Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 0-0 Impact

Photo: Earl Gardner

Playing on the road is tough in MLS. So tough, in fact, that Real Salt Lake is the only team to carry a positive road goal differential into September (+2).

Few teams have struggled as mightily as the Montreal Impact on their travels. Only the Union’s next opponent, San Jose, has a greater difference in their home goal differential than their road differential than does Montreal (-26 for SJ, -24 for Montreal). The relative ease that the Impact has swept teams away in Montreal stands in stark contrast to their inability to find goals and results on the road.

Saturday night’s match at PPL Park seemed like a performance that was not far from the regular script. Despite coming off a five-goal performance at home against Houston, Montreal was sloppy, sluggish and downright disinterested against a Union side who was fresh off a five-goal defeat and sporting a back line missing perhaps its most critical piece.

Hello? Center midfield? Anyone?

At this point in the season, the book on the Union has been written. Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel will sit back, with both loathe to attack the space in front of them. Instead, they will feed the wings — fullbacks and midfielders alike — in an attempt to get behind the opposition’s fullbacks to create scoring chances from wide areas.

So Patrice Bernier and Hernan Bernardello needed to only step 5-10 yards higher than normal to claim all that extra space for the Impact, right?

Wrong.

Where Montreal’s ball-winning duo has done well to pin their opposition back at home, they were content to sit deep and control the play when it came to them. They showed very little desire, however, to stray from the confines of their own half.

Well, if Bernier and Bernardello weren’t interested in all that highly valued real estate around the center circle, Carroll and Daniel would certainly acknowledge the rarity of the situation and plant their flag in the heart of the midfield to the benefit of the Union, right?

Sort of.

Carroll and Daniel dipped their toes in the waters of the attacking half. When the fruits of their labors remained invisible on the scoreboard at halftime, however, they retreated to safety in the second stanza. It was then down to an awkward standoff, with both sets of enforcers eying each other up cautiously. Eventually, Carroll would stray from his stronghold only to chase after the withdrawn runs of Felipe, while Bernier and Bernardello’s On switches were flicked any time Conor Casey or Jack McInerney retreated towards their own half in a plea for service.

Hardly the recipe for flowing, fluent build-up play, right?

Right.

Advantage Impact.

Midfield striker soup

Deprived of consistent service, Casey and McInerney have grown accustomed to volunteering for alternating trips into the midfield.

Against Montreal, their plan was no different, with the Union’s attacking tandem doing whatever they could just to get a touch of the ball. It worked insofar as it yielded a series of tight, attractive passing triangles in the first half. The problem for the Union was what arose after the successful completion of those moves.

Whether it was 3, 4 or 5 cleverly strung together passes, the result was always the same. Whichever forward ended up with the ball still found himself more than 30 yards from goal and could not deliver a threatening ball to his strike partner who, after taking part in said move, was nowhere near the Impact box.

It is easy to point the finger at Daniel, claiming that, as the more advanced of the center midfield pairing, he should be sitting higher, allowing the forwards to hold their ground at the last defender. But that is true only to a point.

As the match played out, the erratic, undisciplined runs of both Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Cruz created just as many problems as Daniel’s positioning. With neither player suited to a traditional wide midfield role, the pair roam free and loose up their respective flanks. When they play on the flank that corresponds to their dominant foot, they tend to stay tighter to the touch line. When they’re on the opposite wing, not so much.

Given that they are both deployed as attackers, when they drift centrally — as Le Toux in particular did against Montreal — they are not bunching up with Carroll and Daniel. Rather, they are running into Casey and McInerney, forcing the strikers out of their natural space. This is why Casey can often be seen serving crosses in from the wing and McInerney is forced to turn and deliver the final ball to a streaking player who is not himself. In deploying an aggressive looking 4-2-4, John Hackworth has taken his most efficient finishers and moved them further and further from goal.

In the past three matches, the Union have scored one goal. It came from a beautiful through ball played from Conor Casey into the streaking path of Danny Cruz.

It was a well-taken goal. But if this remains the Union’s attacking approach, they may find themselves hanging on for a few more 0-0 results before the 2013 season is done.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 6

It was a pretty quiet day at the office for MacMath, who kept things organized at the back and earned a morale boosting clean sheet.

