Photo: Paul Rudderow
Only a minute into a conversation with Jordan Harvey, you are very aware that the Union’s left back a) Loves to talk, b) Is an reliably nice guy, and c) Sincerely enjoys playing soccer with the enthusiasm of a kid.
Those are just some of the reasons that it was so surprising to see referee Mark Geiger emphatically issuing Harvey a red card, using the militaristic straight-armed gestures officials reserve for matters of grave importance.
He can see everything! He can see the big board!
Before addressing Geiger’s oddball decision, a moment should be given over to consideration of instant replay. It is a technology invented to provide clarity and conclusiveness to sports viewers at home, and soccer’s unwillingness to use it for things like behind the ball incidents or goal-line reviews is like using a broom to clean your carpets when you already own a vacuum cleaner. Seriously, it’s right there in the closet. Just take it out.
To extend that metaphor, it’s like the referee is using the broom but his roommates – all the fans and players and coaches who can see the gigantic monitor hanging above the field – are all vacuuming their carpets. So when we see Mr. Geiger out there on the pitch swinging his broomstick about, we can’t help but think he spent the pre-game period painting with the windows shut.
What truly insults the sport and its fans is that near-definitive proof can appear in seconds on a gargantuan board. Yet the referee is forced to buckle down and strut around the field, waving away protests with an I-saw-what-I-saw expression. You can almost hear him saying, “Guys, that’s my call. It’s not like I have a gargantuan high-definition viewbox that shows exact reproductions of recent events. Cut me some slack.”
You better be sure
Have I finished talking about this yet? No! Because leaving aside whatever Geiger saw or did not see Jordan Harvey do to Chris Leitch, he must have seen Leitch’s right leg complete a vicious aerial arc with the clear intention of connection with one of Harvey’s knees.
Geiger managed to simultaneously dismiss a player for a non-existent violent act and completely ignore a violent act taking place in the exact same foot of space. Aside from the personal embarrassment this should cause Mr. Geiger, the chorus of voices critical of MLS officiating now have a gift-wrapped example to rally around.
A moment of absurdity surpassed only by the issuance of the red card itself, the fourth official would not turn around to look at the replay board as Union assistant John Hackworth triumphantly pointed to the magical picture box of truth as it judged Mark Geiger and tattooed his name into the Sons of Ben’s “Most Deserving of Derogatory Chants” list (which may or may not be a real thing).
4-3-3 leaves Torres free
The game itself was a slightly less dour version of the usual Union fare. A spacious 4-3-3 allowed Philadelphia to spread San Jose’s defense while a confluence of overplayed through balls, miscommunication and poor first touches kept the score even.
Roger Torres was rewarded for his strong performances off the bench with a start in the trequartista role ahead of Amobi Okugo. He responded by putting in a very Torres-like performance, lofting balls over the top, checking in as a hub for offensive build-up, and playing a willy-nilly brand of defense that resembled the game of chicken played in Top Gun more than anything normally seen on the soccer pitch.
A major issue for Torres was figuring out how to work with Carlos Ruiz, a man who who reacts to a through-ball with an I’m-through-with-this-play hop-skip followed by a disinterested head-down walk.
Big Mwan looks good
Danny Mwanga proved a more compatible ally. Mwan-genius has shown an improved first touch this season, which has led to a calmness on the ball that can be hypnotic in comparison to the springs and bricks that Ruiz and Le Toux have used in place of feet. The decision to replace a striker with a defensive player was not a hard one for Peter Nowak, but one might assume that the tall, speedy, strong and harder-working Mwanga might remain on the field ahead of the smaller, slower, weaker and lazier Ruiz. Unless Nowak expected to hold significant possession with ten men (which he said he didn’t), Ruiz seems the obvious man to leave at halftime. Certainly Keon Daniel could have used a good run or two as an outlet as he heroically held the ball on the wing.
There is no questioning the Migs substitution. Say what you will about Miglioranzi, he is the right man to come off the bench down a man at halftime.
Okugo alone in the middle
Amobi Okugo. In 2010 he seemed like the forgotten member of the Union’s initial SuperDraft class. Mwanga was scoring, McInerney was a regular sub, Nakazawa received constant praise from the coaching staff. Okugo was stuck behind so many central midfielders in the pecking order that he must have wondered why the Union picked him so high. The UCLA product has done so much to earn the coaching staff’s trust this season that he was given a solo role in the middle of the park on Saturday. Forced to take on more offensive responsibilities when Torres left the match, Okugo responded with a driving run into the box to earn a penalty kick. As the teenager bounced to his feet and ran exuberantly towards the penalty spot, every fan in the park had to realize that they had just witnessed a play that, of all the central midfielders on the Union roster, only Okugo can make.
