Player ratings

Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 0-2 Dynamo

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

So that is what a tired team looks like.

While Jim Curtin made changes to rest the tired legs of Conor Casey, Sheanon Williams and Ethan White, he asked the equally tired legs of Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, Sebastien Le Toux and Ray Gaddis to soldier on and cope with the Texas heat.

And cope they did not.

When all was said and done, the most telling stat may be the two shots on target the Union could muster. After looking to take the game to the Dynamo for the opening half hour, before fading badly down the stretch, the impotent offense’s failure to test Tally Hall was simply not good enough.

No support for Ribeiro

Making his MLS debut on Friday night, Pedro Ribeiro replaced Casey in the somewhat unfamiliar role of target striker. And while at times Ribeiro looked every bit a rookie, at no point did he look out of place at the MLS level. Unlike moments when Aaron Wheeler seemed to win the role of Casey’s replacement purely due to his physical stature, Ribeiro possesses the skill set to not only win balls in the air, but also to hold up play, bring in his fellow attackers, and combine coherently with his midfielders. All that is well and good when the Union are on the theoretical front foot, driving play forward and bringing Ribeiro into the attack, but against Houston, the debutante had to make due with little more than the scraps of hoofed clearances.

Behind him, two out of position midfielders, Nogueira and Brian Carroll, simply lacked the attacking prowess to bring the ball, and their teammates, forward. With France’s Ligue 1 now into its second week, it must be remembered that Nogueira has played a full calendar year of competitive soccer without a break. And while he has proved to be one of the best ever to don a Union jersey, he too must be rotated if he is to ward off injury and fatigue and have anything left in the tank for the stretch run.

Meet Brian Carroll: No. 8?

With Nogueira laboring high up the pitch, Curtin turned to an unlikely source to also move into a more advanced role, chasing play all over the pitch.

Unsurprisingly, moving Carroll out of his full time, defensive midfield role, didn’t work.

Carroll brings plenty of attributes to the field for the Union, but aggressive, attacking play, and broad defensive range, are not among them at this point in his career. Yet, with Amobi Okugo dutifully putting out fires in front of the backline and ensuring Houston stuck to their cross-heavy attack, Carroll set about trying to cover every inch of the pitch. Whether he was assisting Fabinho in closing down Boniek Garcia, or picking off passes in the offensive half, Carroll offered the workrate required of a box-to-box midfielder.

However, when it came to adding an attacking impetus, Carroll fell short. Whether it was one of the handful of errant forward passes Union fans can expect to see from their captain each match, or his generally conservative, slow passing game, the Union did very little to strike fear into the hearts of the Dynamo. Especially with both Luis Garrido and Ricardo Clark well positioned to stifle attacks through the middle of the pitch, the Union looked increasingly short of ideas as the match wore on.

Two many DMs

But when it finally came time for Curtin to bring on players to inspire his team to get a result, he remained conservative. Perhaps he was concerned about conceding a second goal, or perhaps he suddenly realized the level of exhaustion visible in both Nogueira and Le Toux, but with the match teetering in the balance, Curtin stuck to his defensive guns, swapping out 3 of his 4 attacking players, leaving both Okugo and Carroll to see out the match.

It is hard to know the thought process behind the decision, but after an opening half in which Houston seemed content to sit back and let the Union run themselves into the ground, Dominic Kinnear’s side tightened the screws after the break, upping the tempo and challenging the Union to match it. And once Will Bruin raced past Carlos Valdes to push home the opener, the Union suddenly had to chase a result of any kind. No longer was their defensive approach going to be enough, but with so many tired legs, Curtin could do little more than damage control, removing players whose race was well and truly run, rather than adjusting tactically to get the most out of his side.

Player Ratings

Andre Blake – 6

In his first MLS, Andre Blake had an adventure. While his sheer athleticism is a sight to behold, Blake’s decision-making, especially on balls in the air, left something to be desired. His eagerness to cheat off his line has the potential to leave him stranded in no mans land (see not only Gaddis’ own goal, but also Ethan White’s own goal against Crystal Palace), and as he matures he will have to learn to be more patient reading the play in front of him.

Ray Gaddis – 3

Even the pacy Gaddis can run thin on energy, which was clear for all to see on Friday night. And when pace and quickness are not on his side, Gaddis positional shortcomings are magnified. Sloppy on the ball, and wayward in his reading of play and tracking of runners, it was a match to forget and move beyond for a player who, until recently, was in a rich vein of form.

