Union match reports

Recap: Philadelphia Union 0–0 Toronto FC

In a meeting of the 2014 MLS Offseason Champions®©™, neither the Philadelphia Union nor Toronto FC seemed ready for the regular season to start. Both winless in the 2014 Disney Pro Soccer Classic, the teams played out a relatively tame 0–0 draw on Wednesday.

Union manager John Hackworth said after the game, “Just like in most of these preseason games you see some very good things, and those moments you have to be able to build on and be able to sustain those positives over longer periods of time. Clearly, we have some things we still need to improve on but I thought today we created enough chances to easily put one or two in the back of the net today.”

The game

The first half was uneventful, with both teams still firmly in preseason mode.

The starting lineups, however, were much more like what they are likely to field on opening day. With new Union acquisition Austin Berry only just arrived, Aaron Wheeler started at center back with Amobi Okugo, flanked by Fabinho and Sheanon Williams and backstopped by Zac MacMath in goal. Ahead, Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu held down the middle, with Chaco Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, and Sebastien Le Toux looking to attack with Jack McInerney.

Conor Casey, Antoine Hoppenot, Michael Lahoud, Richie Marquez, and Pedro Ribeiro were all unavailable as they recover from various knocks. Andre Blake was unavailable after leaving camp today to join the Jamaican national team for a pair of friendlies against Barbados and St. Lucia.

Neither team looked very settled in the opening stages, with Toronto’s best chances coming from Union giveaways. Michael Bradley, the biggest offseason signing in MLS, was unsurprisingly active, popping up everywhere between the boxes. For the Union, Edu was quiet, but Nogueira was lively, always looking to get on the ball.

The first good Union build-up came in the 17th minute, with a crossfield ball from Nogueira on the left to Maidana on the right. Maidana played in Williams on the overlap, and Williams’s cross found Le Toux at the near post, only to see Toronto goalkeeper Julio Cesar put the shot out for a corner. Unfortunately for the Union, Williams appeared to injure himself on the play and was replaced by Ray Gaddis.

The Union’s midfield was very fluid, with all three attackers swapping positions at will. The movement gave Toronto difficulty in marking, but was also gave the Union players problems with their spacing, resulting in few coherent moves. Toronto’s main weapons were the passing of Bradley and counterattacks from Union turnovers, of which there were too many.

The half came to a close with a decent chance for Edu, who had a swipe at a volley from the top of the Toronto box, but his shot flew high. The teams went to the break scoreless.

The second half was played at a slightly higher pace. The teams were almost unchanged to start, with Toronto making one sub, bringing on Ashton Morgan for Justin Morrow, who had injured himself late in the first in a collision with McInerney. The Union’s possession game improved in the early going. A series of good crosses from Fabinho and then good interplay between Maidana, Edu, and Carroll led to a string of Union corners, but none were converted into decent chances.

Around the hour mark, the game grew stretched, with both teams capitalizing on turnovers to race forward. First the Union, then Toronto, had free kicks from just outside the box, but neither drew saves from the keepers. Dwayne DeRosario had a good opportunity inside the Union box, but his shot was tame.

The game settled down, with the Union relatively comfortable but creating little. On 69 minutes, Danny Cruz replaced Maidana. On 73, Leo Fernandes replaced Le Toux. Austin Berry had already come on, back in the 60th.

The game looked like it would peter out with little further action, but Fernandes had two very good shooting opportunities in the 89th minute, both following good passing from Edu and Nogueira. Toronto keeper Julio Cesar covered both, and the game ended scoreless.

Quick thoughts

Vincent Nogueira: The best new signing for the Union might be the least heralded, as Nogueira was consistently the best midfield player for Philadelphia. Not only did he constantly seek the ball and look for attacking opportunities, but he was committed defensively for the whole game. He’s one to watch.

Attacking tactics: As noted above, the midfield’s movement created opportunities, but it was also disorganized. The Union did not look as if they had a coherent offensive gameplan, though they found Fabinho frequently on the left wing for dangerous crosses. The added danger he provides on the left seems to have pushed him in front of Gaddis for the starting left back spot.

Turnovers: Aside from lacking an attacking idea, the biggest problem for the Union was turnovers. Nearly all of Toronto’s chances, such as they were, came from poor Union passing. The team would do well to learn each others’ habits before trying to do too much.

