Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 1-2 SKC

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Forced to deal with both a must-win finale and replacing his ever-present captain, the typically conservative John Hackworth overcorrected drastically against Sporting Kansas City, and his team paid the price.

Going into the Saturday afternoon match, it was hard to think that Hackworth would make any more drastic moves than restoring Amobi Okugo to midfield for the first time in 2013 season. After all, pushing Okugo forward a level would not only put him out of his typical position since Hackworth took over, but it would also displace Sheanon Williams, Ray Gaddis and Fabinho, moving them to positions at which they have seen limited minutes this season.

But that four-man rotation ended up being the least surprising move from the Union manager, as he elected to leave his leading scorer on the bench, instead handing Antoine Hoppenot only his second start of the season. The next surprise was that Hackworth chose not to partner Hoppenot with Conor Casey, in the typical two-striker, 4-4-2 look that has been the Union’s bread and butter throughout the year. Instead, Hackworth slid him out to the left flank, a position where Hoppenot had struggled to make an impact as a substitute up until that point. Whether the formation was a 4-3-3 as Hackworth described it, or the 4-1-4-1 it played out to be, the Union looked confused and punchless, and unlikely to unlock the stingiest defense in MLS.

How the Union actually stretch defenses

With Danny Cruz pinned back by the rampaging Seth Sinovic and Casey badly isolated against Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler, Hoppenot’s positioning remained curious, and he did little to trouble Sporting outside of a handful of direct runs which were ultimately well covered. When asked about his decision to include Hoppenot, Hackworth said, “We really thought we could exploit his speed and have him stress the defense”.

Hoppenot brings a lot to the table for the Union, specifically in late game scenarios, but stretching a defense is simply not a weapon in his arsenal. Stretching a defense requires the constant threat of a player bursting in behind a defense. It makes defenders wary of playing too high, because at any moment, one well-timed run could be undoing of an entire defensive line. It effectively makes the field of play larger, either vertically or from touchline to touchline.

There is only one player on the Union who stretches a defense with consistency, and that player is Jack McInerney. Even when he is not scoring, McInerney’s runs off the ball serve to poke and probe, loosening up a defense and making them sit back further than they would have wanted. Unlike Hoppenot, who defenders work hard to step up to tackle before he can get a head of steam going, McInerney does not need the ball at his feet to send waves of panic through a defense.

Typically, the arrival of Hoppenot after an hour-plus of McInerney’s threat serves to rip through the holes McInerney created. Simply put, McInerney stretches the game, and Hoppenot feasts on the space left in front of a defense once they have been beaten back towards their own goal.

Constricting teammates

But when Hoppenot starts, the game stays compact. With Hackworth playing with two advanced midfielders in Kleberson and Michael Farfan, the space was simply not there for the Union’s attacking players. A simple correction could have been dropping Kleberson deeper alongside Okugo, thus allowing him to distribute from the deep-lying position he typically favors, yet it was never made.

In the end, Hoppenot, Cruz, Kleberson and Farfan were all caught checking back for the ball at nearly the same level. It was Ori Rosell’s and Lawrence Olum’s lucky day, as the Union strategy played directly into their hands. The pair feasted on Union players dropping in with their backs to goal, and they were able to snuff out most attacks before they began.

What to do with Okugo

He’s been one of the Union’s most reliable players all season. His partnership with Jeff Parke has gotten the Union out of jail on more occasions than they probably deserve. He has proven himself as an accomplished, top defender in MLS.

But it is hard to argue with his performance against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. Snapping right back into his comfort zone in the middle of the park, Okugo brought a lot to the table that Union fans do not typically see out of Brian Carroll. Similarly skilled as a ball-winner, Okugo had the desire to be on the ball that sees him provide a constant outlet pass for his back four. And while he was overeager at times to push play forward, his eyes were routinely locked up field as he tried to link the defense with the attack, a linkage that has been largely absent in 2013.

With the Union’s offseason having arrived sooner than they would have hoped, those debates can rage on.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

Blameless on both goals, MacMath pulled off a pair of top drawer saves that kept his team in the match right until the very end.

