Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Revolution 1-3 Union

Photo: David Silverman, courtesy of New England Revolution

Soccer can be such a funny game. Franck Ribery gets hurt, and the French team looks like world beaters. Robin van Persie goes off, and Holland scores a pair of goals to beat Mexico. Vincent Nogueira doesn’t play… and the Philadelphia Union take three points off New England on the road.

Funny, funny game.

Let’s start by going over the issues from the preview.

Patrick Mullins' passing

Patrick Mullins’ passing

Not as down as they seem: Revs really slumping?

This was not the performance of a slumping team, just one regressing to average. New England’s climb up the standings coincided with Patrick Mullins’ emergence as a reliable target forward. Against the Union on Saturday night, Mullins was marked out of the game by Maurice Edu and Sheanon Williams. The Union’s backline kept Mullins from turning and pushing the defense deep by holding up play. Mullins’ passing chart shows that he was inefficient passing toward goal and often collected the ball too far away from goal when he was playing as a target forward.

But while Mullins was ineffective, Teal Bunbury and Diego Fagundez caused problems up the wings. Fagundez in particular attempted to sneak into the middle behind Amobi Okugo and Michael Lahoud. With Lee Nguyen pushed deep to get away from the persistent Okugo, Fagundez was able to maneuver behind the Union wingers on the left and in front of the center backs.

In short, New England looked a lot like the team the Union faced in the second game of the season, albeit with Nguyen in a deeper role.

Okugo and Lahoud retreated deep to prevent the Revs' short passing game from developing. Compare to the 5-3 NE win, where Okugo and Nogueira are trying to close down in midfield.

Okugo and Lahoud retreated deep to prevent the Revs’ short passing game from developing. Compare to the 5-3 NE win, where Okugo and Nogueira are trying to close down in midfield.

Too much chasing will be costly: Okugo and Lahoud hold down the middle

For all the (very well-earned) praise heaped on Vincent Nogueira, he tends to wander from the center of the pitch. Okugo and Lahoud, on the other hand, provided the shape the Union needed to keep New England from connecting passes in their offensive half. Yes, this meant the Union were more limited in how they could transition from offense, but the flipside of this apparent limitation is that the offensive system was significantly less complex than in past games.

Essentially, the Union moved forward by finding Cristian Maidana early or by playing the ball deep and letting Casey hold play up or Le Toux chase. There was much less “building” and much more pragmatic play. It was not pretty. In fact, it was not even very effective in the first half. But it did act as a deterrent for the unconscionable errors that have plagued the team through much of the season. Keeping it simple allowed the Union to retreat into a defensive shape quicker and to move the ball to consistent areas with speed on the transition.

Edu played to start the counter out of the back.

Edu played to start the counter out of the back.

Play deep, counter fast: The Edu/Okugo switch sets the tone

Maurice Edu brought a level of calmness to the back four that allowed the Union to sit deep without relying heavily on the scrambling recovery defense that has played a role in more than a few defensive errors this season. Edu was particularly successful at covering his angles when crosses came in from Chris Tierney, far and away New England’s best player on the night.

But even more important is how Edu moved the ball when he had time. Rarely content to play back and forth with Gaddis, Edu instead pushed the ball through the middle, letting Okugo and Lahoud spread play to the wings once the ball was in the opponents’ half. Edu’s insistence of playing through the midfield rather than the outside backs helped the Union maintain at least the appearance of a threatening counterattack, even if they rarely put all the pieces together.

It is the recognition that Philly is willing and able to play through the middle that creates more space for Gaddis and Fabinho to join attacks moving forward. They have often spent time this season camped out just over the half line, where opponents trap them and force the Union to recycle play.

Deciphering defensive problems: Progress should be praised

A work in progress, to be sure. The Union gave up nine shots inside the box in the second half alone. Not every team will be forgiving enough to let Philly get away with a number that high.

