Photo: Paul Rudderow
The record is broken.
No, not the Union’s 6-match winless streak. That is now up to 7.
It’s the frustrated refrain surrounding a coaching staff and group of players who seem to make the same mistakes week in and week out, mistakes that have been repeated ad nauseum.
These points have been worn down. Worn out.
Yet, as the Union floundered to another unsatisfactory result, this time against one of the worst team’s in the 19 year history of Major League Soccer, the complaints, evaluations and judgement of the team are no different.
With little to play for against a shambolicly organized opponent, John Hackworth, fresh off an extra week to work on his club’s piteous finishing, was gifted the opportunity to imbue his side with confidence, playing for the scalp of the wounded beast that is Toronto FC.
Instead, and fairly predictably, Hackworth clung to his two holding-midfield setup like a man who simply has not considered another option. And while Jack McInerney fought alone and in vain against another tandem of centerbacks, Hackworth watched helplessly while his two-man security blanket enjoyed the ignominious honor of being torn apart by the less-than-glittery names of Aaron Maund and Terry Dunfield.
Once Eric Hassli slotted Toronto into the lead, Hackworth responded immediately, bringing on Chandler Hoffman for Lahoud. It was a clear tactical substitution from a manager in dire need of a goal. Antoine Hoppenot followed Hoffman onto the pitch as Hackworth took a page from his predecessor’s playbook, throwing his entire allotment of strikers at the goal in a game where adequate chances were not being created, let alone finished.
Yet, in a match where playing for a point should never have been the initial objective, deploying more than one true striker should have been a requirement for a team who has looked to share the goal-scoring load throughout 2012.
The early talk of 4-3-3 and the attacking advantages of such a bold formation? The current version of the Union play no such formation. With Freddy Adu attempting to dictate play from the center of the pitch alongside Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz racing in from the touchline, Jack McInerney, or whichever striker is thrust into the center forward role, will always struggle.
The strength of the Union’s young strikeforce is racing in behind defenses, latching onto slicing through balls and clever lofted passes. And it is no secret. Not anymore, at least. When Hackworth took over for Peter Nowak and reintroduced McInerney to the playing surface, he took defenses by surprise. The lines and timing of his runs are fitting of a player many years his senior, but once defenses grew wise to his tactics, the Union failed to give him the support he requires to continue to grow as a player and, more importantly, keep scoring goals.
Union opponents need simply drop their defensive line an additional five yards to eliminate McInerney’s deep threat without fear of reprisal because the Union are well short of shooting options, with any pressure from the wing usually coming from opportunistic, mazy runs from the outside fullbacks. Danny Cruz’s energy in attack offers little help—despite his hustle and pace, the newest Union member generally begins his runs from both depth and width. Giving the defense time to converge on the diminutive winger, Cruz looks far better suited to take up a wide midfield role, working up and down either flank, smartly exchanging overlapping passes with his fullback.
Returning to a two striker look would not only relieve the immense pressure shouldered by McInerney in each match, it would also serve to sure up the team’s midfield coverage, likely making them a more sound defensive side despite the removal of a purely defensive player. The Union’s lack of width has forced both Carroll and Lahoud to stray too far from their comfort zones in the middle of the pitch (an all too familiar refrain), as there are simply no bodies out wide to play defense. A single defensive-midfielder setup would help to alleviate this problem as two dedicated players, a fullback and wide midfielder could pick up the defensive slack.
Sliding up and down the flank, the defensive assignments would be clear. This would help clean up the issues with cross-field coverage which see Carroll or Lahoud arriving late on the scene with, most recently, Toronto in full-flight. Preferably, both sets of wide players would retain their shape, starting in position to stop the build up of play, rather than scrambling frantically to cover an attack every time it is critical to do so. This was a major concern against Toronto as both Ryan Johnson and Reggie Lambe had time and space with the Union struggling to find and then check off on their marks with help often late to arrive.
All of this, of course, hinges on Hackworth’s willingness to make changes, drop the additional—and extraneous—second defensive midfielder, and play the game to score goals, and thus, win. As was the case in 2011, the Union have an excellent defensive record, trailing only Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders in Goals Allowed. With Brian Carroll protecting one of the league’s strongest back lines, the Union have more than enough defensive strength to allow an extra body to be freed up to attack. And if with only Chivas USA trailing the Union in goals scored, finding the back of the net must be the now-permanent Union manager’s sole priority.
