Photo: Paul Rudderow
The Union summed up their tactical outlook for Saturday’s match in less than ten seconds.
Five passes, four of them backward, before Brian Carroll hoofed an aimless punt forward to concede possession.
After dusting off the Sebastien Le Toux as midfielder experiment to bookend the already positionally-challenged Danny Cruz, the Philadelphia Union defaulted into a game of dump and chase.
Punt and pray
On paper, 63.4 percent of possession looks good. Even in spite of the putrid display Toronto received from their attacking midfielders Hogan Ephraim, Luis Silva and Reggie Lambe, those numbers still sound positive. Yet on the field, rather than paper, the Union midfield were lacking in shape, organization, and understanding and showed no improvement from recent poor showings.
With Le Toux and Cruz looking to play high and seeking balls over the top, Carroll and central midfield partner Keon Daniel often found themselves without even the most basic of outlets to move the ball forward. Simple triangles evaporated as the pair were forced to play catch with the back four before succumbing to the eventual Toronto pressure and resorting to hacking the ball up field.
On multiple occasions, both central midfielders turned over carelessly or were unceremoniously stripped of possession. Still, while it is tempting to focus criticism on Carroll and Daniel, it must also be remembered that they simply had no options available to them out wide. Despite playing 73 minutes against Toronto, Le Toux amassed a total of only 13 passes completed. For a striker, those numbers are poor but excusable; in midfield they are not. On the opposite side of the park, Cruz was only marginally better, but persisted in floating between central locations and a high line against left back Ashtone Morgan, a player who, try as he might, Cruz could not beat in a foot race.
Union find their strike partnership
After only two appearances playing in tandem, it appears that Jack McInerney and Conor Casey have found the type of chemistry it takes most duos far longer to acquire. With Casey banging against the center backs, McInerney has used his newly found freedom to drop into the midfield to show for the ball, and to slide out into wide areas. Both with the ball and without, McInerney has also relished having less than the entire backline focused on him. His goal may have been down to Ashtone Morgan’s red card leaving a void on the pitch, but his ability to drift inside to nearly flick his header past Joe Bednik or redirect Kleberson’s volley home came from the extra space Casey’s presence now affords him.
On any other day, and with any other official, Casey would have earned a handful of fouls. No wonder the Union’s big forward almost blew his top when he was not awarded a single decision despite the constant hacking of Darren O’Dea and Gale Agbossoumonde. But Casey did well not to let his frustration prove a distraction and it was all Toronto could do to keep him out of dangerous areas. Despite Toronto’s efforts, he registered three shots on goal before providing the final ball in to his young partner at the back post.
Many have asked the Union manager what type of team the Union will be, how they will line up and what type of players he values. On Saturday, Hackworth’s side showed plenty of running and hustle, but was largely devoid of creativity. While the PPL Park faithful watched a first half in which the Union struggled to find their targets, let alone build a cohesive attack, the likes of Kleberson, Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan and Roger Torres looked on from the bench.
Hustle over technique; hard-running over smart-positioning—those were the core values of the most recent edition of the Union midfield. Judging by the results over the first hour of the match, those values need to be reconsidered.
Zac MacMath – 4
After showing strong hands to catch a low cross early in the match, MacMath regressed to the timid keeper that Union fans have seen too frequently of late. O’Dea should have buried his header when MacMath found himself in no-man’s-land in the first half and Earnshaw had the ball in the back of the net far too easily on the play that was waved off for offsides. In his current form, every ball played into the Union box feels like an emergency. All that said, MacMath should not be targeted for criticism on the goal, considering there was no way he could have come out far enough to claim it ahead of Earnshaw. Once the shot came, he dove right, correctly protecting his near post. When a striker of Earnshaw’s quality has that much time and space, there is only going to be one outcome.
Sheanon Williams – 5
If he can’t dial down the rough stuff, Williams may be the first Union player of 2013 to see red after getting away with two over the top tackles in as many weeks. Got forward more frequently than in recent weeks, though the only service he provided that gave his team real benefit came from his long throw-ins.
Amobi Okugo – 6
In addition to his usual composed performance at the back, Okugo worked his way forward with regularity in the second half. Looking to kickstart his listless team, Okugo displayed the vision and passing arsenal that made him such a highly regarded prospect.