But that said, there were signs of real progress, particularly in the way the midfield and defense interacted. Whether it was the extra weight Edu’s word carries or simply a case of putting the right players in the right positions, Edu and Williams were on the same page as Okugo and Lahoud more often than not. The back line stepped up to minimize space behind the defense and backed off to prevent through-balls when the Revs playmakers found time and space.

While there were serious issues on the wings where New England was able to overload on Gaddis’ side far too easily (and pull Fabinho high), the Union retreated with more awareness than games past, when center backs would get sucked wide and leave the danger men alone in the box.

Edu (top) played a more conservative role, allowing Williams to be aggressive without getting punished for it.

Edu (top) played a more conservative role, allowing Williams to be aggressive without getting punished for it.

Spinal surgery… successful?

Philly’s offseason was all about solidifying the spine of the team. Edu, Nogueira, Maidana… they were all meant to fill holes down the middle. The Union wanted to control the center of the pitch with a strong Okugo/Berry pairing behind Edu, Carroll, and Nogueira, with Cristian Maidana drifting in and out of the middle in the final third.

Obviously, the expected growing pains developed into bigger issues.

Flipping Okugo and Edu was more than just a reasonable tactical decision. It also provided Edu with the chance to sublimate himself to the team. Mo Edu has talked the talk since he came across the pond on loan: Team first, playoffs, and so on. Saturday night was his opportunity to prove he meant it by stepping into a position everybody knows is his second choice. Edu embraced the curse of the ultra-talented soccer player by not only accepting a role in back, but by taking on a leadership role, marshaling the defense and resisting the urge to step forward.

Edu had to resist that urge since Sheanon Williams was fully infected with the get-forward bug. In a performance the veered perilously close to Wheeler-esque at times, Williams aggressively chased Revs players as they checked deep. While he was risking the space behind him, Williams was banking on Edu having the acumen to slide over and provide cover. The result was quite beautiful at times. Though fans must have been holding their breath when Sheanon occasionally found himself in no man’s land, he always had Edu either covering or pulling the line up to minimize the empty space. It was one of the few times this season that the Union’s center backs truly appeared to be on the same page for 90 minutes.

That spine meant even more than we realized

There are times when you have to sit back and marvel at the unbridled, almost child-like aggression with which Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Cruz chase down defenders. It can be counterproductive, it can be frustratingly ineffective, but it can also be an incredibly fun to watch when used in moderation.

Le Toux and Cruz do not, however, know the meaning of moderation.

Luckily, this was a game when the 90 minutes of high speed pursuit (The White Bronco Defense?) paid off for the Union. Le Toux’s hard work earned him a goal as the first half closed, and Cruz tracked back deep enough to pick up the ball in midfield and create a one-man counterattack that culminated in his spectacular 69th minute tally. Both were stand-and-clap moments for players who are taking on increasingly large roles in the 2014 season.

A big reason why the Union could afford to let their energy players run wild was that they dealt well with balls coming in off the wings. New England had no shortage of chances through Tierney and Fagundez, but Philly calmly dealt with most of the threats from the wings. Edu should again be singled out for praise in a panic-free performance.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

He had few big or spectacular saves to make, but the Union’s number one made six saves behind another new pairing of central defenders.

Ray Gaddis – 6

Under constant pressure from Fagundez and the seemingly unmarked Tierney, Gaddis did well to a) Not give up any fouls in bad positions, and b) Keep players wide when they came up the wing. Such is his reputation that players seem hesitant to try Gaddis on the dribble.

Maurice Edu – 8

A PSP reader recently commented, “What does ‘leading by example’ even mean?” Here is your answer. It means displaying confidence under pressure, it means taking what could be perceived as a demotion as an opportunity to help the team, and it means making the plays that other players can watch on video and say, ‘Oh, the ball should go there? Got it.’ Especially with Sheanon Williams getting pulled high at times, Edu was a rock in the back.

Sheanon Williams – 6

He chased out of the back so much it almost seemed like the gameplan. If so… well done. That worked surprisingly well.

