Tactics Talk

Why Vincent Nogueira shouldn’t play in the No. 10 role

Photo: Shayna Gosney/Prost Amerika

I think Jim Curtin has done a nice job since taking over for John Hackworth.

For the most part, he’s kept things simple, without trying to over-think the team selection process. You see Amobi Okugo in the midfield, you see Sebastien Le Toux bombing forward, and you see Cristian Maidana playing in a central role when he’s on the field. Maurice Edu has deputized nicely at center back, and Ray Gaddis seems to be the best option at left back.

The one area that bothers me is the triangle midfield, and the placement of Vincent Nogueira.

It’s sort of a trendy thing in soccer writing these days; we like to use positional numbers when discussing tactics and strategy. This is an example of how the numbers look when you’ve got the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system that the Union plays.


We really only focus on four numbers when we talk about this shape:

  1.) The number 9 is your center forward

  2.) The number 10 is your attacking midfielder

  3.) The number 8 is your box-to-box guy

  4.) And the number 6 is your traditional holder

Ideally, a full-strength Union team features Maidana as the No. 10, Nogueira as the No. 8, and Okugo or Edu as the No. 6.

Let’s use that as the “hypothesis” for the rest of this piece.

Nogueira’s unique skill-set

If I ever had to explain Nogs’ skill-set to someone who’s never seen him play, it would go something like this:

“He’s a box-to-box ball mover who likes to drop deep for service, then make connecting passes from back to front”

Nogueira is at his best when he’s drifting deep into the formation to collect from the backline or the holding midfielder. From there, we’ve seen him play short connecting passes and touchline triangles. He’s also a very good “field switcher,” and he hits the long diagonal pass probably better than any other Union player in the short history of the franchise. Ideally, plays will start from the back, and Nogueira will receive the ball under little to no pressure. Then, he can turn and make the connection with the No. 10 or one of the wingers.

So, the problem with Nogueira at the 10 is that his tendency to drift deep creates a huge hole in the attacking half of the midfield. We saw this from day one, when John Hackworth created the Nogueira, Edu, and Brian Carroll triangle. In the preseason game against New York, Nogueira would ask for the ball in deep areas, which completely displaced the other two midfielders. Carroll is a holder, so he sure as hell isn’t going to cycle forward into the 10 spot. Edu looked mostly lost, even when given the opportunity to get forward and take advantage of that space.

That was sort of the theme earlier in the year, when the offense was struggling to score.

A few weeks ago, I asked Curtin about his usage of Nogueira in the 10 spot, and this is what he had to say.

“When Vincent does play in the No. 10 role, he’ll tell you that’s not his favorite spot. I see that as well. I see what you see. He’s probably better in the spot where he can drift around and pick up the ball and pick apart teams that way. It’s harder when he has guys behind him, around him, 360 degrees all the time. But he still has the quality to make the final pass. Maybe in our league he can do that, and I still like him in the No. 10 spot in a pinch. But ideally he’s next to a holding guy.” (July 30th, 2014)

Philadelphia Union v Montreal Impact

“Why am I playing in the No. 10 role? I want to drop deep and hit beautiful long diagonals.” Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

A lack of options?

One of the issues here is that the Union really doesn’t have much depth at the No. 10. Most teams don’t, because attacking midfielders and trequartistas are incredibly hard to find.

Really, if Maidana wasn’t injured, I wouldn’t be writing this column in the first place. But Chaco has been out for nearly a month, and Nogueira has been shoehorned into the No. 10 role.

These are basically the two ideas that are running through Curtin’s head when he approaches this problem:

A) Should I use two holding midfielders and add defensive protection in exchange for a less effective Nogueira?

B) Or should I keep Nogueira at the No. 8 spot and give Fred or Leo Fernandes a shot in the No. 10 role?

Curtin has gone with option A, choosing to put Nogueira further forward while pairing guys like Okugo and Mike Lahoud, or Okugo and Carroll. He’s sacrificed possession and positioning for some extra defense, which I think is deemed a “safer” move by the technical staff.

Option B puts Nogueira in his best role, and allows a guy like Fred or Fernandes (or, god forbid, Zach Pfeffer) to occupy the 10 spot, sitting higher and making a better connection with the three forwards. In this case, you’re asking your No. 6 to do the bulk of the defensive duties, because Nogueira certainly isn’t a hard-man in the middle. He does cover a ton of space, as we saw in the first game with Kansas City, but you don’t get the boring defensive shield that two holders would provide instead.

