Season Reviews

Season review: Michael Farfan

Photo: Paul Rudderow

If Union fans could use one word to describe Michael Farfan’s season, it would be frustrating. Two words? Frustrating and disappointing.

This speaks to the long leash a player with Farfan’s talent gets.

But the winger that regularly torched defenders his first season and the occasionally brilliant, mercurial central midfielder of 2012 never showed up in 2013. In their stead, a lost, unimpressive figure worked his studs off in a vain attempt to regain the confidence of years past.

In reviewing the season of this once-promising second round draft pick, one must ask: Is this the new normal for Michael Farfan?

How? How did the two players that spent the most time in a forward midfield role tally one assist apiece? How was Michael Farfan the provider of only one of Jack McInerney’s early season goals? A player in prime position to thread balls through to his strikers, and he connects once?

Farfan has not looked fully comfortable since he was moved off the wing, and this season did nothing to suggest things are on the right track.

But the talent still peeks out, thrilling fans, encouraging the coaching staff, and indicating that Farfan may still have a role to play on a competitive MLS team.

In the season’s opening match against Kansas City, Farfan may have been the Union’s best player, aggressively pushing forward and taking five shots, two of them on net. Operating from a base on the right wing, Farfan broke inside to take his shots but stayed wide to create and drop in crosses. He completed 34 of 43 passes. Additionally, he opened the game up for Sheanon Williams, who had three key passes.

But by the end of March, Farfan was on the bench. Danny Cruz carved his name into the right midfield position, and Farfan was forced to compete with Keon Daniel for minutes in the middle. Neither player seemed to relish the challenge, and their struggles shaped the top of the Union’s offseason shopping list.

Just when all seemed lost, something began to click in September and October. After a strong performance against Chivas in which he put three shots on net, Farfan only put three shots on goal in the next nine matches combined. Once again, it was a Sporting Kansas City match that brought the best out of the Union’s young midfielder. In the stunning road upset of Kansas City, Farfan operated in an isolated central role but still managed to pose a nuisance and put a blocked shot toward goal that became Conor Casey’s winner.

As the season wound down, Farfan seemed rejuvenated even as the Union remained stuck in an odd malaise. John Hackworth was one of many observers that recognized the player’s improved form: “He really picked it up at the end of the season, and I just wish it could have been that way all year.”

Agreed.

High point Farfan 2013 stats

That September 27th match against Sporting Kansas City was the best argument for Michael Farfan to remain on the roster in 2014. With his talent, Farfan has to be considered trade bait as the Union look to bring in a true No. 10 and possibly a stronger veteran supporting cast. But whenever the Union brass watches this KC performance, they will see a player who put his stamp on an incredibly difficult road match while receiving no support.

Perhaps the most impressive facet of Farfan’s play in this game was his ability to find space as an outlet and slow the game down to give his defense a rest. The stat sheet is not kind if you look at pass completion percentage, but the less prominent stats tell a more nuanced story. Four fouls suffered, five recoveries, and four headers won. Oh, and that passing percentage? Looks pretty good if you focus on the middle third, where Farfan was 19 of 22. It was only when the Union were staging half-hearted counterattacks that the passes went astray.

Low point

The 5-1 loss to New England was bad for the Union, but it was worse for Farfan. His entire contribution consisted of three fouls and a lot of chasing. The worst part for viewers was watching Kelyn Rowe embody the player Michael Farfan could be. Confident, finding wide spaces and cutting inside, becoming the focal point for his team based on in-game performance more than pre-game planning. Farfan was hauled off after 80 minutes and didn’t see more than a half hour of field time for over a month.

Strengths

Range of passing, one-on-one attacking, and a fairly consistent defensive work rate. There is no doubt that Farfan has the tools to undress MLS defenders on a regular basis. This is where he gets his confidence, and the Union took it away from him by putting him in a position where the whole goal is to get away from defenders and play creative balls to the strikers.

Weaknesses

Creating his own space, reading the game on the fly, and imposing himself on a contest. Watching Michael Farfan check to receive a ball is such an odd experience. It often appears casual or halfhearted. Contrast this with Roger Torres, who checks in like he thinks the ball is made of chocolate and happy dreams. This has been an issue for Farfan since he was moved to the middle, and it remains one of the strongest arguments for reestablishing him in a position where he can receive and isolate rather than distribute.

Outlook

Either he displaces Danny Cruz on the wing, or he starts looking for his next career stop. Someone in MLS is going to give Michael Farfan a chance to play every day on the wing, and that someone is going to be very happy with the results.

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