Player ratings

Analysis and Player Ratings: Union 3-1 Red Bulls

Photo: Earl Gardner

Finally, a home victory.

It has been an age since Philadelphia Union tasted victory at home, and what better way to break their seven game home winless streak than with a comprehensive three goal victory over last years Supporters’ Shield winners, New York Red Bulls.

Line them up and let them play

And while the Union remain, very much, a work in progress, Jim Curtin has simplified matters for his team to give them the best shot of competing in dismal Eastern Conference.

How has he simplified things? By putting players in the positions where they are the most comfortable and letting it play out. Of course there are minor exceptions to that rule based on injury, suspension, and inheriting an unbalanced roster, but Curtin’s team already looks improved to the product his predecessor, John Hackworth, was able to put on the field.

The chronic lack of chemistry Union players experienced during the Hackworth regime was easy to understand. Over-coaching and in-game tinkering left Union players unfamiliar not just with the system they were playing, but also with their teammates around them. Whether it was the constant flipping of wide players, experimentation at centerback and the conservative conversion of his midfield, the Union were set up to fail, and they did.

Curtin himself remains an unproven commodity, learning on a job that he likely did not expect to be offered this early into his promising coaching career. Generally, a new coach gives a team a bump in the standings based on a new energy in the locker room and players knowledge that they must again prove themselves under new sets of eyes. It rarely lasts, a phenomenon with which Union fans are familiar following Hackworth’s appointment in 2012.

The change under Curtin is different, however. By simplifying the game, moving players back to their preferred positions, and coaching “less,” the Union suddenly have a confident, dangerous air about them, having reeled off ten goals, and earning seven points, in the four league matches since Curtin took over.

The real Nogueira

While many already see him as the best, most complete player on the Union, Vincent Nogueira stands to benefit most from Curtin’s changes.

Arriving from Ligue 1 as a lifelong box to box midfielder, the dynamic Nogueira was wedged into a crowded Union midfield. Two defensive midfielders in Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu meant that there was little space for Nogueira to show himself as an outlet to begin building play from the back. Additionally, he was shouldered with the expectation of leading the team’s offensive charge out of midfield, a role for which he was ill-suited. Preferring to roam the pitch breaking up play, incorporating his fullbacks, and keeping the ball moving with pace, Nogueira played as an ideal no. 8. His occasional offensive incursions were consistent with a player who enjoys working from deep to support the attack, rather than leading it. Further, he immediately proved his ability to cover an immense amount of ground and to support his teammates all over the field, but a congested, disorganized central midfield meant that too often he was ostracized to the right flank.

Rather than adjusting his personnel to allow Nogueira back inside where he could provide service for the rest of his teammates, Hackworth flipped his wingers, swapping the already miscast Cristian Maidana out onto the right wing, where suddenly the Union’s two most creative talents were shoe-horned into a small swath of the pitch where they were too easily looked after.

Returning from a groin injury on Wednesday, freed from full time offensive responsibilities, and stationed next to a stay at home defensive midfielder in Brian Carroll, Nogueira thrived. In his first opportunity under Curtin, Nogueira’s early connection with Maidana served up just a teaser of the duo’s ability to combine, with the Argentine’s night cruelly cut short by a minor hamstring injury, but the Union’s new midfield checked all the boxes. Hopefully Maidana’s injury layoff proves minimal, because, especially with Amobi Okugo returning from suspension to add more pace, physicality and passing range, Curtin looks to already have sorted out the Union midfield.

Defense. Play some.

Turns out, Ethan White can play defense. Maurice Edu, too.

That news should be music to the ears of Union supporters because it means that Fabinho has likely played his last game for a good, long while.

A defensive liability at the best of times, Fabinho’s continued inclusion in the starting XI had been justified on the basis of aiding the Union attack. However, with only one assist to his name, and more errant crosses than you can shake a grateful MLS centerback at over 1276 minutes this season, it is clear that not even that part of his game is working.

Ray Gaddis’ complete shutdown of Lloyd Sam proves that with the Union’s offense going all guns (they sit top of the East in goals scored following Wednesday’s victory), improving on the league’s second-worst defensive record is the next major priority. Holding the team they just passed at the top of the Eastern Conference goal-scoring charts to a solitary tally was a very good start.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 8

Made five important saves, including an impressive double on Eric Alexander and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Marshaled his box with authority and dealt well with balls in the air. MacMath is playing his most confident soccer since arriving in MLS.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Restored to his favored right back role, Williams got stuck in immediately. With Alexander preferring to tuck inside, Williams sealed off the edge before funneling towards the center himself to support his teammates. Throw in an excellent cross to set up Fred’s matchwinner to go with a ball saved off the line and Williams looked every bit like his 2013 self, rather than the guy who started slowly this campaign.