Jeff Parke – 5
While it certainly was a circumstance of the strangest variety that allowed Earnshaw to open the scoring, it is Parke who must raise his hand in apology for losing track of one of MLS’ most dangerous marksmen of the young season. Otherwise, he was rarely called upon to provide any heroics against Toronto’s anemic attack and moved the ball comfortably around the back line when the Union looked to start forward.
Ray Gaddis – 5
Did his best to build out of the back, but struggled given Le Toux’s disappearing act in midfield. For Gaddis to improve at left back, his manager must put him in a better position to succeed by teaming him with a player who will get chalk on his boots and provide a consistent option for the young fullback. It is not surprising that Gaddis has looked the most comfortable with Gabe Farfan offering protection and an outlet up the touch line.
Danny Cruz – 3
The criticism of Danny Cruz may be becoming stale from overuse, but following another disappointing showing such criticism remains appropriate. Should MLS step in and retroactively suspend Cruz for his crunching hit on Ashtone Morgan, some Union fans will rejoice in seeing the league do that which Hackworth has so far refused to do: bench the ineffective winger.
Brian Carroll – 3
Carroll should buy the assistant referee dinner, as the offsides flag saved the captain’s bacon on two different occasions. Sitting directly in front of the back four as he does, Carroll’s job in possession is to move the ball quickly and smartly. On Saturday, he didn’t do much of either, putting his teammates under pressure with both his passing and his turnovers.
Keon Daniel – 4
Noses out his midfield teammates only because of the decent quality of his free kicks. From open play, Daniel was a lost cause, turning the ball over recklessly and regularly conceding possession after taking too many touches on the ball. Tasked to lead the midfield attack, he did not succeed.
Sebastien Le Toux – 2
As mentioned above, Le Toux again reminded Union supporters how insufficient his skill set is to the midfield. With his eyes only on the goal, Le Toux was found wanting when it came to tracking back to help his fullback and provide options for the back line and center midfielders. He needs to play in the front line, but if his badly mishit shot over the bar is any indication of his current finishing ability, he may soon fall to fourth on the striker’s depth chart.
Conor Casey – 6
Other than score a goal, the big man gave the Union everything they could have hoped for when he was signed in December. Took an absolute pounding, but kept coming back for more despite referee Stoica’s refusal to grant Casey the fouls he was earning. Created his own shots, as well as picking out others, and even threw in a bicycle kick for good measure. And then at the moment of truth, it was Casey who came through with the quick turn to find McInerney lurking at the back post.
Jack McInerney – 7
On a day when his midfield was in shambles, McInerney still put in a complete effort before bagging the late equalizer. On six of the Union’s best chances, McInerney was either on the end of the effort: the goal, the called-back goal, the deflected Kleberson shot, and the early header that Bednik touched over the bar; or was the creator: the point-blank effort Le Toux blazed over the crossbar and Casey’s bicycle kick. Hard to ask much more out of the 20 year-old, who now sits tied for third on the league goal-scorer’s table.
Michael Farfan – 5
Helped to turn the tide for the Union as he managed to hold possession and find players in dangerous locations. Twice combined with McInerney to set up goal-scoring chances. If he is granted a return to the starting XI against DC United, Farfan must step his game up and prove that he can provide the offensive spark the Union have expected from him.
Antoine Hoppenot – 4
As annoying to the opposition as ever, Hoppenot quickly drew a yellow card on O’Dea before setting up Kleberson’s chance. All that anyone will be talking about, though, is the breakaway miss in the dying moments of the match.
Kleberson – 5
The debutante only took a few minutes in his first MLS appearance to find his feet and he could have easily been responsible for the assists on both the equalizer and winner. Given the dour performance from Keon Daniel, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kleberson leading the Union attack at RFK on Sunday.
Sorin Stoica – 1
Set a terrible precedent by failing to admonish Toronto for their early violent play, allowing for the escalation of tempers throughout the match. Called fouls so erratically that neither side could be faulted for their confusion and frustration over what was and was not a foul. Made matters worse by attempting to stamp his authority on the match by constantly calling players over to him, further slowing down an already choppy affair.
After allowing too much aggressive, dangerous play for too long, once the cards started flowing, Stoica was unable to turn off the tap. Both teams have very reasonable gripes about the manner in which the match was handled and if the league takes the betterment of their officials seriously, someone will spend time reviewing this tape.
The fact that Stoica failed to award Conor Casey a single foul decision over 90 minutes is mind-blowing.
Preferred lineup for Saturday’s match at DC United
MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Parke, G. Farfan; M. Farfan, Kleberson, Carroll, Daniel; McInerney, Casey