Ray Gaddis – 4

At a certain point, Gaddis must turn his blistering pace into a consistent offensive weapon. Until he learns how to create chances going forward, he will remain second choice behind Sheanon Williams.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Gave everything he had to the cause, defending like a man possessed. There is no quit in him, regardless of his position.

Jeff Parke – 6

Smart and strong at the back, Parke made a rare mark at the offensive end of the pitch. When Conor Casey flicked his service over the bar, Parke came right back and nodded into Jack McInerney’s path for the Union’s lone goal.

Fabinho – 6

His lunge-first, ask questions later style of defending leaves a lot to be desired, but considering the Union all but abandoned the left flank, Fabinho still caused problems in the attack.

Danny Cruz – 3

Sleepwalked through the final match of the year before being substituted for the 29th time in 32 starts.

Amobi Okugo – 6

See above. Apparently, defensive midfield is like a bike, and even after a year and a half, Okugo still had no trouble remembering how to ride.

Kleberson – 3

Pinched in the midfield by so many of his teammates, Kleberson never looked comfortable or terribly interested and turned in an exceedingly anonymous performance.

Michael Farfan – 6

Bright and aggressive early, Farfan was the best distributor on the pitch. Unfortunately, the runs from Cruz and Hoppenot were not of the quality required, and Farfan faded down the stretch.

Antoine Hoppenot – 3

Hopelessly miscast as a winger, Hoppenot clogged lanes instead of opening them up. For all his energy and intent, the quality was simply not there.

Conor Casey – 5

As bullish as ever, Casey’s work was largely for naught against Sporting’s very well organized back four. If he is to continue scoring goals in 2014, his minutes must be managed, as he grew clumsy and less effective down the stretch.

Substitutes

Roger Torres – 5

Put in more work than Kleberson in half the time, but struggled against the strength of Rosell and Olum through the midfield.

Jack McInerney – 6

Scored goal No. 12 to set up a frantic finish after having a glorious opportunity blocked minutes before. Fans will be left to wonder “what if” throughout the offseason, as there was very little justification in McInerney’s benching for the match.

Sebastien Le Toux – 4

Nearly buried a wonder goal on the volley, but otherwise looked slow and tentative, perhaps even too injured to have played.

Geiger Counter

Baldomero Toledo – 3

It’s not that he’s a bad ref, it’s just that he’s not a good… Fine, he’s a bad ref.

31 Comments

  1. I actually thought that the ball movement through the midfield was far better than we’ve seen from the U. at any time this year. Part of that is because Michael Farfan has continued to find himself, where he was so lost earlier in the year.

    But for me, the biggest takeaway from this game is that Brian Carroll should not be starting next year. His complete absence of forward passing simply cripples the offense. Having Okugo, Farfan, and Kleberson to provide interplay made a huge difference (particularly in the first half).

  2. Hoppenot loses another point for failing to mark Zusi on the back post for the first SKC goal. You know, the Zusi that plays on the USMNT, and just scored on a header to knock Panama out of Going to Brazil.
    Completely agree with Okugo to midfield. That should be a no-brainer, even for the Union front office.

    • Somebody… not Hoppenot loses 5 points for thinking that he was the person who should be marking Zusi.

      • touche

      • Atomic spartan says:

        Somebody = lack of on-field leadership by Zac, Parke, Sheanon and/or Amobi. Any one of them should have foreseen and called out for coverage on Zusi. Still, Hop could have at least made it harder for Z to get a clean shot, but it was a mismatch at best.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        He totally freaking ball watched after starting with Zusi on his hip. Inexcusable.

  3. For all the talk about what a crazy new formation this was in the end it was more of the same. Hoppenot and Cruz running fast and trying hard. People trying to get crosses to Casey. And it by and large didn’t work.

    It was pointed out to me during the game but Okugo was gassed by the end of the match. If he is gonna play midfield, and I hope he does, He is gonna have to be in midfield shape.

