Photo: Barb Colligon
John Hackworth said it best after the game: These kinds of games may make great TV, but it’s not good soccer.
An ordinary, evenly matched first half led to DC United’s second half domination and an absolute meltdown that led to on-field chaos. The Union should be thrilled they left RFK Stadium with a point, because they did it against a very good team who are rightly furious they didn’t win the game outright.
Mark Geiger, the most famous ref in MLS
Mark Geiger may change games more than any referee in MLS.
He made the right call on the disallowed penalty kick.
It’s not clear he did on the disallowed Nick DeLeon goal. Hamdi Salihi, Zac MacMath and Gabriel Farfan all went equally for a loose ball. The foul on Salihi is a toss-up call.
And did anyone actually see specifically what earned Branko Boskovic a straight red while Gabriel Farfan and Roger Torres got only yellows? (If so, please share it.) United felt robbed in this game, and rightly so.
Further, the first yellow card on Sheanon Williams was ridiculous. Time-wasting in the 37th minute? Really? That’s a referee imposing himself on a game in the wrong way. The second yellow could have gone either way, but the debate should have been irrelevant. Instead, Williams will miss the Real Salt Lake match.
These teams always get very chippy when they play. They just don’t like each other. Williams and Gabriel Farfan are the Union’s worst offenders, while Brandon McDonald and Emiliano Dudar don’t help things for United. Even Danny Cruz and Lio Pajoy shoved each other, and they were on different teams a week ago.
If you want to maintain control of a game, you don’t do it by wasting cautions on something as silly as time-wasting. You give those cards early for the unnecessary elbows and harsh undercuts on aerial challenges so that you protect players’ safety. Those plays are what anger players most for 85 minutes and result in embarrassing spectacles like the ones that ended Sunday’s match.
The substitution that changed the match
Salihi came on for defender Dejan Jakovic in the 62nd minute, and it dramatically altered the game. Until then, United had deployed a back four that added nothing to the attack
Jakovic’s exit led to a defensive shuffle that shifted Andy Najar from midfield to right back, the position he played as a youth player, and cued the horde’s assault. Chris Pontius, Dwayne De Rosario, Salihi, Boskovic, and DeLeon are as talented a front five as any the league. When you add a monster on the flanks like Najar, it’s like breaching a dam and unleashing a river. United threw numbers forward that the Union could not handle. As good a midfielder as Najar is, his future may be as one of the most dangerous right backs around.
Gabriel Gomez was missed
As much as Gabriel Gomez has disappointed this season, the match was begging for him in the second half. Michael Lahoud seemed like a second yellow card waiting to happen the entire second half, and the United dominated in possession, holding the ball 64 percent of the second half.
Where was Gomez? Not in the 18, due to travel for the Panamanian international team, which scratched him for Sunday.
So Torres got the call instead and had an absolute nightmare game.
The situation didn’t call for Torres. It called for a steady holding midfielder without any cards. (Or alternately a defender who could allow Amobi Okugo or Gabriel Farfan to slide up to holding midfield, but shaking up the back line in the last 10 minutes wasn’t a great option either.) But Hackworth didn’t have one to spare. It may seem hard to believe, but for once, the Union’s options at defensive midfield were limited.
Alternatives to the Marf, Mac & Hop Show
The emergence of Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot and their connections with Michael Farfan keyed the Union’s great run in Hackworth’s first games as manager. McInerney and Hoppenot consistently made great runs behind defenses, and Farfan consistently found them open with well-timed through balls.
Teams have now seen enough of the new Union to recognize that is how the Union score goals, so they’ve adjusted accordingly. Stopping those plays is the focal point.
The Union’s attack options must broaden if they are to regain playoff team status. The Danny Cruz trade adds one option.
Another is Freddy Adu. He had some nice moments Sunday, including a dribble breakdown followed by a perfect cross to McInerney and a free kick that created a goal. He also single-handedly saved a goal.
Those plays, however, can be overshadowed by the times he slows down the attack, runs out of ideas, defaults to dribbling into traffic, loses the ball, dives, and then begs for a call he doesn’t deserve. Nobody likes a diver, least of all the hard-nosed fans of Philadelphia.
Right now, Adu looks like a frustrated No. 10 playing out of position and trying too hard to live up to high expectations, yet another damaged, misplaced piece of Peter Nowak’s legacy.
Zac MacMath — 5
MacMath made the routine saves. That should help his confidence, as he told me after the match. But he didn’t look confident when he said it. He looked shaken. He could have given up four goals if Freddy Adu, Hamdi Salihi and Mark Geiger hadn’t bailed him out. MacMath was partially at fault for not calling off Okugo on the own goal. Still, the scoreboard said he gave up just one goal against one of the league’s most potent attacks, and that’s what matters most.
Sheanon Williams — 5
His first yellow card was unfair. His second may have saved the game. But Williams got away with plenty of rough play that wasn’t cautioned. He seems to be compensating for his injury-depleted speed with rough play. He still doesn’t look 100 percent healthy, and it hurts him on both ends, his near-goal notwithstanding. Some day, the adversity he’s faced this season may give him the perspective to be a great team captain. He has battled all year, and even if the end result is a shadow of his capability, it’s helping his team.
Amobi Okugo — 5
Okugo was all over the field against United, but unfortunately, that included the own goal. Chalk that up to a well-placed free kick and miscommunication with MacMath. If not for that, this rating is a 7 or 8.
Carlos Valdes — 8
Like Okugo, Valdes made play after play. The highlight may have been a reverse header to clear a ball perilously close to goal in the second half.
Gabriel Farfan — 6
Farfan was good in possession and had a few nice moments of trickery. On defense, he faced a continuous onslaught of pressure down his wing once Najar moved to right back.
Brian Carroll — 6
Scored a goal, switched fields well, was steady in his passing. Still, he and Lahoud too often left a gap in front of the back line that Chris Pontius and Co. found holes in.
Michael Lahoud — 5
Lahoud was lucky not to get a second yellow card, because there were multiple plays on which it could have been justified. He was nearly flawless, if conservative, in his passing and showed his usual good energy to close down spaces once they opened, but there was, as noted above, the fact that those spaces opened to begin with.
Michael Farfan — 5
It may be that no team in MLS keys on Michael Farfan defensively as much as DC United. They effectively contained him, and his wings offered few options.
Danny Cruz — 4
Cruz had a few exciting moments, including some deft dribbling through a pair of United defenders during a first half sequence, and showed a good work rate. He was not in sync with his teammates, however, as would be expected for his first match.
Jack McInerney — 4
McInerney put himself in terrific position for two great chances but didn’t finish either. Otherwise, he had few touches. United clearly focused on him and Michael Farfan.
Freddy Adu — 5
Antoine Hoppenot — 3
Hoppenot was no surprise to United, who were seeing him for the third time in two months. His runs weren’t there. He completed just two of five passes and lost possession five times in about 33-plus minutes.
Roger Torres — 2
A nightmare game for Torres. After coming on in the 80th minute, he was called for a penalty and a yellow card in separate incidents, and he did nothing with the ball the few times he touched it. There are some games in which you can’t help but feel bad for a player.
Keon Daniel — 5
Steady in possession, as usual, but he continues to struggle in a formation that doesn’t appear to have a position for him.
The Geiger Counter
Matt Geiger — 3
See above. Enough said. Some correct calls, some not, all controversial. Typical Geiger.
Preferred Lineup for Friday’s match against Real Salt Lake
MacMath, Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, G. Farfan, Carroll, Lahoud, M. Farfan, Cruz, Adu, McInerney