Was Gonzalez’s officiating really to blame?

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.


  1. Kenso Josh says:

    Blaming the refs- and I am a high school coach and adult league player- always makes your team suck. The team doesn’t take responsibility. So I agree.

  2. Thank you for continuing to bring attention to the stark reality. It’s not possible to blame every goal on Zac, we are clearly have defensive breakdowns all across our defense.
    This in itself isn’t a major problem, but whats the problem is that part of it can be attributed to Hackworth tinkering and the other part is that Hack has shown nothing to help fix it.

    • The Black Hand says:

      You are absolutely right about the defensive breakdowns. That only makes MacMath’s poor play worse. It’s impossible to overlook the Zac’s arsenal of mistakes, with or without defensive breakdowns. Adjustments must be made, to lower our goals against, and MacMath may have to be one of them.

      • JediLos117 says:

        The majority of our defensive breakdowns have been systematic, not individualistic.
        It unfair to solely blame one person for any goal against.
        Adjustments must be made but thats not to say that the adjustments must be of personnel…assignments must be recognized, made and kept…each player has to understand their defensive responsibilities.

        • The Black Hand says:

          Couldn’t agree more.
          That doesn’t change the fact that MacMath has struggled mightily to take care of routine goalkeeping responsibitlites. His mistakes have been personal, regardless of plays breaking down. He has been soft, to put it mildly.
          Have to question whether he is the right guy for the job. He’s had a lot of time now…
          What would you say are his assets?

          • JediLos117 says:

            I’ll let James answer that one.
            I believe he has been progressing, slowly but progressing and feel he has been taking care or routine goalkeeping but nothing above and beyond.
            My post was solely to highlight the systematic defensive breakdowns that have plagued to U this season so far. Look at Seattle’s second. So far I have seen Cruz, Gaddis, G. Farfan, Okugo, Carroll and Daniel all blamed in some extent for the collapse leading to the goal.

          • His assets aren’t currently that impressive, I’ll admit. Right now his biggest may be he is better than the other GK on our roster.
            But, like all young players, what I like about them is that you can always write off mistakes as learning experiences. They will se them to get better (hopefully, and we won’t know if this is false until sometime in the future).
            So, if we were to bring in some old slow veteran, and he made a mistake, what would we be able to say? Nothing, he Fed up and cost us points. All we can hope is that he doesn’t do it again.
            With Zac, atleast there is that glimpse of hope that he is learning here and that each mistake will only make him better in the future.

          • The Black Hand says:

            Los, I agree. We have been plagued by breakdowns, all over the pitch. The Mac/Casey pairing seems to be the only thing that has not looked shaky. I don’t want to resurrect the ‘dead horse’ for a floggin’ session, but I think that you will find many of our breakdowns can be traced back to #7 and the personnel limitations he provides us with. It’s tough to make adjustments around one very stoic, very limited individual in the most important position on the pitch…but enough about that.
            Bottom line: MacMath isn’t helping to make things any better but may be, actually, making them worse. He gives us very little room for error.
            James, I don’t disagree with anything that you said. Youth is precious. But, this is professional football and you have to know when to fold ’em. We have seen a great deal of Zac MacMath. I can’t tell you one time, when he has looked to have the form anywhere near what it was when he filled in for Faryd…years ago.
            Also, I’m not so sure that he is better than me…err, I mean Chris Konopka.

          • JediLos117 says:

            BC’s defensive contributions should not be undervalued or overlooked. He’s been solid defensively.
            His main area of concern has been his struggles linking the defense to the offense.
            You offer a very poor and one sided assessment of Carroll.
            Not sure you do agree if your calling our specifically Carroll and MacMath.
            Your a little all over the place, you agree but then disagree.
            It’s clear that you watch certain players hoping to see them fail (Carroll, MacMath) while hoping others succeed (Gaddis, Cruz, at one point Daniel).

          • The Black Hand says:

