Player ratings

Analysis & player ratings: Union 1-0 Revs

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Two weeks into the 2014 season, Philadelphia Union are seconds away from having collecting six of a possible six points from two 2013 playoff teams. But it is the quality of the play that rightfully has Union fans more excited to watch their team than they have been in quite some time.

To put it more simply, the 2014 Union pass the eye test.

Whether you’re a fan of ball movement, pace, physicality, nimble dribbling, or stout defending, the Union have something to offer. While it is obviously too soon to start prognosticating about where this team will be at year’s end, it is fair to say that with a little more time and polish, no one will be looking forward to seeing John Hackworth’s team on their upcoming schedule.

Forward movement

After out-Portering Caleb Porter in Week 1, the Union are showing that they already have a pretty solid grasp on how to move in the final third. This is no longer the team that pins 2, 3 or 4 players to the opposing defense and waits for luck or a mistake to see them through on goal. Jack McInerney’s development has been critical to this evolution, and he was involved in many of the Union’s best chances again on Saturday. While he still prefers life on the back shoulder of a center back, especially a new one like Andrew Farrell, McInerney continued to show his maturity by dropping into the midfield and making space for others.

With Sebastien Le Toux no longer being asked to play a traditional wing role and Leo Fernandes thrust into the starting lineup due to Brian Carroll’s illness, McInerney was partnered with two willing runners. Both reacted quickly and ruthlessly to take that space for the Union’s goal. With McInerney dropping in to take part in the buildup, the Revs’ defense found themselves too high and relaxed when Fernandes and Le Toux popped up at the top of the box.

The way forward?

No one wants to see any player miss matches due to injury or illness, but on Saturday the Union were left to cope without their captain, Brian Carroll. After the 10 minutes it took to get Fernandes fully incorporated into proceedings, the team turned in a first half showing that was better than any period of play ever seen at PPL Park.

Maurice Edu owned the midfield, directing traffic and breaking up play, while the industrious Vincent Nogueira buzzed around him, doing all the dirty work to keep the Revs frustrated and without the ball. Up front, adding another attacking player allowed the Union to wheel and deal even more. Fernandes strode forward to support McInerney, tucked under Le Toux when he took his chances in the box, and slid wide temporarily to allow Maidana and Le Toux to make plays in the center of the pitch.

It was truly a sight to behold, and it begs the question: With which set up should the Union proceed?

Here’s another question: Do they need to pick just one?

Against a team like Columbus, who they face on Saturday (6 pm, TCN, MLS Live), it seems perfectly plausible that Hackworth would favor Carroll over an extra attacker. That would allow the Union captain to wage a one-on-one battle with Federico Higuain and free up Edu and Nogueira to shut down the rest of the Crew’s relatively narrow attack. Now that he has seen how free-flowing and aggressive his team can look, Hackworth may consider resting Carroll on a home game here or there to allow his offense to open up and go after teams.

That pedal next to the brake

John Hackworth likes to talk about how the Union’s attack comes from their high pressure. It’s a true statement, one with which the Revolution would certainly agree. In the first half, the Union were absolutely flying. Not only did chance after chance come their way, but New England simply looked like their self-belief was gone. If they won possession, they knew they were not going to keep it.

After the break, the game changed, however. The Revs added a striker in the form of Jerry Bengtson, and the Union sat back and ceded the possession and momentum they had so easily won in the first half.

There were extenuating circumstances, namely that they were protecting Aaron Wheeler, a brand new center back. But Hackworth wants to see pressure, and that means a continued commitment to the attack. That much is on the players and should come with time as their chemistry improves and they develop the confidence to press high as a unit without fearing becoming stretched at the back.

Hackworth himself must shoulder some of the blame for the Union’s lack of second half punch, as he waited too long to make his substitutions (apart from the injury enforced one for Austin Berry). Maidana and Fernandes had run their races by the 60th minute, yet Hackworth chose to wait until the 82nd minute to take off McInerney and the 87th to remove Maidana. Because of that, the Union played a large portion of the second half with two sets of tired legs in their midfield.

One final point

When it comes to “stretching a defense,” Jack McInerney does it. Antoine Hoppenot does not.

