Player ratings

Analysis and Player Ratings: Union 2-1 Impact

Photo: Paul Rudderow

It’s a good thing that Montreal felt like giving away three points on Saturday at PPL Park, because other than Sebastien Le Toux, the Union never looked interested in taking them for themselves.

Despite lining up against the weakest team in MLS, and sporting a superior team at nearly every position, the Union elected to play negatively, sitting deep and relying on infrequent counterattacks and long balls. Fans could be forgiven for having flashbacks to 2011 with Le Toux working tirelessly up front, banging in goals that were far more about effort and hustle than they were about quality, while Carlos Valdes spent the evening bailing his team out at the back.

Struggling Nogueira

Nogueira’s passing chart vs. Montreal

One major issue with the Union’s ability to link play and build consistent attacks is Vincent Nogueira’s ability to operate in the No. 10 role. When asked about his decision to yet again slide Nogueira forward, out of his comfort zone, Jim Curtin said,

He does a good job there. He would tell you if he was up here that it’s not his preferred spot and I know that we have a good relationship, but what’s good for the team is that he plays in that  role a little higher up the field, but you can see he likes to come back and get the ball and a lot of the situations we might not get out of cleanly, he could get us out of if he were in that deeper spot.”

That is hardly a ringing endorsement, and while he gives Nogueira minor credit for his play up high, Curtin also diagnoses that two of his teams biggest weaknesses stem from his choice to play the Frenchman out of position:

1. Nogueira “likes to come back and get the ball.” He does. There’s no denying it. Throughout his brief tenure with the Union, Nogueira has been at his best when he can make himself available for his teammates. Acting as the third member of a passing triangle in any situation, pretty much anywhere on the field, Nogueira thrives when he can buzz around offering an outlet for his defenders. His positioning has not only gotten the best out of Ray Gaddis’ and Sheanon Williams’ distribution out of the back, but has also covered up for the loose passing of Union central defenders throughout the 2014 campaign. When he has been asked to lead the attack, that skill set is largely negated.

However, looking at his pass chart against Montreal, it is clear that the lure of dropping deep to receive the ball is one that Nogueira struggles to ignore. Despite playing 86 minutes against the Impact, Nogueira attempted only one pass in the attacking third of the pitch, and it was played away from goal, into the corner for an overlapping player. Too frequently with space in front of him, Nogueira chose to step on the ball, electing to slow play down and spread the field, rather than driving forward in an effort to put the Montreal defense on their heels.

Carroll's turnovers from deep.

Carroll’s turnovers from deep.

2. There were a lot of those “situations we might not get out of cleanly, he could get us out of if he were in that deeper spot.” When Curtin’s lineup came out on Saturday, the decision to move Amobi Okugo to the bench meant that the current Union manager had returned to the same midfield that struggled mightily under John Hackworth.

Regardless of how much hope the Union coaching staff continues to have that Maurice Edu will magically transform into the type of two-way threat that can take over a match at both ends of the pitch, there has been little proof this season that this will happen.

Instead, Edu has shown the same type of defensive range, ball-hawking, and short range passing that he has throughout his career. It is the skill set that made him a top defensive midfielder in the US system. However, with both he and Carroll screening the back four and exchanging quick passes, there was no player in position to complete the relieving pass, moving the ball up field out of danger.

Carroll in particular struggled to be the release valve, with eight turnovers coming from areas around the center stripe. His aimless punts forward usually draw howls of derision from the assembled PPL Park, but on Saturday, they were welcome relief from the balls that rolled directly to the feet of either Patrice Bernier or Gorka Larrea.

With the Union sitting deep as a team, looking to counterattack despite the inferior opposition, sloppy play at the base of the midfield meant that there were rarely chances to bring the team forward that offered anything resembling a continuous genuine threat.

The fact that Le Toux scored his brace on the Union’s only two shots on goal speaks to just how ineffective the Union attack proved on Saturday.

