Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Philadelphia Union would have taken a victory any way they could get it on the road against a Chivas USA team that, despite their poor home form, has looked much improved in 2012. That’s a good thing considering that, although they recorded their second consecutive victory and first road win of the season, the Union were largely outplayed by their hosts and suffered two important ejections which could hurt them badly in the coming weeks.
High pressure? Anyone?
With Chivas USA eager to control the tempo of the game through quick controlled passing building from the back, the Union simply conceded too much territory. In fact, both Heath Pearce and Rauwshan McKenzie were allowed to stroll over the midfield stripe before they met any pressure from the Union. Whether this was from a decision from the sidelines or on the field, it was absolutely ineffective.
During the Union’s struggles down the stretch in 2011, the concern was that they were dropping too far off their opposition, allowing them too much time to create and expose the Union, no matter how many bodies they had behind the ball. On Saturday night, a sharper team would have made the Union pay for their lack of pressure. While Peter Nowak deserves credit for keeping faith with his starting XI, the change in mentality from the Columbus game to the game in LA raises questions.
Set piece marking
Let’s hope this is not a case of “Here we go again” for the Union. The loss of Danny Califf in the aerial game was a huge loss for the Union and Alejandro Moreno, the lone Chivas striker for much of the match, managed to find far too much space in the box against the Union defense. The addition of Juan Pablo Angel, who latched on to a number of chances that fortunately fell wide or short of the mark, further emphasized the Union’s aerial deficiencies. With Carlos Valdes as the only defender standing 6 feet tall, it’s understandable that the Union might struggle with set pieces. With Western Conference leaders San Jose coming to town on Saturday, the Union defense will need to make sure their assignments are sorted out.
The troubles up front
It was another 90 minutes with zero shots on goal for Lionard Pajoy, as the Union’s lone striker continues to struggle in his offensive duties. True, he did not receive the quality service he had during the Columbus game, but with his heavy touch and poor angles of running, Pajoy never looked to be manufacturing anything for himself or his teammates. Further worrying is that, despite being pinned back for most of the match, the Union still managed to stray offside six times.
With a reshuffle of the lineup mandatory due to suspensions of Keon Daniel and Gabriel Farfan, now is as good a time as any for Peter Nowak to give Pajoy a spell on the bench, allowing the youngsters, and probably new signing Kai Herdling, a chance to show what they can contribute.
Zac MacMath – 7.5
It’s been 332 minutes since MacMath last conceded, with the first year starter getting his GAA back down to 1.00. While he would be the first to credit his defense as well, MacMath again commanded his box with authority and rose well to comfortably clamp down on balls in the air that might have given him trouble in the opening weeks of 2012. Confidence is everything for a young goalkeeper and right now, MacMath has it in spades.
Ray Gaddis – 6
Gaddis had a few nervy moments against Ryan Smith, but on the whole did well in his second professional appearance. He showed an impressive touch on the ball at times, with the Union knocking it around smartly in their back line. Going forward, Gaddis will need to work hard on his defensive positioning since he will eventually come up against a player who can match him for pace. Regardless, his play has been a welcome surprise.
Sheanon Williams – 7
Less physically dominant than against Columbus, Williams still put in a massive effort in securing a clean sheet for the Union defense. He would have gotten the better of former teammate Moreno on more occasions if the referee hadn’t been so easily deceived by the Venezuelan’s histrionics, but Williams still did well to hold his tongue and get back into the play.
Carlos Valdes – 7.5
No player has been more consistent for the Union than Valdes over the past two years. Whether its man marking the opposition’s top striker, or scrambling across to cover for his fullback, Valdes simply gets the job done. Covering up any errors or bobbles by his teammates with his speed and smart positioning, the Union’s stand-in captain was again the guiding force in another strong defensive performance. Despite Chivas USA laying siege to the Union’s final third, Valdes helped to insure that of the 21 shots fired, only 5 made it through to MacMath.
Gabriel Farfan – 4.5
A terribly unnecessary two-footed lunge saw Farfan sent off in the end, and you could see it brewing with referee Guzman failing to appropriately penalize Miller Bolanos for a series of absurd dives and off-the-ball garbage. Still, the increasingly combative Garfan must know the circumstance and be smarter, especially with the Union already reduced to 10 men. His ejection means the likely return of Porfirio Lopez to the starting lineup against San Jose.
Brian Carroll – 4.5
Carroll gave Nick LaBrocca far too much time and space, with the Chivas USA No. 10 always looking dangerous. As one of the Union’s veteran voices on the pitch, Carroll needs to be far more assertive in pushing the team up the pitch to create defensive pressure. Carroll is at his best when he is challenging players, winning the ball with his strength and physicality, not retreating from the point of attack, trying to force players one direction or another. He was missing the bite he showed against Columbus, though he was done no favors by his attacking teammates who failed to string enough passes together to keep the pressure off him for long.
