Six points out of the last possible nine with eight goals to show for their efforts.
That’s a lot more like it from a Union side who comfortably outplayed an oddly sluggish Chicago side on Wednesday night, securing only their third road win of the season.
Yet after grabbing a goal in the 7th minute, manager John Hackworth overthought his strategy, tinkering with his lineup to the point where offensive chemistry suffered.
Kill the rotation
It made perfect sense on paper. The naturally left-footed Keon Daniel runs the left flank while Danny Cruz operates on the right where his clear mismatch against the glaringly slow Dan Gargan was obvious for all the world to see. Michael Farfan pulls the strings out of the center while Jack McInerney challenges a Chicago back line entering the match hell bent on maintaining a dangerously high line.
All in all a very sound approach.
Seven minutes in, and just like that it’s 1-0 Union, with McInerney ghosting through the gap between the centerbacks and firing coolly past Sean Johnson to give the visitor’s the ideal start after Cruz cut in from his wing to set the table.
More of the same would surely have put Chicago to the sword, killing off a side that was not playing as if the match had serious playoff implications.
Then, for some reason, the rotations began.
In a fit of Nowakian tactics, not only did the attacking threesome of Cruz-Daniel-Farfan swap seemingly at random, McInerney was strangely pulled into the shuffle. After cracking Chicago’s code with their first serious effort, Daniel was standing alone at the top of the formation with Farfan and McInerney split out wide in the midfield. So too was Cruz used up front, pulling him away from his preferred match-up on the wing, forcing the mercurial McInerney to watch from midfield.
The ensuing lack of understanding was inevitable as the Union tried to find each other in a messy blur of out-of-position bodies.
Building around the wrong CAM
Despite the fluency Michael Farfan brings to the Union midfield, Hackworth seemingly remains unwilling to officially hand him the job of full-time creator.
When Danny Cruz was forced to depart through injury, Hackworth reset his formation, focusing entirely around Gabriel Gomez.
The rotation disappeared and Farfan was banished to the wing in favor of the mostly ineffective Gomez, whose lumbering play, and incessant referee badgering, brought the Union attack to a grinding halt.
After McInerney was so effective earlier up top despite battling a German International and a Rookie of the Year front runner all by his lonesome, McInerney was forced to change his runs as Gomez ate into his space. If that wasn’t disappointing enough, the Union’s lone striker found himself defending in midfield while Gomez lingered up field, foregoing his defensive responsibilities.
What a goal
But, as he has done on other occasions in 2012, just when Gomez seemed at his lowest, petulantly waving his arms and fouling lazily (he conceded 4 fouls in 45 minutes; two more than any other Union player), he produced a genuine piece of artistry, the likes of which the Union have not seen for some time. Starting the goal-scoring move himself, Gomez sprang into life as he chased the play up field. With no thought about a settling touch, Gomez unleashed a drive off McInerney’s perfect knockdown, the likes of which would be hard to reproduce given a hundred chances.
The Gomez Problem
And therein lies the Gomez conundrum for the Union and Hackworth. Gabriel Gomez is Philadelphia’s designated hitter, stepping up in the big spots to deliver a much needed blast, while at the same time being unequipped to do the rest of the work that goes with being a full time player — things like running, moving the ball quickly and efficiently, defending his position.
All the things that Hackworth has preached as the tenets of his system moving forward into 2013.
Those are not his strengths, especially in a stretched midfield that often consists of only two other teammates. Far from an on-field leader and midfield general, as he was sold to the fan base upon his acquisition, Gomez operates more in the realm of Lionard Pajoy, squandering chances while lacking drive and a connection with his teammates. But with 6 goals on the season, Gomez is tied with McInerney atop the Union scoring charts. On a team so threadbare in the goal-scoring department, can the Union afford to forgo Gomez’s production?
Zac MacMath – 4
Shot-stopping is wasted if it is not combined with aggressive play, strong communication and smart decision-making. In all of those aspects, MacMath must improve. Guessing and cheating are permissible on penalties, not during open play. Some quality distribution wouldn’t hurt, either.
Ray Gaddis – 5
Attacked with his regular verve while blanketing Alvaro Fernandez out of the game. The rookie’s overly aggressive approach did not mesh well with a wet pitch and crafty Patrick Nyarko, however, and the Ghanaian got the better of him too often in the second half.