The hopeful return of Cristian Maidana against Dallas should allow Curtin to drop Nogueira back into the box-to-box role to which he is ideally suited. However, if the Argentine is not ready to return from his hamstring injury, how Curtin adjusts will be a key talking point of Tuesday’s US Open Cup semifinal. Should the same midfield again be deployed in Dallas, it is hard to imagine the Union getting a similar result against a far stronger side, one that also rested top striker Blas Perez in the Dallas win over Colorado on Saturday in preparation for Tuesday’s showdown. A victory for the Union means a chance to play in front of their home fans for the clubs first final. Getting the most out of Vincent Nogueira will go a long way towards securing the chance to host the most important match in the Union’s brief history.

Classic Le Toux

Despite being fortunate to bag both of the Union’s tallies, Le Toux’s chasing and effort meant his performance went beyond the saying, “Better lucky than good.” Watching Le Toux doggedly chase defenders, waiting for the slightest error to pounce on, and bury what looked, originally, like a lost cause, it was hard not to be transported back to the Union’s 2010 and 2011 campaigns.

Having conceded the second most goals in MLS, Montreal’s defensive struggles have been clear for all to see. Poor communication, defensive gaffes, and poor organization have been hallmarks of the 2014 Impact, and while neither goal will likely make a personal highlight reel, Le Toux’s hustle and high defensive pressure made sure the Troy Perkins’ defense had to be on their toes on Saturday.

And much like the rest of the season, they were not.

With two more games coming in rapid succession, failing to claim three points against a team that is fast becoming the 2013 DC United of the current season would have been unacceptable. Yet, uninspired and disorganized, that would have been the likely result had Le Toux not dragged his team over the finish line.

Here’s hoping he’s fit for Tuesday.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 7

Showed clean hands and smart reading of the game when called upon, MacMath continues to thrive, despite the knowledge that Rais Mbolhi will inevitably replace him. Apparently instructed to punt long over his misfiring midfield, MacMath’s eagerness to get the ball up field saw him set the table for Le Toux’s opener, though his continued hurried-ness to blast balls upfield led to a few finding their way into the seats. I’m sure Union fans will take that.

Sheanon Williams – 5

Did very well to keep Andrew Romero quiet throughout most of the match, pinning the wide man in his own half as he ran at him time and again. However, Williams must raise his hand for his share of the wayward passing and accept responsibility for losing Maxim Tissot on Montreal’s goal.

Ethan White – 4

Played with his typical physicality, but struggled to track Montreal’s runners and was sloppy with his distribution out of the back. Whether it was on the deck or in the air, White must improve his decision-making on the ball if he is to retain his spot.

Carlos Valdes – 8

Stepped directly into the starting lineup with all the poise and quality of a top-tier defender. Organized his defense, put out fires and distributed out of the back, all with the kind of calm demeanor that is infectious to those around him.

Ray Gaddis – 4

Perhaps his worst performance of the season, Gaddis looked out of sorts and was guilty of a series of cheap turnovers in the first half. Unable to assert himself on Justin Mapp defensively, he found himself pinned back and chasing play, and unusual place to find the speedy defender.

Brian Carroll – 3

In every facet of Saturday’s match, Carroll was simply too slow. Whether he was turning over cheaply with the ball at his feet, or watching Patrice Bernier and Co. skip past him, Carroll was not up to the occasion. Expect Amobi Okugo’s spell on the sidelines to be a very brief one.

Maurice Edu – 6

Quietly turned in a performance that suggests that he is ready to take over the defensive midfield responsibilities for the Union. Solid, if unspectacular, Edu arrived at the right time to make a number of interventions and was far more tidy on the ball than either of his midfield counterparts.

Sebastien Le Toux – 9

Sometimes a team needs a player to put them on his back and carry them to victory. To be clear, the Union absolutely should not have needed Le Toux to be that player against lowly Montreal. But they did, and he was.