Spirit of the Dragon
Going a man down is always a challenge. The great Inter Milan manager Helenio Herrera said that his teams always played better with ten, and Peter Nowak echoed that sentiment in his post-match comments. A mathematical disadvantage is a true test of a squad’s mettle, and the Union performed admirably.
And really, was there any question about how the team would react? The Union follow The Dragon. And The Dragon reminded the team that it backs down from no challenge when he took on the loose-jawed McDonald after a scramble in the box. Mondragon received a card for his self-defense, but the image of his face in a contorted scream is a perfect image of the 2011 team’s pride and commitment.
Faryd Mondragon – 7
Mondragon gets positive reviews even when he has minimal work to do. He controlled his box well and if you think his yelling match with McDonald didn’t make the Quakes wary of wandering into the Union eighteen, you’d simply be wrong. Nowak said after the match that Michael Farfan’s offensive skills meant the Union were a times essentially playing with three backs. The defensive organization required to survive 50 minutes a man down starts with the goalie and Mondragon was up to the test as usual.
Sheanon Williams – 7
At the beginning of the year, we hypothesized that it would take time for Williams to find the confidence to get forward with regularity. It’s clear that he has found it. Offense aside, the most admirable part of Williams’ game has been his man marking. He falls for the occasional give-and-go, but the Union right back has done yeoman’s work blocking crosses and slowing down counterattacks. There is not much more to say about Sheanon’s performance against San Jose. He locked down the back line. Done and done.
Carlos Valdes – 8
From nothing to everything. From losing last year’s starter to finding a player with such confidence and skill that he should play against Manchester United in the MLS All-Star game. Valdes has yet to take on a striker who wants the ball half as much as he does. Lenhart? Wondolowski? I don’t think Valdes even bothered to learn their names. What’s the point when you’re just going to stomp on their dreams for the next 90 minutes? Valdes’s distribution has also been a plus addition to the side, and he worked well with both Okugo and Torres on Saturday. The movement from the backs to the midfield has been slow this year so any signs of improvement are exciting.
Danny Califf – 8
Can you really give anything lower than an 8 to a center back pairing that gives up fewer chances playing with a converted midfielder at outside back than it did with a complete back four? Califf is the Union’s Jamie Carragher. There, I said it. He plays like he’s carrying on the proud tradition of a hundred year old club instead of a second year franchise. Califf’s tackling and aerial menace are just the most noticeable improvements of a player who kept the back four organized while making the last ditch tackles and headers that require thoughtless commitment as much as skill.
Jordan Harvey – n/a
I’m not rating Harvey. He didn’t do much while he was in the game. Let’s just hope the appeals process goes well for him.
Keon Daniel – 9
Outside midfield. Central midfield. Outside back. Daniel did it all. His above-average ball skills were on display for much of the game. At one point the rumor went around that no mortal man could dispossess Keon Daniel. Daniel would be even more effective if he had a striker in front of him that made runs and opened up space for him to get forward. Le Toux is learning to get across the field to hook up with the winger, but Ruiz remains disinterested. For all the hype surrounding Carlos Ruiz, Daniel, Valdez and Mondragon have been monster impact signings while the big name striker has sputtered. Going forward, Justin Mapp and Kyle Nakazawa will have to push hard to win minutes back from Daniel, who is the only midfielder to excel both offensively and defensively this season.
Amobi Okugo – 8
Speed. Move the ball with speed and good things will happen. This is the lesson to take from Okugo’s positive play over the past three matches. He had to reign in his high pressure defensive style when Torres went missing from the midfield, but he made it work. The passing was not as good as past weeks, but it was more ambitious than usual. Crossfield balls, pops over the top, even a spin move out of a tackle were all added to Okugo’s repertoire as he grew in confidence. And it was a confident stride forward that earned the Union the penalty that decided the match.
Roger Torres – 6
A strong performance from Torres, as he had to make his own space when he wanted the ball. The omnipresent dinks over the top were too common for a player with the passing range of the young Colombian.
