Player ratings / US Open Cup

Player ratings & analysis: Union 1-1 Dallas (4-3)

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

It took 120 minutes, but the Union became the first team to beat FC Dallas since May. And in doing so, they booked home field advantage for the 2014 US Open Cup final. And the truth is: They earned it.

For the first time since 2011, the Union have an identity. They are a counterattacking team that attacks up the wings (usually the right wing). Defensively, they are disciplined and organized, but doggone aggressive if you tread in the final third. They have limitations, but in MLS executing a teamwide gameplay effectively gives you a huge leg up on most competition.

And aside from using the “let’s hope he gets tired” defense on Fabian Castillo, the Union executed their game plan very well indeed.

Mauro Diaz was entirely stifled for the first 20 minutes.

Mauro Diaz was entirely stifled for the first 20 minutes (L). For the rest of the first half (R), he got progressively more involved.

Playing through Diaz

Dallas’ recent run of success is borne of Oscar Pareja’s creative use of his attacking players. Castillo, Blas Perez, and Tesho Akindele are a wonderful trio that bring speed, hold-up play, and intelligent running to the table respectively. Without Mauro Diaz to pull the strings, Pareja deployed the three danger men high up the pitch, betting that isolating them on any defensive foursome would result in more than a few good chances per match. He has largely been right.

But with Diaz in the lineup, Dallas spent the first half trying to play through their playmaking genius. The Union midfield had other plans.

Behold these beautiful passing charts. The left panel shows Diaz’s contribution to the match over the first 20 minutes, approximately the time period Amobi Okugo was hovering on the right side of the formation. Either Okugo is a wizard or he played some seriously sticky defense because he made a very good player disappear before our eyes.

On the right, you can see that Diaz (who was subbed off at halftime) found more space in the latter stages of the half. Pareja, seeing that his preferred gameplan was suffocating, moved Castillo to the left to create an overload and free up space in midfield. Lahoud, now playing on the right side, dropped deeper to help Williams with the speedy Castillo. It is hard to blame Lahoud for that decision, as Castillo was nigh unstoppable at times, but the change in structure did have its intended effect. Only good organization from the back four kept Diaz from finding a throughball once he had time to look up.

Nogueira first half passing was almost entirely from wide areas.

Nogueira first half passing was almost entirely from wide areas.

Nogueira to the wings

While Dallas struggled to assert themselves, the Union attack went largely as expected early on. With Nogueira in the creative role, Philly has had a huge hole in the middle of midfield. The Frenchman slips off to the wings to get involved, leaving a gap that only an enterprising holding midfielder can fill. And the confidence-free Okugo and defensive-minded Lahoud were nowhere to be found.

Okugo’s lack of confidence manifested itself as a distrust of his prodigious talents. He did not seek the ball, and when he got it he was content to return it to whence it came. To be fair, however, Adam Moffat and Victor Ulloa were stupendous ball hawks in the first half, appearing on the scene so many times that one could be forgiven for hearing footsteps.

Andrew Wenger's first 20 minutes (L) and the rest of the first half (R).

Andrew Wenger’s first 20 minutes (L) and the rest of the first half (R).

Andrew Wenger!?

The other notable development in the first half was the radioactive spider bite that Andrew Wenger received around the 20th minute. While his charts pre- and post-20 minutes may look quite similar production-wise, hidden away on the left are two successful dribbles that were pilot tests for a stellar second half performance.

Indeed, the first half was much like the first act of a play, as both squads set the stage for a raucous, roaring second forty-five.

Okugo scores, second half opens up

The second half was a perfect storm of substitutions, tactics, and fatigue. Dallas had to use their final two changes to fix the back line and remove Diaz, and they ended up with what can only be called the spread offense of soccer. Akindele, Perez, and Castillo all hung at the offsides line while Michel and Ulloa sat deep, with either Loyd or Hollingshead shuttling in the huge space between. This created something like a 4-2-3, with the extra one operating on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and only showing up when wholly untracked.