Vincent Nogueira – 4

As mentioned above, Nogueira’s instincts to drop deep were too strong for him to ignore, leading him to abandon his post at the top of the midfield triangle far too frequently. Confronted with opportunities in the attacking half of the pitch, he too often made the wrong choice, an unusual thing to say about the Frenchman. Upon Maidana’s return, hopefully against Dallas, he will almost certainly slide back to his preferred spot.

Danny Cruz – 4

Worked hard up and down the left flank, but with the Union struggling to bring the ball through midfield Cruz was a peripheral figure throughout. With Andrew Wenger showing a knack for direct running, Cruz will have to increase his efforts to get on the ball and help out in defense to insure his starting spot is secure.

Conor Casey – 3

Did not look up for the match, as he loped casually around the pitch, coming off second best to Montreal’s centerbacks with alarming frequency. Even with the ball at his feet, Casey was uncharacteristically sloppy, as it just was not his night.


Andrew Wenger – 5

Provided energy and threat with three direct runs. However, his decision-making around the box remains poor, as he picked the wrong option each time. Luckily for Wenger, he grabbed an assist against his former club when his mishit touch found Le Toux, who still had plenty of work to do before somehow finding the back of the net.

Brian Brown – 3

With plenty of time to stamp his imprint on the game, Brown proved ineffective up front and missed an absolute sitter. MLS is rough league, and the young Jamaican needs to learn to throw his body around with a bit more venom.

Fred – N/A

With the Union under siege and two energetic defensive midfielders on the bench, Fred’s inclusion was a curious choice.

Geiger Counter

Fotis Bazakos – 2

Insisting on refereeing as if he has been placed in a medically induced coma, Bazakos — as usual — was simply too soft and uninvolved to deal out any sort of justice. Whether it is doing the basic things wrong, (i.e. turning his back on the ball), or not having the confidence to pull his cards out of his pockets, Bazakos still hasn’t proved to be capable of refereeing at this level.

From Mateo Ferrari’s post-whistle scissor tackle on Cruz, to substitute Callum Malluce’s decision to run on the field in the ensuing melee, to Carroll’s persisting fouling, to Krzystof Krol’s last-second scything tackle from behind on Le Toux, Bazakos’ decision to take no substantive action remains mind-boggling.

Preferred Lineup for Tuesday’s Open Cup Semi-Final vs. FC Dallas


MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Gaddis; Edu, Nogueira; Le Toux, Maidana, Cruz; Casey


  1. I think Nogs number is lower because Carroll sucked so badly he had to play both roles. Maybe give Nogs all 7 and BC a 0.

    • The quick release from Amobi is what has been creating the counter attacks we’ve seen since he moved back to midfield which many folks dont seem to see. It is said that you don’t know the value of something until you loose it. We talk so much about Maidana not being in the line-up to free Noguerra; but I see Amobi Okugo as the player in the team that can help Noguerra be the player he can be.

  2. I’m a relatively new Union fan, having only gotten on board this season. As a long-time soccer fan, it seems the most notable things are (forgive what is likely restatement of the obvious):

    1) refereeing in this league is hit-or-miss at best. I think play quality in MLS is better than it’s given credit for, but officiating is crazy. Wasn’t sure at first, but it’s getting to be obvious.

    2) This team is way better offensively with Maidana in the starting 11. I hope he’s just getting judiciously rested and will be back soon. This club really needs him. The sit-back and wait for the counterattack approach is hard to swallow. Especially with bungled passing in the middle.

    Also, obvious statement #3, Le Toux is awesome.

    • Welcome aboard the Union bandwagon, Pete. Saturday you saw why Le Toux has been a fan favorite since Day 1.
      Refeering tends to be closer to miss or miss…Of course, we also so that at times it wasn’t so great during the World Cup either.
      We are all hoping Maidana comes back ASAP and that he is able to make the impact he was making before he got hurt.

    • Agreed. The problem with Maidana being out is for whatever reason they don’t want to put in a like for like replacement for him. We have some young players (Pfeffer or Ribiero) who should be able to play the position and seem to be ready to at least be given a look but they won’t do it

      • Or Leo Fernandes….

