This article has taken some time because of my vacation to NOLA this past week. Enjoy it as a precursor of sorts to today's Colorado Rapids - Philadelphia Union game. It's a long one.
Zac MacMath - 6: The young goalkeeper made some sensational saves throughout his debut as the Union's no. 1, but one blunder ruined his night. MacMath let an Andrew Jean-Baptiste header slip through his rain soaked gloves, giving Portland an equalizing goal minutes after Gabriel Gomez scored on a free kick for Philadelphia. Even after giving up his first goal of the season, MacMath was confident and aggressive, asserting himself physically throughout his box. While he was not as vocal or as organized as Faryd Mondragon, the former Maryland standout made numerous point blank and reflex saves that the older Colombian would not have been able to accomplish. Putting the good and the bad together, MacMath was about average, but showed a great deal of promise in the loss.
Sheanon Williams - 5: Last year's breakout player appeared anxious and put in a less than desirable performance. Williams was expected to continue his form from 2011, but it was never seen Monday night. The 21-year-old was beaten multiple times near the Union's 18, allowing far too many excursions into the Philadelphia box. His inability to stay on his feet left fellow defender Carlos Valdes under pressure for significant portions of the game. Offensively, Williams was a neutral contributor for the Union. The right back did not move forward with the tenacity or fervor he displayed a year ago, instead favoring to float toward midfield and progressing not much further, happy to just continue play and not progress with it. Williams typically plays with a focus on contributing from endline-to-endline, but did not stray far from his own 18 for the majority of the game.
Danny Califf - 5: From a statistically based approach, Califf's night looks rather poor, given the fact that he was seemingly at fault for Kris Boyd's headed goal and almost for a penalty early on in the game. However, Califf was left hanging by Porfirio Lopez for the entire game, forced to deal with crosses and box invading attackers all night. The 31-year-old was unable to handle the load of the defensive effort, reverting back to his 2010 self, not the revitalized 2011 version. Lopez, and an uncommunicative Gabriel Gomez, failed to handle either the cross or Boyd's run, making a last ditch effort by Califf appear to be faulty defense. Califf needs stability from his left back in order to excel, as seen last year. Future outings should be bright for Califf, but his teammates must help.
Carlos Valdes - 7: The Colombian had a night to remember, though there was one incident that may have caused him to forget it all. A mistimed header attempt by Portland's Boyd forced Valdes to the ground, in pain, after the two clashed heads. After a few minutes, Valdes left the field and returned to the game shortly there after. He managed to hold his own for the remainder of the match. Valdes was strong both on and off of the ball, causing problems for opposing players. The 3-1 scoreline would have been far worse for the Union if not for Valdes' heroics, including a goaline headed clearance of a sure goal.
Porfirio Lopez - 2: The left back had a debut reminiscent of only David Myrie's horrific start for the Union against the Seattle Sounders. Myrie was quickly released without much, if any, questioning by fans after the Costa Rican right back was manhandled by the Sounders. Lopez is safe from such an end, given his expectations and apparent support from the coaching staff, but he has to improve nonetheless. The 26-year-old appeared to be the target of the Timbers' offensive strategy, as Portland constantly chose to push the ball down the left side of the field. Lopez was consistently either out of position to start any defensive attempt, or was not aggressive enough in trying to stop crosses from being sent into the box. His inability to read his opposition, or his lack of talent level to do so, helped to create a major problem for Califf on Boyd's eventual goal, which started from a lack of pressure by Lopez on a cross by Kalif Alhassan. The Union defense will live and die based on how well Lopez plays, since it directly affects how much Califf is forced to react to and do within his comfort zone, and out of it. In addition to his defensive mistakes, Lopez as lucky to not have been sent off early in the second half. Lopez made a poor decision and slid from behind on an opposing player, catching his legs, not getting the ball whatsoever. He did not receive a card for it, but upon second viewing, it was a clear foul and a possible straight red.
Gabriel Gomez - 6.5: This score changed several times before 6.5 was finally chosen because of tactics, which will be talked about later. Gomez was a bright spot for the Union, easily living up to the hype that followed his signing by the Union this offseason. The Panamanian international wreaked havoc among the Portland offense, dropping deeper and deeper to help protect the Union defense and also try to start play. This decision, however, proved to cause a disruption in said link play, and also limited the effectiveness of Gomez himself. Gomez ended up spending most of his time in front of the defense, betraying his box-to-box strengths. A 4-2-3-1 formation requires the ball to be played out of the defense, which is where a player like Gomez is supposed to start linking the offensive move forward, but by assuming a Brian Carroll-like anchor role, the midfielder stopped things before they started. Gomez also left Califf to deal with Boyd on the Timbers' second goal, but did not appear to communicate the responsibility hand off to the team's captain. He did have a free kick credited to him for a goal, the only one of the night for Philadelphia. Whether or not it would have gone into Portland's net if not for for some help by Andrew Jean-Baptiste is up for debate, but Gomez scored one of the few direct free kick goals in franchise history. If Gomez can play to his full talent level and mesh well with the Union, his form will be high and he'll be regarded as possibly the best player on the team. Chemistry is needed to have that come true.