How this odd system would have played out in an even game state is a mystery, since Amobi Okugo swiftly put the Union on top when he finished off a sweeping move from The French Connection.

Now the Union were in an odd place. They are familiar with being ahead. They have learned to play to win on the road. But… Dallas was incapable of sustaining pressure. The midfield to do it simply wasn’t on the pitch.

Fabian Castillo's take-ons (L) vs the entire Union squad (R).

Fabian Castillo’s take-ons (L) vs the entire Union squad (R).

Thus, a strange back-and-forth developed between Fabian Castillo and Andrew Wenger. Dallas would play long into Perez and Akindele, and the strikers would essentially play a pick and roll game with Castillo, holding off a defender and turning to play the ball into space. It was ridiculous to watch. And ridiculously effective.

Curtin and back four don’t adjust

Looking back, Jim Curtin will likely wish he had tilted his midfield a bit more. With Okugo and Lahoud playing somewhat flat, there was no midfield close enough to pressure strikers when they checked in to receive long passes from Michel. White and Edu would follow the strikers high and leave acres of space behind for Castillo to hit at full speed. And full credit to Castillo: He hit the space again and again and again (sidenote: Watching Ray Gaddis and Castillo battle for a ball while moving at top speed is one of the most exhilarating thrills MLS can offer).

On the other end, Andrew Wenger thought it was throwback Tuesday and decided to show everybody what a number one draft pick looks like. Running around speedsters like Je-Vaughn Watson, running through big bodies like Stephen Keel, Wenger simply charged on. He was, in a word, dynamic, with only his finishing letting him down (though he did catch a post).

But as good as Wenger was, it was Castillo’s night. And though Zac MacMath timed a number of sprints perfectly, he got one very wrong in the 81st minute. Castillo skipped through the defense, whizzed by MacMath, and finished into an empty net. It was MacMath’s one misstep all night. Unfortunately, goalies don’t get mulligans.

A final note

MacMath said after the game that he didn’t have tape on many of the Dallas penalty takers. Only Michel and Perez, in fact. And he swatted away Perez’s effort, providing an appropriate finish to the big striker’s divey evening.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 10

Oh, but he almost cost the team the game with a late error! True. But he made two penalty saves to put his team in a final he may not even get to play in because the front office is determined to bring in everyone short of Manuel Neuer to replace him. If that is MacMath’s last start, he can use this rating on his resume. Brilliant on penalties (as he has been all season).

Sheanon Williams – 5

This is a very difficult rating. On the one hand, Williams spent most of the second half and extra time becoming a connoisseur of Castillo Dust. On the other hand… what exactly was he supposed to do differently? As soon as the Union set a high defensive line and failed to prevent strikers from turning, Castillo was always going to be first to the ball.

Ethan White – 3

One overlooked part of White’s game is his attitude. He will absolutely body up and throw down with anybody. When the Union were struggling, only Ray Gaddis retained that shoulder chip. White has helped return it to the rest of the squad. That said, he could not prevent Perez and Akindele from becoming creative hubs, and this let Dallas rinse and repeat the same offensive trick until it worked. Props for a goalline save, though.

Maurice Edu – 3

It is tough to give players that worked so demonstrably hard such low ratings. Especially when you can never be sure if their tactical decisions came from the bench. But Edu, wearing the armband, should have made better adjustments as Dallas’ plan became clear. In other aspects of the game — defending the box, picking times to join the attack — he was brilliant. But a few casual plays late almost cost the Union the match (Ryan Hollingshead will wonder how he didn’t do better with his big chance in extra time).

Ray Gaddis – 6

The first time Castillo met Gaddis, he ate him for lunch. It is borderline absurd that Gaddis was unfazed by this and continued to get touch tight until Oscar Pareja wisely moved his home run threat away from the only defender in MLS who can catch him. After that, Gaddis was merely putting out small fires and completing all but four of his passes. Late in the match, he got a few chances to drive at goal, but got caught overthinking things.