        I’m beginning to wonder why we have not seen even a glimpse of him since the beginning of the year. He was awesome the first few games of the season then tailed off a bit and now he can’t get a minute. IMO he is the best like-for-like replacement for Maidana.

      • Agreed. Fernandes is a good fit for that position, and he and Le Toux work well together on the pitch.

  3. Why do we even have a USL affiliate. This week is custom made for using Ribero or Peffer.

    • Because Sakiewicz likes the Gingerbread Man and it gives him a reason to party all night long while watching promising Union players thrill in front of 300 people.

    • Because it’s either that or invest in a new team of their own, a la Galaxy II. Considering their investment in the academy, their own USL team I think would be better. At worst they could play locally and at least be seen by the majority of the Union fan base weekly.

  4. I think the Geiger Counter is too high. A zero would’ve been appropriate.
    A question for those who know more than me: Is MacMath punching the ball *too* much now? Over and over Saturday, he opted to two-fist the ball rather than catch it. Even when it seemed he had the room necessary to snag the ball and gain control over it, rather than let fly.
    That said, I love the long pass out after Montreal’s set piece. And I absolutely love Curtain’s comparison to Hextall in the postgame press conference!
    Lastly, Nogueira seems to have a little bit of Jack Mac in him. He seems to whine to the ref an awful lot…

    • Nogueira has just a little of Jack Mac in him. The worst part about Jack Mac wasn’t whining to the ref, it was the pouting & visible sulking. Although, Nogueira did seem to have legitimate reasons to complain to the ref, especially over the last two games. The last two for the Union were some of the worst-ref’d games I think I’ve ever seen. Not a single card for either team between the two of them.

    • I regards to MacMath’s punching he did seem a bit over zealous. However as a keeper a few things need to be considered, what communication are you getting from your defenders, how hard is the opposition coming and where are your quick distribution points? I have noted in the past that Montreal is quite physical and almost crossing the line of dirty inside the box. Besides even with Valdes back there the backline was questionable at best and that ALWAYS makes a keeper nervous.

    • I think Zac punches just enough.
      JM whined when he made what he thought was the perfect run and did not receive the perfect pass in kind. VN sometimes lets his disappointment show when he HAS the ball and does not see his teammates running into space. I think there is a major difference there. Also, a major talent difference.

      • There is no comparison to Jack Mac and Nogueira at all. I remember one play that caught my attention in the Montreal game, when Nog. had the ball and everyone starting running away from the play, no one checking to him and left him on an island. He had no where to go! Nog. sets the example of what a professional looks like. He is allowed to whine all he wants in my opinion haha. Hopefully this team is learning from him and listening to him. Of course this wasn’t his best game, but hes been giving us more than we have asked for throughout the season.

  5. Agree that the ref was horrible and also with the preferred lineup for Tuesday. I only wish we had other target-man options besides Casey. He was already slow on Saturday, and with such short rest, I don’t see him doing any better against Dallas.

  6. The Black Hand says:

    Pretty dead on, Eli.
    8 is too high for Carlos, but I can understand. Just seeing him out there bumped his rating a bit. As for play, he left White stranded often by not getting back quick enough.
    It’s tough to take Noguiera and Edu to task because Carroll limited their play. Although, Noguiera looked out of form. He lacked awareness of his teammate’s positioning.
    Carroll is done. Defensive cover is nice, but he gives the ball up far too much. The extremely rare pass going forward, from Carroll, is a rocket and impossible to possess. There is a strong correlation between Carroll playing and the Union being dominated by opponents possession.
    I think that Casey and Brown were victims of an ineffective midfield, for the most part. That said, Brown needed to eat his meal, that was plated and waiting.
    I liked Curtin’s response. He recognized the complete lack of quality, but stressed that three points is three points. I can’t argue with that.

