Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
The Union will take the three points, but John Hackworth’s side certainly looked vulnerable.
The naysayer might report that the Union got lucky. The supporter will say the home side finally got the bounces that went to their opponents earlier this year.
Either way, the Union looked well below their best as New England ripped through the spine of the Union formation time and again.
Just because Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot make runs in behind a defense does not mean the Union must look to them on each and every occasion. A great run can not only put a striker in on goal for a scoring chance; it can also serve to stretch a defense, creating pockets of space in the vacated territory. The term for this is a “decoy” run, but that’s not how the Union looked at the churning legs of their youthful strikers Sunday.
With each run came the ball, on the deck or in the air, the Union reverted to the ugly, direct soccer that had allegedly left Philadelphia with a certain ex-manager.
The clear lack of midfield control certainly forced the hand of the back four, with Brian Carroll and specifically Gabriel Gomez proving poor options on the outlet, forcing the Union defenders to pump the ball forward and bringing back a festering issue for the Union’s 4-3-3.
When it comes to the center of the pitch, the Union cede possession and territory. They are excellent when it comes to moving the ball along the back line and releasing their fullbacks up the wing, but in a three-man midfield setup (a fourth was even added at times), the Union struggle to build through the center of the pitch.
Whether Gabriel Gomez is still struggling for fitness or showing his true colors, the Panamanian captain has been lacking over the past month when it comes to work rate both on and off the ball. With Carroll the acknowledged ball winner, Gomez must provide offensive creativity to justify his selection. Michael Farfan has looked strong when he takes it upon himself to drop deep into his own half to receive the ball, but with Gomez and Carroll already sitting deep, his next options are thus limited.
If Hackworth continues with the 4-3-3, he must get production out of his box-to-box midfielder, the position Gomez is supposed to occupy.
Shoot the ball. It was the cry ringing around PPL Park as the Union’s young attackers elected the unselfish passing route when the ruthless, selfish path was the way to go.
For all of the talk of his resurgence under Hackworth, McInerney is still developing the confidence to contribute to the match throughout 90 minutes. His running in behind is excellent, but perhaps just as impressive is his willingness to drop into the midfield to receive a pass with his back to goal.
The next step for McInerney is to hold the ball for longer, as he often uses a quick one-touch pass to move the ball on before his defender even arrives to pressure. With no one on his back, McInerney will learn over time when it is appropriate to turn and face goal, driving forward where he can either play in a teammate, pick out a marauding fullback, or have a shot at goal himself.
And shots are mandatory at this point for the Union to convince defenses they are more than one-trick ponies. While decoy runs leave space between the defense and midfield, shooting the ball can provide the opposite effect. Once McInerney, Hoppenot and Co. begin to try their luck from the top of the box, center backs will no longer be able to drop off of them, waiting for the inevitable darting run in behind. Stepping up to challenge the shot, the defense is suddenly susceptible to runs in behind, and thus the Union can unbalance any opponent. It’s the logical next step for the young strike force and one that the coaching staff must drill into them in order to successfully round out the attack.
No more patience
The Union have a problem. His name is Freddy Adu. And to be completely clear, it is not a problem surrounding expectations or salary. Adu is simply not producing. Not just at a DP level, but at a journeyman MLS level. Adu has not bought into the style of play promoted by Hackworth. Worst of all, he is not showing the effort required of a professional.
The New England offense that visited PPL Park on Sunday may not be the most highly vaunted attack in the league, but don’t mention that to the eager, aggressive, tenacious group that played at PPL Park on Sunday. The Revolution ran circles around the stagnant Adu, who not only failed in his defensive responsibilities but never looked like contributing to the attack, walking around the pitch without any impetus to find space for himself and offer a target for his teammates.
Now it’s up to Hackworth to make the next move.
On a team where 10 guys on the pitch have bought into the program, continuing to run out the 11th, regardless of the reason, does not look good for the rest of the guys in the clubhouse.
Post-game press conference with Union Coach John Hackworth.
Post-game interviews with Gabriel Farfan, Jack McInerney, Michael Farfan, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams.
Zac MacMath – 4
Saer Sene hit a dipping, diving, spinning, curving bomb from distance. From distance. The final position of the shot was more or less where MacMath had set his feet when the ball was struck. It’s a save that must be made. Had MacMath looked sharp otherwise, it could be chalked up to a learning experience, but he didn’t. Whether it was a near-catastrophic miscommunication with Carlos Valdes or badly flapping at a cross in the first half, MacMath lacked sharpness and focus. Even on drives from Chris Tierney and Benny Feilhaber in the second half, the Union keeper made things more interesting than they needed to be.
MacMath needs to refocus before his defenders start to look over their shoulders at him.
Sheanon Williams – 7
Playing his best match since returning from a toe injury, he was quick to attack and pump balls into the box. Had his final cross of the night not found McInerney for the winner, there might have been suggestions that Williams focus on low, driven balls in front of his small, speedy strikers. He even showed some slick footwork when he slid between two defenders before smashing his effort on goal. When asked about the health of his injured toe and whether he was back to 100 percent, Williams said, “Absolutely not, I feel it every day.” Based on his performance, you could forgive the PPL Park faithful for assuming otherwise.
Amobi Okugo – 7
Continued to lead from the back when it came to calm, cool, collected possession and distribution on the ball. Stuffed the stat sheet with a team high 68 completed passes from 71 attempts. Still has the occasional mental lapse in his positioning, but makes up for it with well-timed saving tackles and an improving aerial presence. Like Williams before him, Okugo’s lack of height affects his play against large, physical strikers like Saer Sene and Kenny Cooper, proving that his future is in the center of the Union midfield, once Bakare Soumare is healthy enough to push him forward.
