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Analysis and player ratings: Union 1-2 Earthquakes

Photo: Nicolae Stoian
Video: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Saturday’s home game against the depleted West Conference leading San Jose Earthquakes should have been a chance for Philadelphia Union to jump on their weakened guests and claim a third consecutive victory. Instead, the Union started tentatively, conceding possession and territory in the first half and looking tremendously disorganized in the process.

What are you afraid of?

In his postgame press conference, stand-in manager John Hackworth discussed a halftime adjustment that pushed the midfield higher up the park, creating improved pressure on the ‘Quakes and allowing the Union to dictate the pace of the game. That’s all well and good strategically, but why did it take so long for the Union to try and seize control of the match? At home and on a win streak seems the perfect time to attack an opponent, especially one that had to travel across the country to play. Add to that San Jose’s injury tally, with speedsters Shea Salinas and Marvin Chavez both missing from the starting XI, and the ‘Quakes attack shouldn’t have struck fear into the hearts of the Union coaching staff.

But the Union, as they have done in recent wins against Columbus and Chivas USA, allowed their opponents the lion’s share of both the ball and the field. San Jose is a much better team than either of those two sides though, and Frank Yallop’s men have the confidence that comes from their recent excellent run of form. Given 90 minutes to run at the Union defense, it was only a matter of time before they found the breach, because the Union simply spent too much time defending and chasing the game.

Route 1

The coach may deny it, the players do not like the sound of it, but the Union are beginning to develop an identity. And it’s not a good one. After being forced to sit deep and defend valiantly for the majority of matches, the Union attackers have begun to treat every spell of possession as a mandatory time to sprint headlong up the pitch in search of a look at goal. While it doesn’t necessarily sound bad to take an all-out attacking mentality, the Union are attacking at the expense of controlling the match and ball. Simple square passes and the switching of fields have been foregone in recent weeks, with the likes of Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan preferring to drive every ball down the heart of the pitch, powering forward like a bull in a china shop.

With the defense in dire need of chances to regroup against the unceasing San Jose attack, ball possession became paramount. Yet the entire Union midfield was guilty of treating every touch too preciously, as if it would be their last and therefore must lead directly to a goal. While San Jose was content to play catch deep in the midfield between Tressor Moreno and Sam Cronin before they launched their attack, the Union enjoyed few such periods as they chose to go it alone, attacking one-on-the-house, trying to create a moment of individual brilliance at the expense of team cohesion.

Get your head on

This could have waited for the player ratings, but it seems worth mentioning sooner than later. Gabriel Gomez’s goal-scoring celebration was cringe-worthy on so many levels. When he equalized in the 83rd minute, the game was not won. No points had been secured. Nor was his effort one of particular individual magic. Latching on to the excellent work done by his teammates, Gomez put the ball in the back of the net. It was quite utilitarian in fact.

At first, it appeared he would make the correct statement, peeling away from teammates to grab the ball, bringing it back to half where the Union could get after the business of riding their momentum to a match-winner. Instead, he vaulted the signage, tore down the Panamanian flag and went for a pointless jog with it wrapped around his shoulders. True, it is an Olympic year, but those type of celebrations are best reserved for an athlete who just conquered the world, not one who tied a very winnable game with ten minutes still to go.

The fact that referee Baldomero Toledo somehow forgot to card Gomez is the only silver lining to come from this situation. For a player who is only two yellow cards away from a mandatory suspension, Toledo made a blatant mistake in not cautioning the Panamanian. Philadelphia fans can rejoice that his seemingly inevitable suspension has been delayed at least by a week, but Gomez should have known better.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhxRxbHGZZ0&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQgtMPB1ysA&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVWrJsju_00&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath -6

The shutout string was eventually going to come to an end, and MacMath said all the right things after the match: “No, not really worried about that. I’m more worried about not getting the result tonight; that was the most frustrating thing.” Still, it is hard to not feel for the young goalkeeper, who was well up for the occasion, especially in the first half when San Jose was directing one-way traffic towards his net. In the end, neither goal (nor the Opara effort that was incorrectly ruled out) can be pinned to MacMath, as Lenhart evaded the attention of multiple Union defenders to bury both of his goals.