Ray Gaddis – 7

Returning from injury and the left side of the pitch, Gaddis reminded everyone of just how good a right back he actually is. Throw a crafty player like Andres Romero at him, and Gaddis shuts the door. Mix in a little speed with Sanna Nyassi, and Gaddis shows him what true pace looks like.

Sheanon Williams – 8

Forced into deputizing at center back for Amobi Okugo, Williams failed to put a foot wrong. In addition to keep a watchful eye on the most prolific striker in MLS during the 2013 campaign, Williams also capably filled in as the more aggressive, high-pressing central defender, allowing Jeff Parke to organize and mop up at the back.

Jeff Parke – 8

Smart and savvy at all points, the Union needed their veteran defender to lead the reorganized back four against Montreal and Parke exceeded expectations. Whether it was Di Vaio or Felipe, Parke had their number and kept his defensive teammates in proper shape throughout.

Fabinho – 6

Still a danger to concede possession or get burned on any of his stabbing, aggressive tackles, Fabinho did enough to put off Justin Mapp for most of Saturday’s match. Getting forward, he continued to show just how lethal service can be when a left-footed player runs at left back, and he should have had an assist for the near post ball that McInerney failed to bury.

Danny Cruz – 6

Active and aggressive throughout, Cruz created both space and chances. Unfortunately, the quality of his final ball remains inconsistent at best, ranging from the excellent and clever cut back for Le Toux in the box to the unimpressive and badly mishit shot he fired well over Perkins’ goal after dispossessing Bernier.

Keon Daniel – 4

After looking primed to lead the Union offense early in the first half, Daniel slowly faded from view by the hour mark. As mentioned above, Daniel tried his luck in the attacking half in the early going, but despite having some success, retreated to his own territory as the match wore on. With Montreal bunkering down, Daniel completed only one forward pass in the attacking third. (He attempted only 1 other.) That’s just not enough.

Brian Carroll – 5

Carroll deserves some praise for the Union’s clean sheet as he chased Felipe relentlessly into his own defensive third. Still, with Montreal only pushing two players into the box at any given moment, Carroll’s time would have been better spent in the midfield, pressuring Montreal and helping his teammates to retain their shape as they moved the ball forward.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Had the best chances to give the Union the victory, but struggled badly with his touch in front of goal. As a left midfielder, Le Toux is far too likely to drift inside, leaving Fabinho on an island and gumming up the works for Casey and McInerney. His set piece delivery has dropped off considerably of late.

Jack McInerney – 4

Had he managed to get his head to Fabinho’s near post cross, the story would have been all about McInerney rediscovering his scoring touch at the most critical moment. Instead, the young forward remains snake-bitten, despite working very hard to create chances for others and nearly cannoning a shot through Troy Perkins midsection, a shot that would have resulted in a goal had Le Toux reacted faster.

Conor Casey – 4

For all of his work, the quality of Casey’s soccer has diminished in the three games since his brace against DC. With only one header won, as compared to three crosses attempted, the onus is on John Hackworth to get his big-bodied goal scorer back in the box where he belongs.

Substitutions

Antoine Hoppenot – 4

The Union midfield needed another creator, not a finisher, which put Hoppenot in a bad spot. He did very little to speak of.

Kleberson – 5

Showed effort and desire to drive through the midfield. Set himself up for a few half chances but shot off target.

Aaron Wheeler – N/A

Replaced Casey with very little time to make his mark. Remains a fairly clumsy figure on the ball, though he created a decent half chance when he cut the ball back from the endline.

Geiger Counter

Edvin Jurisevic – 6

Handed the Union the benefit of most 50/50 calls, but with Montreal not all that thrilled to engage in any physical confrontations, there weren’t many such calls to be made. No cards and only 16 fouls were appropriate for that match. It’s hard to imagine that the likes of Gonzalez or Toledo wouldn’t have thrown some out, just to make sure there were talking points to come out of an otherwise dull match.

27 Comments

  1. Taken out of context, it’s an OK result for the home team. They played mostly well, passed well, and just could not finish their chances. They backed off as time wore on to ensure they would not give away the match late. In the setting of a tight playoff race, they needed more, but Montreal are good.
    Nice to have an actual left back, innit?

