When the starting lineups came out on Saturday, the Union faithful’s wish had come true, and we sat back to watch a teenage striker come into his own before their eyes.
Maybe we should be more specific next time we rub that lamp. 18 year old speed merchant Fabian Castillo turned the match on its head with a slaloming run down the right to set up the opener. A few minutes later he was left unmarked on the edge of the six (!) and guided home the insurance goal.
Castillo was good, but he wasn’t great. Not like Danny Mwanga against LA. But Castillo was one of four Dallas players who all played a strong offensive match. Jackon – who delivered the cross on Castillo’s goal – and Brek Shea offered consistent wide threats throughout the match. Chavez was full of mazy runs. When have that many players shown up on offense for the Union?
A better offensive show, but that isn’t saying much
Even as Philadelphia dominated the first 25 minutes, you would be hard-pressed to name anybody other than Justin Mapp who stood out. But if I asked you to make a list of players who squandered good chances? Yeah, then you could think of four.
In and of itself, this is not as bad as it sounds. The Union don’t usually get four chances to squander.
This is not a time to dwell on negatives. Pairing the final forty-five from Wednesday with the first twenty-five on Saturday, we end up with almost an entire match of good offensive pressure.
Even the Union players seemed taken aback when Castillo broke through three defenders to set up the first goal. It seemed as though every player in blue and gold was thinking one thought: One more chance.
One more break and we can put one in. One more pass and we will be in on goal. Just one more.
But it was too late.
What was truly disappointing was that the first goal sapped the team’s confidence and made them question themselves. The commitment to offense was gone, and the defensive concentration remained absent.
Loss of confidence, concentration
While it is not surprising that the Union’s attacking game was so fragile, the extent of the defensive breakdown that led to Dallas’s second was shocking. Chavez, collecting a weak, poorly located clearance from Justin Mapp, faced absolutely no pressure. He calmly examined his options and actually faked a ball wide right to Jackson twice before he played it. Chavez clearly expected a Union defender to step to Jackson, and he was looking for a gap to open up. Instead, nobody moved. The ball went wide, Jackson curled it into the box, and Castillo more space than the USS Enterprise when he finished the play.
Plenty to build on
But it would be foolish to ignore the positives of the opening few minutes. Justin Mapp attacking with pace, strikers making runs to open up space for others (gasp!), and a consistent, creative offense that had Dallas on its heels. Mapp was the catalyst with the ball (Torres was largely disappointing), but the true revelation was the partnership up top. Mwanga and Le Toux dragged defenders out of channels and allowed Mapp and Torres space to operate in the middle third. For the first time all year, the modus operandi was not all Ruiz-back-to-goal & Le Toux-running-deep. Did you miss the regular system? I didn’t.
Those subs were… interesting?
What I would like to ignore is the entire second half. The kitchen sink substitution system that worked so well against LA was ineffective. The Dallas defense had trouble handing off assignments and applying pressure to the midfielders in the first half. Remarkably, Nowak’s halftime changes moved players out of the midfield and crowded out the space Mwanga and Le Toux had so effectively exploited for most of the first forty-five.
Attack after attack broke down as the team lacked Wednesday’s confidence going forward. Union management continually reminds us that the bench is filled with young, developing players. Then it puts them in incredibly unique and disconcerting situations (like a 4-2-4 formation). Does anybody think Jack Mac was comfortable on the wing? Clearing out the midfield also proved to be a death knell for Roger Torres. Dallas was able to mark the young playmaker out of the game without much difficulty.
Faryd Mondragon – 5
Two goals against, a spill that Sheanon did well to clear, and the inability to put a strong punt on the ball? He can’t control injuries, but, as usual, the goalie’s confidence in his kicking game was reflected in the team’s performance. The defense was hesitant to put in a tackle on the first goal and the directionless play that characterized the rest of the match was uncharacteristic of a Mondragon-led team. If his health has not improved by this Saturday MacMath should start. It is more important for the Union to have their number one keeper in August than in May.
Sheanon Williams – 6
Williams had the unenviable responsibility of marking Brek Shea out of the match. He was also asked to run the wing, as the Union played without a right midfielder for the first half. This is a lot to ask, no? Shea was not the first tough challenge Williams has been handed, but it was definitely the most isolated he has been this year. With Castillo occupying the center backs and no middie in front, Williams was forced to sit deep and let Shea run at him. Yikes. Even a defender as skilled and as in form as Williams cannot be expected to shut down such a dynamic player without midfield help. Williams did an admirable job getting forward throughout the match and his workrate was practically Le Touxian.
Carlos Valdes – 5
Absolutely, positively Valdes’ worst match as a Union player. That is to say, it is the first match where Valdes has been anything less than fantastic. He played well, but Dallas’ movement was the first thing an offense has done to trouble the Union’s superb center back this season. Valdes was non-committal when Castillo drove by him on the first goal, and he and Califf were out of sync on the second.
