Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: FC Dallas 2-1 Union

Sometimes you come up against a better team and you get beat. Sometimes you just find a way to lose.

In Dallas, the Philadelphia Union did the latter.

So many little things went wrong against FC Dallas that it is almost surprising to be able to identify a few truly positive signs going forward.

All goals: Union at FC Dallas

All goals: Union at FC Dallas

A three act play

There were three distinct phases to this match:

1) From the opening whistle, Dallas got after the left side of the Union defense. As expected, they attacked Fabinho with everything they had: Zach Loyd pushed high, Tesho Akindele ran in the channel, and Adam Moffat and Victor Ulloa kept a keen passing eye on the space around the Union’s Brazilian left back.

2) After Akindele opened the scoring, the Union responded brilliantly. For the 20 minutes between Dallas’ opener and Amobi Okugo’s tying goal, Philly pressed as a team and looked aggressive in attack.

3) Once the sucker punch of an own goal took the wind out of the Union’s sails, they never fully recovered. The second half played out as a bland, disorganized affair as Conor Casey ran out of steam, the Philly defense resumed wild chasing, and neither goal was truly threatened.

It was depleting to see Philly adopt such a defensive posture early on, emerge from their shell inspired, then regress to the disunion that has characterized so many 2014 performances.

Dallas attacked Fabinho during the first 30 minutes (top), the Union responded through Maidana for the final 15 of the half (bottom).

Dallas attacked Fabinho during the first 30 minutes (top), the Union responded through Maidana for the final 15 of the half (bottom).

Pareja does his homework

Oscar Pareja didn’t earn a great reputation by ignoring his opponents’ weaknesses. Dallas came out of the gate with one goal in mind: Attack Fabinho. Though they often brought the ball up the left side, Dallas would quickly abandon that notion once the Union midfield was pulled in to help. With the Union playing deep, it was an easy task to switch the point of attack to the right and drive at Fabinho with Zach Loyd and Tesho Akindele.

Moffat and Ulloa in the middle consistently looked for the Union’s Brazilian left back to get caught high, pushing balls into his corner while Blas Perez and Akindele crashed the box. It is quite ironic that the opening goal came from a bumbling, disjointed attack up the left since every opportunity prior came down the right.

Philly response

Though the Union struggled to cope with Dallas early, they brushed themselves off and counterpunched brilliantly. After Akindele put the home team ahead, Philly pressed high, changing the tempo of the match and forcing giveaways and long balls that turned a one-sided affair into a more even contest.

At the heart of it all was Cristian Maidana, looking more comfortable as a traditional trequartista with each match. Given freedom to roam, Maidana was elusive and dangerous on the ball. Though he settled for crosses from the left, the success he and Casey have had connecting on aerial balls goes some way toward explaining his confidence in that tactic. Indeed, the main flaw in Maidana’s game right now may be that he has responded to the clear creative burden on his shoulders by trying to make magic all the time. With Okugo — and, soon, Nogueira — behind him, Maidana should start to become a more complete attacker by both playing balls in behind and bringing the rest of the team into the offense.

Maidana’s fine day was epitomized by his smart run and cross to set up Okugo’s equalizer. It was the type of run Union fans saw from an in-form Leo Fernandes early in the season, and it has been missing from the Philly offense ever since the young midfielder went cold.


Cruz loses his man to let Dallas in (click for gif).

That winning goal…

All that hard work to turn around a tough road game… and the Union lost it on a freak deflection. True, any time you wildly clear the ball into an onrushing hoard of players in the box, you are asking for random chance to intervene, but it was still a cruel way to go behind.

And this time, the Union could not respond. Though Maidana still proved a willing mover, his offensive partners were unable to match his impact on the match. Once Dallas went ahead, they sat back and absorbed tepid pressure from the Union, then installed Mauro Diaz and let him scare the visitors away from throwing numbers forward.

Though Diaz will rarely come off the bench now that he has returned from injury, his impact highlights a major issue for the Union going forward.

Union second half possession pre-Wenger substitution (top) and the remainder of the half (bottom).