This is no knock on Hoppenot. As mentioned above, McInerney is an off-the-last-shoulder kind of player, one who forces a defense to sit deeper than they would prefer, creating a pocket of space in which his teammates can operate. Hoppenot, on the other hand, is far better collecting the ball in that pocket of space and running at a tired defense, where his pace and agility can either see him tear cleanly through or at least win fouls.

By taking off McInerney, rather than a tired Fernandes or Maidana, Hackworth cost Hoppenot his effectiveness. Trying to alter his game to be a last-shoulder striker like McInerney, Hoppenot needlessly strayed offside three times in the final 10 minutes and looked nothing like the efficient time-waster he was in Portland.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 8

An 8 may seem high for a goalkeeper who was rarely tested, but considering the shear importance and big-gameness (it’s a word now) of his point blank denial of Fagundez, MacMath deserves it. After finally breaking the deadlock, a defensive stumble could have gifted the Revolution an equalizer. A goal like that can crush the confidence of any team, but MacMath closed the door, ensuring that Fagundez will wake up every morning shaking his head for at least the next week.

Ray Gaddis – 7

Night and day from his performance in Portland, Gaddis was a lights-out defender against the Revs. He held his space confidently and even pushed the play up field, offering Nogueira and Maidana an outlet in New England’s half of the pitch.

Amobi Okugo – 8

Wearing the captain’s armband for the first time in his career, Okugo turned in a complete performance. He controlled play out of the back with smart, clever passing, while maintaining a strong shape in his defense, despite Wheeler’s unexpected inclusion and the Union’s second half sag. As usual, he threw in a few critical interventions, just for good measure.

Austin Berry – 6

Played with the solid, simple fundamentals that appear to be his natural state but looked slightly troubled by the pace and physicality of Bunbury. Was unlucky to be forced off with a leg injury that hopefully won’t prevent him from starting against Columbus.

Fabinho – 6

Attacked with fervor and aggression, though most of his crosses left a bit to be desired. His aggression translated into his defensive play, where he was tough in the tackle, though that led to his being exposed a handful of times through poor timing. A match like this seems to be about what Union fans can expect from Fabinho: He’s an all or nothing type player, on both ends of the pitch.

Maurice Edu – 8

Turned in a tremendous showing in the center of the park after being asked to sit in and defend the midfield only minutes before the match. His leadership, both through his play and vocally, kept the Union in an ideal attacking shape in the first half. Two matches into the MLS season, Edu has been even better than advertised for the Union.

Vincent Nogueira – 8

Nogueira’s quickness and guile is proving a perfect foil for Edu’s power and directness. With passing numbers that Union fans are usually only used to seeing Michael Bradley turn in for the USMNT, Nogueira put in an astonishing amount of work. He rarely concedes the ball, whether by a missed pass or being dispossessed, and was always available for the front four as a safe, convenient outlet.

Leo Fernandes – 7

Had he been taken off when he began to show a lack of 90-minute fitness, his score would have been even higher after a first half in which he excelled in the Union’s new midfield. He exchanged space well with McInerney and made himself available checking back for the ball. He took his assist well and showed a deft touch in midfield to keep play moving and the Revolution chasing.

Sebastien Le Toux – 7

Put in a lung-busting shift that was a return to vintage Le Toux performances for the Union. Reveled in his freedom to run off of McInerney and had little troubling slipping past Soares to score what would prove to be the match-winner. For all the good and hard work he did, Le Toux loses a point for twice missing out a wide open teammate —  first McInerney, then Hoppenot — on the counter. The easy, early pass would have sent both players in unchallenged, but both times Le Toux shaped to shoot, only to rethink his decision and fire a late pass behind his teammate.

Jack McInerney – 6

Forced Shuttleworth into his best save of the match when he redirected Fernandes’ shot on target in the first half. McInerney was always around the action and had a series of good looks at goal. If anything, he was far too unselfish when he laid off for teammates when he should have looked for his own shot. Still, considering the quality of movement, his vastly improved efficiency with his back to goal, and the positions he gets himself into, McInerney will be very confident in the bright start he’s had to the campaign.

Cristian Maidana – 6

Managed to show off his amazing technical quality but remained a peripheral figure to the match, as he is still adjusting to his role on the right flank. Whether he is on the left or the right, however, Maidana shows tremendous commitment to his teammates, chasing the play back into his own half to make defensive plays.