Leo Fernandes: Fernandes has looked much better in preseason than he did during 2013. His use of the ball is smarter and more incisive, and he plays with an on-ball creativity that few of the other Union players possess. That said, most Union fans would have liked to see Pedro Ribeiro get some minutes.

Where are the goals? The Union are much better in possession than they were last season but have yet to consistently create quality chances for shots from open play. Jack McInerney was fairly isolated for much of the game and had few chances to get a shot on goal. That has to change for the Union to be successful.

Disciplinary Summary
TFC: Morgan (caution) 55’
PHI: Okugo (caution) 63’
PHI: Carroll (caution) 71’

Philadelphia Union
MacMath, Fabinho, Wheeler (Berry 65’), Okugo, Williams (Gaddis 19’), Carroll, Edu, Maidana (Cruz 67’), Nogueira, Le Toux (Fernandes 74’), McInerney

Toronto FC
Cesar, Morrow (Morgan 45’), Henry, Caldwell, Hagglund, Rey (Aparicio 84’), Osorio, Bradley, Jackson (Bekker 80’), DeRosario (Lambe 70’), Weideman


  1. Fabinho is a disaster in defense. The “danger” he brings on the attack is not worth getting roasted like a christmas goose.

  2. A couple things-
    Nogueira was the man of the match in my opinion. He was exactly what we didnt have last season
    Fernandes had a really good game; he seemed much less timid than last season and I could see him being a regular contributor if he can keep it up
    Lastly, and I know this has been the talking point in the comments on this site for a couple weeks, I have a real hard time seeing Carrol as a better option over other midfielders. It isn’t even that he had an especially bad game. It seems like between Okugo stepping up and Edu and Nogueira playing smart and winning the ball Carrol gets in the way more than anything else. Give me Ribiero or Fernandes.

    • agreed

    • Southside Johnny says:


    • I’d rather have another forward in there (Casey). Jack Mac is too weak to work up there alone

      • Agree

      • The Black Hand says:

        It is crazy to me, to not have Casey up top. He factored more, offensively, than anyone on the club. Without his presence, we are a very easy assignment for opposing back lines. Jack does not threaten as a single striker. He tends to fall back, too often and his lack of size gives him very little chance of challenging for the long ball. Casey would allow Jack to focus on his runs and our, much improved (I hope), midfield might just be able to make the play. No Casey means that our CM will advance too high. Add to that, Carroll doing his thing and you are left with a gaping hole in the middle, which would bring on the back line lofting long ball after long ball…straight to our opponent.
        *Keep Casey in the XI.
        *Use Carroll as a situational substitute (Protect a lead).
        *For once, allow your skilled midfielders to do what they were brought in to do.

        These are three things that I would love to see from our manager.

      • we’d lose the midfield battle

  3. I wish the Union were playing Portland mid-season, instead of the first game. Watching this team play (assuming the parts do jell at some point) against Porterball would be a right entertaining game.

  4. I wonder when in 2014 the first Union goal will be scored at PPL …

  5. Southside Johnny says:

    I was happy with the sub choices. As much as I have maligned Cruz as a starter, he is a great option in the last 30 against tired defenses. On the other hand, if Le2 can’t figure out his role in this shape, as much as I hate to say it, maybe he starts.

    • Noooo.
      They played an empty bucket 4-4-2 much like SAFs ManU of old. LeToux and Mac were up top and that’s not a good pairing. In the 4-3-3, LeToux is the RM starter. In a 4-4-2, it has to be Casey and Mac up top and LeToux is dropped.
      Danny Cruz has no business starting with this technical midfield. A change-of-pace player off the bench? Maybe.

  6. Carrol played well. The Union turned the ball over way too frequently and Carrol positioned himself to break up the counters. He also,did a nice job of settling situations and allowing the midfield to reset itselft. Right now, his presence is more help than hindrance.

    I just hope Casey is healthy and ready to,play. His presence in the box, ability to hold and finish is sorely needed. If LeToux can’t finish his chances (and he really didn’t last year), then he isn’t really giving us enough in a forward position.

    • Um, most of those turnovers came from Carroll…

      • pretty sure Edu had a few more than Carroll. Everyone was bad in this department.

      • +1

      • Carrol had multiple defense splitting passes that sent the U on the attack. He also won that fifty-fifty with Bradley like a man and proceeded to step into twenty yards of space before having a blast of a shot that barely missed the target. Ignore the first 15 minutes for everyone and I would say we firmly outplayed Toronto. Minus Wheeler this is probably our starting XI and after they have a few more weeks together watch out.