Danny Califf – 5
Again, you cannot say Califf had a very poor night. In fact, he distributed well. But on a team that has been so organized against so many talented teams, the way the team was shaken after the first goal is something the veterans should have dealt with.
Jordan Harvey – 4
Harvey has been very, very good this season. Even with a newly confident Califf next to him, Harvey is the Union’s most improved defender. This was not his night. Whether it was Chavez, Castillo or Jackson, Dallas was able to find space to get good crosses in from the right. Certainly Harvey cannot take full blame for this, but just as certainly he has to be the first one to answer when the danger comes so consistently from the right.
Justin Mapp – 4
You know how Harvey can’t take full blame for the poor defensive display down the right? Yeah. Mapp. He produced a much (muchmuchmuch) improved performance on the ball. He cut down on the extra touches and took the ball forward when he saw space instead of forcing it. Mapp had player of the game written all over him for the first 20 minutes, but he was stuck in go-go-go mode and failed to deal with Dallas’s pressure when it came.
Brian Carroll – 6
Another strong performance in the center of the park from Carroll. It is not a knock on Miglioranzi to say that Carroll is more comfortable with someone else as his partner. The two of them play the same position and Carroll looks like he is rounding into form after a few early screamers and an injury layoff. As the Union learn to use Carroll, it will open up his midfield compatriots to push forward more consistently.
Amobi Okugo – 5
Okugo had a fine first half but he and Roger Torres looked like teenagers for the second forty-five. Whether it was the drunken bet of a second half lineup that Nowak threw out or just that he was shaken up by the two Dallas goals against the run of play, Okugo struggled to find his footing. Yet I have trouble blaming Okugo for his poor decision-making. How often does a midfielder look up and find four strikers on the pitch? Your normal midfield passes are gone, and you take an extra second to orient yourself to the strange tactical alignment you see around you. Only the best midfield distributors will continue to thrive in unfamiliar setups. Okugo may be headed that way but he isn’t there yet.
Roger Torres – 4
Torres is out there to produce offense. He did fine for the first twenty, and he plays between the lines better than anyone else on the team. But it was Justin Mapp who really pushed the game in the beginning, and both he and Torres were somewhere between invisible and unwatchable when things went south. Mapp had the good fortune to exit at the half. Torres stuck around a while longer, dribbling into traffic, sliding into tackles, and finding – like Okugo – that he had no idea where to play the ball when he got it.
Danny Mwanga – 6
Mwanga was OK. Not great. He was not guilty of missing as many opportunities as some others, but that could be a good or a bad thing. When the offense is churning, it should be Mwanga on the end of good combinations. Le Toux’s touch has gone from The Matrix to Matrix: Revolutions, so Danny needs find and finish his chances. Mwanga did well at holding the ball and involving the midfield in the first half. He was as confused as everyone else for the rest of the game.
Sebastien Le Toux – 5
Last year he dragged a sub-mediocre offense behind him. Can we get just a taste of that in 2011? Don’t make me beg, Seba. I will beg. Ok fine. I’m begging. In French!? Uh ho…
Jack McInerney – 5
As a Liverpool fan, I have seen two strikers turned into outside midfielders in recent memory. Dirk Kuyt transformed from a scrappy, accurate, and prolific striker into a hard-running, accurate-crossing middie. Djbril Cisse went from a prolific, speedy striker with a questionable finish to a speedy, aimless winger without a hint of crossing ability. Jack McInerney looks closer to the Cisse mold. Sure, he will put in work on the wing. But the kid has the mindset of a finisher. He sees red around the box and won’t let anything stop him when he’s in a shooting mood. I am a fan of getting him more time on the pitch, but it should be up top not on the wing.
Carlos Ruiz – 4
I don’t feel like writing about Ruiz any more. I hope that Ruiz doesn’t waste time reading blogs, but if he reads this one he should let me know. I’ll go back to the vitriol of past weeks so he can tape it to his locker as motivation. Tell me what you thought of him against Dallas. Any positive signs?
Keon Daniel – 6
Daniel had very little effect on the game. He was the on-field equivalent of Elton John’s song “Daniel”. Not his best, but he could do a lot worse (does anyone in Philly like the song Philadelphia Freedom? And if so: Really? Really-really?)
I’m gonna go ahead and let Eli handle this one in his rant later today.
Gear up, fans. Your team needs a win. You’ve been a big part of their home success thus far and they need to know that you are still behind them after a string of tough results. PPL Park needs to be rocking well before the opening whistle on Saturday. Get there early and bring your grown up voices!
Photo: Paul Rudderow