Substitutes

Aaron Wheeler – 6

Considering the circumstances, Wheeler did about as well as Union fans could have hoped. He simply looks like a big, athletic, soccer player playing uncomfortably out of position. Wheeler had three important step-up interceptions to slow down the Revolution attack, but he also turned the ball over on half of his passes and allowed himself to be dispossessed at the back. That simply cannot happen at this level, as teams should, and will, make him pay for those mistakes in the future. Hopefully, Berry’s injury proves to be minor, and the Union never have to explore that avenue.

Antoine Hoppenot – 4

Unlike last week, when Hoppenot’s time-wasting and foul-winning skills were on full display, the substitute attacker made little impact in the closing minutes against the Revs. Given his fresh legs and speed compared to tired defenders, there is no reason he should be caught offside once, let alone three times. That said, he still would have rounded out the performance with an insurance goal had Le Toux passed him the ball in the final moments of the match.

Danny Cruz – N/A

Was only on the field long enough to take a heavy whack from Fagundez. Considering that the replacement referee, Kevin Morrison, was unable to read his watch and ended the match before the allotted added time, it proved to be quite an effective time-wasting measure.

Geiger Counter

Kevin Morrison – 2

Unlike the composed, steady performance of last week’s replacement referee, Ioannis Stavridis, Kevin Morrison was an unmitigated disaster. Not only did he show absolutely zero consistency in his calls, he also didn’t seem to know what constituted a foul and even went so far as to overrule his assistants.

There was the terrible: Andy Dorman running through Nogueira’s back only for the foul to go against the Union. And there was the bizarre: Jerry Bengtson handling the ball directly in front of the assistant, who flagged it, but was overruled for a phantom foul on Wheeler. Then there was the terrible again: Waiting to the 70th minute to issue his first, and only, yellow card on A.J. Soares in a late attempt to curtail the Revs Hack-a-Everyone game plan. Morrison had a nightmare performance.

Please do not read this as a suggestion that the calls only went in one direction. That would have attached a logical bias to Morrison’s decision making. There was none, and the Revolution will have plenty of their own gripes (though if any of them are about the handful of low brow dives from Lee Nguyen, they should probably keep them to themselves).

In the end, the only reason he scored above a 1 is because, thankfully, he had no effect on the outcome of the game and the better team won.

Preferred Starting XI for Saturday’s trip to Columbus Crew

4-3-3

MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Berry, Fabinho; Carroll, Edu, Nogueira; Le Toux, McInerney, Maidana

As mentioned above, Carroll’s inclusion allows the Union to clamp down on Higuain and stop the flow of their offense through the middle of the park.

73 Comments

  1. Hezekiah Ezekiel Petershwim says:

    You got Gaddis a few digits low. He was my clear cut MOTM. He dominated his side of the field like Deion Sanders used to playing for the Cowboys back in the day. He was taking dudes’ lunch money like he was held back in the 6th grade for three years. 7? Pffft, man, get out of here with that. What, he flubbed receiving a pass right after the first kick? He did nothing else wrong and embarrassed their left wing for 90 minutes. Ray gets a 9 for me.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      With a few good crosses added, I would agree, but, yes, terrific defending.

    • I didn’t have him as MOTM (Nogueira) but I agree, at least an 8!

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I had him back and forth from 7 to 8 at least twice. Probably should have gone for the 8. He defended extremely well and the only thing that moved him down a point was that he still lacks the comfort on the attack up the wing that a guy like Sheanon Williams seems to bring effortlessly. It was still a very good performance from Ray.

      • Gaddis: night and day from last game but then again, against Portland he was charged with covering Nagbe. I think this says a lot more about Nagbe’s game (he is good!) than Gaddis’ defensive chops. Against the Revs, Ray was a wall.

    • gaddis is the clear motm for me. i think just about everyone else is rated a point or two too high on this list.

    • +1. Gaddis was Man O’ The Match. And I don’t believe anyone has mentioned his excellent defensive chemistry with Edu — they seemed completely on the same page with their coverage. I’d give him an 8.