  2. I think Daniel is overrated, not so much for what he does with the ball but for how many times he refuses to hustle to get the ball. It seems like if the ball is not passed right to his feet, he just watches the ball go by. I’m still not sure why Kleberson came in for Jack rather than Keon.

    The other telling thing is the N/A by Wheeler. Hack waited way too long to bring on subs and Casey was gassed about 15 minutes before he came out.

    • I completely agree. The subs came way too late, and they were the wrong subs. I don’t think Hoppenot should have been the first off the bench for Cruz. It should have been a true midfielder to help generate chances and service. Even if it’s someone out of position on the left it would have been better. Then I would have swapped Kleberson/Fernandes/Marfan for Keon. Someone to take up the space for a CAM. Then I probably bring on Wheeler for Casey. I would have done all of this before the 80 minute mark. At home we have to play to win.

      • I agree but Hackworth has been doing this all season long. Why, in a 0-0 game at home, there is not a sub made right around the hour mark is confusing as best. Then the final sub has less than 10 minutes to do anything? What does he expect Wheeler to do in that amount of time? Hackworth has to respond to the game better.

  3. Casey worked his ass off, as always, though his touch was not as sharp as it has been in the past.

    Eli, do you really think Sebastien straying into the center is gumming up the works? Because the other way to look at it is that Daniel refuses to play CAM, Casey or Jack drop into the middle to try to get touches, and Sebastien rotates into the center to fill the space left up front.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I do, in the sense that Jack and Casey are far and away the best finishers on the team. Le Toux has become the assist man. the Montreal game flipped that too much on its head. Jack and Casey far from goal, le toux close to goal. not ideal for goal scoring.

      if thats casey following up jacks shot and not le toux, i think he puts it away, one way or another.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        Wow. Soooo, tell me again how Le2 gets a 5 and Jack and Casey 4’s and Cruz a 6? Sure looked different from where I sat. Numbers don’t seem congruent with the analysis. And I could go 8 for Gaddis if Parke gets 8.

  4. I was there and I have this to say to Keon Daniel: Mr. Daniel, what you’ve just did is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in your rambling, incoherent play were you even close to anything that could be considered rational soccer. Everyone in this stadium is now dumber for having watched to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    • Interesting. I thought Keon Daniel’s gameplay was “A tale of two halves” so to speak.
      .
      In the first half, he seemed more active and involved. He was getting forward and joining the attack. Or at least it seemed that way to me; I’ve certainly been wrong befoe.
      .
      In the second half, though, he stopped. He stayed back, didn’t chase loose balls that were near him, and only seemed intent on playing defense if the Montreal player came exactly to the space he was defending.
      .
      I give 1st half Keon a 5 and 2nd half Keon a 3 (which does average out to what Eli gave him). I will say, though, that we don’t know what his instructions were. It’s certainly possible that Hackworth told him at halftime to stop getting forward so much.

    • Oh, just leave the link! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hfYJsQAhl0 Anyone who didn’t see Billy Madison will just view that comment as really, really mean.

  5. I feel like Hackworth is wasting away talent with his tactical choices, it’s disappointing.

  6. There was no reason for Hack to not get the more offensively-minded Kleberson in earlier at the expense of the just offensive Daniel. A point doesn’t help as much as 3, besides the obvious mathematical reason, but NER, HOU, and CHI are all poised to pass the Union with games in hand.

    Once MTL displayed no appetite for playing positive soccer, Hack should have made adjustments to try and win the game. Instead, his fear of losing drove his decisions and he made subs only when the players on the field were exhausted. These aren’t tactics.

  7. Quick laugh before the analysis – I think it was the 55th minute? when Nyassi came on and my gf, who has watched with me the past year says to me but doesn’t really know soccer at all “wait, what happened there, I thought you weren’t allowed to sub someone before you get to 65 minutes?”. – obviously dumb, but oh so very fitting with The Hackworth school of managing.
    .
    The analysis here nailed everything perfectly. The crazy thing to me is that we have had the same exact issues with the midfield all year long, and we will not under any circumstances try something different. It’s mins boggling. Hackworth had to see that the beginning of the year success came from Jack/Casey’s stellar play and the benefit of some (a lot) red cards. As the year went on and those things faded the decencies just became worse and worse as other guys moved to bad positions to compensate.
    .
    At this point our only hope is to sneak into the playoffs and hope Jack regains form. Then in the offseason pray the front office realizes the team could be true contenders if everything were left alone besides a midfield overhaul.

