In-depth analysis is probably not warranted after a pair of European friendlies that saw the visitors in lame form. Everton mailed it in like a cereal box UPC for a free beanie and if you looked at Real Madrid’s second half formation from a blimp, it spells out “aburrido.”
But let the follies of others take nothing away from a stouthearted, spirited and plucky (oh hey thesaurus!) showing by our hometown boys. For 170 minutes, the Union either matched or bettered their foreign opposition. And when we say the Union, we mean more than just the regulars; I’m pretty sure John Hackworth was moments away from giving Tasha Kai a run out against Everton. And anyone who follows the Independence knows she deserves it.
So if you want to know more about the individual friendlies, how they played out and the major talking points, check out the PSP’s Everton and Real Madrid match reports. Right here we’re talking individuals only.
Faryd Mondragon – 7
Not much for any of the goalies to do against Everton, and Mondragon was helpless to stop the two Madrid goals. But I think we can all be thankful that the captain was in goal for the first half against Madrid because his attitude and encouragement helped lift the team out of its early doldrums. Watching The Dragon drag his kids – in full mini-Dragon getups – across the pitch to take a photo with Ronaldo after the match was touching, although you wish they wanted to see Casillas more.
Zac MacMath – 8
No goals allowed for the first rounder. MacMath could have been hanging out with me (invitation always open!) instead of manning the pipes and he still would have had a clean sheet against the sorry efforts of Everton. The real test for the young American was a Ronaldo free kick that knuckled like it was hit by by Russ Tyler in Mighty Ducks 2. MacMath spilled a rebound, but given that he has probably rarely seen anything like that shot, it was a fine stop.
Thorne Holder – 7
He had the biggest save of the Everton match. A bodyblock on a deflected ball only inches in front of him. Thorne played well, but if he really is taking up an international spot, it’s hard to say he’s an upgrade over the Brad Knightons and Brian Perks of the world.
Sheanon Williams – 7
Sheanon comes out slightly above average. A mesmerizing performance against Everton in which he was the best defender on the pitch for the first half was followed by a horror-show eleven minutes to open the Madrid match. Sheanon’s recovery from that rough opening salvo from the Spanish giants coincided with the Union’s return to form. I doubt I was alone in thinking that The Sheanomenon would be spending much of the game in his own half as he struggled to deal with the speed and accuracy of Madrid’s passing game. But lo and behold, there was Sheanon crashing the box and barely missing a Le Toux cross. And the fullback would find himself involved in the buildup even as he faced off against Cristiano “I have eye-wrinkles around my mouth when I smile” Ronaldo.
Ryan Richter – 8
It’s quite possible that Richter only deserves a 7. But I’m hoping that John Hackworth only gives this post a cursory glance, sees the eight rating, and gets Richter into an MLS match soon. Big, hard-working and intent on playing it safe, Richter was comfortable on the ball when he got forward. Everton failed to test the converted fullback (just like they failed at everything else) so it’s hard to tell how Richter will respond to an extended offensive push by the opposition. With his athleticism and ability to get involved on both ends, Richter looks like a good late game option in a dire situation. Plus, that height might help the Union’s ugly set pieces.
Carlos Valdes – 4
He seemed pretty intent on scoring once he realized Everton had no intention of going forward. Now that he’s got that first tally under his belt, Valdes looks like he has a taste for it. The Real Madrid match was a mess. I expected Valdes to be a standout for the Union. He has dominated MLS strikers at times and this was an excellent opportunity for the Colombian to test himself against stronger competition. Well, the strong competition won. Whether it was Ozil’s mazy running or Karim Benzema’s power, Valdes was overmatched and showed less of his combative nature than we usually see.
Danny Califf – 7
It’s really hard to remember just how mediocre Califf was in 2010. He has to be the most improved player from the 2010 team, right? Or did you have someone else in mind?
Juan Diego Gonzalez – 5
A short showing against Madrid paired with a silly yellow card against Everton brings Gonzalez down. He wasn’t bad against Everton though, and it remains strange that Gonzo can’t get a sniff of a sniff of MLS action.
Stefani Miglioranzi – 7
Migs looks… good! He looks really, really good. Migs never looked this composed in midfield, and it’s a welcome change for a guy that has struggled to find his way into fans’ hearts even though he seems like a good dude.
Gabriel Farfan – 8
No doubt he was burned a few times against Madrid, but no goals come back to Garfan’s name. He keeps turning out solid performances with a touch of the special mixed in. The Farfan’s have been something to behold this season, with both playing all over the pitch. But it appears Gabriel has found a permanent home at left back.