Fabinho – 5

Did better against Bunbury this time around. Fabinho enjoyed a rare night off as the main target of an opposing offense. Chris Tierney’s good form — coupled with Andrew Farrell’s increasingly erratic form — meant the Union left back was under the gun less than usual.

Michael Lahoud – 7

No arguments here. Lahoud showed positional discipline, got high enough to press the Revs midfielders before they had time to create, and generally made sure that Amobi Okugo was not sprinting around trying to do too much. Lahoud playing within his limitations is a real asset to this Union side.

Amobi Okugo – 7

Without Nogueira in the lineup, Philly needed someone else to provide urgency in attack. Okugo was it, pushing play forward and stepping up to make sure Nguyen always felt breath on his neck. While he can get caught chasing the ball around at times, more often than not, Okugo returned quickly to his central role and forced the Revs to stay on the perimeter.

Cristian Maidana – 7

While the Union as a team have benefited from Conor Casey’s fine form, Maidana has been the biggest individual beneficiary. With Casey willing to step into the hole, Maidana has found and enjoyed more freedom in the channels. While he is still convinced MLS teams will let him take an extra touch (…they won’t), Maidana is showing more of the tools that make him a dangerous weapon in the final third.

Danny Cruz – 8

Well, come on. You score a goal like that and you get an 8. All you other guys looking for 8s, take notice.

Conor Casey – 6

Not the pre-World Cup break dynamo performance from Casey, but he reliably pops up in the middle as an outlet. The importance of this reliability cannot be overstated. Without it, the Union were a team in limbo: Able to hold possession but utterly without a path forward.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

Scoring two goals is a pretty good way to get an 8 as well. Le Toux put in a throwback performance up top. He harassed, he pestered. He was the French mosquito that will haunt AJ Soares’ dreams. And on the night, persistence had its rewards.


Andrew Wenger – 6

An assist as a substitute is a fine contribution. Wenger put in a Wengerian performance. He hustled, he made us pause the game and try in vain to figure out if he was sporting a confused face or an odd detached stare, and he showed smart movement but a lack of technical finish.

Aaron Wheeler – 6

Jim Curtin’s best move is the Okugo/Edu switch. But putting Aaron Wheeler on as a substitute striker might be the second best. Wheeler took a ton of (often deserved) criticism as a defender, but the guy earned his way onto an MLS roster as a hardworking striker. Just because he didn’t last in back doesn’t mean he should not have a place on this team. Curtin made sure the big man knew he was wanted by letting him go out to give and take blows for 11 minutes.

Brian Carroll – n/a

The six minute cameo for Carroll was uneventful.

Geiger counter – 6

A competent performance deserves its grade. Alan Kelly called a tight match, but he did not impose overly strict justice that could have taken the wind out of a fairly open contest.


  1. Is MacMath working his way to a camp cupcake or post-WC callup in place of Klinsmann favorites Hamid/Johnson?

    MacMath has only improved since last year and has looked very good to great recently. Considering you can’t day the same about Hamid/Johnson I wonder if MacMath deserves a call up over those two bums.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Interesting that the lowest grade here went to the Comcast Defensive Player of the Match…Fabhino.

    Good all around game for the Union, especially the way the responded to giving up the goal.

    • Adam Cann says:

      Yeah, Comcast likes them some context-free defensive stats. Fabinho stuffed the stat sheet a bit with some interceptions that were on balls to the guy slipping in behind him. That’s the kind of defense that is so scary to watch.

  3. Don’t really agree with the ratings, but I think the overall assessment is good. You missed highlighting NE looking like the Three Stooges in the finally third. It was a great effort by the U, but that was what really won the match for us.

    • The Black Hand says:

      They did not look particularly sharp, but don’t discredit the effectiveness of Lahoud/Okugo in the DM and Edu at the CB. They had a hand in NE’s clumsy looking play.

    • Adam Cann says:

      I guess I was trying to point out that NE looks a lot less effective without an in-form target forward. Edu in particular put Mullins in his pocket and Okugo/Lahoud cut off lanes to him very effectively.

