all the important calls right, which is about as much as can be hoped for from an MLS referee at this point. The Union will feel aggrieved to be deprived of both Williams and Fabinho for their trip to RFK Stadium, but Villarreal made the right call in both instances.

 

45 Comments

  1. Good analysis. Only a couple gripes:

    – I did not like Marfan’s pace and physicality. His defensive awareness and hustle would give me pause, but I liked his receptions, turns and passes.
    – Gaddis has proven to be a very strong 1v1 defender but I don’t love his decision making and distribution. If he can work on that his offseason, he could really be something
    – Rey’s acting was embarrassing. He doesn’t have the self awareness to realize he’s rolling on the pitch like a four year old? I am totally in favor of post game fines for that sort of behavior. It really hinders attracting fans. Who wants to see a grown man act like that?

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I’m completely cool with the league retroactively fining and suspending player for Rey-style nonsense. Still a clear straight red on Fabinho.

    • Watch the replay…it was comical how quickly Rey got up from rolling around in agony to get in Fabinho’s face after he realized that the card was coming.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Rey was wrong. Fabinho was wronger.

      • Agreed. But I would have no problem seeing Rey get a second yellow for simulation.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Two yellows on the same play? I don’t know if that is a thing?

        I need to watch it again. A quicker whistle on an obvious foul might have stopped the whole thing from happening.

        But then the Union might not have won.

        So…

      • I recall from my days of being a referee that two yellows on player is possible if they are for separate actions by the player (one for the tackle, the second for simulation).

        It would be a bit harsh by the referee since he did get kicked while he was down, but that was what Fabinho’s red was for. It probably would have caused the referee to completely lose control of the game, so I think it would be better if the league did it retroactively.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I seem to recall hearing the whistle right away after the body slam. And I still think that Fabhino was just trying to get up and get the play going again as quickly as possible rather than intentionally stepping on Rey.

  2. It all comes down to Danny Cruz, as far as Le Toux’s removal from the right wing. With a left-footer in midfield, Cruz _had_ to go somewhere, since he’s obviously the best player in the league. So you throw him on the right and watch your chance creation drop to “barely detectable.” Obviously it wouldn’t work having Fabinho and Le Toux on opposing wings.

  3. If Hackworth has not yet sat Cruz despite his inability – at times, certainly not all the time – to contribute positively to a game, I can’t see how he stops playing Fabinho when he returns. Le Toux is the better option at either midfield spot, yet there he sits on the bench. He’ll get his shot Saturday.

  4. Ray Gaddis. Wow. I sit in 119, opposite the River End, so I had a front seat for his defensive display in the 2nd half, and it was masterful. There were 2 breakaways where he shut them down alone, including the one where he had to deal with 2 attackers and all Toronto could muster was a slow roller right at MacMath. It has taken him some time to fully adapt to playing on the left side, but after last night he seems to have figured it out. Well done.

    • Gaddis was more machine than man. I would say he was a very close runner up as man of the match. When he ran down Earnshaw it reminded me of the first NE game this season where someone was trying to get the better of him and he knocked them down and bent over and started yelling in the guy’s face.

  5. I haven’t seen anyone else mention this over the weekend and it didn’t make it into the highlights, so I just want to make sure I saw this right. In the second half, after a Toronto player got hurt and they put the ball out of play for a trainer to come on, did Cruz really throw the ball back to Toronto and immediately chase it down, almost beating Toronto’s defender to the ball and forcing an emergency clearance from him? I was really disgusted with that move, and it looked like everyone on the field was questioning what he was doing. What if he had won the ball back and we scored a goal off of it? We would be completely ridiculed for that. Does anyone else remember that play?

    • This was not your imagination and it was shameful. A lot of the time Cruz is talked about as a gritty and tough player with a lot of heart or whatever, but he is also a really dirty player. He dives, he goes into tackles in ways that could really hurt people and he whines at the ref from the opening whistle. I am surprised he doesn’t have more cards.

      • Union have always been dirty. Always.
        Califf, The Farfans, Antoine, Casey punching people in the back of the head, Williams losing his temper. I have often wondered if it has affected how we get calls. Because collectively as a team the Union haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt.

        Cruz should have gotten at least a yellow for a tackle he made in the Toronto game… yet he jaws at the refs all the time.

      • As far as Califf and Casey go, they are dirty in that they foul a lot but they almost never get away with anything. In Casey’s case I think that rep might cost him legitimate calls when he gets fouled.

        Antoine never really struck me as a dirty player. This could just be me having rose colored glasses about him but I feel like he actually does get fouled a lot and it isn’t diving

      • Remember when he got headbutted… It went down more or less the same way Fabihno got red carded in the Toronto game. Antoine judo throws dude to the ground. He over reacts. Union goes up a man.

      • haha we didn’t even go up a man because Jack ended up getting sent off for pushing the guy in response to the headbutt

    • I remember the play just as you do, very unsporting of Antoine. I went to wakingthered to read their coverage, and they don’t mention it. But their live match thread is an interesting read. Bunch o’ paranoid MFers up there in TO, eh? MLS conspiracies? seriously? like MLS have the competence to conspire?

      • not Antoine, Danny, sorry

      • The wakingthered game thread was fun to read. I didn’t realize how much of a rep Cruz has as a dirty player. The conspiracy angle was funny — like the league front-office wants the Union’s brand of ugly-ass soccer anywhere near the playoffs.

      • In was actually thinking about that recently. If the Union got into the finals against a LA or Seattle, Hackworth would park the bus.

        I could see MLS executives flinging themselves out of their office windows if they had to showcase the entire league with that while simultaneously trying to get a new TV contract and now directly competing with the EPL.

