Photo: Earl Gardner
The New England Revolution hate Antoine Hoppenot. Particularly Benny Feilhaber. And his red card.
D.C. United hate Mike Farfan. His battles with Perry Kitchen are becoming great sideshows.
Everyone hates Gabriel Farfan. Except Union fans and players.
Sheanon Williams gets grudging respect. But he probably hates almost everyone else once he steps on the field, particularly referees.
Jack McInerney just hates Peter Nowak.
See a pattern?
The Union’s core of young players has one common thread through all them. They infuriate their opponents. Gleefully.
They play hard. They foul hard. And sometimes they go down hard, although occasionally a little too easily. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Gabriel Farfan. Those dives are killing your rep.)
The Union are finally developing an identity. They’re young, hard-nosed upstarts who back down from nobody and occasionally pick stupid fights. Either they’re Nowak’s wayward offspring, rebelling against the domineering and rejected parent with some of his infamous traits, or they’re the legacy of Danny Califf, the not-forgotten captain who never backed down and was exiled for it by the dark lord to the distant and primitive Chivas galaxy.
How else could the Union have such a collection of young fighters and instigators?
It’s entertaining at times. Don’t deny it. You know you laughed when Hoppenot prompted referee Jorge Gonzalez to call two fouls against New England players (Feilhaber and Ryan Guy) in one five-second sequence. Then when Feilhaber drew his second booking two minutes later for a push on Hoppenot, you had to be saying, “What does Hoppenot do to irritate his opponents this much every game?” I don’t know either. He’s fast. He makes contact. He has no problem going down, sometimes a bit too easily. And when he comes in around the 60th minute, he’s as energetic as a black lab puppy. It’s like a mosquito ate a Mexican jumping bean laced with amphetamines and started biting defenders.
Then there’s Mike Farfan, second in the league in fouls caused, 10th in fouls suffered. Those stats tell the story, no? Only one other player ranks in the top 10 in both those categories: Fredy Montero.
The Union’s fullbacks have their own issues.
If Gabriel Farfan was a wrestler, his theme song would be “Kung Fu Fighting,” and his signature move would be a drop kick. He might be opponents’ most hated Union player outside of Hoppenot. He thrives on contact, attacks like a streetballer, and talks trash like one too.
The classic Gabriel Farfan sequence goes like this:
- He takes the ball from an opposing winger with hard contact just barely within the rules,
- jukes a defender with some nasty footwork,
- goes down from a hard foul,
- looks up,
- demands a booking from the ref,
- curses out his opponent,
- starts a fight from the seat of his pants,
- and inadvertently prompts his brother to join the fight.
- A shoving match ensues.
- Yellow cards follow.
As for Williams, he may be the Union’s most intense player. Nobody seems to take it as hard after a loss as Williams. Nobody flings his body around with as much reckless abandon in the name of his cause. And probably nobody fouls opponents as hard and still consistently disputes the calls. Give him a pass. He’s been jerked around all year. And yet he’s soldiered on. He’s had a wholly remarkable season.
Only one team in the league has committed more fouls per game than the Union, and that’s Vancouver. Interestingly enough, the only team that’s taken fewer shots this season than the Union is Vancouver. Logic would dictate the two stats are probably connected: A game spent less in the attacking third may lead to more midfield battles for possession.
Will the Union foul less if their attack improves next year? Maybe.
Union manager John Hackworth and the addition of a few key veterans might bring more discipline next year, but it’s unlikely to tame these guys or make their opponents like them any more. The trick is translating that to a winning season without earning the label of being a dirty team.
It’s fitting that one of the Union’s best performances this year was last week’s win at Chicago, where their ousted manager, Nowak, was being feted for his role as a player for Chicago. It was a big, fat message win. And it probably pissed a few people off. Typical.