  2. I felt as I watched like I had switched positions with most teams from last year. It felt like if we don’t win we will consider ourselves unlucky where last year most points we earned felt stolen.
    It took five seasons but I feel as though we finally have a team that has the technical skill to be effective. Its not all run and grind there is some beauty now.
    I feel like macmath is finally being pushed and developing. I am also happy for le toux as he has been much maligned and bounced around by fans and team alike but ultimately union home openers are his place to shine. Lets hope he continues to produce and play like this the rest of the season.

  3. A noble save embiggens the youngest keeper

  4. Great analysis Eli. The only difference I saw was that, yes, while Maidana was willing to try to get back defensively, he often lacked the pace or strength to catch up to the play. Not too concerning given his obvious offensive capabilities, but perhaps he shouldn’t be paired on the left with Fabinho ever. Also, Fabinho is going to get beat at least once or twice a game. Should we move Amobi to the left CB position to be able to cover that ground faster than Berry can? I’m trying to think how we would all be feeling today if Fagundez had placed his shot better. Zac made an amazing save, but you gotta think that shot goes in 9 out of 10 times the rest of the season.

    • Edu was filling in on the left when Fab made his runs. This is exactly what a holding mid should do and Mo was covering like a champ.

    • The Fagundez break was a result of Amobi sleeping.
      You make valid points… just saying.
      If we play w/ Edu @ DM and no BC, I think Caddis gets the start on the left when SW is healthy.

  5. Andy Muenz says:

    New concept this year – Aaron Wheeler, Super Sub. Similar to Hoppenot last year except Wheeler comes in at a different position each game. I see him slated to come in for MacMath in the 70th minutes in the game against DC United on May 10! Can’t wait for that one 🙂 🙂

  6. Southside Johnny says:

    I feel like we have gone from the most unimaginative, predictable, easiest to defend, linear teams in the league to a wonderfully mercurial defender’s nightmare. Sweet. Living on counterattack and balls pounded into the box sucked so bad. This year with all the good options at hand for Hack, he has, for the most part, the kind of problems coaches would kill for. He can change things up with personnel and tactics and have consistently good quality. The goals will come and from more players. Good analysis and ratings.

  7. I though Maidana gave the wall away too much, on passes and tackles. I know he looked great last week but I think he deserves a four this week.

    Otherwise, the doop that is sung for the game winner is loud, and I hear its echoes ringing from the future.

  8. I wonder about the Le Toux non-passes. He has been a very unselfish player in the past. He was playing on the left both times, right? Perhaps he’s just not comfortable making those crosses with his left foot and so opted to go to goal?

    • Yes, he’s uncomfortable making those passes with his left foot.

    • He’s uncomfortable with his left foot in general

    • I wouldn’t necessarily call him an unselfish player. I feel like he’s always been slow at seeing the run off the shoulder and is only left with a poor option to shoot. This is why it’s always tough to find a position for him.

  9. Agreed with all of this, Hoppenot really is a letdown so far this year. He’s not reading the game at all. I don’t think he was a “super sub” more than we were very bad last year and now his level is showing. Gaddis looked very good, but he looked very tentative when he should’ve had a few crosses in the first half.

  10. One other note, when Danny Cruz went down the people in my section and I were yelling to get up, the fear being that a replacement ref would keep the game going even longer. You can imagine our shock/delight!

  11. Great analysis and spot on on the ratings.

    I agree with previous comments on the great possibilities for variations in the lineup adn its deployment, however so far I still see the predictable subs in the last 20 minutes. Everyone knows (including opposing teams) that Hop and Cruz will come in and what they will do. With the need to kill the game off or manage the clock in the final minutes I would have liked to see more possession oriented players come in and knocking the ball around more consistently. Is not like the team doesn’t have the players that can potentially do that: Bone, Fred if signed (He was in the pre-game warm-ups), Ribeiro, heck even Keon, etc.

    I don’t want to take away from Hop or Cruz as they do have skills that are very valuable in the final minutes of a match, I’m saying that we have more resources and I hope in the future they are deployed based on a good read of current game conditions, rather than what seems to be decisions made on a pre-game plan. If when available, we use those resources better, we certainly have the potential to go far.