Keon Daniel – 4
Completely out of character from the generally calm and composed Daniel, his wild lunge put the Union on the back foot for the final 15 minutes of the match and could have cost them dearly. Whatever set him off, Daniel must know better than to react in that manner and he will not be happy with his enforced spell on the sideline. Daniel wasn’t having a bad game when he was sent off though. Like his midfield teammates, he did not see anywhere near enough of the ball.
Michael Farfan – 7
Another match, another moment of Marfan magic, who cut the Chivas USA defense to shreds with his jinking run before crossing for Adu’s goal. He was also responsible for the Union’s other shot on goal, a pile driver that had to be well looked after by Dan Kennedy. Farfan continues to impress as he grows into the role of midfield creator. Now that we know what he is capable of contributing, the next step in his development is to be a consistent 90 minute provider. It’s a lot to ask of a second year player, but that is what it takes to become an elite playmaker in MLS.
Gabriel Gomez – 5
Union fans will not have been delighted to see Gomez react so angrily to being substituted for a second match in a row, but considering he spent so much time trying to get himself forward rather than sitting in midfield and dictating the play, it was hardly surprising. He failed to get himself on the ball as often as in past matches, completing a paltry 18 passes in 71 minutes of work. With Chivas USA completely controlling play through the center of the pitch, Gomez is one player who must raise his hand as having a subpar performance, losing out on his man-to-man battle with Oswaldo Minda. At least he didn’t get another yellow card.
Freddy Adu – 5.5
It was good to see Adu get off the mark for 2012 when he opportunistically pounced on James Riley’s mistake, tucking home off the post with a neat backheel. Still, no game in which Adu is most often sighted tracking back on defense will go down as a great performance for the Union. With Bolanos getting the best of the Union’s left flank, legally or divingly, Adu’s influence was limited simply because he did not have enough touches to make a difference in the possession game. He must do a better job of acknowledging his team’s struggles and drop deeper to knock the ball around, helping his team to control the pace of the game.
Lionard Pajoy – 2
Watching Pajoy lose the ball and then retreat into his own half is beginning to get irksome. Constantly knocked off the ball, or simply taking a bad touch to lose it, Pajoy ended some of the Union’s most promising moves and failed to hold up the ball with the consistency required to allow his teammates to stream forward. It is hard to understand why the Union coaching staff continues to keep faith with a player who is averaging one shot on goal every three matches.
Amobi Okugo – 6
Over the last two matches, Nowak has turned to Okugo as his closer, with the youngster bringing speed and steel to the midfield when the Union need to see out a result. He again brought the goods in LA, joining Brian Carroll to clog up the center of the pitch and even used his fresh legs to get forward on occasion, stemming the tide of the Chivas USA pressure.
Chris Albright – 5
A big body to deal with crosses and clear his lines in the final 10 minutes, Albright did the business for the Union.
Jack McInerney – N/A
Not on for long enough to earn a rating, McInerney did display veteran headiness in the final moments of the game. Electing to dribble towards the corner to kill the clock rather than try his luck on goal, he was rewarded when Bolanos fouled him by the corner flag, ticking down the final moments of the match. Smart stuff from the youngster.
Juan Guzman – 5
While he was correct in awarding both red cards against the Union, Guzman clearly incensed the Union players and coaching staff by completely buying into Moreno’s diving tactics. Sheanon Williams will still be wondering what he did wrong when Moreno gripped him up, then tackled him and still won the free kick outside the Union box late in the match. Similarly, the fact that Miller Bolanos was allowed to remain on the pitch after being twice called for diving and a rash of off the ball incidents without seeing so much as a caution clearly had the Union seething.
Still, both red cards were completely unnecessary and the lack of discipline shown by the Union must not be chalked up to anything other than their own lack of focus. Yes, the red cards did not effect the final scoreline on the night, but they will result in the Union missing two key starters for multiple matches.
Further, Peter Nowak’s own reaction was totally out of bounds, plain and simple. Yes, Farfan’s challenge happened directly in front of the Union manager, but that still gives him no right to enter the pitch. No doubt the league will spend some time mulling over Nowak’s conduct before they issue their verdict, and the Union must swallow their pride and abide by whatever punishment comes their way. No matter the provocation by their hosts, it was their own behavior that was unprofessional and inappropriate on Saturday night.
Preferred lineup for newt week’s match against San Jose
Pajoy’s been ineffective and the Union will be missing both Keon Daniel and Gabriel Farfan. With the Western Conference leading Earthquakes coming to town, there’s no need to upset the apple cart with a new formation when direct substitutes can be made to maintain consistency.
MacMath; Williams, Califf, Valdes, Lopez; Carroll; Marfan, Gomez, Adu, Herdling; Mwanga.