Ethan White – 7

Against a New York team that picks and chooses its moments to attack, White did well to show patience, engaging when needed, reading the play throughout. While he will be frustrated not to have closed down Wright-Philips more quickly on the Red Bulls’ goal, White’s first 180 minutes for the Union this week have exceeded expectations.

Maurice Edu – 7

Comfortable on the ball and sitting deep to sweep up for his team, Edu led a backline that looked far more confident than in weeks passed. Whether or not he enjoys playing at the back, Edu playing at centerback is best for the Union with respect to organization, distribution, and trying to close the tap of goals conceded.

Ray Gaddis – 8

Lloyd Sam who?

Brian Carroll – 6

Quietly went about his business while Nogueira, Fred, and Maidana ran the show. Blotted out numerous chances though his lack of quickness occasionally left New York with space to pick out passes in the middle of the park.

Vincent Nogueira – 8

Didn’t miss a beat in his return from injury. Playing in his preferred position, Nogueira was his tricky, tantalizing best as he put on a show with his passing, before throwing in a move on the dribble that is generally reserved for video games. Hopefully Maidana’s injury is not severe, because the chemistry between he and Nogueira can make certain that no one in the Eastern Conference looks forward to playing the Union anytime soon.

Andrew Wenger – 5

Took his assist beautifully, as he spun in traffic to power a ball back into the box. Deployed on the wing, Wenger looked far more comfortable than at striker, though he did not seem prepared to put in the work required of a wide player. Left Gaddis to fight off both Sam and Chris Duvall for much of the first half, trotting back only to receive the ball and set off one of his direct, largely aimless runs up field. Despite having skill on the ball, Wenger must increase his work rate before he can pry a wide position away from Danny Cruz.

Cristian Maidana – 6

Reveled in his connection with Nogueira in the early-going, as he happily took whatever space he wanted, knowing the Frenchman could pick him out wherever he popped up. Looked poised to give the Red Bulls fits before a hamstring pull forced him off before halftime. The Union will be sweating on his fitness with another important Eastern Conference battle looming on Saturday.

Sebastien Le Toux – 7

Looked to pick on Ambroise Oyongo whenever possible and pinned the left back deep in his own end for much of the match. Could have had an assist when he got to the endline and found Conor Casey alone in front of goal, but the big striker couldn’t find the finish. But when it came down to it, Le Toux made no mistake, smashing home yet another spot kick to put the Union out of sight.

Conor Casey – 8

Just as he did against Colorado, Casey not only turned in an excellent finish, but also did the creative work for his own tally. First he won the aerial duel, then he tracked down the loose ball. Next he slid Wenger in behind, before looping his run into the box. Taking the cross in stride, he strode past Matt Miazga as if he wasn’t even there before firing home confidently with his left foot.


Fred – 8

Maidana’s injury could have been a huge blow for the Union, but with Fred stepping in seamlessly, they didn’t miss a beat. Smart and deliberate on the ball, his spacing with Nogueira and Carroll made sure that all three always had options on the outlet. Took his goal well, and nearly bagged a second, with New York struggling to cover his well timed runs out of midfield.

Danny Cruz – 5

With New York heads slumping, Cruz insured that the Red Bulls wouldn’t have time or space to build from the back as he used his brief cameo to hassle and pressure high up the pitch. Didn’t look 100 percent fit after Shane O’Neill’s tackle over the weekend, but gave his all nonetheless.

Aaron Wheeler – 3

Wheeler’s brief contribution on Wednesday night included dribbling a ball out of bounds, a hospital pass that got Cruz flattened by Jamison Olave, and shielding the ball out of play, even though the Union had touched it last. With a two goal lead and Brian Brown on the bench, Wheeler did little to justify his inclusion and must improve if he hopes to remain in the discussion for a place in the matchday 18.

Geiger Counter

Baldomero Toledo – 6

Other than giving the Union a penalty, he really didn’t have much to do.

Preferred Starting XI for Saturday’s match in Chicago


MacMath; Gaddis (LB), Edu, White, Williams (RB); Okugo, Nogueira; Le Toux, Fred (assuming Maidana is unavailable), Cruz; Casey


  1. Noggy, Chaco, MacMath, Gaddis, Casey and Le Toux are all playing great soccer.

  2. These rankings are pretty spot on. It was a really good night for the U, and Curtin has to be given alot of the credit for “putting them in a position to succeed” as Andy Reid liked to say.