  12. 2 was a really generous rating for the scab ref. I think that was the first time I’ve seen a ref lose control BEFORE the game started — when the Union decided to have a kick-around before the kick-off, the ref was telling them to but the ball back and they just ignored him. And randomly spraying the line for the wall, and then not bothering to enforce it, doesn’t really help with the respect from the players. And I’m pretty sure NE fans think the ref *did* affect the outcome, given Fernandes’s contact with the Revs player right before his assist.

  13. I liked these rating for the most part. Gaddis was my MOTM without a doubt. I usually HATE Fernandes but in this match he was phenomenal. Honestly I was just happy that Carroll wasn’t playing keep captain Okugo in charge. If Hack feels it necessary to play Carroll instead of Fernandes or Bone fine but don’t give him the armband back. He doesn’t deserve it what so ever. Okugo, Le Toux, and Williams deserve it way more.

    • say what you will about whether carrol is over the hill as a player, but i don’t know how anyone outside of the team can say whether or not he deserves to be captain. i’d imagine that decision is made based on how he interacts with the team during games and practices and there is no way an outside observer can understand that

      • True. But during games you don’t see much but His jaw hanging open in silence.
        If it wasn’t for tenure, Edu would be captain. Watch him on the field coach his teammates. And everything from him off the field is spot on too.

  14. I would give a little extra credit to Fabinho because he was clearly hobbling in the second half after there were no more subs and fought very hard to keep Bunbury at bay. We had a great view of it and it was a very gutty performance, even though he is not the greatest defensively.

    It is fantastic to see Edu operate in person. He gives the Union a physical dimension that only Sheanon approaches. Plus his soccer IQ is quite high. Anyone else think he has a shot to get back in the USMNT picture?

    • Fabinho was playing injured for more than half of the match. He started limping on the first half. It was a testament to both his courage and will power that he finished the match as he did.

  15. McInerney needs to stop running back and fowling someone when he gets beat. That childless behavior needs to stop.

    • He loses the ball and creates a problem, and he needs to solve it. That is responsibility and a sign of maturity. Now, if he could have shut that threat down w/o a foul, nice. But he didn’t foul in frustration. It was tactical.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      It would be much better if Jack wasn’t the one coming back in those situtations and there was more defensive coverage rather than putting him in that position in the first place.

  16. The Black Hand says:

    Spot on ratings, Eli. I would only have differed on Gaddis’ rating, which you discussed earlier. He was outstanding! Manned the wing far more than people realize and he did it effectively. Tackling and positioning were superb. He is my pick for ‘top performer’ without question! He worked hard to improve on his game and, to me, it’s showing.

    • The Black Hand says:

      As for next week…I disagree, in regards to Carroll. I see your logic and it does make sense. Higuain is nasty and will be devastating if given time, so bottle up his midfield and force Columbus to redirect its attack. However, that adjustment would be GUARANTEED to disrupt our possession, which is our best defense against any player. I would let Edu and Higuain go at it, and focus on effective possession and linking the pitch. Carroll has nothing for Higuain and, deep down, we know this. Edu will man the DM more effectively (my opinion) without having to work around Carroll. Lee Nguyen (NE) is very good, nowhere remotely near the caliber of Higuain, but very good in his own right. Edu erased him AND was able to be an integral, CONTRIBUTING factor in the (at times relentless) Union attack. I would have faith in Edu, abandon the ’empty bucket’ and start making clubs worry about our midfield-driven attack!!

      That’s what I would like to see. I have no doubt that Hackworth will opt for Carroll in the mid and could see it working out, with the club drawing a point from Columbus. I just think that we could be much more threatening, if we went at teams ‘guns-a-blazin’ and put them on their heels! I could be wrong…

  17. Nice, Eli. I continue to be impressed by Noguiera. Fab has really upped his stock with his last 2 performances. Leo was masterful and I see NO reason why the starting 3 mids (if we are playing a 4-3-3) should not include him instead of Carroll.

  18. More goals. That’s what I’d like to see going forward for the Union. The build up play and the opportunities are clearly there, we’re just not finishing them.

    A 1-0 lead is a very feeble one and the smallest mistake can take away 2 points. From this perspective, MacMath’s save in the 1st half was huge and we could be talking about a very different story today. That’s great for our keeper, but as a team the Union should look to secure the victory with more goals, rather than more saves.

