Talk about a kick in the gut.
Just when the Philadelphia Union had finally managed to open the offensive taps, a terrible refereeing decision served to separate two teams who had each done enough for a point on the night.
Martinez fails to impress
Most painful for the Union is that after another first half in which they failed to record a single shot on goal, they sprang to life through their substitutes.
Following his performance against Houston, his first full 90 minute performance this season, Josue Martinez was handed a second consecutive start. While Martinez had shown sparks in that match, his hard running was always without reward, with his touch and confidence letting him down at every chance, until late in the match when he bundled Amobi Okugo’s volley over the goal line. It was hardly a sterling performance, and more than anything proved that Martinez needs a partner to thrive.
Deployed in isolation against Columbus, the young Costa Rican was completely overwhelmed, failing to make an impact on the match. Too intimidated by the physical presence of Chad Marshall at the back, Martinez didn’t even appear to really try, making his checking runs into the midfield his sole contribution. While Gabe Farfan and Danny Cruz did their best to sprint in behind and challenge the Crew backline, Martinez stood and watched the match from midfield, failing to make his way into the box on the majority of the Union’s attacking forays.
This was an enormous opportunity for Martinez to prove that he was ready, willing and able to demand his place in the Starting XI. And while Hackworth’s conservative tactics would have required Martinez to go 1-on-2 against Marshall and James, his lack of effort was troubling, even before Hoppenot and McInerney both showed the work and desire to get in behind the defense. In the end, it was the former setting up the Union’s first while the latter scored the second, both times exposing Marshall’s lack of recovery speed.
Both players have again shown why they have been deserving to play ahead of Martinez. With rookie first round draft pick Chandler Hoffman still under 200 minutes of playing time for the season, Martinez is unlikely to see much more of the pitch after squandering Saturday’s opportunity.
Defense takes a night off
Despite lacking elite speed in their attack, the Union defense had a rare sluggish performance, allowing Columbus too much space both in front and behind. Long before Amobi Okugo’s terrible three minute span late in the half, he and Valdes were twice caught out by Arrieta and Higuain as the savvy pair raced in alone on Zac MacMath, having beaten the offside trap.
With Columbus pressing high up the pitch, both Gaddis and Williams found themselves pinned back and the Union’s uncharacteristically flat backline struggled. Brian Carroll was less than his usual authoritative self as well, with Columbus at times targeting the Union’s veteran midfielder, who was too often shown a clean pair of heels by Higuain, Arrieta, Mirosevic and Gaven.
The combination of strong game planning from Robert Warzycha, and simply an off night from the Union back line, served to give Columbus ample chances on MacMath’s goal. Against a scorching hot Chicago Fire side on Wednesday, the Union will not be able to survive if they are similarly timid out of the back and do not reciprocate Chicago’s attack with offensive pressure of their own.
Better lucky than good
Again using his defensive midfielders as a safety blanket, Hackworth was fortunate to get contributions from unusual places and a little bit of luck, but it is not a blueprint for long term success. Yes, Michael Lahoud’s through ball to Antoine Hoppenot was a thing of beauty, but it’s hardly a staple of the midfielder’s game. And Roger Torres’ swerving cross to Jack McInerney owed a great deal of its accuracy to a deflection off Chris Birchall.
With Michael Farfan terrorizing the Columbus defense in the first half, even without the benefit of a striker in the box, Hackworth’s decision to move into a 4-4-2, empty bucket in the second half was surprising. The Union looked rudderless and confused for much of the second half, with the chemistry and awareness of the side compromised by the shifting players. It is hard to imagine that the Union would not have been a far more dangerous side with Farfan pulling the midfield strings for Hoppenot, McInerney, Cruz and his brother, instead of Lahoud and Carroll. The Union’s lack of size is apparent and relying on wing play to consistently generate chances on the deck is simply beyond the level the Union have shown in 2012. A full time central presence is required to keep the offense focused and no matter how many strikers Hackworth’s throws at the problem, leaving only Lahoud and Carroll in the center of the park will be a recipe for offensive anemia far more often than not.
Hopefully against an in-form Chicago side, Hackworth shows faith in Farfan, his most dangerous and creative playmaker, putting him in the center of the action with two wingers—his brother and Cruz—AND two strikers—Adu and McInerney—for which to aim. Sitting back defensively and trying to react to the roaring Fire will see the Union midfield sliced through like sponge cake, but being more proactive would require the sacrifice of either Carroll or Lahoud, something the typically cautious Union manager has been reluctant to try.
