Photo: Michael Long
The ending of the Union’s 2–2 draw with Seattle on Saturday was so ridiculous that it made John Hackworth’s press conference rant seem a bit understated. The disciplinary record from the match would make you think it was mixed martial arts, not soccer.
Even with the three ejections Jorge Gonzalez meted out, two to the Sounders, that wasn’t even the worst of the debacle. He failed to whistle a clear handball in the area, and that ended up being the direction of much of Hackworth’s ire in the end. He even laid a bulk of the blame for a blown three points on Gonzalez’s shoulders.
“I think the points were dropped. But I don’t think it’s as much our fault as the refs,” Hackworth remarked to the gathered media after the match.
Suffice it to say, we all like a solid referee bashing. Heck, I’ll even cop to the Geiger Counter being a much-anticipated portion of every PSP match report for myself. So maybe that’s why it seems like it was easy for Hackworth to get a little bent out of shape towards Gonzalez in the press conference. He was so aghast at the performance that he was willing to eat any fine that might come from his rant.
“I’ll get what’s coming to me,” Hackworth said. “I’ll make a bold statement and say that is not allowed, that should not be allowed, and that guy has come here before and done the exact same thing.”
Undoubtedly, Gonzalez made a mockery of the match, allowing too many hard fouls to go uncalled early, leading to hot tempers towards the end. It’s a theme that has become all too common with certain match officials in Major League Soccer.
But was the Leo Gonzalez handball non-call the primary reason for three points becoming one? There is no doubt he got it wrong, but let’s take an objective look.
Breaking it down
First of all, you can’t be 100 percent convinced that Conor Casey’s shot was even on target, or that it would have gotten past Michael Gspurning. Yes, it was a foul, and yes, it should have been a penalty. But as Landon Donovan proved on Sunday night, penalties don’t equal goals.
No, the reason the Union lost two points against Seattle was a similar reason to why they suffered defeat to New England a week before. Both the Revs and Sounders had been in horrible offensive form going into both matches. New England, after a 0-0 draw to Portland this weekend, is tied with pathetic DC United for least goals scored with 4, and Seattle is only one goal better than both.
Out of the 13 goals scored between those three teams, the Union gave up 6 of them. Yikes.
The fact both teams found ways to score says something about why the Union gained one point in two games. And if you want to look at tactics and formations, Philadelphia is set up largely in a fashion to be built on defensive surety. Whether it’s been directly stated or not, the impression one gets from the coaching staff is that a guy like Roger Torres is left on the bench because he lacks a defensive aspect to his game. That’s why guys like Keon Daniel and Michael Lahoud have been called upon to man the central midfield with Brian Carroll.
Yet both goals in the New England game, and the second goal in the Sounders match, showed a defense that was slow to react and didn’t get the job done marking at the back end. On the Mauro Rosales goal on Saturday, you can see Daniel has some loose defensive responsibility for the area in front of the defense, while Carroll is working hard trying to press guys in the central midfield. Eventually, Daniel got sucked out of the area just outside the 18 and closed down Brad Evans. The trouble was that Carroll continued what he was doing, effectively doubling down a guy who wasn’t in a dangerous area (about 10 yards inside the midfield stripe).
The play developed quickly with Leo Gonzalez coming free down the left, and crossing into a wide open Rosales for the goal. The closest player to Rosales was his own teammate, Eddie Johnson. Neither Carroll nor Daniel were in any position to help out Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams, two guys playing center back by default. In any event, it was quite a disastrous bit of defending all around, leaving two guys wide open a few yards in front of your gaping net.
Tough to ignore
So, when you look at the reasons why this match turned for the worse, it’s tough to ignore the defensive lapses. Sure, the team was wasteful in the final third, attempting 22 shots while only forcing Gspurning to work on 4 of them. But when you score two goals at home, playing in a formation with two deep central midfielders, it ought to stick. Instead, the once sure Union defense has sprung a few leaks, and it’s happened in several matches this season.
So it’s quite alright to draw attention to the officials. They had a rough go of it on Saturday. But 6 goals allowed in the last 3 games to the least prolific teams in MLS in 2013 is not good.
Hackworth can’t do much about the officiating problems in MLS, but he is in a position to sort out the team’s defensive woes.