Sebastien Le Toux – 7
He was asked to run even more than usual on Saturday and responded with smarter movement. Le Toux seemed to make a breakthrough in the second half of the match when his touch improved and he showed a willingness to pass it off to Daniel or Okugo (or even Ruiz) faster than usual. Trusting his teammates is something Le Toux has not done as much as he should this year and it was nice to see him get back to his old ways. With Ruiz remaining stationary in the middle, Le Toux’s high pressure and Okugo’s aggressive midfield play kept San Jose‘s offense stagnant. Le Toux looked like he was going down too easy at times. Hopefully opening his account will end that folly.
Danny Mwanga – 6
Mwanga played very well with the ball at his feet, and he brought others into play when he could. He should have stayed on the pitch for the second half because his speed was almost visibly scaring the San Jose defense. This was Mwanga’s best performance in the 4-3-3 and it shows that the rookie is learning fast.
Carlos Ruiz – 5
Ruiz was not at his worst, but he was well below his best. His distribution was below par and he could have created a few chances by getting involved with the Daniel-Farfan duo in the second half. Ruiz dove as if pushed on a cross from Daniel, executing a silly roll that will do nothing to improve his reputation. He also did that weird thing where he wouldn’t back off when the ref awarded a drop ball following a stoppage. Jon Busch was not amused, and while it was kind of funny at the time, the move was definitely unsporting.
Stefani Miglioranzi – 6
This was Miglioranzi’s ideal scenario. Stop the other team, get the ball out. He must have been as surprised as anyone when the Union were pushing San Jose back. Migs allowed Okugo to join attacks and was rarely pushed by a bumbling San Jose midfield.
Michael Farfan – 7
What a performance from the second round draft pick. It was unclear how much license Farfan would have to go forward. Turns out he had plenty. At times it seemed like San Jose had forgotten that there was a far side of the field. Farfan combined with Daniel (who he later called a “very special player”) to establish the tempo of the second half.
Kyle Nakazawa – n/a
Naka only got seven minutes in place of Ruiz.
The Geiger Counter
A new feature at PSP, The Geiger Counter measures a referees performance in relation to Mark Geiger’s laugher on Saturday. And I don’t want to hear any of this “he only made one major mistake” business. That was one of the most ridiculous calls you will ever see.
So of course this weekend was a 10 on The Geiger Counter. The performance of the linesmen in the Chelsea/Tottenham match (blown goal-line call, blown offsides call) warrants a 7. Nobody has to leave the field after bad calls like those.
I didn’t see the match on TV. If you did, let me know which chants you could hear on the telly. Some of the stuff directed at the referee sounded loud enough to be heard all over Philadelphia.
How ironic that we spend a week debating the YSA chant and we get an F-bomb chant going in the next match.
“We thought the first ten minutes of the second half would be worse than it was. We found good spaces and distance between the lines and we actually moved the ball forward.”
“We expected a lot more men forward from San Jose and that wasn’t the case.”
“I can’t praise this group enough. Physically they are prepared and mentally they are ready to get three points at home, which is massive. We are separating ourselves in the standings.”
“Everybody saw the replay. The replay indicated very clear what was the case. For me, when I saw the replay I think we can review this.”
“I don’t think the referee made the wrong decision [on the handball]. Whatever the feeling is from the other locker room, I don’t want to say ‘make excuses’, but I think that in terms of excuses you can come up with better than that.”
“The decision was made on the field. We talk, Carlos with Seba. Seba has the confidence to take [the penalty].”
“Chris Wondolowski is a great striker but I don’t think he needs to play on the wing, which he did successfully last year but it opened space for us as well. We did a very good job and I hope to continue to throw these guys into games. Not just Michael but Jack McInerney, Gabriel Farfan, Chris Agorsor and Zach Pfeffer.”
“What was missing was the final pass. I think [the formation] gave us a little more fluidity. But these are young kids and they need to learn.”
“I was thinking about shooting but then my angle wasn’t good so I took it down the line.”
“Roger is a good player. We’ve connected well.”
“Yeah, I knew it was a penalty kick. It was right there and he slid with his hand out so, it unfortunate for him, but it was a penalty.”
“I’m not worried about yellow cards. You have to play hard. If I get suspended we have a bunch of guys that can fill in.”
“I didn’t score in college but my parents have been telling me that if you don’t shoot you don’t score. Maybe the goalie makes a blunder and I get one.”
“I wanted to keep the clean sheet and hopefully score.”
“There was space in front of me so I took it. Keon is a special player and he’s always going to keep the ball. It’s a privilege to play with him.”