Zac MacMath – 6.5
Had his usual share of spilled balls and nervy moments positionally, but in the end, MacMath’s shot-stopping kept the Union in a match on a night where the back four let them down. Arrieta, Gaven and Renteria all would have expected their shots to find the back of the net, only to be stymied by the quick reflexes of the Union’s young goalkeeper.
Ray Gaddis – 4
Unable to get forward with his usual ferocity, Gaddis was pinned back and struggled to deal with the pace and power of Gaven and Arrieta. Did just enough to slow down the Costa Rican midway through the first half, but was beaten badly for Columbus’ second goal.
Amobi Okugo – 3.5
A terrible three minute span condemned Okugo to his worst performance since switching to centerback. Will relish the chance to play in a midweek game, putting this match as far behind him as possible.
Carlos Valdes – 5
Struggled to keep tabs on Arrieta and Higuain, as the pair got in behind the Union defense with regularity. Offside or not, it was Valdes charged down clearance that led to the Crew’s winner.
Sheanon Williams – 4.5
Deployed at left back, Williams has never looked less left-footed than he did on Saturday night. Struggled to impose himself offensively and failed to mesh well with Valdes on the left side of the Union defense.
Brian Carroll – 4
When the Union needed a strong showing from their most veteran player, Carroll was found wanting Saturday night. From Higuain toying with him in the early going, to Gaven and Arrieta leaving him for dead, Carroll brought little to the table defensively, while remaining a non-factor going forward.
Michael Lahoud – 5.5
Consistently efficient in his short and backwards passing, “Mr. Negative” strapped on his attacking boots Saturday night, threading the needle to Hoppenot on the play that earned the Union their penalty.
Danny Cruz – 6.5
A tireless shift put in by the Union’s hardest worker. Cruz was well rewarded with his first Union goal after his left-footed drive went just over the bar early in the second half. Serious questions remain about his technical ability, however, as he turned the ball over frequently and unnecessarily.
Gabriel Farfan – 6
Responded well to his new attacking role and drove to the net with strength and determination. Smart and focused in possession, looked slightly rusty in terms of seeking out the ball from a midfield position.
Michael Farfan – 6
The Union’s best player in the first half, Farfan faded from view when Hackworth’s tactics removed him from center of the midfield where he was creating havoc with both his passing and dribbling. It remains a mystery why Farfan is not the Union’s free kick taker in the absence of Freddy Adu.
Josue Martinez – 3
An anonymous and disinterested performance from Martinez who was invisible in the attack. Failed to challenge Marshall or James at any point with his pace. Whether it was Gabe Farfan’s dangerous first half runs or Hoppenot’s immediate impact off the bench, the Union needed a striker in the box, and Martinez was nowhere to be found.
Antoine Hoppenot – 6.5
If there is one way to exploit Columbus’ defense, it is with quick, darting runs in behind. From the moment he stepped on the field, Hoppenot was more than either Marshall or James could handle. Easily sliced in behind to draw the Union’s penalty though James’ uncalled foul after Hoppenot skinned him was just as blatant. Back to his electrifying best off the bench.
Jack McInerney – 6
Despite barely figuring in the match before his goal, McInerney made a smart run and reacted well to the deflected cross, touching home the Union’s equalizer. That type of predatory instinct should delight Union fans who have rarely seen such composure in front of goal.
Roger Torres – 6
Pushing to create chances, Torres may not have the highest completion percentage, but the pint-sized Colombian created plenty of chances on the night, including the assist on McInerney’s goal. With Hackworth holding on to his tw0 defensive midfielder setup, Torres deserves an opportunity to prove himself as an offensive catalyst.
Matthew Foerster – 3
Obviously it was not Foerster who blew the match-deciding call, but the referee had plenty to answer for himself. For example, his desire not to affect the outcome of the game led to incorrect calls that drastically benefited the home side. Andy Gruenebaum’s takedown on Hoppenot, for example, was a textbook sending off as the forward would have easily tucked home the chance had the goalkeeper, as the last defender, not intentionally impeded him. James’ foul on Hoppenot was also a penalty kick, clear as day.
Preferred Starting XI for Wednesday’s match at Chicago Fire
MacMath; Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Williams; Cruz, Carroll, M. Farfan, G. Farfan; McInerney, Adu