            Here we go!!
            BC’s defensive contributions are highly suspect, given that he is a VERY soft tackler on a team that gives up 1.5+ goals/game. His positive contributions are anything but steady. Not good from the one guy that has to be steady and dependable.
            My argument against Carroll, was not directed at his play, but at the personnel sacrifices that have to be made to accommodate.
            I do agree that there are grand defensive breakdowns. Each member of our backline, of which Carroll is the fifth member, has made costly mistakes. Opposing midfielders have far too much time to pick apart our backs, which is becoming easier and easier to do. (That directly relates to #7) Gaddis has had difficulties and teams have noticed. Williams has been challenged defensively, this year and Cruz is not helping that. Okugo has shown chinks in his CB armor, as has Parke. Parke has had to be the custodian, many times over extending himself. Many of the defensive woes stem from a midfield that cannot maintain possession, thus never easing the pressure from our back line. To ice this cake, we have a unsure keeper that fluctuates between poor and mediocre.
            I don’t root for anyone to fail. I want MacMath to become THE GUY. I’m just tired of seeing possible points disappear while we wait on bated breath. His performances have shown that he is not ready for this level of play, which we knew last year. A back-up plan should have been developed (Hartman).
            As for Carroll, I think that he is an average player who is past his prime. I don’t want him to fail, per se. I just don’t see him have anything to do with the future of the club. This year is a building year. How is he helping that?
            I appreciate the players who show bright spots towards the future of our club. Gaddis has a bright future. Amobi is our future CDM. Why delay that with Carroll? Soumare might be a very talented CB. Why not find out?
            My arguments and criticisms are not based out of favoritism, but rather progressive movement towards building the Union to be a quality club. I believe that; within our roster we have a playoff team. We just don’t have a playoff manager.
            All over the place is the way I roll, Los.

        • Great One says:

          I definitely agree with you. The players on the field, who(m?)ever they are, must make adjustments and recognize things faster.
          With that, is it possible that the correct adjustments could be better instruction/recognition AND some personnel changes?
          I’m just saying that, while 9 games is certainly not a massive sample size, it is enough to see some things. The group of Macmath, Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis, and Carroll have had pretty much all of 9 games together, and they have made similar mistakes in most of the games.
          Soccer is obviously not Basketball/Football/Hockey where there are frequent and fluid substitutions, and baseball has many more games. But in almost all of the other sports, and in almost all of the other soccer leagues around the world, when something isn’t working the coach makes an adjustment in in personnel at some point. All I’m asking is, at this time, we KNOW what the current group is doing. We don’t know anything about what a slight change would do because we’ve been given no chance to see it.

  3. Jeremy Lane says:

    The Union is tied for most goals allowed in the league. The defense is flattering to deceive, though the blame for that extends throughout the team. That’s not to say we are incapable of being a good defensive team, but something needs work.

    • JediLos117 says:

      We are actually tied for second most goal allowed in the league.
      Chivas has 15 GA
      We are tied with Chicago with 14 GA

  4. Steve l. says:

    Yes the ref was horrible (we’ve come to expect it unfortunately). But I always say, never put yourself in a place where the ref can win or loose a game for you in any sport. The midfield lost assignments as did the defense. We lost a CB( with no one to replace him on the bench, but that is another story). And Williams lost his head when he should have shown some vet. experience. The ref lost the game for the U n the last 10-20 minutes, but what about the rest of the game?

  5. Philly Cheese says:

    Although I am thrilled Cruz scored twice, with Hack’s emphasis on everybody playing strong defense, Danny does not fit Hack’s requirement. Others have stated well that Cruz is MIA in midfield, and does not track back to help regularly when opponents are attacking. If they want to play a 4-3-3 with Cruz up,top….then go,with that formation and don’t leave RB with no linkage forward and no protection.

    • Cruz was responsible for the first goal against NY when he lost his man, and he gave up on the play and started going up field looking for an outlet on the 2nd against the Sounders. I’m sure there are more – plus the times he’s failed to put the ball on frame or missed wide open teammates in the box – but he is a defensive liability across the board, yet not surprisingly he had the best offensive stats of any midfielder. Perhaps because he’s never playing defense?

  6. Earl nice piece, I was at the game on Saturday and I came away thinking that the Union blew two points. I guess the ref was terrible but it seemed like a typically officiated MLS match to me. Needless to say I was surprised by Hack’s comments.

  7. The Union are already playing a de facto 4-3-3, since Cruz plays so far up the pitch. As might be expected from a 4-3-3, the offense has been potent, and the defense has been suffering.

    As a consequence, it is hard to blame this on Carroll, who is mainly a stay-at-home CDM (though he’s been ranging up a little more in the last few games). And while Zac has not been playing well, I don’t think much of this can be blamed on him. Yes, if he were really great he’d make an occasional awesome stop and save us a game — but that doesn’t account for the chances against him in the first place.

    There seems to be systematic problem in the midfield that is leading to defensive compromises. That and the fact that our backs occasionally each perform less well than they did last year (this has been the case for Williams, Okugo, and most often Gaddis, though at least he has the excuse of a new unfamiliar position).

    Carroll has made some really lousy passes this year, but also a number of great plays — remember his sliding interception that led to Jack Mac’s beautiful goal against DC? He’s not the major problem with the defense, nor is Michael Farfan, who’s been playing box to box (and looking much better than last couple of games). Logically, either Daniel or Cruz — or both — need to be sat.

  8. together with a couple doubled combined, attached leather-based

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