    I would give Letoux an even higher ranking, he looked dangerous all night.

    I would also give the ref at least an 8. Even if he didn’t have much to do, he managed to stay out of the action and let ’em play.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    I’d like to add to the comments on Cruz. As we all know, with better ball handling skills, he probably could have put 2 goals in during the brief time he was in. However, I would rather have seen something completely different. Rather than going towards the goal and risk a turnover, why wasn’t he taking the ball to the corner?

    • Curtin hasn’t gotten to that in practice yet.

    • kingkowboys says:

      I completely agree. I see his runs having 3 options in those situations. 1) Run past your defender and fire a cross 2) Drive at the defender and get in the box for a shot 3) Run to the corner and waste time. Out of those 3 choices #1 is actually the third choice, but for Cruz it was the 1 and only choice. He has improved this season compared to last but he needs to play smarter.
      He defensive cover was his usual frantic press that doesn’t do a whole lot. He let NYRB’s RM and RB have too much space out wide on numerous occasions. Shame on NYRB for not taking advantage. Regardless of Gaddis behind him he could have shut down half the pitch with Ray rather than keep it an option.

  4. So, for being a Carroll “hater”, which I admit I am, I think he had a fantastic game. He was doing all the things that I’ve been wanting to see from him all year, like getting stuck in on tackles and breaking up opposing counters, his passing wasn’t suspect at all, he was aware of what was around him at all times- when being pressured or when looking for a good pass. He also was moving and finding himself space to retrieve passes. If he can be consistent in this manner then I wouldn’t mind keeping him on the squad. But, if he doenst then he should leave.

    • kingkowboys says:

      He should be used for spot starts like this. I think his form will wane again if he plays multiple games. He needs to be a “locker room guy” and a teacher.

  5. Paul Costa says:

    I was a big naysayer when they picked up Fred. Man, was I wrong. This game alone justified the move. He was exactly what we needed and then some.

    • Ditto. I was impressed with how well he filled in for Maidana on the creative side, but I was blown away by his fitness and commitment running down challenges at the 90th minute. Did not expect that from Grandpa.

  6. Can’t wait to see this team play again! Best thing of the night: have a great guy like Fred step off the bench without missing a beat. MacMath impressed me the most; kept the team in the game, made Red Bulls push harder, and enabled us to get the 3rd goal. I would give him a 10.

  7. Unfortunately had to watch this one from home. I have to agree with Taylor Twellman’s assessment that Andrew Wenger is not a striker. And like Eli said, he wasn’t prepared to be a wide player. With the exception of the assist – which I think was more Casey in the right place than Wenger with the right pass – he was a mess, either getting in his teammates’ way or leaving them to fend for themselves.

    Only rating I (slightly) disagree with is MacMath, but not by much (7-7.5). Made some big saves and controlled the box for most of the match, but made a few poorly timed decisions – nervy clearances, and trying to spark a counter attack instead of killing the clock. Otherwise, another solid game for MacMath.

  8. The thing that was most enjoyable about this match was how they killed the game off. Between Nogueira, Fred & Carroll, they took turns keeping possession and moving into space without compromising field coverage. There’s nothing more frustrating for a team that’s chasing the match to try to stop this. Guys take the ball forward into space, then put their foot on it before playing it sideways or backwards to a wide open teammate. It was a thing of beauty to watch.

    • yes! I even heard some “OLE”‘s from the crowd towards the end. Such a good feeling to do that to NY

  9. Disagree with the MacMath assessment that he controlled his box well. On at least two occasions he misread a cross and came off his line but missed the ball. This is a persistent, glaring weakness.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I believe that one of those was more down to Edu losing his man and MacMath coming out just to make himself big.
      That said, he was very quick off his line and made smart saves with his feet before Red Bull players could compose themselves in the box.
      That part of his game remains a work in progress, but I do believe that for the most part, he was very strong against New York.

      • Yes. At times, he comes out as soon as it leaves the foot, instead of reading the flight.
        Alas, this is a sign of young goalies. Even Howard isn’t amazing on crosses.

    • Also, keep in mind that the central defenders in front of him has switched a lot this season (five different individuals and multiple combinations). So it’s difficult to put the blame all on MacMath when he’s been right most of the time coming off of his line.

  10. Mo should earn a bonus point for that epic dive! Not too often do you see a big guy fall that convincingly. Alexander is an idiot though for wrapping his arm around Edu in the box.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      It looked a bit floppy, but again, what was Alexander doing? The fact that he is a US international is more confusing every time you see him play live.

