Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Against a lethargic Houston side who seemed to sleepwalk through the opening 60 minutes of a match they desperately needed, Philadelphia Union found their feet, and more importantly, the back of the net.
A word on Thursday
It is hard to understand what John Hackworth saw out of his players that led him to formulate Thursday night’s game plan. Pairing a speedy, but very small, forward trio, with a methodical midfield more prone to the long ball than to anything on the deck, it was a lineup that seemed doomed from its announcement. And, in fact, that was exactly the case as Daniel seemed nervous to pull the trigger while Gomez’s lofted distribution was meat and drink for McDonald and Jakovic. With little to offer offensively, the pair’s defensive shortcomings made their selection even more baffling and neither was quick or committed enough to offer Brian Carroll adequate support, leaving him to mop up far too much territory. Ben Olsen’s side brought very little too the table themselves, but whenever they chose to turn on the class, they found acres of space through the center of the park.
Almost defiantly after Thursday’s experimental lineup laid another offensive egg, Hackworth returned to his preferred setup, with one major wrinkle. After appearing to grow visibly frustrated on the pitch, Jack McInerney was moved to the bench in favor of Josue Martinez. The young Costa Rican striker responded to the promotion in the same manner McInerney had when Hackworth took over as the Union’s manager. With pacy runs and tenacious chasing of the play, Martinez appeared a player set free, yet unlike McInerney, early on Martinez failed to finish. Open looks went begging as he overdribbled, electing to put his head down rather than shoot. When confronted with only Tally Hall to beat, he froze, rolling a weak effort into the Dynamo keeper’s outstretched leg, a golden chance where he simply must do better.
While he did get himself on the score sheet late in the match, poking home a ball after straying offside hardly gave Martinez the look of a predator, even though the goal would count. His overall effort coupled with his 71st minute tally means Martinez will likely earn himself at least one more start. Union fans will hope that his well of confidence was replenished following his performance on Sunday.
With Adu playing forward and Michael Farfan forced into a wide midfield berth, the Union were still seriously lacking in the playmaking department. True, three goals was an impressive and overdue haul, but Hackworth will do well to remember that all three goals were set up by the Union backline. Ray Gaddis shredded Houston in creating the chance for Adu to finish. Sheanon Williams drove into the box, giving Andre Hainault little choice but to bring him down. And Carlos Valdes’ knockdown header kept play alive for Amobi Okugo to drill into the path of Martinez.
An empty bucket midfield with Cruz and Michael Farfan forced wide simply failed to produce adequate chances, and for the Union to maintain consistent offensive production, it remains necessary to remove the second holding midfielder. If the Adu-Martinez partnership continues, the Union should return to a four-man midfield, adding an extra body that could overcome any troubles that would have arisen from the departure of Lahoud. Since being asked to take over creative responsibilities, Michael Farfan has flourished out of the center of midfield. Yes, he continues to make dangerous, driving runs up the flanks, but those should be in addition to keeping the midfield turning over. Isolated out on the wing, the Union showed very little threat to the middle. If Gaddis and Williams were not in such scintillating form, the Union could again have come away from a match with little to show.
Zac MacMath – 4
Any confidence MacMath had has been washed away with another performance in which he flapped badly at a cross and gave away an empty net look by racing off his line prematurely. There was nothing he could have done on Boniek’s back post blast however.
Ray Gaddis – 7.5
Not only was Gaddis an absolute terror going forward, setting up the Union’s first, and nearly second, goal with surging runs that left Dynamo defenders in his wake, he also more than held his own defensively. Gaddis was so strong in fact, that Dominic Kinnear was forced to bring on Calen Carr for Mac Kandji, with the 6’4″ striker finding no joy against the fleet-footed Gaddis.
Amobi Okugo – 7
Continued his fine run of defensive form, including the important intervention on Giles Barnes’ chip over MacMath. Threw his hat into the ring offensively also, setting up Martinez with a well-struck volley, earning him his first MLS assist in the process.
Carlos Valdes – 6.5
On a team with so little size, Valdes’ knockdown header to set up the Union’s third goal should remind the coaching staff to keep him in the box, where he can cause the most trouble. Leave the free kicks to Adu and Michael Farfan.
Sheanon Williams – 6
Fell asleep on Boniek’s opener, but responded with the intensity and strength that have characterized Williams’ recent play. Did well to fight off Hainault and find his spot in the box, forcing the Canadian international into the foul that proved the matchwinner for the Union.
Brian Carroll – 6
Unusually assertive and eager going forward, Carroll spread the field as he looked to release Williams and Gaddis. Covered his position well too, sweeping back to break up play when the Dynamo got forward.
Michael Lahoud – 5.5
Quietly efficient, Lahoud made a few runs forward early before ultimately fading into the background, which wasn’t the worst thing considering his task of moving the ball quickly to start the build. With the Union still short on chances created through the midfield, Lahoud remains the most appropriate candidate to be sacrificed in favor of a more offensive player.
Michael Farfan – 5.5
Not his most influential performance, the Union still perked up when Farfan found his way into the center of the pitch to orchestrate play. With Adu finding his way forward, Farfan’s creative touch and smart distribution were required in middle of the action, even though his positioning suggested that he had been told to hug the touchline.
Danny Cruz – 6
With Martinez and Adu settling into a forward pairing, Cruz did well to drop into midfield, working industriously to support the defense and move the ball quickly in the build. This is likely the best position for the hard-working Cruz, a player who does all the dirty work, yet struggles with the ball at his feet in the final third.
Josue Martinez – 6
Great effort, smart runs, terrible execution. Martinez looked lost with the ball at his feet and deserves little credit for bundling a ball over the line from a clearly offside position. His dirty off-the-ball tactics would have gotten him into hot water with a better referee, and his cynical fouling only served to let his teammates take the beating for his instigation.
Freddy Adu – 7
Finally the goals came for Adu, who still had a lot of work to do after Gaddis’ cross into the box. Rounded his day off with a confident penalty though Hackworth will be left to sweat on his fitness after he pulled up lame following the spot kick.
Keon Daniel – N/A
Very unlucky to see his afternoon end so soon after it had begun, with a stray boot forcing the substitute back to the bench after only 9 minutes.
Antoine Hoppenot – 5
Rushed into action for the inured Daniel, Hoppenot got about his typical work, which of late has been drawing fouls. Nearly had his head removed by an agitated Bobby Boswell and proved a gnat that annoyed Houston throughout the end of the match.
Chris Albright – 5.5
Deployed in an unfamiliar midfield role, Albright banged bodies, held possession and brought calm to his young side, exactly what his manager would have wanted from the seldom used veteran.
Edvin Jurisevic – 1
As inconsistent a performance as Union fans have witnessed in recent memory. Both managers spent time outside of their technical area, and with good reason, as Jurisevic seemed to pick his fouls at random. Back to back similar instances would see only one side punished, sending both coaching staffs into a rage.
Must do better at managing the off the ball issues as there is no way the Union’s Martinez or the Dynamo’s Hainault and Boswell should have escaped the match uncautioned. Martinez’s case set a terrible precedent for the match, considering that he continued to kick out at players ankles well after he was warned by the referee. By refusing to take action, Jurisevic told players they had carte blanche to take justice into their own hands.
Preferred lineup for Saturday’s match at Columbus Crew
Harrison; Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Williams; Cruz, Carroll, M. Farfan, G. Farfan; Adu, Martinez