Ray Gaddis – 4

Not the best night for the rookie, as Simon Dawkins proved a handful. It was especially hard for Gaddis, because he was offered very little by way of midfield support, forcing him to cope not only with Dawkins, but also the continuous attacking forays of fullback Justin Morrow. Still, he will be disappointed in some of his own positioning and decision-making, not to mention some poor turnovers playing the ball out of the back. No doubt he will be keen to shake off this result and get back after it against Seattle. This performance was not his best,but  there is nothing in it to suggest the Union should make any defensive changes in Gabriel Farfan’s remaining two matches away.

Danny Califf – 5

Back from injury, Califf wasn’t having that bad a game until the Lenhart-Chavez substitution gave San Jose an extra gear. He’ll receive criticism for being beaten by Lenhart in the air for the crucial match-winner—and rightly so—but having been forced to defend so doggedly for the entire match with very little let off, there’s no sense in making too much out of it.

Carlos Valdes – 6

It’s the same week in and week out from Mr. Consistency. Valdes and Califf kept Chris Wondolowski at bay for 90 minutes, which is no small feat. He seemed bemused by the Gretzky-esque treatment Wondo received from referee Toledo but still got his shots in on the dangerous San Jose hitman. With a goal in demand, he was able to spend a few minutes happily foraging up front for goal-scoring opportunities, though none came his way. Another solid effort in a growing string of them for a player not being talked about enough on the national stage.

Sheanon Williams – 4.5

Williams gave a lot of effort in the Union backline but was exposed for his extreme right-footedness. For a player with Williams speed, that doesn’t matter too much, but he did turn the ball over too many times and looked slightly out of his depth playing his fourth position in 2012.

He had a hand in trying to defend both goals and while he threw his 5’8″ frame around admirably in two matches at centerback, Steven Lenhart proved a different animal. With Gabriel Farfan suspended for two more matches though, the Union do not have a better option at left back, as Porfirio Lopez no longer seems viable and Cristhian Hernandez’s conversion is far from complete.

Amobi Okugo – 6

The only midfielder who looked remotely interested in ball possession, Okugo did his best to knock the ball around, trying to control the tempo and bring players into the match. Still, he could not get enough touches with his teammates only having eyes for attack. As he matures into the role, must do more to demand the ball and take ownership of the midfield, but that will come with time and experience. Once he was allowed to roam higher in the second half, he had more influence and nearly put Pajoy away for the opener with a deft chip that the striker somehow failed to corral.

Defensively, he got stuck in and patrolled the center of the pitch well, breaking up San Jose’s possession and quickly distributing. The Union should be in no rush to get Brian Carroll back into the team if Okugo continues to play like this.

Freddy Adu – 3

Dancing Freddy beat out passing Freddy on a night where Adu appeared to feel the need to turn every single touch into a goal. It’s an absurd notion, but whenever the ball made it’s way to Adu, he took it as a one-way ticket towards the San Jose net. If Adu was playing as a striker, like the Union lineup card suggests, his desire to create and score goals would be welcome. But where he is playing on the pitch, as a midfielder, he must begin to take part in the possession game if the Union are to find their feet and keep hold of the ball. At this point in the season, his game is entirely one-dimensional, with defenses unimpressed with his step overs and no support needed for his defender because there’s only one direction he is going with the ball.

Additionally, it was extremely disappointing to see Ray Gaddis working so hard to get up the pitch, only to see Adu time and again go a different direction, failing to reward Gaddis for his positivity with a ball played into the corner.

Michael Farfan – 4.5

Frustrated throughout, Farfan seems to be growing annoyed with the lack of chemistry between himself and Pajoy. Still jinky as ever, he was unable to use his skills on the ball to fashion clear cut chances on Saturday night. Along with Adu, he needs to take his foot off the pedal and calm the match down with simple passes, rather than always going for goal. He worked hard on defense to try and get up up the pitch to pressure the center backs and holders for San Jose.