      • You’re both right. Carroll led the team in awful for the first 10-15 minutes. But he really settled into the game as it went on. As he gets more trusting that his fellow mids have his back, we should see the Carroll of old. Or, we’ll see that he *is* old.

      • The Black Hand says:

        The quality of play in the MLS has evolved far beyond the abilities of Carroll “of old”. Gone are the days of balls lofted blindly to ‘whoever’. Possession and distribution are what we need. Carroll gives us neither.

    • Le Toux can finish. McInerney isn’t exactly lighting the lamp either. So just bulls eyeing Le Toux is overkill. He’s there to help set up plays and is always a threat to score. The rest will come. Cruz coming in late will pay dividends. Carroll was ok put I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t be better coming off the bench. I was wrong about Wheeler, I think he’ll add depth to the position and gives us more options. I could be imagining things but Williams conditioning concerns me. It goes back to last year. He’s still the best in MLS though. Union had too many passing miss ques. Toronto wasn’t great either. I thought Fabinho was ok. He appears to be catching on. You can definitely see the potential of this team . Now, can Hackworth manage skilled players? We’ll see…

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    Agreed on the turnovers but that has been a problem for years in my opinion. Also agreed that Noguiera looks really good. Still preseason but I do like what I see so far. Some goals would be nice though

  8. no goals is worrying.

  9. Goals will come. We completely overhauled our midfield and the final passes were off a bit. And put a healthy Casey on the end of some of those Fabinho crosses and you’ll get goals…and free up pressure on either Maidana or Noguera or JackMac.
    And a great many of our turnovers would disappear if Carroll isn’t starting. There’s a reason he tends to pass backwards, because he turns it over going forward.
    With Edu, Noguera, and Maidan, Carroll literally serves no purpose.
    Hackworth will be feeling the heat this year…it’s all on his tactics now.

  10. My main concern with Carroll starting, other than the turnovers and back passes, is that it blocks out another guy who might benefit (player and team) from the minutes. Ribiero for example. Or, if you play a 4-2-3-1 to keep Carroll on the field, then it effectively blocks out Hoppenot and Big Country. I also thought Carroll had a better than average game for him yesterday, but he serves no purpose. Are the Union shopping Keon Daniel? I assume so. If no one’s interested it means that other FO’s agree with Union fans and disagree with Hackworth as to his value. Scary. I gotta admit I’m a little nervous with this awesome new attacking midfield and Jack Mac and everything that we can’t score goals.

    • We’d have had a goal yesterday, created by this new midfield and Jack Mac, if Le toux didn’t have the touch of a 12 year old American.

  11. Wheeler:
    I had a former teammate of mine from Italy watch the game online. He’s never watched the Union play, but he wanted to see Bradley. He’s a defensive stud, so I asked him to keep an eye on Wheeler and give me his thoughts. I never told him that he was a striker, so this is theoretically an unbiased opinion:
    “…he was the best centerback on the pitch. Good feet, tight and smart passes and he was good in air. Position space very good. He stopped a lot attacks of TFC. Very good defender.”
    Crazy, right? It’s easy to attack Hack on the “out of position” issue, but maybe he’s on to something. I’m keeping an open mind.

    • yeah. i was surprised by him as well. he was doing a lot of calm decent work. his passing out of the back was pretty bad though

    • I am kinda warming up to the Wheeler experiement JUST because it means having Wheeler + Gaddis on the bench would cover any backline issue. Ideally, of course, Okugo+Berry go 90 every game.

      So this allows Wheeler to provide depth at two very different positions.

      • Wheeler looked good back there especially in the air. I bet that versatility gets him into the 18 pretty darn often.

    • Interesting idea. Great point. Saying he’s better than Toronto’s center backs isn’t saying much, but he looked all right to me.

  12. Wheeler is only “out of position” because of a label put on him. If he came in with the label “CB,” nobody would be batting an eye.

  13. With wheeler and Gaddis we actually have some decent Def cover now.
    Carroll consistently turned the ball over any time he tried to pass forward.
    Le Toux looked so confused running around, not like his usual self, this had to be the game plan they were given. He needs to stay on the right and put in crosses.
    Cruz was a good late game sub, perfect role for him.
    I really hope Casey comes back and takes Carroll’s place, the team would be worlds better.

  14. Maidana for corners. All season.

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