    • Didn’t you know? Hackworth isn’t allowed to sub before the 65th minute except for injury, while other coaches are free to do so.
      .
      Yeah, I think this draw is on Hackworth. That game was begging for Kleberson sooner, and as a replacement for Daniel. But Hack’s script says Hoppenot has to be first off the bench. Plus, Hackworth swiped my sharpie! He loses a point from me for that, too!

      • I keep telling myself that, like the kids on the team, Hackworth is a young coach, and so not a finished product either. Hopefully he learns from this, kind of like MacMath learned to punch the ball.

  8. i cringe when i try to recruit new blood (fans) and bring them to a game like that. maybe it’s the build up of three 0-0 matches in six, but i don’t recall the timers or red bulls matches being as dull as this one was.

    • Yeah, I’m really thankful my first game was an entertaining 3-2 win. If the Union had tied DC United 0-0 that first game, I may never have purchased season tickets and hung around for all this time.

      • I took a friend to a game once. It was a scoreless draw. He’s never gone back. (It figures that the week before was that crazy 4-4 draw with New England, but he didn’t get to see that one.)

      • My father started following the Union after we bought our season tickets. Since my daughter talks incessently about it, he wanted to have an idea of what she was saying. He’s since become a fan – watches almost every game, takes my daughter on the rare days I can’t go. Thankfully, he watched more than one game. And thankfully, that first year was somewhat entertaining soccer – as an expansion team, you could expect them to lose, so that didn’t really hurt matters. Much like me early on, my dad found similarities to hockey helped him catch on to ball movement, tactics, etc.
        .
        I also took my brother to one of the Open Cup games last year. He’s a classic soccer hater – complains that it’s not a sport if you can’t use your hands, but doesn’t know the rules. He came away impressed by the sport. But, of course, the crowds at the Open Cup matches aren’t anywhere near a regular season game, so he didn’t get to experience that aspect of it.

  9. I think a 4 is generous for Jack Mac. He was god-awful putrid in that game. Not just the missed header-that-should-have-been-a-goal. Tons of give-aways, poor passes and weak dispossessions.
    ___
    Ray was great in that game, and Sheanon may have played his best game as a member of the Union.
    ____
    Fabinho as a LM when Amobi returns?? (of course, one of the other defenders will likely miss a game soon for YC accumulation). IMO, his feel for the game and movement – both with and without the ball – are superior to any of our wing players.

    Kelberson was decent in the attack, but was also a little weak in the defensive half.

    I thought the team was a little more assertive on defense than the previous game (abandoning the “just keep backing-up” approach to defense)

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      According to the Opta stats on mlssoccer.com, Jack completed 15 of 18 passes. 2 of his incompletions were attempted entry passes into the box. He was only dispossessed once. He took 4 shots, 2 on frame, 2 off. His finishing was bad, thus the below average rating, but he was hardly terrible. If 1 or 2 of those touches go his way, we’re talking about a great performance.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        That quantifies my question re: the ratings. Thanks.

      • Maybe what I’m referring to as dispossessions were actually instances where he beaten to a challenged ball (and, thus, technically never “possessed”). Now I’m going to have to re-watch the whole game. Regardless of the opta stats, he was god awful putrid that game.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        @Johnny. If you take my comment as an indication that I make my ratings based purely on statistics, you are mistaken. I do look at them, but they do not carry much weight. I hadn’t actually checked Jack’s stats before I gave him his rating this week, for example.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        Au contraire…I was referring to my questioning Jack and Casey getting 4’s while Le2 got a 5. I think folk tend to rate based partly on expectations at times and I lean toward sympathy for strikers and defenders playing without reasonable midfield support.

  10. Pingback: Union vs Impact quick reference

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