Carlos Valdes – 7.5
Against Montreal, Carlos Valdes’ stoppage time winner handed the Union all three points in a crucial home match. On Sunday night, Valdes saved the day again, this time sliding in to clear Ryan Guy’s stoppage time shot off the line to preserve the victory. Coming off a strong performance for the MLS All-Stars in midweek, Valdes again anchored a Union back line that has not conceded more than one goal at home in the league since May. He brought much needed physicality to a match where, unprotected by the midfield, the Union back four were forced to deal with a Revolution attack that arrived at full speed.
Gabriel Farfan – 6
Quieter than normal night from the left back as he was pinned back by the attacking threat of Sene. When the Union needed him to attack however, Farfan reacted well, sliding into the midfield and putting McInerney away with the pass that yielded the match tying penalty. With the Union’s carousel of formations on the night, Farfan had very little support on the left flank and was forced to cut the ball into the center of the pitch more often than he would have preferred.
Gabriel Gomez – 2.5
Slow, clumsy and ineffective on both sides of the ball, Gomez turned in his least effective performance in a Union shirt. Offered no outlet for the back four and insisted on flighting aimless balls into the box. Seemingly got the nod over Michael Lahoud for his offensive attributes, but displayed none of them on a night when he could easily have been hauled off at the half.
Brian Carroll – 4.5
Carroll’s job is to protect the back four. No matter the formation, this is his primary responsibility and given the way New England carved up the center of the pitch, Carroll deserves plenty of blame. He was caught ball watching when Feilhaber slipped in behind him to unleash one of his venomous drives and looked generally out of sorts alongside the lethargic Gomez. For some reason, Carroll decided he might find luck higher up the pitch but as usual found himself well outside of his element in the attacking third. At this point in their careers and the 2012 season, Gomez should be ceding to Carroll, not the other way round.
Michael Farfan – 6.5
Smart and influential on the ball, Farfan found space and spread the ball with good effect on Sunday night. After some first half jitters that saw him push too many balls directly forward, the Union playmaker was far more effective once Adu left the pitch, proving that he is warming to the task of central attacking midfielder. Like the great center midfielders in the game, he may not score the goal or even provide the final ball, but Farfan will be sitting in the middle of the pitch, making play happen. It’s an ongoing process though, and it will likely be a while before Farfan has the full confidence to mix his complete bag of tricks in with his excellent vision and distribution. Once he does, look out.
Freddy Adu – 3
Adu turned in another disappointing performance in which he was consistently outworked by the industrious Revolution midfield. Tucking in from the start with the speedsters McInerney and Hoppenot up top, Adu slowed play to a halt, failing to either play his forwards in or maintain possession. He has done little to justify his selection in recent weeks and has been consistently detrimental to the buildup play for the Union. Perhaps another week off when the team travels to Montreal is in order.
Jack McInerney – 7
Another strong outing for a player who looks keen to prove that he deserves the No. 9 on his back. While his runs behind have never been questioned, McInerney worked hard Sunday in the holdup game, dropping into the midfield to support Michael Farfan and Adu. He showed youthful impatience in playing one- and two-touch when he could have held the ball longer or turned on his defender. Finding the calm in his game to possess the ball rather than simply lay it off will force defenders to chase him when he drops into midfield. Add that composure and a few more shots from distance and McInerney suddenly becomes a very well-rounded forward, all before he is old enough to buy a beer.
Antoine Hoppenot – 6
Handed his first MLS start, gave all the effort that Union fans have come to expect from him, though the execution was lacking on the night. He got behind Soares and McCarthy with ease but could not find the footwork to keep the ball in front of him, shielding it from the recovering defenders. Hoppenot needs to show more patience on the ball to pick out trailing players on the cut back and to find his own shot. He was fortunate to walk away from Soares’ shocking tackle.
Michael Lahoud – 6
Replaced the sloth-like Gomez with his typical energetic performance. Showed improved vision and touch on the ball, completing more passes in 30 minutes than Gomez had in the previous 60. Recovered well in defense, pressuring Feilhaber and Nguyen, stopping their easy runs through the middle. When Lahoud plays at the tempo he did on Sunday, he can be a contributor for the Union.
Lionard Pajoy – 5
A few clumsy touches for the demoted Pajoy, but in the end worked hard to waste clock. Pressed high and possessed the ball in the attacking corners to see out the result.
Josue Martinez – 4
Did very little during his 8 minutes plus stoppage time. Had one shot, but it was easily blocked when the Costa Rican delayed his effort.
Edvin Jurisevic – 5
Made mistakes galore but split them relatively evenly between the sides. Two missed handballs in the box in addition to McInerney drawing a penalty despite being outside the area does not look good for Jurisevic. But where in the world were his assistants, both of whom had better looks than the referee on at least two out of three?
Could have let the match get out of hand when he failed to send off Soares for a clear red card challenge on Hoppenot, but turned around and let the Union have their moments of over-the-top physicality, as well.
So credit Jurisevic with being equally incorrect for both sides, balancing the ledger in the end.
Preferred lineup for Saturday’s match against Montreal at Stade Saputo
MacMath; Williams, Soumare, Valdes, G. Farfan; Carroll, Okugo, M. Farfan; Hoffman, McInerney, Pajoy