Sometimes, a bad turnover costs a team points. Occasionally, a coach’s decision leaves his team without the players required to do the job. Once in a while, leadership fails a team, leading to a group of players aimlessly running around a pitch. And often in MLS, a referee’s decision proves a turning point.
Sunday was a rare day in which everything just went wrong for Philadelphia Union.
John Hackworth’s decision to rest Jack McInerney was not inherently a bad one. The young striker’s frustration boiled over on too many occasions in New York, and the opportunity to come into the match with roughly 30 minutes to go seemed the perfect tonic for a player who haunts Jay Heaps’ dreams with his late goals.
On the pitch, Hackworth knew the Revolution would use three center midfielders, with Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe attacking in front of Scott Caldwell. By countering with Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel in front of Brian Carroll, the Union matched New England, at least numerically, in midfield.
What the Union coaching staff failed to instill in their players though was what their individual roles were in a three-man central midfield. Matchup assignments were a constant source of confusion as was how to retain team shape once a player broke forward into the attack. While Caldwell held his ground, anchoring the Revs’ midfield triangle and providing a solid platform for attack, Carroll was unable to offer anywhere near the quality of defense and distribution that his rookie counterpart was able to conjure.
Certainly, Carroll was asked to due a titanic job of covering for Daniel’s erratic movement and Farfan’s relative disappearing act, but the fact remains that the Union captain failed to organize his team. Rather than using his words to direct his troops, Carroll tried to do too much and attempted to cover too many positions, even after he was given another defensive midfielder for cover. It has been a shortcoming of the Union midfielder since he first donned the armband, and while there have been moments where Carroll has asserted his influence on his teammates, Sunday was not one of those days.
Once the Union went down a goal and Daniel limped off the field after only 27 minutes, Hackworth could have thrown his captain a rope. Whether it was the insertion of a heady veteran like Kleberson to help control the midfield or the earlier than expected addition of Jack McInerney and a return to the team’s established 4-4-2, Hackworth had options to solidify his team and give them a chance to attack the game. Instead, Hackworth selected Michael Lahoud, a defensive midfielder who had not played significant minutes since April.
Rather than having Daniel and Farfan high together and allow Cruz and Le Toux to hold their positions on the wings in a 4-1-4-1, Lahoud dropped in next to Carroll and put the Union into a 4-2-3-1. Where the midfield might have been “packed” before, at least in theory, the midfield was cut into two lines, with the front three hanging out up field and the back two trying to cover too much territory defensively.
With one less body to press forward, even more pressure was placed on the shoulders of Conor Casey.
This didn’t go well.
Casey’s desire and effort cannot be questioned, nor can the amount of quality left in the 32 year-old’s legs, but his inability to control his anger towards referee Allen Chapman did his team an enormous disservice. One could argue that, had Casey better controlled his belligerence early in the match, Chapman might have thought twice before blowing his whistle and ruling out what should have stood as the Union’s second goal in the 55th minute. But Casey’s persistent fouling (6 for the game) and constant back talk made him a clear adversary in the referee’s eyes. There is definitely sympathy for Casey, given how frequently he fails to get the benefit of the doubt, but a player of his experience must do a better job of controlling his emotions to make sure he gives officials no more reason than his bullish play to award fouls against him.
Once the call did go against him, New England made the Union pay for the let off they had been afforded.
When Juan Agudelo slid in the Revs’ second off of a frantically recovering Okugo, Hackworth needed to make a change. But with McInerney waiting patiently for his chance to keep up his impressive scoring record against New England, Hackworth waited to see if his side could swing the momentum needle back in their favor, despite the crushing blow of two disallowed goals and concession of a cheap goal from Sheanon Williams’ turnover.
Seven minutes later, Kelyn Rowe again found acres of space in the exact spot where Carroll or Lahoud should never have vacated, and still Hackworth waited.
By that point, the Revolution were in complete control. Six minutes later, it was Fabinho’s turn to concede a fatal midfield turnover, with Fagundez finishing off the move to put the Revs up by three. And still Hackworth waited.
It was not until Agudelo roofed New England’s fifth goal that Hackworth finally saw fit to make the Union’s first offensive substitute.
The scoreline was 5-1, and it was the 76th minute.
Zac MacMath – 4
It’s rare that a team concedes 5 goals without the goalkeeper mixing in at least one howler for good measure, but it would be hard to blame MacMath for any of New England’s strikes. That said, if he is going to climb the charts to a place where he can call himself an elite MLS goalkeeper, MacMath must react quicker and make one, if not two, of those saves.