Michael Lahoud – 4.5

A fairly strong first half performance turned uglier after Dallas removed Diaz and left Lahoud with nobody to track. He needed to be pressing Michel and Ulloa or deeper to help on the strikers. Instead, he was caught in between and helping nobody. That said, Lahoud’s first half showing should vault him into the driver’s seat for pure defensive midfield minutes after Brian Carroll’s rough outing Saturday.

Amobi Okugo – 8

After a first half that matched brilliant defense with tepid offense, Okugo’s confidence returned en masse after he opened the scoring in the 47th minute. It helped that Dallas could not create the same midfield pressure after hauling off Moffat, but the second half saw Okugo demand the ball and begin to look for those longer passes that can make him such a dangerous deep-lying midfielder.

Vincent Nogueira – 6

A hardworking defensive performance matched by a subpar offensive showing. Nogueira was, as usual, everywhere. But that often meant he wasn’t where he was needed as often as he should have been. The trequartista role isn’t a perfect fit, but it’s usually best to have a player of his quality on the field.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

Started strongly, but Le Toux disappeared after 20 minutes and only popped up again to play the fine assist to Okugo and serve a number of well-spun corner kicks into the box. Additionally, he looked a bit lost defensively once Dallas overloaded his side.

Andrew Wenger – 8

A wonderful offensive display from the converted striker. Wenger was so dangerous that he took Je-Vaughn Watson out of circulation for large periods of the second half. A goal — or his teammates putting in better crosses when he earned them space — would have been a just reward. The defense was suspect once he wore down, but that’s what Ray Gaddis is for.

Conor Casey – 5

DreadPirateCasey was again game to battle the bigs, but with Nogueira abandoning the middle behind him and both Dallas defenders on form, it was often a fruitless effort. This was a match when the Union could have used someone running the channels instead of banging bodies.


Brian Brown – 5

Like Casey, failed to make a huge impact. Interestingly, the difference between Brown’s first 30 and his play in extra time was significant. He threw his body around in extra time and twice won fouls against Dallas defenders. Things are looking up for the Jamaican.

Danny Cruz – 6

Cruz played as a full-on outlet after coming on. And while he was generally quiet, the diminutive midfielder did go 5/6 passing, take off on one breathtaking run that resulted in a good shot on net, and block a free kick.

Cristian Maidana – 5

In his first minutes since injury Maidana looked rusty but willing.


  1. What happened to Nogueira’s rating?

  2. Rating for Nogueira????

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that this is the first time that any player (or at least MacMath) has earned a rating of 10! Well deserved, Zac, well deserved.

  4. Way too low for Ethan White….at the end of the day they only gave up one goal and he had a goal-line save. Seems like for a CB that is worth 5 at least if not a 6. I see that he plays a risky style, but I hope he makes the position his.

    • And I would say it was way too high. Aside from the goal line save (which was more a matter of standing on the goalline and having the ball hit him than anything special he did), he was burned over and over and over again. MacMath saved him from being a serious goat by coming off his line time and again. Give him Friday off, at the very least.

    • I disagree. It became clear pretty early that they were looking to take advantage of White’s lack of pace with balls in behind the defense, and pushing play through Castillo on our right side. The goal line save aside, it wasn’t a great night for him. I really hope Edu/Valdes becomes a thing. That gets our best possible lineup out on the field.

  5. Edu’s nonchalance for stretches of the game annoys the hell out of me, agreed that one incident almost cost us. What bothered me even more was that right after that he was yelling at either White or Williams that the ball played to him wasn’t good enough. I got flashes of Jack all over again.

    On the bright side, very encouraging play from Wenger tonight. If he could consistently do that every game he’d be one of the more dangerous players in the league. Also, MacMath has got to be one of (if not the) best PK keepers in the league. The post-game quote from Okugo says it all that the team knew if they hit all their shots that MacMath would make at least one stop. Gaddis is also rounding into one of the better defensive fullbacks in the league as well.