      If you check out the NE shot chart, you can see just how well the Union frustrated them by packing the final third (like Le Toux said after the game, they definitely watched/emulated how NY played against the Revs).

      What I should have talked more about was how the Union were physical with Lee Nguyen, especially in the middle third where the fouls were in less dangerous positions. That was a great change of strategy from the previous encounter.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        Actually I’m not impressed with NE beyond their poor performance this time. 10 of their 22 goals for have come in two blowout games and they lost to Chivas.

  4. John Ling says:

    Any word on Le Toux’s injury status? Just a cramp, or something more?

  5. Mike Lahoud! Are you kidding me…dude is for real. These least 3-4 games he looks like a different player. I can’t get over how consistently efficient he is with his first touch and decision making. So good on the ball. If he keeps playing this way, he deserves to be in the starting 11 over BC. The real question is what we do with the lineup if we have a fit/competitive Berry and Noguiera back in the lineup.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Yeah I don’t understand where this guy came from but it’s nice to see. He has helped to solidify the D big time.

  6. Also, why can’t we just admit that LeToux is a forward? You put him there, and he scores goals, period. His turn and left footed shot off the post in the 27th minute was a brilliant piece of composure that shows how confident he is. He needs to be seeing the field.

    • John Ling says:

      Agreed. I’ve never understood why teams move him to midfield even though he’s shown Forward is his best position.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      Yes, he is a striker. He wasn’t good enough to play ahead of Jack and Casey, but he’s a goal scorer and now needs to be starting.

    • It’s nice to see Le2 scoring goals. I just hope we don’t abandon the search for a world class striker which I still believe we need. I also hope the search for a new coach doesn’t trump this need as well.

  7. Cruz earned that 8, absolutely. His role in the first goal seems to be getting underplayed everywhere. His hustle forced that bad back pass. It was a de facto assist, all due to his hustle.

    Overall this was a tight performance. But NE had some good crosses and assists-to-be that should have been finished. Let’s enjoy this one, but wait until we see it over a consistent span to pass judgement.

    But I’m excited to see what happens when Nogs is back in the lineup. Question is, at whose expense? Maybe Sheannon? Move Amobi back and pair Nogs and Lahoud? Send Lahoud to the bench? That doesn’t seem right, since that’s a stay-at-home for a wild wanderer.
    It’s a tough choice for Curtin, but I’m looking forward to these next 3 against tough competition.

    • I like the idea of Sheannon to the bench in that situation. Lahoud has proven to be a difference maker and has earned a starting role in my opinion.

      • Old soccer coach says:

        Williams to left back?

      • John Ling says:

        I’m in favor of that – I’d rather have Williams on the left than Fabinho; I don’t think there’s any drop in offensive production, and you’ll certainly get better defensive coverage.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I hate the idea of Amobi going back to CB. Give Lahoud the role of ‘Bus Driver’ and bring him off the bench to kill off a game.
      Shop Carroll and Shaenon.

      • I agree that I don’t want Amobi back on defense. But I don’t know how to get minutes to Edu, Amobi, Lahoud, Chaco, Nogs, and Cruz (who has amazingly earned that spot). The Amobi/Lahoud pairing is fantastic, but where does everyone else fit?

      • The Black Hand says:

        I would roll with:
        Lahoud-Sub. (The dude has been putting in shifts like this since we got him, but isn’t better than Amobi.)
        Nog-deep lying/box2box

  8. If you told me a year ago that Lahoud was going to shake off some cobwebs and play out of his mind, MacMath would begin turning into a fringe national team candidate, Gaddis would unseat Sheanon at RB, and Danny Cruz would become an effective player…I would have assumed you ate some shrooms.

  9. A New Union Fan says:

    This was a good game, but I also watched this kid named Jack McInerney score a golazo for Montreal this weekend. It would be nice if he ever found a way into a Union jersey. If he did, I know we would never give him up.

    • that was a pretty goal, and he’s played well paired with di vaio, but that was a well-intentioned bit of chance more than anything else.

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