Kai Herdling – 5.5

A strong debut for the Hoffenheim loanee, Herdling showed an excellent work rate and was eager to get on the ball. He did force the issue a little too frequently when a simpler option would have been better, but its hard to fault the German for wanting to impress on debut, as he also worked hard to track back on defense. With Keon Daniel due to return from suspension in Seattle, Herdling could be deployed more centrally, giving the Union another well-cultured pair of boots in the middle of the park. As he adjusts to MLS, Herdling will need to work harder on keeping his feet and fighting through challenges, as he took some theatrical tumbles that were never going to earn a call from Toledo.

Gabriel Gomez – 6

Up and down from Gomez, who is becoming a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde player. When he is on, Gomez is quick to the ball and quick to release it, but when he is off, as he was for much of Saturday’s match, he is clunky and ponderous in possession, lingering too long on the ball, seeking out the perfect pass rather than simply keeping the ball moving. When it mattered though, Gomez delivered, coolly slotting home the equalizer in the 83rd. The celebration that ensued, as mentioned above, was premature and looks even worse in light of the events that transpired in the match’s dying moments.

Lionard Pajoy – 1

It has been three matches since Pajoy has put an effort towards goal of any kind. Additionally, with only 2 shots on goal to his name, Pajoy is averaging 1 SOG every 307 minutes (or 3.4 matches). This simply is not good enough from a striker who can no longer claim to have inadequate service. While it is true that he does beat a lonely path up top for the Union, a target striker has two very basic jobs. First, he must hold the ball up, allowing his midfield to advance, providing support. Second, he must make runs and find space in which to receive the ball, whether that is in the creation of a goal-scoring opportunity or tracking down a ball he can deliver to a teammate. If he ever finds himself running alone against a pack of defenders, his job is simple. Stop. Step on the ball, and wait for the support to arrive.

Right now, Lionard Pajoy is failing at the basic tasks that make up his job. Offensively, he still has found no chemistry with his teammates. Even when they read each other, he lacks the pace to chase down a through ball. With his back to goal, he cannot win the ball in the air, and defenders have no difficulty in taking the ball when it is at his feet. On the other side of the ball, Pajoy retreats to the center circle, forcing Gabriel Gomez and Michael Farfan to race past him to provide defensive pressure.

His lack of work rate, pace, quality angles of running, and touch are more glaring with each passing match, and it is becoming clear that Pajoy must be sacrificed if the Union are to try and shake off their offensive woes.

Substitutes

Jack McInerney – 3

Playing as a withdrawn striker rather than high up the pitch where he’s most comfortable, McInerney looked very unsure of himself with the ball at his feet. Staring down the San Jose defense, his decision-making left a lot to be desired, as did the crispness of his passing, which failed to find its target or put a teammate under unnecessary pressure.

A telling moment of his lack of chemistry with Pajoy came as he streaked into the area from the right flank. Looking for Pajoy to initiate a run, McInerney delayed, waiting for his partner to announce his intentions. His eventual service went straight to Jon Busch. While it would be easy to look at the play as a poorly struck pass, which it was, it must also be remembered that at no point did Pajoy’s “run” take him closer to Busch’s goal than the penalty spot.

Danny Mwanga – 6

Mwanga did more to help his team score in 8 minutes than Pajoy has done in the last four matches. He:

  1. Gathered and possessed a ball out of the air when he trapped Sheanon Williams cross on his chest.
  2. Showed physicality to hold off defenders in the box.
  3. Did not panic and try to go it alone.
  4. Found a teammate in a better position and provided the perfect ball.

The only question is whether that will be enough to earn Mwanga a start to Seattle. The answer should be yes.

