UPDATE: Due to blizzard conditions in Colorado, the game, scheduled to kickoff at 6pm ET on Saturday, has been postponed. The new kickoff time is 3pm ET on Sunday (The Comcast Network, MLS Live. Tape delay on Univision Deportes at 7pm).
Photo: Paul Rudderow
Losing a match is hard enough. But losing a match when you outplayed your opponent for long stretches? Now we are in Andy Reid territory.
Saturday’s showdown in Colorado (6 p.m., TCN, Univision Deportes, MLS Live) finds two teams coming off preventable losses. Sebastien Le Toux spurned a glittering chance to give the Philadelphia Union a needed cushion, and Stew Ceus’s impression of me as a three-year-old when I thought the moon was a lot closer handed Dallas a tight victory. If these teams want to be in the playoff hunt, they need to find identities and locate finishers.
Colorado dominated the ball for long stretches against Dallas last weekend. Pablo Mastroeni returned from a long injury layoff to control the midfield and open space for Dillon Powers to explore his role linking defense to attack. The Rapids’ problems were in front of net, where Atiba Harris played like he was auditioning to be the Broncos’ placekicker and Deshorn Brown showed the hesitancy of a rookie in his first game.
With Danny Mwanga in the mix and a home crowd behind them, Colorado can be extremely dangerous against the Union if they emulate last week’s performance.
As the Union coaching staff will remind anybody with ears, Philly dominated Kansas City for 40 minutes before getting hit with a Men in Black memory flash and forgetting the press-as-a-team plan. Although they looked like an organized team for almost half a game, that doesn’t mask the fact that not one single player looked improved or more confident in their role compared to a year ago. If Hackworth’s best attribute is his ability to develop young talent, that certainly wasn’t on display last weekend. And while developing players is something that gives assistant coaches credibility, making the right adjustments between games is what distinguishes head coaches. Let’s see what Hack has to offer.
What’s on the line
The Rapids think they have their finisher in former Union draft pick/casualty of the Nowak regime Danny Mwanga. With Edson Buddle knacked, Mwanga adds a powerful body to a youthful but hard-working front line. If he can develop into the strong presence Philly expected him to become, the Rapids will be extremely strong down the center of the pitch.
The Union have striker issues of their own. John Hackworth
fell asleep waited until the 70th minute to add Jack McInerney to the mix last Saturday. Jack Mac couldn’t turn the game around in 20 minutes and now Hack has to decide if the young striker made enough of an impression to earn back the starting role he apparently lost to Sebastien Le Toux in the offseason. Former Rapid Conor Casey is also champing at the bit to get significant minutes against his former club.
While it’s unlikely Hackworth will use all three from the start, the mercurial play of Keon Daniel against Kansas City means Michael Farfan may return to the center and open up a spot in the front three. Marfan found little time on the ball to run at defenders and struggled to be influential last week; giving him a clear role was supposed to be a priority last season. Anybody surprised that still hasn’t happened?
Danger zone: The late runner problem
Pablo Mastroeni is a sneaky dude. While Benny Feilhaber is too intent on getting the ball to figure out how to move off it, Mastroeni will ghost into a play late if left unmarked. So if Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud remain in the midfield, they cannot chase wide and leave holes through the center. If Colorado continues to play a 4-3-3 with Deshorn Brown or Danny Mwanga pressed high, the Union center backs will be pinned too deep to step up into the midfield space. Dealing with this issue before it becomes, well, an issue is key if Philly.
Danger zone: Around the horn
Philadelphia has never been able to possess the ball in the opponent’s third. Today’s worrying stat comes courtesy of Passes around the Opponent’s Box.
The Union attempted 69 passes in the final third compared to Kansas City’s 63. Yes!
The Union completed 42% of their passes in the final third compared to Kansas City’s 75%. Y… Wait, what?
These numbers suggest a team that is either pressing too hard or doesn’t understand how to space around the opponent’s box and move the ball around. This is a crucial skill for many reasons:
- Moving the defense around opens up lanes;
- Possession in the final third means any defensive mistakes can be more costly;
- The defense is working their butts off when you are that close to their goal;
- Your defense is resting, and your midfielders aren’t doing full-field sprints up and down the pitch.
Putting some long-term pressure on the Colorado defense will allow the Union to control the flow of the match. Will they do it?
Keep your eye on… Dillon Powers and Hendry Thomas
With Mastroeni cruising in a deeper role, Powers and Thomas will both link to their own strikers and seek to separate the Union’s striker(s) from the midfield.
Thomas was excellent last season, and Jaime Castrillon’s injury is giving Powers a chance to shine. If they can establish themselves further up the field, it will create a big gap in the Union’s midfield. If, on the other hand, the Union can move the ball with speed and make Powers chase, they will draw Mastroeni out and find the path to goal a simpler road to travel.
If the Union maintain the formation they debuted last weekend, the ability of the two Colorado midfielders to get wide and create could cause major issues. Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud did a good job of keeping Kansas City from going up the center of the pitch, but following the play to the wings also left the Union without any offensive push from the middle (see above graphic).
The Union and the Rapids both lived up to the hype last week: They showed flashes of high-energy, relentless soccer that can wear down a more talented opponent. They were also wasteful in front of net and lost concentration in the defensive end. John Hackworth said he watched last week’s game over and over. Tomorrow we find out what he learned.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis
- MID: Carroll, Marfan, Torres, Garfan
- FWD: Casey, Le Toux
- GK: Ceus
- DEF: Wynn, Calderon, Mullan, Moor
- MID: Mastroeni, Thomas, Powers
- FWD: Cascio, Brown, Harris