Sheanon Williams – 4
His heart was in the right place as he bombed forward to try and set up a third consecutive goalscoring opportunity, but he will still be kicking himself for conceding possession so cheaply in midfield for New England’s match-winner. He had a tough time with the pace and guile of Fagundez, getting caught too far up field considering the constant threat the 18-year-old forward posed. With Okugo suspended for two matches, Williams can look forward to exchanging his sprinting boots for his leaping boots when he likely slides in to centerback.
Amobi Okugo – 3
A blowout is no place to be forced to live on a knife’s edge for fear of suspension, but that is exactly where Okugo found himself. It is easy to forget how young Okugo is, but on Sunday night he let his emotions get the better of him and the Union will now have to pay the price. With New England laying siege to the Union’s 18, Okugo did what he could to see off the onslaught, but after he was booked for a foul on Fagundez, he lost his cool and his chance to play in San Jose when he stamped down on Imbongo’s foot.
Jeff Parke – 4
Parke’s struggles with the pace of Agudelo were highlighted on New England’s fifth goal when Agudelo got free to poke home far too easily. If Carroll and Casey failed to lead in this one, Parke must raise his hand as he was caught dropping far too deep on many occasions. With Okugo suspended for the next two matches, Parke’s leadership will be critical if the Union are to lock down a playoff spot.
Fabinho – 3
Nonexistent on the offensive end of the field, Fabinho struggled to keep up with pace of the game as the play too often died at his feet. When he did try to get forward, he was easily dispossessed for what turned into the Revs fourth goal. Okugo’s suspension is likely the only thing keeping Ray Gaddis from replacing him against Montreal, as Gaddis will likely be needed on the right flank.
Brian Carroll – 3
As mentioned above, he tried to do other people’s jobs rather than holding his ground and organizing his side. New England’s track meet through the heart of the pitch is down to Carroll taking the bait and vacating his post at nearly every opportunity.
Michael Farfan – 3
In a game that was dying for an injection of energy and passion, Farfan should have been the player to provide it. He simply did not. Especially when the Union went to 2 defensive midfielders, Farfan needed to raise his level and try to take control for his side. Again, he simply did not.
Keon Daniel – 3
Ran around erratically for his 27 minutes, sometimes sitting behind Carroll, while other times racing into the corner. It was in his space that New England came through for their opener and he departed the match having completed a paltry 5 passes.
Danny Cruz – 5
After squandering so many chances in 2013, Cruz took his chance expertly. After holding off Tierney, Cruz did well to round Reis before slotting home. It was a goal that gave the Union life when they looked set to fade. Otherwise though, Cruz had very little effect on the match, save for some low percentage shots from distance. He was overshadowed by Fagundez, who not only proved too quick for the Union winger, but also muscled him off the ball more than once.
Sebastien Le Toux – 3
The radar was not locked in for Le Toux in New England, and that’s putting it mildly. After turning into a revelatory free kick taker in 2013, Sunday’s match hearkened back to the 2011 era of Le Toux corner kicks when he consistently failed to beat the first man with his delivery. Yet he could have made everyone forget his inaccurate crossing and passing (he finished below 50 percent) had he managed to stay onside before pushing home the rebound of Williams’ shot. But on this night, he could not.
Conor Casey – 5
As mentioned above, Casey failed to convert a solid match’s worth of effort into positive results largely due to his near constant sniping at the referee. He is clearly frustrated, not only by the rough treatment he is receiving, but also because he is being asked to shoulder far too much of the offensive burden as both the playmaker and finisher.
Michael Lahoud – 2
Completely overwhelmed by the pace of the game, Lahoud proved a burden to his teammates throughout. Whether it was his quick yellow card, his misplaced back pass to Fagundez, or a string of heavy touches and cheap turnovers, Lahoud was clearly not up to match speed yet and was the wrong choice to enter as a replacement for the injured Daniel.
Jack McInerney – N/A
The match was over when he entered.
Antoine Hoppenot – N/A
Allen Chapman – 3
Two big refereeing decisions proved the fulcrum on which this match pivoted and while the assistant referee got his call right, Chapman made a meal of his. Appeared intent on punishing Casey, irrespective of the facts that favored the Union players’ claims. Referees are only human and it is understandable why Chapman would have been annoyed by the ongoing barrage of verbal abuse he endured from Casey and Cruz, but a better official would have handed out a cathartic yellow card for dissent and moved on with his life. Chapman instead chose to stew in his anger, never a good thing for a referee. All that said, after the call, the score remained 1-1. And while it was certainly a point of contention, it was not the referee, but rather the Union’s mistakes and lack of discipline that led to their defeat on the night.