Brian Carroll - 6: The MLS veteran had a quiet night, which is exactly what is needed out of an anchor defensive midfielder. There was not much to dissect out of his play, given it was typical of him. Unseen and unheard are how fans know that Carroll did his job. It'd have improved his score a bit if he was able to contribute to linking play, but even Gomez was lacking in that regard.
Freddy Adu - 4: The attacking midfielder brought little creativity and even less positivity to the table for the Union on Monday night. At $600,000 plus-a-year in salary, Adu is expected to not only produce, but also contribute at a level worthy of the highest wages on the team. The 22-year-old showed, as he always seems to do, a small glimpse into his potential laden skill set, yet could not find a way to capitalize on it. Sometimes Adu found himself with free space after dribbling through or around defenders, an action he could not successfully undertake but a season ago. His give-and-go with Josue Martinez led to a beautiful chipped cross into the center of the box to Lionard Pajoy, but the forward's header was immediately blocked. It was a rather quiet night for Adu, who now rejoins the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) under-23 squad for Olympic qualifying with teammate Amobi Okugo.
Michael Farfan - 5: The still emerging talent had an average day all around. Expectations were high for Farfan, who was a finalist for the 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year award, but he was unable to find a way to live up to them against Portland. Little was open to him over the center of the midfield, placing Farfan into a position that prevented him from introducing his creativity into the game to aid the anemic Union offense. Farfan play was flustered by the lack of room usually open to him on the right wing, or the outside of the midfield. Tactically it appeared to be a heavy change for Farfan to undertake, despite his statements to the Brotherly Game, at the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, about having the versatility and ability to play any attacking midfield position. His main strngth last season was using his on-the-ball skills to create space to allow teammates to make attacking runs. Farfan also tended to cut from the outside toward the top of the opposing 18, before unleashing a shot toward the far post with a surprisingly strong left foot. The midfielder may have been too unselfish in his play on Monday night, passing up one opportunity to do the aforementioned lefty strike, but did have one missed attempt. In the end, Farfan's lackluster day seemed to result from the the tactical tinkering of head coach Piotr Nowak, who favors versatility and constantly changing formation strategies, which did not deliver for either the player or the team.
Josue Martinez - 4.5: The youthful Costa Rican international was rather dazed and confused when handed his Philadelphia debut. Since his acquisition, Martinez's potential roles within the Union offense were heavily debated. Game film and reports from Costa Rica defined him as a withdrawn froward, capable of moving to an out-and-out potision when asked. There was speculation that the Union might include Martinez as part of a 4-3-3 formation, allowing the striker to utilize his speed when running at defenders. Nowak chose to give Martinez the start at what seemed to be a left midfield position within the confines of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Martinez was asked to cover a lot of ground, both offensively and defensively, while partnering with compatriot Lopez. Due to a combination of a low, unsatisfactory amount of forward play and coverage by Lopez, Martinez's display gave off the impress of a frustrated, tactically confused player. His role was never defined once the game started, no matter what the pre-game chalkboard had read in the locker room. The 21-year-old did have one notable excursion into the Timbers territory, following a switch to the right side of the field during the second half. Martinez linked up with Adu before sliding a pretty through ball forward back to the former American international. Otherwise, invisible was the word to describe Martinez's day, but it was completely his fault.
Lionard Pajoy - 6: It was a tale of two halves for Pajoy. Excellent hold up play enabled the Union to push forward a little in the first half and Pajoy had moments where he showed off sublime shielding technique and some speed. Once the second half started much of that disappeared. Pajoy was playing as if winded for much of the second half, limiting the impact he had on the game. There's still much to come from Pajoy and it might do him well to have a strike partner up front to feed him the ball. A lone striker is quite often just alone.
Danny Mwanga - 5.5: He tried. That's about all that can be said about Mwanga's performance. The camera panned to him during the early part of the first half and he looked perturbed because he had not been given the start. In a 30 minute cameo, Mwanga was stuck in the same mire that Pajoy, Martinez, Farfan were playing within. Toward the end of the game he and his teammates were able to gain some ground, but nothing came of it.
Jack McInerney - 5: Looked dangerous, but nothing came of it. McInerney has the look of someone ready to leave it all on the field as a substitute and will eventually get a goal coming out of that role. Added some muscle this offseason which helped him keep the ball better than last year.
Keon Daniel - N/A: Too incomplete of a performance to say anything other than it's been far too long since last seeing Tobago's "Predator" on the field.