Player ratings

Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 1-1 DC United

Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

Saturday was road trip day. The three combatants for the final Eastern Conference spot all left the friendly confines of their home fields and headed to more difficult places to acquire three points. Two of those teams, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire, had to take planes to get to Stade Saputo and FC Dallas Stadium, respectively. Those two teams also flew home victorious after getting the critical victories they needed.

The third team needed only take a bus to face their biggest rivals, DC United, also known as the worst team in Major League Soccer.

Yet Philadelphia Union failed to get the job done against a DC side further depleted by injuries and international call ups. Playing in a similarly conservative alignment to when they went on the road and eked out a fortuitous victory at Sporting Kansas City, the Union never looked like winning the match and only looked like tying it in the final quarter of an hour when urgency finally set in. Further concerning for fans desperate for a postseason appearance, the Union hardly looked up for the match. An opportunity to pound your biggest rivals while also strengthening your own playoff credentials should have had the Union buzzing. For whatever reason though, the visitors arrived at RFK lacking the energy and preparation to take control of the match from the opening whistle.

Where were the strikers?

DC United’s first choice center back pairing at the moment is Ethan White and Dejan Jakovic. Therefore, at their best, United have one of the worst central defenses in MLS.

On Saturday, neither player was available through injury, forcing Ben Olsen to select left back Daniel Woolard and central midfielder Perry Kitchen in the heart of his defense. These were not last minute scratches, but John Hackworth responded by sending out a solitary striker in Conor Casey.

As Union fans will remember from watching Amobi Okugo transition from midfield to defense, it takes time to change mindsets from the zonal marking that takes place further up the pitch to the tight man-to-man defending that is required in the final third.

Union fans will also remember from watching Union-DC United grudge matches throughout the past few years that Woolard simply is not that good. Average in the air, average on the ball, with below average pace, Woolard is hardly a shutdown defender, and certainly one to attack when given more responsibility in the center of the park.

The wrong sub

After a lackluster first half display, and another disinterested performance from Keon Daniel, Hackworth made a rare halftime sub, bringing on Antoine Hoppenot rather than Jack McInerney, to try and open up the game. Hackworth explained his decision after the match, “It just felt like Antoine has done a really good job at the end of games. He stretches the opponent and clearly we felt like we needed to do that. They were playing really good defense and were a little compact and Antoine has that ability. We felt like if Antoine came on and did a good job there, which he did, that there would be space for Jack.”

Hoppenot certainly does have a knack for creating chances late in games, but entering in the 46th minute on Saturday did not fit that bill. Nor is Hoppenot the type of player to open up a compact game. Hoppenot’s pacy, direct style of play is successful late in games because the field is stretched and he can find pockets of space in the midfield where he can collect the ball and run at a tired, dropped off defense. With DC United tightly organized and playing a high line, Hackworth needed a player who specializes in pinning himself to the last defender and making himself a constant threat to race in behind.

The right sub

He needed Jack McInerney. The argument could be made that he needed McInerney from the opening whistle, but down a goal and needing a threat to get in behind, McInerney should have been his first choice.

In his 17 minutes, McInerney was involved in both of the Union’s best chances, finishing one of them. It was Woolard who was victimized on both plays. First, the makeshift center back was caught in two minds in the 83rd minute. Concerned about McInerney’s driving run, Woolard waited too long to step up to challenge Danny Cruz. When Cruz skipped by him, he found McInerney sitting comfortably behind the defense.

On the goal, Woolard was again at fault, stepping to Okugo rather than McInerney and allowing the ball to go over his head for the Union’s equalizer.

Throughout the goal drought that extended back to June 1, McInerney may have lost his confidence in front of goal, but he never lost the ability and quality to put himself in the right positions. It was his movement the Union needed on Saturday, and it arrived too late.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

Was helpless to stop DeLeon’s drive, but made every other save and intervention required of him to keep the match close. Went a tad rogue against Conor Doyle, but showed impressive effort and technique to chase down the striker, hook the ball away from him and atone for his mistake.

Sebastien Le Toux – 4

Never looked comfortable at fullback, regardless of injury. If he is forced to miss any of the final two matches, it will be a blow for the Union.

Amobi Okugo – 7

Put himself in all of the right positions, blocking 3 shots and winning 9 headers. His run that kept Woolard off of McInerney was almost worthy of an assist in itself.

Jeff Parke – 6

Made the timely tackles he needed too, but continues to sit too deep, allowing attackers to find space behind Carroll but in front of himself.

Ray Gaddis – 6

Defended well and looked to push forward, but will never hope to raise his game at left back to the level of Sheanon Williams until he can provide more consistent service from the wing.

Danny Cruz – 5

Showed consistent industry and hustle in playing his first full 90 since June 1. As remains the consistent knock on Cruz, the quality of his final ball was generally lacking, though he should have had an assist for the second straight week (remember Hoppenot’s blast off the back post against Toronto) after he set the table beautifully for McInerney, only to see Hamid deny the chance.

Michael Farfan – 5

Looked to become the metronome that drove the attack forward. Covered a great amount of ground as attempted, often in vain, to help the Union raise their tempo as they sought to come from behind. Loses a point for the silly booking that will see him miss his team’s trip to Montreal.

Brian Carroll – 3

Struggled with the pace of the match and allowed himself to be pulled out of position far too easily. Too often drifted forward into DC’s half while following a mark, allowing United the space to run players in behind him. Must do a better job in the final two matches of calling out marks and leaving them to other players, so he can sit in his pocket in front of the back four and break up attacking threats.

Kleberson – 6

Proved his quality as he floated around the midfield, carefully picking his spots to help the Union build. Will need to improve his work rate against better teams, but especially with Farfan suspended, Kleberson should see another start in Montreal.

Keon Daniel – 2

Asked to play wide on the left, Daniel played as if he just didn’t feel like it. Failed to get forward to aid the attack, failed to make himself available as an outlet, and failed to offer defensive support. Hackworth’s decision to haul him off at halftime should be seen as a statement.

Conor Casey – 5

Blew hot and cold throughout the night, as he seemed equally capable of powering home a header as he did of lazily straying offsides or conceding possession cheaply. On another night, he might have buried one of his chances, but this was not that night.

Substitutes

Matt Kassel – 3

Whichever side he played on, Kassel was targeted and beaten badly. Pontius and DeLeon both showed that Kassel lacks the agility and pace to compete at outside back.

Antoine Hoppenot – 5

As mentioned above, he was a strange choice for the match and struggled to impose himself. That did not stop him from working hard, and there might have been a reward had his teammates better supported him.

Jack McInerney – 7

Easily could have hung his head after doing everything right and still seeing Hamid save his 83rd minute chance. But McInerney kept fighting and stole a point for the Union with the type of run and finish that was his specialty in the early months of the campaign.

Geiger Counter

Edvin Jurisevic – 4

Let too much go and was guilty of calling fouls for whichever side was in the ascendancy at the moment, a dangerous trap for officials. Yet, given the lack of intensity and physicality the Union brought to RFK, it’s hard to lay too much blame at Jurisevic’s feet.

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