The bare bench

Here is the pitch divided into thirds. Starting in the 62nd minute, the Union made three offensive-minded substitutions: Andrew Wenger for Danny Cruz, Aaron Wheeler for the ineffective Casey, and Fred for Amobi Okugo. Look at how much time the Union spent in the offensive third of the field before and after they started making subs. For a team chasing the game, that is simply unacceptable.

The Wheeler-Casey change was a like-for-like, but what about the others? Andrew Wenger made little impact as a starter and his apparent conversion to a winger is happening in real time during actual games that matter. It is hard to place all the blame on Wenger here, since the Union have affiliates at which the player could get minutes in whatever position Philly wants him to play going forward.

But no. Instead of using the club’s resources to teach Wenger a new position at a lower level, Curtin threw him on to chase a game, then added Fred to the mix, possibly just to give me something else to complain about. As more homegrown players take prominent roles on MLS clubs, one has to wonder exactly what the Philly brass needs to see from guys like Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer, not to mention the likes of Pedro Ribeiro, before they put them on the field to gain experience.

Pressure: The gift and the curse

The Philadelphia Union have never gone in for technical wingers. Instead, they put speed and endurance in wide areas and try to get behind the opposition back line. The few attempts the team has made to employ creative players in wide areas resulted in an underwhelming stint from the now-dangerous Justin Mapp and an attempt to rebuild Michael Farfan as a central midfielder.

Undisciplined pressure gets the Union into trouble… again (click for gif).

Relying on athletes like Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Cruz should give Philly at least one major advantage: The ability to play a high press defense from the opening whistle.

Yet, Union coaches have been unable to instill the necessary level of discipline into their high-octane players. Game after game, the Union are caught chasing the ball instead of applying smart, team pressure. This lack of discipline is a double-whammy in that it not only destroys the team’s defensive shape, but it wears out players whose endurance could be a huge asset to a pressing team.

And against Dallas, the random chasing was even worse because the rest of the team was attempting to play a more conservative deep-defense-quick-counterattack system.

In this early exchange, you can see Maidana and Cruz both chasing the ball around the Dallas box. The home team is able to bypass the first line of the Union defense with two easy passes. Okugo, who was not a party to the early chase, is too deep to stop Adam Moffat from picking his head up. And with Fabinho stepping high to close down the winger Cruz should have been covering, all it took was a curling run from Akindele to break in on Zac MacMath alone.

An undisciplined press is a lot like an unplanned blitz in football in that it can look brilliant if you get to the quarterback, but it can screw over the rest of your team if the hole you leave is exploited.

With heaps of speed on the field, Jim Curtin can probably afford to keep playing with undisciplined defenders on the wings. But as an interim coach, this is where he can make his short-term mark. A Union team that plays defense as a unit will be extremely hard to break down. The players in the first eleven are fast, strong, and dedicated. Making them understand how to play team defense is an elusive but absolutely necessary goal.

Ill discipline does not only manifest in chasing; it is a double-edged sword. Those players that chase tend to have eyes only for the ball, and more than once this season the Union have been broken down by simple pass-and-moves on the wings that lead to overloaded defenders and glorious opportunities.

Against Dallas, a sleepy winger was the first breakdown that led to the comical winning goal. When the home team reset their offense on the right side, Danny Cruz stops defending and stares at the ball like it was about to get on the last plane out of Casablanca without him. Moments later, his mark is behind him and Dallas is driving at the Union defense with numbers.

Dallas (blue) vs Philly (red) shot selection.

Dallas (blue) vs Philly (red) shot selection.

Sorry selection

The Union need to be more patient on offense. This has been a major issue for almost two seasons now. As brilliant as Danny Cruz’s goal against New England was last week (and it was quite brilliant), shots from outside the box have a much, much lower chance of going in the net than shots closer in. Yet, the Union continually settle for long shots instead of working the ball around the opposition defense.