Michael Farfan – 10
Come on now. You don’t get anything less than a ten when you play a one-two with Danny Mwanga, cut through the Real Madrid defense and chip the goalie from the edge of the 18. Marfan was a dynamic force from the moment he stepped on the pitch, taking on Madrid players wherever he could find them. The sheer, blind confidence of the virtuoso performance was a sight to behold. If the Union need just one good reason to find another outside back, let me offer: Do anything to keep Marfan out of the back. He’s an outside midfielder. A very, very good one.
Keon Daniel – 6
The Everton performance was a fine one, but Madrid was tough to watch. It was the first time all year Keon has looked stressed under pressure. It probably won’t become a pattern, but if you’re a fan you want to see Neon Keon out on the field again soon so he can keep the confidence high.
Justin Mapp – 6
Mapp is not the star/All-Star/leader that we sometimes pretend he is. But he’s a darn good midfielder when his head and his feet are on the same page. That happens… now and then. He will continue to create chances when he gets his moves and spacing right. And he will continue to give up possession and work back slowly on defense. Let’s hope we see Mapp the Weapon in the second half of the season, not Mapp the Missing.
Zach Pfeffer – 8
All three of the young studs were showing off in the Everton match. Pfeffer already moves like the ball was made for his feet, and a few years of seasoning and confidence-building will show whether he is the first world-class attacking midfielder the United States has produced since…
Jimmy McLaughlin – 8
Well that was unexpected. When McLaughlin makes his MLS debut, make sure you remind your friends about the time you saw him touch the ball around Leighton Baines and leave the Everton defender with his legs in knots.
Christian Hernandez – 10
He scored a goal. Against Everton. In his debut. Are you smiling right now? I am.
Brian Carroll – 7
Asked about following Ozil and Kaka around, Carroll just said that their first touch was great and their change of pace was ridiculous. He said it in a sort of bemused way, as if he had been standing next to me watching the game. Carroll’s consistency in front of the back four has been a huge part of the Union’s success. As a defensive presence, Carroll’s ability to hold the fort alone has allowed the Union to experiment in front of him.
Amobi Okugo – 6
When his confidence is low, Okugo’s first touch goes up, up, up in the air. The young midfielder has done a good job of keeping his position and not letting a bad pass or a faulty touch lead him into chasing the ball and leaving gaps behind. Good teams see those gaps as soon as they appear, and a counterattack up the exposed center of the pitch is something the guys behind you are quick to point out in the video room. When Okugo’s touch is on, he’s a ball-mover and he looks for the pass that others can’t see. We’ve seen too many of the signature emotional hand claps after misplaced passes this season. A few more full 90s and Amobi should emerge again.
Kyle Nakazawa – 3
That was a low point for Naka. Outmatched and nervous, he played nothing but one touch passes. Too often that meant Brian Carroll was left holding the bag when defenders closed in. Short passing is all well and good, but it has to be directed. As in: directed away from pressure. At least a shoulder shake to throw someone off!
Roger Torres – 8
Torres was fantastic against Everton, but he still struggles to stay within himself at times. You can tell how bad Torres wants the ball just by the way he moves when he’s feeling good. Checking back, moving with purpose and keeping the ball on the ground are all hallmarks of a good Torres performance. It’s strange, given how much Torres values his time on the ball, that he doesn’t show more interest in keeping it with his team. The precious passes are unnecessary for such a talented distributor. Also: Keep the ball down when you shoot!
Jack McInerney – 4
Jack Mac is simply too talented to play with so much hesitancy. He’s at the stage in his career where he should be transitioning from a straight-ahead attacker to a more nuanced player. We are definitely seeing those growing pains, as McInerney starts to see parts of the game he didn’t notice before (his ambitious backheel pass to Mwanga against Everton and some of the long and tricky passes he has tried in his recent starts). Whether Jack Mac can make this transition, or whether he backs off from this plateau and reverts to a simpler game will be the story of the player’s year. Let’s hope he takes his lumps and keeps moving forward.
Carlos Ruiz – 4
Didn’t see much of Ruiz in these friendlies. He played fine against Madrid, putting Le Toux through on net. But then he dribbled the ball into Casillas on a wide open breakaway. When you only play a half, that moment is going to define it.
Sebastien Le Toux – 7
Aside from a missed opportunity on the Ruiz feed, Le Toux played his game well against Madrid. At one point, the Frenchman comically chased Iker Casillas across the goalmouth. Le Toux has the biggest chance to benefit from this spell of friendlies. Even with a high assist total, the Frenchman won’t reach full effectiveness until he’s putting the croissant in the basket.
Danny Mwanga – 7
Mwanga’s shoving match with John Heitinga, his double stepover move on Fabio Coentrao… the kid is unafraid and understands that he needs to get stronger and faster to take his game to the next level. What is the next level? Clearly, it could be almost anywhere.