    I think the U was lucky that MacMath came up big and new England didn’t bring their A game on Saturday.

    After a great 1st half I was a bit disappointed to see the team seat deeper in the second half and was happy to absorb pressure instead of taking the game to New England to try and secure the game with a second goal. Something similar happened in Portland, but I understand it is different when you’re playing away.

    Hopefully everyone will be healthy next game and that pressure is consistent through the end of the game.

  19. old soccer coach says:

    I thought it was to Fabinho’s credit that Heaps switched Fagundez from his right flank (defended by Fabinho and Maidana) to his left (defended by Gaddis and Maidana/Le Toux). When a coach switches his best to a different place, the original defensive scheme deserves some credit! Fagundez disappeared in the first half.

  20. I have to say that I was not quite as impressed with the Union’s play in the first half as you were, Eli. Yes, certainly it was good, and with regard to possession it was outstanding. They kept the ball a long time, making smart passes, and did a great job of getting the ball back from the Revs quickly. But the offense was generally missing the last pass in the final third, and there were too many long balls played over the top — shades of last season, even with our much-improved lineup.

    Here’s what I find interesting: prior to the season, we all thought that we had a good group of productive forwards, but that our new midfield and adjusted defense would take some time to gel. In point of fact, our defense has been quite solid from the get-go, and the midfield has been nothing short of phenomenal. And it’s our striker corps that seems to need to adjust to the new regime. I am very optimistic that they will, but it needs to happen, because scoring 1 goal per game is not going to cut it.

  21. One of the biggest improvements for Zac this year that seems to have gone unnoticed is the difference in his distribution. He’s been much more calm and playing the throw out of the back instead of just booting it upfield like every other year. That must make the possession go up 5% right there.

  22. You all have it wrong. Carroll was the Man of the Match for not being able to play.
    ———-
    That was truly an exciting, well played game. You could just fell the fan enthusiasm and optimism ahead of kickoff

  23. kingkowboys says:

    Ethan White must SUCK to not come in when a starting CB goes down. I was shocked to see Wheeler coming in for Berry. I don’t understand Hackworth’s desire to find new positions for players. If we had no other CBs then I understand it’s out of necessity, but we have another CB with MLS experience to boot. If Wheeler is better than White, Wheeler plays but it’s still strange.

    Gaddis’ defending was sick, ‘nough said.

    Is this the game that takes the armband permanently from Carroll? I think it should be. Okugo is the young leader the team will grow with and it means Carroll can be substituted and rested without changing the captain/chemistry.

    • Amobi clearly has the respect of his team mates, but if Carroll is out of the long term picture – and assuming that there is not a significant language barrier – based on what I’ve seen the past two games, Nogueira is the perfect choice. Not a knock on Amobi; rather, an endorsement of what I see on the field from VN (him directing players on the field, experience level, etc.)

    • i kind of agree here but i would guess that it was tactical to pick wheeler over white. maybe they figured NE wouldn’t be able to build through the midfield because of our strength there so they would be trying for a lot of long balls and they wanted wheeler’s height to snuff those plays out before they go anywhere

    • PainDon'tHurt says:

      Hacktics, man. Hacktics.

  24. I thought Gaddis played well. However, the difference is Edu-Nogueira, they are raising the play of the rest of the team. Or at the very least, papering over the challenges some of our team has. It’s like we dropped a brand new engine in an ’83 Chevette. Kinda looks the same on the outside but it suddenly hums and purrs.

    Nogueira covered so much ground, and frankly, while Gaddis played well, what made him look so good was having the outlets of Edu and Nog there to help him as a release valve. Last year he would have raced upfield and had no one to pass to, now he has a player running inside him who can drop back into space and receive the ball. I spent about half the first 45 just watching Noggy pop up in space all over and was amazed. We’ve never had interconnected play like that.

    My mea culpa – preseason I didn’t think they were a playoff team. While Maidana is flashy and Edu an MLS All Star destroyer, Nogueira’s vision, pace, work rate and fantastic passing is what has changed my mind about where we can finish. Speaking of finishing…need some more of that.

  25. Hoppenot gets a 4?? He was brutal. He was a one-man offense killer. He alternated his offsides with turnovers.

    Gaddis and Fernandes were both better than normal.

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