Let’s not make this too negative. As this season has progressed, the Union have done a better job of finding dangerous players in the final third and creating enough space to get shots off. Early in the year (coughHoustoncoughcough), Philly could barely remember how to shoot. Now they look capable of breaking down opposition defenses with increasing regularity, only to settle for shots from distance.

Union second half shots

Union second half shots

In the second half, Fabinho took a wild shot from the left corner of the box and Aaron Wheeler poked a shot on goal from in close. That was all the Union did inside the eighteen all half. For a team playing with wingers capable of running in behind a defense, the Union had a lot of trouble breaking down the Hedges-Keel back line of Dallas.

Philly may get a bit of a pass here. A midfield with Vincent Nogueira is a much more dangerous and creative beast in the final third than one with Michael Lahoud. But this issue still must be highlighted since it speaks to what remains a lack of purpose around goal. Unlike New England, Dallas handed the Union very little, and thus received very little threat in return.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 6

A lack of accuracy from Dallas meant MacMath had a relatively easy night. He saved well from Akindele in the 5th minute and could do nothing on either goal. One aspect of MacMath’s game that has gone under the radar is his improved ability in the air. While it remains a work in progress, his confidence and decision-making on aerial balls has improved by leaps and bounds.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Not a ton for Gaddis to do on the right. He was mostly successful at closing down Dallas attacks high up the pitch, forcing Andres Escobar to drift inside to find the ball. Unfortunately, Gaddis was uninvolved going forward, and with Le Toux sucked inside and Maidana preferring the left, the Union’s right was often bare.

Maurice Edu – 4

A reasonably strong game until the red card. Edu was again solid, playing a more conservative role next to Sheanon Williams. Also, that red card… that MLS refereeing…

Sheanon Williams – 4

Williams was exposed a few times by Dallas’ movement. With Fabinho often stepping high, Williams was slow to slide over to help. For the first 20 minutes, Dallas exposed the lack of discipline on the Union’s left over and over.

Fabinho – 3

On the road, the Union are playing a dangerous game when they deploy Fabinho in back. While he likes to get forward, Fabinho doesn’t pin back defenders because he is so eager to play in crosses.

Michael Lahoud – 4

As a defense-first midfielder, Lahoud has to offer cover to Fabinho. Playing with a weaker defender on the left can be acceptable if the team shifts to cover. On Friday, that did not happen. Additionally, a 79% pass completion percentage is too low for a midfielder that should be recycling play and holding possession.

Amobi Okugo – 5

Let’s be honest: Without the goal, this is probably a much lower rating. But the goal was a goal. And not only that, it was a goal from a midfielder that got deep into the box to get on the end of a cross. That makes me so, so happy. Hopefully, this was just a bad day at the office and Okugo can learn from a game that saw him play too reactive.

Danny Cruz – 4

After a string of solid performances, Cruz showed more Hyde than Jekyl against Dallas. Too often disconnected from the rest of the team, he would disappear offensively and turn pinball defensively, bouncing around in wild pursuit of the ball.

Sebastien Le Toux – 4

Such capacity to frustrate! The Frenchman stayed so high that Okugo and Lahoud were forced to drift right to help Gaddis with Escobar and Perez. True, the Union’s center midfielders should have known better than to abandon Fabinho, but Le Toux must take some responsibility for staying up the field when pulling wide would have given Moises Hernandez more pause about joining attacks.

Cristian Maidana – 6

His confidence is coming. Now if Maidana could only connect regularly with someone other than Conor Casey, the Union would start to really scare the rest of the mediocre Eastern Conference.

Conor Casey – 3

Was he hurt? He was hurt, right? Had to be. Casey was useful when the ball came to him, but his movement was absent and he was dominated by Hedges in the air.

Andrew Wenger – 3

See above. Subs need to impact the match

Aaron Wheeler – 6

More active and dangerous than Casey, Wheeler played 12 minutes and generated the only thing close to a real opportunity in the second half.

Fred – n/a

They say he went in, but I’m not so sure.


  1. Nogs will be healthy next game, right? I’m still terrified he’s going to jump ship.

  2. No Geiger counter? Or was that performance just so bad it doesn’t deserve a rating?

  3. Paul Costa says:

    No Geiger counter? I was hoping for a season-low rating on this one. It was turrible, just turrible.