The Union may be young, but it’s time to take off the training wheels, throw real numbers into the attack and see what happens.
Zac MacMath – 4
Bad footwork, ugly clearances, poor handling of high balls, and very little communication with his back line. MacMath looked frightened out there.
Sheanon Williams – 4.5
Fortunate to pound home the equalizer and dive in for a vital late tackle, as both moments distracted from a forgettable performance in which Williams was routinely shown up by the pacy and physical Ryan Johnson.
Amobi Okugo – 5.5
Far and away the Union’s best defender, Okugo was responsible for a number of important challenges, while also proving tidier on the ball then his mates on the backline.
Carlos Valdes – 4
Uncharacteristically sloppy, Valdes’ crazy travel schedule and busy week with the Colombian national team likely explains the captain’s rare off-performance.
Gabriel Farfan – 4
For one so eager to dish out the rough stuff, Farfan reacted far too petulantly when Reggie Lambe tried to take his shirt off. With Toronto attempting to bully the Union, Farfan should have acted as an enforcer. Instead, he let them into his head.
Michael Lahoud – 3
A picture of negativity, Lahoud took the air out of the Union attack on too many occasions, playing the ball needlessly backwards or putting his teammates into duress rather than space. Failed to play much defense either, with Toronto finding space wherever they pleased to roam in midfield.
Brian Carroll – 4.5
Too slow and reluctant in possession, Carroll also conceded territory to Johnson and Silva as the middle of the park became a happy hunting ground for Toronto’s attackers. Deserves credit for recovering smartly to twice intervene when a Toronto goal seemed imminent.
Michael Farfan – 5
Looked the best creative option throughout the match, joining Cruz as the only Union players to push the tempo. With Adu dropping into the center of the pitch, Farfan was forced to hunt elsewhere, and the Union’s attacking influence waned.
Danny Cruz – 5.5
If heart and tenacity counted on the scoresheet, Cruz would be a Golden Boot winner. Unfortunately it doesn’t and the winger’s account remains empty. Could have used a little support on any of his barnstorming runs, either to provide a passing option or to drag at least one defender away from the play.
Jack McInerney – 3
Largely invisible, though not entirely through his own doing. Some of his few moments of quality came from dropping into the midfield as, once again, the service to the striker was poor.
Freddy Adu – 3
Smart and quick on the ball, then overly-casual with his passing, before finally slipping into anonymity—and that was all inside of 25 minutes. Adu was unfocused and largely uninterested in the physical nature of the contest, failing to make his mark.
Chandler Hoffman – 5
Great vision to spy Hoppenot on the right flank for the Union goal. Hoffman had his eyes up throughout, looking to link up whenever possible, though he will need to be more selfish in future appearances to insure that he gets his name on the scoresheet.
Antoine Hoppenot – 5
Buzzed around, drew fouls and showed smarts to slide out to the right flank, where he was well positioned to drive in a dangerous, low ball for the Union goal.
Roger Torres – 3.5
Torres’ main contribution to the Union’s goal involved following up a poor set piece delivery with a driving run into the heart of Toronto’s defense where he ran out of options, laying off to Hoffman, who did the playmaking for him.
Silviu Petrescu – 0
As bad a performance as has been seen for the simple fact that Toronto looked to kill the game with cheap, cynical tactics and Petrescu missed every opportunity to control the match and so create a level playing field. With tackles ranging from unnecessary (Johnson’s rugby-tackle of Okugo), to dangerous (Johnson’s scissor tackle or Maund’s two-footed tackle from behind), to downright comical (Farfan getting yellow-carded—and thus suspended for yellow caed accumulation— for protecting himself from Johnson’s out-of-control leap), Petrescu got everything wrong. Toronto had plenty to gripe about as well, with Lahoud’s mugging of Hassli, only to see the call go the wrong way, chief among their complaints (though his reaction to the mistake was less that sportsmanlike).
A melee/fight/fracas was always inevitable because Petrescu’s silence encouraged violent play and he failed to penalize downright dirty moments (Hall’s two handed shove on Hoffman). With two MLS strugglers pitted against each other it was never likely to be a particularly appealing match, but in allowing all the shirt-grabbing, arm-pulling and extra shoving, Petrescu insured a contest bereft of flow and quality.
Preferred formation for Thursday’s night’s visit from DC United
MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Valdes, G. Farfan; Cruz, Carroll, Adu, Daniel; Hoffman, McInerney