    • I disagree. the player in question for Toronto had just stopped the game for an extended period of time (and it was the second time he stopped the game) for a calf strain. I took this as classless time wasting by Toronto and (I believe) Cruz felt the same way when he pressured the throw-in. I say good for him for standing up for his team.

    • I saw that play from across the field, but had a slightly different take on it. Cruz threw the ball in towards one of the TFC defenders. Rather than play the ball (maybe over to his keeper), the defender watched it go by and slowly roll towards the end line. That’s when Cruz started after the ball, when it was clear that Toronto was going to use it to start wasting time.

      • That play was more typical of an outside linebacker than a midfielder. Defending him or it in any way is ridiculous. A number of union players yelled and rolled there eyes when it happened. They also didn’t break for the goal because they have something called class.

      • I saw it the same way that you did, Andy and was on the side of the field that it happened on. I didn’t think for a second that Cruz was going to take the ball off the player and try to score. However, he should have either just thrown it directly to Bendik or to another Union player to kick it into touch. It was a simple custom that Cruz just did incorrectly and I think it confused everyone.

  6. Brian Carroll should be sat when we know we’re playing for the win. He doesn’t turn upfield even when he has space, his pass never is a surprise. Let Keon Daniel play a game as the only CDM.

    Hoppenot deserves a start. Casey needs a rest. Keep Farfan in. Watch what happens when you get Jack Mac knifing runs, with Hoppenot’s ability to beat defenders one on one.

    Farfan is the best CAM we’ll see. I agree that Kleb did something phenomenal, I’d like to see him for thirty minutes at the end though.

  7. The Chopper says:

    Two straight wins and two straight games where I think Hackworth’s subs have paid dividends. May just be a coincidence, but since we have been blasting his sub patterns and lack of proper adjustments most of the year I figure we should throw him a bone.

  8. I think I have some insight as to why this was one of Cruz’s best games. His mother (who calls him Daniel) was in from Europe for her first game at PPL Park. We got to meet her and talk with her before the game while she was talking with the usher near our seats. She had no problem telling us she can tell when he’s really hurt compared to just down on the ground taking a breather 🙂

    At the end of the Dallas game, when Zak was at his lowest point, how many of us thought he would be alone atop the league in shutouts with 3 games to go? (Yes, Seattle and Montreal have 4 games to go, but both of their keepers are at least 2 behind Zak.)

    I did think it was one of the best officiated games I’ve seen in awhile. Of course, the last time I said something like that was the first Union game that Chapman called this season and he got MUCH worse with his other two.

  9. We started to win again after using players Hack had not used much all year; figure that!! I am talking especially about Farfan and Kleberson.
    .
    Love these play-off type games: we have to win all to ‘survive’. I got an email yesterday to expect an email today about play-off tickets and that we will only be charged if we get a home play-off game. Much better than last time.

  10. I am going going to devil’s advocate for Jack Mac for a second. I really believe that if Jack had stayed in the game he would have buried one of the chances Hoppenot had.
    I don’t think Hoppenot opened up the game just that his substitution coincided with the game opening up. If Kleberson doesn’t bury that kick all we would be talking about is how Antoine was doing his best Letoux impersonation by shanking those sitters.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I don’t disagree that Hopp has to start finishing but he did open that game up. No one, other than Danny “Kick n Chase” Cruz even attempts to take defenders on 1 on 1…. ok sometimes Farfan. My point is that Hopp takes guys on and allows other guys to make runs. Or at the very least he backs the defense off a bit. Jack Mac just doesn’t do that anymore. All he does is look for the ball over the top. I’ve bashed Hack for his awful subs but he got it right Saturday night

    • Southside Johnny says:

      I agree that Hoppenot for Mac was yet another stupid Hack sub. Casey should have come out earlier…he was not himself all night. Carroll is way overrated for this match. From where I sat I counted 4 totally gift wrapped turnovers starting with his first touch. Gaddis is definitely coming along and I like how Fabinho constantly communicates with him. He still needs direction which doesn’t come from Carroll or Parke. Farfan is clearly getting his game back which I think he could have done way earlier in the season with more minutes. All in all, with Kleberson’s amazing hook, another pretty bizarre but entertaining match.

  11. KLEBESON!

  12. no kleberson!!!!!

  13. Strange that in Gaddis’ 8, a great play was given as one of the reasons, yet ignored was the fact he tried to play the ball out of the back instead of going back to the keeper – and made a terrible giveaway. Also – Vilareal was completely responsible for the game getting niggly and dirty by failing to do anything for a terrible tackle by Cruz late in the first half. A 7 for the ref is being overly generous.

  14. I largely agree with the ratings with the following exceptions:
    – 7 for Gaddis. He made some key defensive plays, but two of them were corrections for bad mistakes. Also, he’s part of a flanking duo that really doesn’t contribute much to the attack.
    – 7 for Parke. He lost a couple physical battles with Dike early, but recovered well to limit the damage to two corners. During the rest of the match, I thought Parke anticipated the Toronto attacking designs dramatically better than their young striking corps.

    • Atomic Spartan says:

      Gotta add 2 ratings: a solid 7 to the West End goalpost for stopping Earnshaw, and another 7 to the River End goalpost for lulling Bendik to sleep and catching Kleberson’s moment of brilliance.

  15. Hackworth is really running Casey into the ground. For a guy that has started pretty much every match since Jack left for the Gold Cup, he could have used a few games of rest down the stretch. I’m afraid it’s too late to do that now since we need him for these crucial games.
    .
    I know Hackworth has done the same for many guys on the team, but maybe it’s a different situation with a guy that has come off of two injury plagued seasons. Here’s hoping Casey has enough left in the tank for the playoff push.

  16. Pingback: Season review: Antoine Hoppenot

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