    • The only way he’ll get into midfield shape is if we play him in the midfield. He never had a chance to get in midfield shape. Hack had him pegged in at CB the whole season. Okugo had to focus on maintaining size and strength all year long. If we play him consistently in the midfield, he’ll get his endurance back.

    • To be fair to Okugo, he wasn’t the only Union player who was gassed near the end. Williams, Parke and Farfan were all exhausted as well. The primary reason was that the team was pushing forward so hard and with SKC countering, the Union’s back four and midfield were going end to end for the entire 2nd half.

      Okugo’s conditioning was fine. I hope he stays in midfield as well.

  4. Also I ca’t prove this exactly but Zac Macmath was lookign uncharacteristically healthy yesterday while playing extremely well. But I swear right after the second goal the camera went back to him and then BAM the dark circles were under his eyes and he was looking like I haven’t had a good nights sleep in 6 years Zac again.

  5. When we witness Okugos ascent into the elite tier of MLS defensive mids, we are going to never stop wondering “what if he wasnt a CB for 1.5 years”

    • Or, we’re going to be saying ‘Klinsmann picked Okugo for the 2018 WC squad because of his ability to fill in at center back if needed.’

      • He can do that even if he switches to CDM. He’s shown all of the skills to be a successful CB, and he’s not going to lose them with a bump into the midfield. Look at Geoff Cameron. He plays RB all year long, and Klinsmann still calls him in for coverage at RB, CB and even CDM. It’s not like Amobi has to regress at one spot in order to succeed at another. He can simply add another dimension to his game.

      • Totally agree, and now I realize I only typed half of what I was thinking above. Once Okugo makes the switch to CDM, I think his experience at CB could easily be a benefit to his long-term career.

      • Yea I think your point is that having played that 1.5 years at CB could be beneficial moving forward, as opposed to dragging him down. We now know he could become an elite CB, which means he’s the perfect defensive-minded workhorse anytime would be lucky to have.

  6. I had a hard time identifying Hoppenot as playing the wing, since it seemed like I was always watching him in an offside position or SLOWLY walking back onside. And to see him waiting for the ball to go past while he stayed out of the play in order to prevent an offside call…ARRGHH! Once is acceptable, since aggressive offside calls are part of aggressive attacks, but I can’t stand to see the same thing caused when the problem is caused by not getting back in the first place. I like Hop, but I was unsure if it was a problem with game conditioning, since he so rarely gets such a long time on the field, or if he was trying to mirror Danny Cruz with the perpetual running with no real plan.

  7. Atomic spartan says:

    The only proper rating for Toledo was “turn in your badge.” miraculous that he did not completely lose control of the game.

  8. In the end, this season will always be a season of what-ifs. Unfortunately Carroll, Cruz, Daniel and Hackworth will probably all be back next season. A fond farewell to Kleberson and Torres, you will be missed.

  9. I was OK with the lineup and the 4-3-3 formation – except for Hoppenot starting. (Well, OK. I’d rather Cruz not start either; but we know he’s going to…) I’d prefer McInerney in that spot, obviously. But if Hackworth insisted on not starting Jack for whatever petty reasons, I then would’ve preferred Le Toux in that spot. Even if he can only go a half.
    .
    Overall I thought the subs were OK this game. Maybe Torres for Kleberson sooner is the only quibble there.
    .
    In the end, they were right around where everybody expected they would be – mid 40s for points, better than last year, but not quite there yet.

  10. OneManWolfpack says:

    The definition (in my opinion at least) of a CDM is someone who is defensive minded, but is above average in distribution. In another words: Okugo = CDM. I don’t hate Carroll but. Okugo is an upgrade and that is one of a couple the Union need.
    .
    I know it’s pointless to say over and over again, but Danny Cruz is KILLING this team. He brings NOTHING to the table. He has to have pictures on Hackworth. I can not stand any more justification of this guy in the lineup. Period.
    .
    This team has to find a true CAM. I would rather see them acquire new players and and have those players fail, than go through another season with what they have.
    .
    Although it would have been cool to see them make the playoffs, they didn’t belong there. Not this year. The draft isn’t the best spot to get talent I know, but hopefully we can make use of Chivas high pick (G. Farfan trade) and our middle pick and add some quality players.