    • We are back to the same old midfield discussions as when Hackworth was here and refused to play Amobi Okugo in midfield.

      This is a letter I have drafted for Hackworth to send to his former assistant Curtin: “Dear Curtin, take warning from MY UNHAPPY ENDING and avoid the imprudent conduct which occassioned it. My appointment of Brian Carroll as team captain and moving Okugo to central defense to allow Brian play DM caused it.”

      • The Black Hand says:

        Ha! I have, actually, liked Curtin’s decisions…so far. I really think that Carroll was in because of the packed schedule…err, I mean that I hope that is the reason. Carroll no longer fits. Lahoud is a better option, in every way. The club should move Carroll (big salary) and use Lahoud as spot start/depth, in my opinion. Amobi should be the CDM.

    • Agreed on Valdes, I honestly thought his play was sub-par by his standards. He looked a little deer-in-the-headlights at times in the first half as he got his feet under him. Didn’t think his communication with White was all that great either, and got caught a little high once or twice and had to sprint back hard to regain positioning on a few Montreal breaks.

      • The Black Hand says:

        He looked out of sync and a bit slow. The bright side is: we know that Carlos has the goods. He will be fine.

      • He looked a little out of sync but still put in a great performance imo. It is to be expected that it might take a minute to be totally on the same page as everyone else when he only arrived a week ago

      • The Black Hand says:


      • Again I hate to bring up Amobi Okugo in this. But those that have followed the Union over the years can remember how often Valdez would dribble to midfield only to loose the ball and be bailed out by Okugo. White may be too slow to provide that cover for Valdez hence I crave for Edu to partner with Valdez in central defense. With Okugo and Nog as defensive mid, this team will be hard to beat.

      • Some people have called for a White-Valdes CB partnership, which I don’t really have a problem with- White has been pretty good. But if it’s Edu-Valdes with Okugo and Noguiera as deep midfielders then there is no problems with decision-making, passing accuracy and possession in the middle of the field. Once you introduce White, or god forbid Carroll, all those things become much bigger question marks.

      • Agree with Mike. I’m sure Edu prefers MF, but he was a great calming influence at CB and offers good size back there. I still feel like he and Valdes in the back, behind Nogueira and Okugo is the best combination going forward. White’s a nice back-up option.

    • Agreed as well. While he was solid defensively his distribution was just as poor as White (both at 59% completion). That knocks his play down a peg or two.

  7. I think you are being too harsh on White. I think a 6 would be more appropriate. It was his first game with Carlos. Also, I don’t fault him for taking some chances with the ball.

  8. Everyone can have an off night. Don’t get me wrong, yes, they are professionals and should strive to be at their best for every game, but still, they are human and can have nights where the ball doesn’t bounce right or they forget Justin Mapp only kicks the ball with his left foot.

    It is a tad concerning, however, that so many players had off nights at the same time. Thankfully, it happened against a team that was simply too inept to capitalize on the chances the Union gave them.

  9. Having attended this game in person, there were 2 very clear problems with the Union’s game:

    1. There was generally no one around for the defenders to outlet the ball.

    2. Montreal — especially Felipe — kept finding pockets of space between our back 4 and the midfield.

    Both of these, it strikes me, are the responsibility of the defensive middies. Carroll clearly looked outclassed out there, but what about Edu? Doesn’t he deserve responsibility for that too? At times he looked like a commanding central presence, but perhaps it was at the expense of giving up other responsibilities — especially given that Carroll mostly played higher than he did (which, by the way, makes no freakin’ sense).

    • Hmm…… Again all to the absence of Okugo. I am a broken record. The guy is the most complete player this team– and if I were a total sycophant – say this city has ever had. I apologize for those who are underwhelmed. Futbol excellence is sometimes so subtle you don’t realize it when it is in your midst – that is why I have taken position of trying to wake up the naysayers. I accept the responsibility.