Maurice Edu – 5

Edu’s impressive week finally came to a conclusion, with 45 All Star minutes (and ~6000 miles in air travel) to go with 300 minutes for the Union. Those staggering numbers might shed some light onto why Edu could neither chase Giles Barnes into the corner on Houston’s opener or communicate a switch in marking to Gaddis. What it does not explain is why a clearly exhausted Edu was not given any time off this week. Curtin can count himself very fortunate that not just Edu, but the rest of his team, came through the week unscathed by injury.

Carlos Valdes – 5

His plate full with the runs of Will Bruin and Barnes, Valdes will have to raise his hand in apology for failing to stay goal side of the former when he ran passed him to score Houston’s opener. Was otherwise solid in defense, an impressive feat considering the need to offer plenty of cover for Fabinho, while also working with a nervy, young goalkeeper.

Fabinho – 4

It is not a good sign when a coach feels the need to bring a midfielder to the assistance of a fullback on every defensive sequence. On Saturday, Curtin felt compelled to do just that, sending his captain over to assist Fabinho on each of Houston’s attacking moves. And while the gaffe prone fullback didn’t have any proper howlers against the Dynamo, he looked very much like a backup, just trying not to be overwhelmed.

Amobi Okugo – 6

Bossed the middle of the field as a pure defensive midfielder, breaking up play and distributing with a quickness and sharpness that was lacking elsewhere on Friday night. Got forward well, smartly picking his spots to advance, though he was rarely spotted by Carroll or Nogueira. Might want to take a touch late in the game rather than going for glory on the half-volley, as it was never likely to come off.

Brian Carroll – 4

Asked to cover a tremendous amount of ground, Carroll gave everything he had in the tank, but struggled to be much more than an advanced defensive midfielder. Did well to pick off three passes just over the halfway line, but when given the opportunity to break forward, his incisive, direct passing game was lacking, as he predictably looked unsuited to be deployed higher up the pitch.

Sebastien Le Toux – 3

After taking a painful knock again Montreal, Le Toux failed to go the distance against either Dallas or Houston. And while his toughness and effort are appreciated by the fans, his ability to effect either game was drastically diminished in both. Managed one of the Union’s two shots on target, but looked out of sorts and was guilty of some badly misjudged passes. Loses a point for the shameful dive that got DaMarcus Beasley booked.

Vincent Nogueira – 3

Out of position and out of gas, Nogueira was off the pace for most of 72 minutes. Badly in need of a rest, Nogueira lacked his typical sharpness as he was not only sloppy with his passing, but was also uncharacteristically caught in possession.

Danny Cruz – 5

As usual, gave maximum effort bombing up the left flank, but with so little service coming out of the Union midfield, Cruz was always going to be isolated.

Pedro Ribeiro – 5

As mentioned above, he did as much as he could with the service he got. Unfortunately, the was painfully little, especially in the second half. He has the goods to make an impact in MLS and if Cristian Maidana continues to be hamstrung, literally, Ribeiro should be deployed in this more natural attacking midfield position. If he does remain up top, Ribeiro needs to get a lot meaner, and fast.


Andrew Wenger – 5

After such a positive showing in Dallas, Wenger’s frustrating form returned in Houston. Continues to make positive, direct runs, but lacks both the vision and execution to make the final pass or shot, when required.

Fred – 6

Added much-needed energy as he sped up play for the floundering Union. Picked out Wenger for the Union’s best chance of the night.

Conor Casey – 3

Despite having more than 15 minutes to affect the result, Casey had no appreciable impact on the match. Even with his team attacking Houston and chasing the game, Casey failed to make runs into dangerous areas and took no part in the attempted comeback.

Geiger Counter

Baldomero Toledo – 4

Loses a point and wins a chicken for behaving like one and not sending off David Horst. Otherwise, he didn’t have too many tough decisions during a match in which Houston bullied their guests, and both Toledo and the Union, allowed it.

Preferred starting XI for Sunday’s match vs San Jose Earthquakes


MacMath; Williams, Edu, Valdes, Gaddis; Okugo, Nogueira; Le Toux, Maidana, Wenger; Ribeiro

At this juncture in his career, it makes sense to rest Casey for one more game against a Western Conference foe, making sure he’s as fresh as possible to battle it out in the East.


  1. Good column Eli, hard to disagree with most here. The players were clearly dead in the second half. Good effort, but lacking lots of quality. Carroll again offers little. It’s a shame bc the effort is always there and he is genuinely a nice guy. He just doesn’t have to left at this point. He should only be used late to close down games. Blake and Ribeiro both show good signs.
    I like the preferred 11 with one minor change. Bring in White, most Edu up and push Nogeuira out on the right. Le Toux looked absolutely toasted in this game, I give the guy a day off. Also gives us a few nice attacking sub options.
    Never has a little longer bring been needed more by a team. Looking forward to Sunday night.