Cristhian Hernandez – 4

Pulling Gaddis definitely sent the wrong message, as the rookie has worked his socks off in proving that he can be a player in MLS. Hernandez is not a left back. His inclusion in this match did very little to forward the Union cause, and his positioning (debatably in defense or midfield) did more to destabilize the Union than it did to improve them.

Geiger Counter

Baldomero Toledo – 4

The two biggest mistakes by the refereeing team, the completely incorrect offside call on Ike Opara’s goal and the failure to card Gomez for his celebration, both favored the Union, yet Toledo’s performances always leave a sour feeling behind. With Wondolowski getting superstar treatment while Michael Farfan was being kicked up and down the park, consistency was lacking in a big way. Additionally, Toledo’s belligerent, Geiger-esque demeanor only serves to add fuel to any fires started amongst the players, and there is simply no reason for it to be that way.

Preferred Lineup for next week in Seattle

4-1-4-1

This formation can work. All that’s needed is a little more pressure, a little more composure, and a lot more Mwanga.

MacMath; Gaddis, Califf, Valdes, Williams; Okugo; Gomez, Herdling, Marfan, Daniel; Mwanga

28 Comments

  1. As happy as I am with the ability of these coaches to procure young talent, I am equally as unhappy with this coaches inability to play with sound tactics and take advantage of individual players’ strengths.
    Is it too early to start looking at blue chip coaching prospects? There is no doubt a better tactical coach could get this team to play so well. We have talent.

  2. I liked it that Herdling got a header on a corner; missed but looks promising.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Very good point. That was a big boy run. Sat low by the post until the defense slept on him and then slid out and made space. Very heady stuff. Next time hopefully he’ll find the target…

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    I thought the pass to Opara was offsides, although I didn’t see it enough times to be sure. Also, I think Lenhart may have leaned himself offsides on the first goal, even though that wasn’t called. I believe the rule is that if any part of the body is in an offsides position, he should be called offsides and I think he was already leaning when the pass was made.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Having watched both goals a bunch of time, I’m pretty convinced that they were both good goals. Say what you will about the mop, but he really knows how to attack a ball in the air.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Lenhart was stellar in his half hour on the pitch. Maybe we should try to sign a sizable striker, instead of 35 attacking midfielders…nah, that wouldn’t fit in with our philosophy.

    • Definitely onside. I wondered the same thing as you, so I watched the video a few times, and the instant replay had a good angle. Check out http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2012-04-28-phi-v-sj/highlights?videoID=183788.

      • It was the correct call. Opara was behind Hernandez when the pass was made. The rule states “A player is in an offside position if he is closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender (which is usually the last outfield player)” So the last defender is the Goalie and Hernandez is the second to last on the play. When the ball was headed Opara was behind Hernandez.

  4. T of the U says:

    You nailed the player ratings. Quick question though, is a 0 possible? If so, please revise Pajoy’s rating from 1 to 0. Mwanga better start next week…this is getting pretty old. Completely agree with your starting XI next week, and I agree that the 4-1-4-1 can work for the Union.

    I actually see the formation morphing into a 4-1-3-2 as the season progresses though. Mwanga and Serious Pace(JackMac or Martinez) up top – Carroll or Okugo at holding mid (whichever is in better form), Daniel, Marfan, Herdling/Adu across the middle. And our usual back four, as long as Garfan comes back with a cooler head and just plays the game.

    • I agree that Mwanga has to start for a good stretch of games. I fully believe that he would have scored on the opportunity that Pajoy botched. In my opinion, Pajoy just lacks skill. Mwanga has plenty of skill, but little experience. It seems like a common sense switch to me.

      • T of the U says:

        One other thing I forgot to mention…Marfan did not impress me much on Saturday. Aside from that chip that almost found the upper 90…he showed little. Lost control of the dribble far too often, which as Eli said, while running headlong right at the defense with no real plan. Also, far too many errand passes for a attacking mid…behind target, right at defenders, far too heavy a touch. It sounds so basic, since he’s a professional, but he really needs practice on his passing. His creativity and skill cannot be denied…he just needs to improve on the basics to keep the attack moving forward

        • The Black Hand says:

          I agree. I think Marfan lacks some fundamentals of football. In fact, you could sum up the entire club with lacking fundamentals. Good positioning, and intelligent ball movement, will beat flashy skills every time. We need to learn to play basic team oriented football. Too many times, we rely on individual efforts.