    • I wouldn’t call it a dive. It was definitely an exaggeration, but a necessary one. If Edu was a smaller guy (like the size of Williams or Gaddis), I think the foul would have actually been enough to knock him off his feet. He was just trying to make it clear to the ref that there was in fact a foul. Imo that’s fair game.

    • kingkowboys says:

      Dive is a little harsh. It was a weak foul that Edu exaggerated. A dive is more like a brush of arms and you fall over rolling on the ground.
      I was so happy about this call because it seems like we never get them.

  11. The Union are heavy on players best suited for the center of the field, and really only have one true wing player on the team (Cruz), so I’m all for converting Wenger there (and shopping for a true wing/outside mid would be nice too). He certainly is athletic enough to do the work required out there. I’d keep Cruz as the starter for now, but reinforcements are definitely needed at those outside spots.

    • Cruz should be a spot starter there. With Gaddis at left, I’m not concerned about the “work” of your wide mid. What we need is 1v1 ability there. Wenger csn grow into that position if he plays a lot.
      You saw Curtin coaching him up to go at the RB, and it was helping.
      With more experience and coaching, I envision him being comparable to Mapp (current version, not Union version).

  12. It’s gotta be said again. Casey and LeToux are the most consistently productive offensive tandem we’ve ever had on this team. We need as many minutes out of them as possible unless some new striker comes along (Brown?).
    Which brings me to my next point. Why didn’t we see brown come on after the 80th minute? Curtain said he would have done it at 3-1 against CO, and before the game even hinted that he would start. Surprised not to see him make the field. Any thoughts on this?

    • I am surprised he didn’t come on as well, but given recent results I’m sure he was more concerned at maintaining the lead. Obviously it worked, but when he gets an opportunity to get Brown time he needs to use it.

    • Agreed, I was disappointed not to see Brown there.

  13. The Red Bulls goal falls on White as he left BWP too much space, but that is an easily fixable mistake, and he was quick to take blame immediately after. Moving forward the pairing of Edu-White is enticing, especially with Okugo and Nog in front of them.

    • kingkowboys says:

      If it happens, Valdes + White = Solid Defense. I think this combo would be good for both players. The problem will be trying to get Okugo, Edu, Maidana, and Nogs on the field at the same time.

      • Valdes + Traffic Cone = Solid Defense.

      • Old soccer coach says:

        I would think Edu and Valdes in the middle, with Gaddis going to the side of the more pacey flank player and Williams wherever Gaddis is not. Okugo and Nogueira, with Maidana in front. As you think about how the positioning has all evolved, remember that very likely Maurice Edu was made positional promises in the recruitment process to facilitate his hope to return to the World Cup. Probably Hack made the promises, and, if so, felt he had to honor them.

      • Completely agree. Edu and Valdes would be the ongoing combo. Could be Valdes and White next year. No reason to mess with Okugo, Nogs, and Maidana. They’re where they should be.

  14. Does Curtin have this team now playing so that Valdes wants to return? Picking CBs from Berry, Edu, Valdes & White would be a great problem to have. Give Wenger more time to learn how to be a winger. In tandem with Cruz off the bench he could be a welcome change, especially when Nogs & Chaco team up.

  15. I brought my 82 yr. old mother,my early 70’s in-laws and the 5 of us Montags..everyone had a great time and got to see a win!! Don’t know how I can afford to keep them coming to the games! It was the Parents first pro match…first tailgate…and they loved it! Thanks to the SOBS for being amazing and all the fans who sat around us in 114!

  16. We seem to all be forgetting about Berry. Is he your everyday guaranteed starter? Probably not. But assuming Valdes comes back, it is still crucial that White & Berry get good minutes. Both were highly rated young prospects prior to Hack getting a hold of them.
    But I don’t want to “Baky” one of them away, esp when their value dropped.
    Edu then becomes the man out. I think he played his way out after this loan anyway. He was always overvalued.
    So, I think we’d have to rotate edu, Okugo, Nog based on rest, cards, injuries, and tactics. Sorry BC and Lahoud, but oh well. Those would be our only 3 DMids.
    *All dependent on Valdes returning. Otherwise Edu stays in the back rest of the season. Which, if he wants US call-up, he’d be up for. That’s where he was meant to play.

    How Curtin handles the mins on Sat will be interesting. LeToux was gassed towards the end and Casey too. Not sure Fred can handle full 90 on short rest.

  17. Gaddis absolutely man handled Lloyd Sam. In my opinion the best performance of the night. The number of offensive plays that he stopped cold and send back down field was truly impressive. He deserves a pay raise!

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