    • Can we stop castigating jack for holding players accountable for playing lousy. It’s called accountability. I watch every game. The Union were beyond terrible last year particularly in reference to getting the ball to the best striker on the team. Did he get pissy sometimes? Yes. He ‘s a striker whose job depends on service.

      • Simple, there are many ways of communicating your frustration and holding people accountable but screaming at your teammates (who I imagine are doing the best they can) certainly isn’t one of them. He’s a professional and an adult and should act like it. If I threw my arms up and screamed at every co-worker of mine that frustrated me I’d imagine I’d be getting a talking to from management about creating a crappy work environment and destroying team morale. In the professional sporting world, I’d imagine this would be even more applicable.
        There are many good players all over the world that play on teams below their skill level, only a few act like idiots by screaming at teammates. If you want to hold people accountable, fine, but do it behind closed doors not in front of 18,000 people plus the thousands more watching on TV.

  6. Wenger is a case study in how big an upgrade JC is in using talent. JH just stuck him in the hole Jack left. JC sees AW is better suited to wing and the resultant growth in his self confidence is visible. One can only wonder if Wheeler had been left to study under Casey that we might have a forward group of Casey LeToux Wheeler & Brown.

    • kingkowboys says:

      Completely agree. Wenger has been on an oddessy as far as positions go, but right now the focus should be on LW. He has two games now with direct and excellent runs at the box. He’s had good vision and shoot/pass decision making (not great but good). His ability to run past players with the ball at his feet is great. It’s such a difference from Cruz’s “kick it past and retrieve” style.

  7. Michael Lahoud was horrible. How he’s rated 1.5 higher than Edu is insane. At one point in extra time, Lahoud got on the ball, literally dribbled in a circle and passed the ball straight out of play. Not to mention his two shots that were horrible and he passed the ball right to the keeper on another attack. I’d rather move Edu up into that spot and Valdes paired with White going forward. Carroll and Lahoud can beat it. Ribeiro is the next option. Boom.

    • Can we just bench both Lahoud and Edu and call it a day? Lahoud clearly has no ideas or confidence with the ball, and Edu clearly just doesn’t care. Neither is helping this team right now.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I disagree, in regards to Lahoud. He is a useful DEFENSIVE midfielder. Playing him in an advanced position was a bad move. He is a smart player, with pace. He is NOT a creative, offensive player. As a DM, he is a great option to have,

    • I’d like to see Berry and Valdes. Lahoud was Lalost after the half. Can’t wait to see him gone.

  8. Andy Muenz says:

    Since there’s no prefered lineup for Friday, here’s mine. I’m skipping the keeper since I don’t know Mboli’s availability:

    Williams, White, Valdes, Gaddis, Okugo, Edu, LeToux, Maidana, Wenger, Casey.

    Noguera’s gone over 200 minutes this week as a midfielder so give him a rest, knowing that Maidana may not be able to go the full 90.

  9. I have always rated Zac higher than you guys but he was not perfect yesterday; on the goal he rushed out in error, which even he admitted afterwards. A 9 would therefore have been a more appropriate score. Still stellar performance.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Agree. But he won that match. His back line was poor. He won that match! He earned a gift point (or two).
      Now, let’s find a team that’s going to pay us for him!

    • Section 114 says:

      I dunno. I would give him a 12 and then deduct two points for the goal. A 10 seems fair.

    • Atomic Spartan says:

      What choice did Zac have? His defenders were beaten and he had to come out. If he had delayed his rush to the ball, perhaps the outcome would have been better. But think not i do.

      • White was catching up and the attacker was towards the side of the box(not in the middle). Zac should have cut down the angle but not come out all the way to the end of the box.
        When sweeping like that each situation is different and it takes a highly intelligent keeper to get it 100% correct each time.
        One other time he came out to the end of the box (when he should not have) and only a lousy lob saved us.