Amobi Okugo – 6.5
Kept a close eye on MacDonald and Nyarko, proving that his poor showing against Columbus would not become a trend. Struggled more than most with the wet surface, but never allowed Chicago to take advantage of any slips.
Carlos Valdes – 6
Solid if unspectacular, Valdes grew into the game, making the quality interventions that have become commonplace for the Union captain.
Sheanon Williams – 6
Continues to grow with each match at left back. Williams kept a lid on the explosive Nyarko in the first half, before tangling with Oduro in the second. Hardly to blame for the Chicago goal, Williams’ desperate sliding challenge kept Oduro from netting the equalizer minutes later. Tremendously unlucky to be cautioned, resulting in suspension, as Williams was waiting for a substitute to be introduced into the match.
Michael Lahoud – 4.5
Continues to complete an astonishing amount of passes for a player who plays with such attacking negativity. Turns the ball over in the most dangerous parts of the field and too often puts his teammates under pressure with hospital passes. The Union back four need an outlet, and Lahoud is not the man for the job.
Brian Carroll – 5.5
Covered himself well defensively, slotting in to plug gaps at vital moments, especially with his teammates slipping and sliding on the Toyota Park turf. Against a Chicago side who also play with two defensive midfielders, Carroll could have done the holding job by his lonesome.
Danny Cruz – 6.5
For a player not known for possessing the most deft touch, Cruz’s outside-of-the-foot flick to play in Jack McInerney was a thing of beauty. Unlucky to be cut down by Berry’s tackle. Cruz had been skinning Dan Gargan at every opportunity.
Keon Daniel – 3
With each subpar performance by the sluggish Daniel, it becomes increasingly surprising that Hackworth continues to feature the Trinidadian international. With McInerney, Cruz and Farfan all in top form, Daniel was once again the weak link in the Union attack.
Michael Farfan – 6
Clever and active on the ball, Farfan proved as good at fighting through traffic as he did checking deep to provide a passing option out of the back. Figured in the second goal before keeping his head up to find Hoppenot for the Union’s insurance tally at the end of the match.
Jack McInerney – 7.5
Man of the Match performance that included so much more than a clinically taken finish and smart, headed assist. When Hackworth’s rotating system pushed him into midfield, McInerney defended with aggression, chasing all the way back to his own endline to support Gaddis. Dropped into midfield to keep possession and stretched the field with his forward runs. There is no questioning who is at the top of the Union’s striking depth chart.
Gabriel Gomez – 4.5
A complete and utter liability both offensively and defensively for all but 10 seconds. But, oh, what a 10 seconds it was.
Antoine Hoppenot – 6.5
Energy and effort personified, Hoppenot picked up for McInerney and challenged the Chicago back line with his pressing defense and darting runs. Was justly rewarded for his efforts with a cheekily back-heeled goal.
Chris Albright – 5
His legs may have left him, but Albright’s veteran savvy allowed him to slow the game and help the Union see out a result for the second time in the Union’s last three matches.
Abiodun Okulaja – 2
For a referee, maintaining a free-flowing match, devoid of unnecessary stoppages is certainly the goal. The staccato tempo that comes with a whistle accompanying every 50-50 challenge can certainly ruin the enjoyment of any soccer match. But a match without any fouls quickly descends into chaos, putting the players in danger.
That is exactly what happened Wednesday night through Okulaja’s outright refusal to blow his whistle. In a physically contested first half, only 6 fouls were handed out. With players not knowing where the boundary lay, tackles increased in severity, resulting in Austin Berry’s studs up challenge that injured Danny Cruz.
When McInerney cut down Berry in the second half, the Union striker seemed as surprised as anyone there was no call, but his surprise quickly turned to anger as he was wrestled illegally to the ground. Again, without rules and boundaries, the game descends into chaos.
Had Brian Carroll’s boot remained in the turf on Guillermo Franco’s shocking challenge, he would have likely broken his leg, and Okulaja would have been left to shoulder a heavy portion of the blame.
Preferred Starting XI for Saturday’s home match against New England Revolution
MacMath; Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, G. Farfan; Carroll, Lahoud; Adu, M. Farfan, McLaughlin; McInerney