      • I agree that the absence of Okugo was a big reason for those two problems but I think it was also the misuse of Nogueira. If you ask him to play as an attacking midfielder he will try but he will mostly fail and by doing that you are throwing off the entire rest of the team by forcing them to play without an 8 or a 10

      • The Black Hand says:

        I think that Noguiera’s problem had a lot to do with lack of space. Both Carroll and Edu were taking up the spot where Noguiera is most efficient.
        He really didn’t play the 10. He was more box to box. The problem was we had no linkage (#10) to the striker. Casey was forced to check back and expend more energy. (We need the big man to exert no more energy, than is necessary, in order to have him upright in October).
        Cruz and Carroll should never be in the starting XI, at the same time…ever.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        That is kinda the point though. He was SUPPOSED to play the 10. That’s what he was asked to do, but he doesn’t like playing there and is not comfortable so he collapsed back.
        That does not relieve him from blame for straying from the role he was asked to play.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I don’t disagree.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        This could all be theoretically moot if at any point this year either Hack or Curtin had given Ribeiro a chance to play. He may not be ready to run the offense on a full time basis, but short spurts at the 10 seem completely appropriate.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I can see not throwing him right in games, but at the very least, bring him up and have him train with the top club. Ribiero is on a tear. We should at least see how he does in training.

      • If Noguiera is the best player in the team as most have said, then I think he should do more than play in his comfort zone. Great players can play almost in any position. I hate when we hype players that have not completed a season to be well evaluated. Even those that are too slow to heal is a symptom of a problem because injury is part of the game. Some weak players use injury to be off radar. I want to evaluate players that play consistently rain or shine.

      • i don’t like this line of reasoning. carlos valdes is one of the best players ever to play for this team and he is one of the best centerbacks in the league. that doesn’t mean he would be a great attacking midfielder. nogueira is amazing at what he does and we haven’t seen a player like him on this team before. that doesn’t mean he is an attacking midfielder

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I second what Kyle is saying. The expectation that a good player is a good player anywhere on the pitch is just not accurate. Guys train their whole lives, usually at just 1 position and to suggest that they just start doing something else is simply not fair to expect. Also, it devalues MLS when people assume that is how it works. Nogueira is not an attacking mid. He has never been. He captained a Ligue 1 side playing as the no. 8. Put him in his position and reap the rewards.

  10. Nogs has got to be more selfish. He killed at least 3 scoring chances by holding the ball up and refusing to attack. That hesitation allowed Montreal to close down the play and the chances went for naught.

    • agreed.

      While being a small man, he CAN hit a ball with some force (Revs game) and he can bend a ball. I think his attacking game is worth being a bit more selfish for like you said.

      Though being a deep-lying playmaker/regista-type of player that he is: passing the ball with always be his first instinct.

  11. I fixed a couple mistakes in the first paragraph:
    It’s a good thing that Montreal felt like giving away three points on Saturday at PPL Park, with a semifinal cup match coming up, the Union manager made some bold squad decisions, saving his better players for Tuesday, and putting just enough guts and quality on the pitch to take three points from the visitors.

  12. Old soccer coach says:

    As regards Ribeiro and the affiliation to Harrisburg City Islanders, HCI tapped off against Orlando at 6 PM, an hour before the Union did against the worst team in MLS they were playing the best in USL PRO who had only lost once when the game began. I agree that Ribeiro has potential, the flaw I see in him is his pace. BUT Harrisburg, too, is trying to qualify for its playoffs. Ribeiro increased their chances of pulling the upset, which they did 3-2. AND always keep in mind that there is an expansion draft coming, most likely the day after MLS Cup is played is the day the protected lists have to be submitted. Ribeiro playing for HCI reduces his prominence in that draft process as he will likely not be one of the protected ten.

  13. Here’s my preferred line up.(especially in the midfield).

    Gaddis, valdes, White, Edu/Fabinho

    Cruz Nogueira Okugo Maidana

    Le Toux Casey

    The most important factor here is to keep Okugo,Nog. and Maidana in the midfield with Maidana as the attacking player.

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