      • I actually think the time you mention where Perez missed the chip was a worse decision, as there were other players in the box to play the ball.

        White may have been chasing, but he was not catching up to Castillo. MacMath got his timing wrong and paid for it, but I would take sweeperkeeper Zac over the indecisive 2013 version. Of course, we won’t see too much of either version going forward, but…

    • kingkowboys says:

      The goal was less a mistake and more the short side of probability. He had to make the same play several times to avoid scoring chances. He had to do it at least 5 other times, 1 out of 6+ is pretty good. He was a half second too late on a play he shouldn’t have to make. I cannot fault him for that, Castillo running at him with the ball seems like a huge swing in probability of a goal.

  10. The Black Hand says:

    Dead on!

  11. Regarding MacMath’s ‘sweeper keeper’ play last night, does that come from the bench explaining the high line and that if the really fast guy in red gets past your back four you have to come out and get the ball, or is that recognition on his part of how the game was playing out and being aggressive? The first time it happened was definitely a “no, no, no….yes” moment for me, but I got more comfortable as the half went on.

    • I bet it was a mix of both. MacMath’s play last night of the sweeperkeeper is very reminiscent of Manuel Neuer during the world cup. I wonder if this will start to become a trend around the soccer world because an athletic and intelligent keeper can certainly do it effectively (Neuer, MacMath for 89 minutes and 55 seconds plus OT). This would also allow teams to play higher up the field and press more. Although, I do feel like this would also play into the hands of any team with speedy forwards.

  12. I’m absolutely mystified by how Le Toux gets a 6 when he created the Union goal and put several corner kicks in dangerous places. I’m equally mystified by how you blame MacMath for an error on the Dallas goal when Gaddis clearly made the erroneous decision to go 1v1, losing the ball and creating the counterattacking opportunity for Dallas. Gaddis should have passed the ball around the back, rather than trying to penetrate and putting himself out of position at a critical phase in the match. You also do not mention the continuing theme of the season, which is the inability of the Union to close out a match. Dallas hadn’t seriously threatened the Union goal until Gaddis’ misplay.

    • You don’t criticize Gaddis here.

    • I’m weighing those offensive contributions against the lax defensive work as he tired, and the complete disappearance from the 15-46th minute. Plus, he put in some very poor set pieces too. The half-cross/half-shot from the right flank comes to mind. But, of course, these ratings remain less than scientific.

    • Tom, You make some really good points. You could def. blame that goal on Gaddis or even Williams for that matter, as he tried to make a full out clearance into the middle of the field when he just needed to disrupt the opposing attacker with a simple tackle. I also agree that the inability of closing out matches really concerns me too.
      As for Le Toux corners, I have to say that he is so bad at taking corners right now. He shouldn’t be taking them at all haha. Maidana puts them deep into the 18 and away from the keeper. Le toux is hopefully taking notes from Maidana on corners.

  13. kingkowboys says:

    The common theme from this article and comments suggests several players were asked to do things they could not or were not put in positions to do the things they could.
    Lahoud can’t contribute to the offense. He’s a pacey BC.
    Nogs is not a CAM and does not play this role well enough in our formation. He needs to be central but instead goes all over.
    Gaddis should have been shifted to follow Castillo. He had an early gaff, but should have been able to learn from that. They moved Castillo away for a reason.
    Sheanon should have been told to not venture up field as much. Castillo was left against White too many times with Williams up field. This lead to the goal.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Pretty accurate assessment, King.
      Not the best managerial showing, when it came to selecting and adjusting the XI. The packed week might have factored in to the starting XI. (Though, that does not explain Curtin’s reasoning for opting for Lahoud to play in a role that was much better suited for a guy like Fred.)
      Gaddis should move back to right back, where he has shown better than Williams on both sides of the ball.

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