  5. The Black Hand says:

    Solid ratings this week. Fair assessment of the back line. They got beat up a bit this week. I think Califf’s conditioning may have led to his poor performance late in the game. Gaddis got taken advantage of, by a smart team. Valdez did as Valdez does. Shaenon had a rougher adjustment to the left, than he did at CB. I didn’t notice Okugo’s versatility, as much as others. I guess I need to watch the replay this week. I feel that Carroll might cover more ground horizontally, lessoning the need for outside midfielders to come back and defend. The rest of the midfield was terrible. Gomez had moments. Yes, he scored a goal (deflected off of a defender, otherwise was heading for the keeper), but failed to generate much more. The celebration was embarrassing. Adu was just bad. He seemed to be happy relishing his accolades from the lucky goal, scored the week before. Marfan made more poor decisions than good. He headed a 3 on 1 attack, in the waning minutes. Instead of playing a ball through to his other attackers (who would have been in uncontested), he chose to fall over…hoping to get a free kick. Herdling showed skill at times, but I feel he was ineffective for the most part. Pajoy’s rating of one…was far too generous. He MUST sit. Jack Mac was a ball of useless energy. He runs around a lot, falls, turns the ball over and then falls again. Mwanga showed that he is the heir to the striker position. MacMath deserved a higher ranking. He made some big time stops and was the only reason we were anywhere near stealing the draw. Overall, the Union was outclassed by San Jose.

  6. Overall I agree with most of the ratings you posted, but I think McInerney could have been a higher rating. While he did not have the best game ever, when he was introduced there was an immediate change in the energy of the game. He also dropped deeper in the midfield to collect the ball and help the midfield move forward and get into attack. This was something that was lacking while he was not on the pitch. Also can we trade Pajoy for Lenhart, I hate watching him play against us, but I would love having him on our team, hounding the other teams back line.

  7. MikeRSoccer says:

    I have a question on some game day stats so I figured PSP would be the place to ask it. Are there any stats out there that would shed light on exactly how involved Pajoy is in the game? Such as his passes completed, attempted and how many times he was dispossessed. Maybe even stats on his success rate on 50/50 balls? I just want to see in clear statistics whether or not the offensive anemia is down to him or a lack of service. On face value I would say it is him, but seeing some hard evidence would be really interesting. If he is receiving a good number of passes, has a low completion rate on passes and is losing most 50/50 battles then it’s clear that the problem is him and his shots on goal reflect that, but if he is averaging around the same amount of passes received, completed and comparable 50/50 ball success then the issue is probably one that a personnel change will not solve. (Unless it’s down to confidence and chemistry, which it very well may be.)

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Here’s what’s available on Pajoy from the Chalkboard:
      Successful passes – 11
      Unsuccessful passes – 5
      Tackled and possession lost – 5
      Passing accuracy – 68.8%
      Successful flick on – 0
      Unsuccessful flick on – 0
      Through ball – 0
      Layoff – 4
      Header – 2
      Successful cross – 0
      Unsuccessful cross – 0
      Key pass – 0
      Assist – 0
      Goal – 0
      Shot on target – 0
      Shot off target – 0
      Blocked shot – 0
      Headed shot on target – 0
      Headed shot off target – 0
      Recovery – 3
      Every other Chalkboard category – 0
      No stats available on Chalkboard for how many passes were directed at him or success rate with 50/50 balls.

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        Thanks a lot Ed. I was just going over the past couple games on MLS Chalkboard after I saw your response. Interesting to note that Pajoy is 0/7 in the past two games dribbling, but more interesting is Adu’s stats. Obviously statistics are not everything, but over the past two games Adu is 2/5 on successful dribbles and his passing accuracy has hovered in the 55-60% range. He also is tied with Marfan for giving up possession the most out of the midfield/strikers the past 2 games. Given his what should be DP salary none of those stats are exactly living up to expectations.