    • I’m OK with Danny Cruz being on the roster as a late-game sub and spot starter. But he shouldn’t start every game he’s available for. However, if the Union head down that path, I think they would need to choose one of Cruz or Hoppenot in that case, because you’d have two guys who were close to the same thing.
      .
      As much as we’ve killed Cruz this year, he does bring some aspects to the game. He’s a pest; he has a knack for getting under the skin of other players and drawing cards. He has speed. He has determination. Those are all pretty good traits to bring into a game when you’re down 1 with 20-30 minutes to go. Hoppenot is basically the same thing. So, pick one and let the other go.
      .
      Conor Casey needs to not make some road trips next year, especially if they’re mid-week match ups. These would be the games were Cruz/Hoppenot get their spot starts. They also need to decide if Casey plays Open Cup or league matches when the games are in the same week. For the most part, he’s better served not starting both.
      .
      I wouldn’t mind one bit seeing Kleberson come back – at a reduced cost; he’s not worth 500K at this stage of his career. But if not him, somebody has to be brought in to fill that role. I agree with OMW – I’m OK with them going out and finding somebody only to have that move fail; at least you tried.
      .
      Finally, whatever CB they’re going to use has to be solid. For that reason, a known commodity is better there than going with a draft pick. Whether it’s an out-of-league signing or a trade in-league or whatever. I want experience in that position. I’m OK with the backup CB being a rookie or Greg Jordan or whoever, though. But I also don’t want Williams or Okugo to be the backup CB next year.

  11. personally I’m confused on why ppl are criticizing Cruz and wanting him to leave the team. Everyone keeps saying we need this team to be more offensive which for the most part is correct, but if you take out Cruz and even Hoppenot who else on this team is going to take on defenders with speed and try to create chances? Does anyone think Casey or Le Toux can create the kind of pressure on an opposing defense? So many times this year including the (last match of the season) this team has come out extremely flat footed. Cruz at least fights hard to create something and gives the team energy and life in my opinion. in my opinion, this dump and run tactic and having no regard for moving the ball gradually from the back line to the offense has been so predictable. It’s the way High school teams play.

    • So is this commet pro or against Cruz? Isn’t dump and run, and playing High School style tactics exactly what Cruz does best?

      • The comment is pro Cruz. All I’m saying is that the biggest problem is the style of play Hack has put forth this season. I hope that Hack will change it up for next season meaning trying to keep the ball on the ground more often and keeping possession.

    • You know who became really good at taking on defenders 1-on-1 last year? Michael F’ing Farfan! Back when we played him consistently! Look at Jack’s goal against LA in 2012. It all started by Farfan taking on a defender down the right wing. That was my biggest problem with Hackworth last year. He kept trying to put Farfan in the center and Adu on the wing, when he clearly should have switched them. We all talk about how he’s regressed this year, but would we really be saying that if he got the starts at RM that Cruz got all year long? No. In fact, maybe we’d be talking about who our opponent in the playoffs is right now.

  12. So the essence of this article is basically that John Hackworth, through his odd mismanagement of the personnel, cost us this game. What a surprise!

    The question is, since he will be back next year, what can we expect differently?

  13. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe Cruz even belongs in this league, yet a starter. I decided to have fun laughing at how many time he turns the ball over with a bad touch or bad pass. Or how he is out of position all the time. Did anyone else catch Okugo scream at him during the game like WTF are you doing on the left side of the field on a throw in! GET IN YOUR POSITION! I do respect his effort, he just isn’t talented enough. You can’t blame him bc Hack decided to play him.
    Did anyone stick around after the game? If you did, you would have noticed the Son’s of Ben booing Hack when Hack was thanking the fans for a great season. Did management get the point on how the fans feel about him as coach!

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