  4. my heart sinks every time i see fabinho’s name in the starting lineup

  5. kingkowboys says:

    I hope Nogs is back next game. I want to see him in this new formations and tactics. I think he could make a huge impact. I hope his involvement and a good run in the second half of the season will convince him to stay. Like others I am concerned that he will want to jump ship.
    I think it’s time to try someone else on the wings rather than Cruz. At least start someone else and let Cruz run at tired defenses as a sub. Let Leo, McLaughlin, or Ribeiro get some time/starts.

    • yes yes and yes again. at best i like danny in 75th minute to punish fatiguing teams. I’ve relented on danny a bit but certainly think we have a better option somewhere.

    • yes cruz needs to sit. maybe michael farfan will replace him next saturday

    • To be fair it’s been Cruz’s best run in a Union shirt the past few months. But I agree that he needs to take a breather, as despite his improved form he still doesn’t provide enough to warrant 90 every single week.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        The issue remains that Cruz gives the Union something different when he’s surrounded by technical players. With no Nogueira, an empty bucket and Casey and Le Toux up top, his effectiveness wanes because he is not the sole direct threat, stretching the field for a team of short, precise passers.

    • Hittin’ the nail on the head. Cruz isn’t a starter. His sole attribute is pace. Why not use him late in the game when the opponents backline is lacking in that department? I don’t know why this isn’t clear to Curtin/whoever.

  6. Old soccer coach says:

    Don’t rush McGlaughlin and Ribeiro. Jimmy probably deserves the MLS equivalent of baseball’s September call up, especially if his current run of form continues, but do not forget that there is an expansion draft coming whose lists must be submitted the day after MLS Cup, if the rules from last time continue. Harrisburg has a right to get some benefit from the work it has done helping develop the loanees. They looked good in the first half against Charleston on the you tube stream, but no one looks out-of-place better than the other players on the field.

    • OSC- I’ve missed the last several Harrisburg streams. Any thoughts on how Marquez looks/is progressing?

  7. philsoc8 says:

    The Pfeffer situation baffles and disturbs me. He has a sterling reputation in the USYNT world, but can’t crack a poor Union team. It could be that he just isn’t that good?
    Is it too late for him to go to college?

  8. Pfeffer situation. McGlaughlin situation. Ribiero situation. Blake situation. They’re all baffling. Union FO suck at judging talent and/or suck at developing it.

    Just look at Trapp and Shipp kicking ass for Columbus and Chicago. They’re going to get USMNT callups in January. Okugo, Gaddis, and the Harrisburg guys are not.


    Nogs is not a CAM. If Curtain thinks Marfan can be a CAM, then let’s resign him. Lord knows we’re not getting any DP level players this year without a coach to approve them.

    • It is very frustrating to watch other MLS games and see homegrown guys getting time and flourishing. Granted, I don’t know their development time table. Maybe they spent a year or two seemingly languishing like our guys?

      There are pieces on this Union team- good young pieces. Okugo at Dmid, with LaHoud in reserve, Noguiera box-to-box, Maidana at attacking mid with Ribiero as understudy. Pfeffer for the wing, McMath is showing much improvement this year. Either Gaddis/Williams at RB. Just need the right guy to come in and deploy them with a good tactical plan. And continue to build depth of course. Very frustrating.

  9. I don’t understand how Fabinho gets in the starting XI.

    • i agree with this wholeheartedly. He is bad at defending, usually bad at attacking, and also usually a liability to get cards of various colors. i can’t think of any reason to have him starting. i feel like if you were to pick any random player on our team amongst those who are minimally competent as players they would do at least as good as he does but would bring some upside whether it be slightly more calm defending or not risking getting carded

  10. Stephano says:

    We need a fulback who can give us 2 goals and 8 assists I wonder where we can find such a player?

  11. UnionDues says:

    Don’t understand the whining about the Edu ejection. That’s a straight red anytime, anyplace.

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