  8. MikeRSoccer says:

    Also, I found it very funny that Herdling was deployed as a LM and as a RM in the game despite the fact that all the information out there lists him as a CAM or CF. What is Nowak’s obsession with deploying centrally focused players on the wings? I honestly believe that a lot of the offensive issues we are having comes down to the lack of a CAM. If we are going to deploy a single forward set up we need someone besides a CDM to distribute the ball around in the oppositions half. Herdling looked at his best when he drifted into the middle and moved the ball around the top 5 yards outside of SJ’s 18. I can remember a number of smooth passing moves and threw balls that he delivered in the first half when he drifted into the middle. For the first two seasons we bemoaned the fact that Nowak refused to use any width. We all remember his love affair with the 4-2-2-2, but now he seems totally obsessed with wing play and we have lost the center of the field. Until the second half Okugo wasn’t pushing up to take control of the midfield and we essentially had Gomez as the lone player in the center of the field besides Pajoy up top. Adu, Herdling and Marfan were hugging the sides and drifting into the middle, but often times we would move up the sides and have no one in the middle to pass to or only have one person in the middle who would immediately be dispossessed. The goal we scored happened because we actually had someone in the middle to receive a pass.

  9. I agree with almost everything but 3 things…

    1. Mcinerney was not a 3. I thought he was more aggressive and was good on the ball. I agree with the earthquake commentators said the offense was doing a lot better when he came on.

    2. I would give freddy a 5. Sometimes he went crazy with shooting but i dont think thats thay bad. At least hes shooting. And some of his chances werent so bad. I agree we need to focus on possession but sometimes players hold on to the ball forever and dont shot when the can and adu didnt do that which i appreciated.

    3. Mwanga by himself? I dont like that. He needs help. I say mcinerney

    • Or herdling as striker with mwanga.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I saw Jack Mac complete one positive play…one. It was a cut to the middle of the pitch, in which he eluded the defender with his speed. He then turned the ball over promptly to San Jose. Every other touch, that I saw, was dispossessed. His speed can be utilized after the 85th minute, but aside from that I don’t see Jack Mac being the answer. Adu is a highly gifted player, no questions there. He had two nice looks on goal. More often, he failed to generate any positive play. Mwanga up top alone looks a hell of a lot better than Pajoy up top alone, right now. If we were to play two strikers, I’d pair Pajoy with Mwanga. He has skill as a striker. He might be a different player, when paired with another. We really missed Keon. He keeps his head and takes time to allow plays to develop. We needed some of that out there.

        • One is a lot more than Pajoy has this season.
          And this is part of the problem I have with critiquing these young players who are subject to the inhuman treatment that is Nowak’s system. Jack hasn’t played in what, 5 games? And when he last did it was probably as a sub, and most likely in a different position in a different lineup with different players. I am still learning soccer, but I would find it hard to believe jerking a young player around like that is the best way to mold a youngster.
          Hell, the fact that Jack even managed that ONE “positive play” you described should be considered a good sign for the kid thath e was able to make something happen. Which is more than you can say for Pajoy these last 3 games.

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  11. NuggerZ8 says:

    right now we are 2-4-1
    lets look at the next 10 games
    @Seattle – loss
    New York – loss
    @Dallas – loss
    @Toronto – win
    DC United – loss
    Kansas City – loss
    @Houston – loss
    @LA Galaxy – loss
    Toronto – win
    Montreal – win

    thats 3-7 in the next ten games.
    Overall record 5-11-1
    I’m sure there will a couple of ties in there too.
    This season is not looking too good.

    • DarthLos117 says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing today…strap your seat belts boys and girls…I will be a full blown alcoholic by the end of the season…

  12. You mean you are joining the Bearfight Brigade?

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