The Good: Vincent Nogueira
While points keep slipping away and frustration is starting to mount, there is still one thing that I look forward to each week; watching Vincent Nogueira play. It is a real treat for Union fans to get to claim him as one of the players on show each week. He is tidy with the ball, can pick out a killer pass, and will pull out a magical move when needed to get out of a tight space and leave defenders in his wake.
This is a player that really belongs in one of the top leagues in Europe and I am still amazed he came to MLS, let alone the Union. With Maurice Edu being the big name signing of the offseason and the most expectations heaped on him, it has been Nogueira who has had the biggest impact. To add to the bonus of landing such a great player, he isn't even at a DP contract, yet. Depending on the final position of his former club, FC Sochaux, the Union have to pay out more, bumping Nogueira to DP status. Wait! There's another bonus! FC Sochaux is only 2 points away from safety and has a pretty favorable end of season schedule. It is very possible they could save their top flight status and the Union be saved some extra cash.
Once the Union offense gets going, expect a major contribution to be coming from this man. I expect him to make the Best XI roster at the end of the year no matter where the Union end up.
The Bad: Making Defenders Look Good
On Saturday against the Houston Dynamo the Union attack made David Horst look like a Defender of the Year candidate. Cross after cross was headed clear by Horst as the Union failed to break the deadlock, despite a lot of attacking play in the second half. Regardless of where the attacking targets were, crosses were sent in from wide positions and seemed to only find Horsts head. Having to listen to the Houston commentary on MLS Live, you would have thought he was the only one playing on the back line.
Sooner or later the Union need to learn to alter their attack and change the game plan. Even when Conor Casey was inserted into the lineup the formation still was a 4-3-3. Late in losing games you'll see Aaron Wheeler float forward in an attempt to add something to the attack, but usually ends up just popping up in random positions and not really adding anything. Throw on Antoine Hoppenot, but he either plays centrally or hangs wide, all dependent on who he enters the game. There's just no diversity to the attack and despite having possession in attacking positions there are few real goal scoring opportunities. Time to go back to the practice field!
The Ugly: Somethings Never Change
If you're not frustrated by the John Hackworth era, you're not paying attention.
There are recurring themes that keep showing up throughout the last two seasons and they are not the types of themes you'd want for your favorite team. The first theme is the lack of discipline in the midfield in tracking runners. In both the New York and Real Salt Lake a goal was scored due to the lack of urgency from the midfield to cover the later runner into the box. An easy pass cut back from the endline found an open attacker who made no mistake and finished. This lack of discipline also extends to set pieces. Far too many open headers and goals coming from corner kicks and free kicks. Seems to me there is a real lack of discipline.
The second theme is the inability to take advantage of a man advantage. Earlier in the season the Union actually gave up a lead while up a man and on Saturday, the Union failed to capitalize. If you have to give credit to former manager Peter Nowak, it would have to be how he sprung to life when there was a man advantage. Nowak would smell blood and go in for the kill. Usually taking off a defender and throwing numbers forward to pressure the opponent. That never happens with Hackworth and in fact, he failed to use the Union's third sub after Sarkodie was sent off and decided to sit on his hands and let the team on the field continue in the same formation and strategy as before the sending off.
A third theme is the continued running players out in positions that are not their natural role, or where they excel. Take Maidana for example. Against RSL he came on as a sub and looked lively, exciting, and dangerous playing on the left hand side after a few games of looking lost on the right wing. What does Hackworth do? He has Maidana lined up on the right! Of course he failed to impress and was yanked by Hackworth as an early second half sub. The other example of this is Aaron Wheeler. He has been a solid stand in centerback, but should never be selected over anyone actually considered a center back. That brings up the question, why is Berry limited to the bench? Whatever the reason, every game that Wheeler starts over him, it makes the late off season moves look sillier and sillier.