  2. So it takes a visit to own goal city for Gaddis to finally get a 3 from PSP? That’s a first.

    I’m willing to give him a pass on this dreadful performance only because Curtin ran him and the rest of the squad into the ground with the lack of player rotation.

  3. That team jc put out there was not going to beat anybody…..keep resting the players and keek getting beat…..we need points not rest…Houston didn’t rest there players cause they need points…… the mean time we are fast falling and some very tough games ahead

  4. Old soccer coach says:

    If Ribeiro needs to get meaner, is SJ’s back line the one to learn against? bernardez, especially. The obvious fatigue displayed by so many should be eased by the eight days without a game. Maidana not getting on the pitch at all worries me and does not make me think he is ready to start, hence I question you choosing his for attacking mid as a starter, as he is not the athletic stud that others are.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      It is a major, major concern. Hamstrings can nag, and with Maidana not being a beast of an athlete, perhaps he will be out longer still. Regardless, I believe Ribeiro should be on the field against San Jose.
      Considering how lethargic Casey has looked at times over the last month, another week could do him some good. My assumption however, is that Casey will start and the midfield will be Nogueira, and 2 of Okugo, Carroll and Edu. It hasn’t worked, so why change it?!?

  5. I agree with your assesment of Blake, but ironically, it was his hesitation – failure – to come off his line that led to the first goal. I feel he should have came out to meet that instead of retreating back to the goalline. Certainly something to learn from, but as much as he came off the line Friday it was odd to not do it on that occasion.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      I’ve watched that replay more than once (and more times than I’ll admit). That’s a ball moving slowly towards him at the top corner of the box. Honestly don’t think he would have gotten there and we would be talking about him getting rounded the way MacMath did against Castillo.
      Either way, the failure of the defense to track either the first or the second run is more of an issues in my eyes.

  6. I’d give Blake a point for every save (7). Is M’Bohli ready for such adventure? Ribeiro started for LeToux instead, he would have been more involved. Where did Brian Brown go? Is he “out competed” in training the past 2 weeks? Why doesn’t a healthy Berry play? These are 2 guys the FO touted, but they vanished. Agree Edu & Nogs should not have been asked to go so long. Lack of foresight. If you’re willing to go the mat v. DAL, you prepare your reinforcements. Not fly one down the day before.

  7. I would have liked to see Brown running at those CB’s in the second half. I also liked what I saw from Ribero. The guy just looks fluid and natural with the ball (thought the same thing at CB vs Palace as well.)

    I know PSP has an Amobi love affair, but, IMO, he was invisible for significant stretches of the game. Didn’t see him pressuring Davis or Boniek. Didn’t see him winning so many of those loose balls in the midfield on which the team looked a step slow. Didn’t see him getting in the way of the multitude of balls finding their way to Bruin and Barnes. I did not see him “bossing” anything.

    Gaddis, in addition to being totally gassed, was on an island with overlapping runs on his side most of the game (I’m assuming because the DM was shaded to help Fabinho). I’ll still take him as my starter every single day.

    I thought Edu had a better game (and certainly better than Amobi) than his ranking.

  8. I’ve given this one a lot of thought and, even though I know I shouldn’t be as a rabid SoB, I am ok with this loss. I don’t chalk it up to bad coaching, or bad playing; I chalk it up to the schedule and too much soccer in one week for any team.

    A few random musings:

    Blake looked like every bit the goalkeeper we were promised. He made good saves and hit LeToux with a 70 yard punt. Yes, he made rookie mistakes, but there was little to be done on either goal. The first, the two Dynamo player beat every single member of the Union’s D in their rushes, giving them essentially a 2 on 1. The own goal was simply an unlucky bounce off Gaddis; it was also the result of the bad execution of a worse idea by the Dynamo player.

    I wish the obsession with Edu at CB would end. If you aren’t going to put White in at CB, then put Okugo back there. Amobi was effective as a CB last year, and Edu was brought in for his midfield play. The best midfield that the U can put out is one that has Edu, Nogs and Chaco in it.

    I also can’t fathom why Casey was subbed in. Maybe it was a lack of options, but he added nothing to the effort.

    I can only hope the U is resting and preparing for a return to a more normal-ish schedule. Maybe Chip Kelley can ship over a couple of recovery shakes from the Eagles training camp…

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