A tale of two positions

Here’s a look at Nogueira’s passing chart, and the Union formation, from the recent 2-1 win against Montreal. Nogueira was used in the No. 10 role, with a holding duo of Maurice Edu and Brian Carroll.

nogs montreal  433 montreal

You see that the majority of his passes were played in the midfield, despite being deployed higher up the field. That shows his tendency to sink in and receive the ball, leaving a gap in the CAM spot.

Philadelphia was out-possessed by Montreal, 68 to 32 percent.

Nogueira was just 23 of 28 in passing. He had 1 shot attempt, 1 shot blocked, 0 key passes, 0 cross attempts, and 0 successful dribbles.

By comparison, here’s the chart and formation from the 3-3 draw with Vancouver.

nogs vancouver433 vancouver

You can see how much more efficient he was in the No.  8 role, with Maidana in front of him and Edu playing behind.

Philadelphia won the possession battle 58 to 42 percent.

Nogs was 49/56 in passing, with 3 shots on target and 1 shot blocked. He had one assist and attempted five crosses.

Both Maidana and Nogueira have been injured for portions of the season, so there aren’t a ton of instances where they played together in the No. 8 and No. 10 roles. But it’s pretty obvious to me that Vince and Chaco complement each other very well in those spots. I think/hope Curtin will play them in that setup when Maidana returns from injury.


  1. That picture looks like it has a blurry Ray Gaddis laughing in the background. “Playing your strongest position? Ha! Good one, Vincent. Welcome to Philly.”

  2. Eli Pearlman-Storch says:


  3. I don’t think anyone really disagrees with what you’ve written. But Option B has its own issues. Fred has definitely looked lively and useful in his time on the pitch, but you can’t expect Grandpa to go 90 minutes in that role, so you’ve already accounted for one of your substitutions. And neither Pfeffer nor Fernandes (since the early few games of the season) have performed well enough to want to leave out a second holding mid.

    I would go with the Fred option, and drop Lahoud/Carroll out of the lineup, but that could potentially hurt the defense, so it isn’t a freebie.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:


      • I’m sure there’s a case to be made against that but I’m not able to think of one. He looked sharp and strong against Houston.

      • absolutely – has the size to manage to position and the touch to make things happen.

    • I think it’s way too early to give up on Fernandes. As you point out, he was a strong contributor early on this season. Did he struggle at times after that? Sure, but you could say that about most (all?) of his Union teammates.

      Fernandes’ skills are a good fit for the #10 spot, and it makes sense to give him a chance as Maidana’s backup there.

      • I’m with you. I was all over this on another Union blog – Where is Leo? He was solid the first few games then trailed off a bit but youth and consistency rarely is found in tandem. He has the skill set to be Maidana’s backup but has not seen the field in months now.

      • +1

  4. Spot on piece. My only quibble is the selection of the Vancouver game for the passing chart. Vancouver was managed by Hackworth and therefore a totally different possession based style of play which would have an 8 playing higher than Curtin would. Also, the Union had to come from behind in that match and Nogueira was pushing higher than he might normally from the 8 position.

    Your point could have been made with the most recent Red Bulls match. Nogueira was playing just about as deep as in the Montreal game but clearly more involved. Even though Nogueira is playing the 10 against Montreal, he effectively is playing where he plays as an 8 against New York, leaving too much space up top. Which is your point. Further he seems less involved in total as a 10 which is not what we want from the Union’s best possession player.

    Can’t wait for Maidana to come back healthy so that Nogueira can go back to his most effective position.

    • I didn’t go with the Red Bull game since Chaco came out injured in that one.

      But I don’t think the system changed too much when Jim came in. I think he made a few tweaks to what Hack was doing. Really wanna see a healthy Maidana with Nogueira in the 8 going forward.

      • While I agree Curtin has only tinkered with the lineup, his approach to games is very different from Hackworth’s. Under Hackworth the Union opponents averaged 379 passes per game. Under Curtin the opponents are averaging 511. That indicates Curtin is very happy to sit back on defense and look to counterattack. As a result the offense is taking a more direct long pass approach to offense versus a possession based build approach under Hackworth. The offense has been more productive as a result. I think the systems are pretty different.

  5. james Lockerbie says:


  6. james Lockerbie says:

    I hope the front office can keep him interested in staying here maybe the new practice fields will help

  7. Sums it up pretty nicely, Kevin. One thing I noticed: why the strong distaste for playing Pfeffer in the #10? Do you feel he is better suited from a wider role or one of the deeper midfield spots? I have been a proponent of his skill set and what he might be able to contribute to the team for a while now, especially because of his time with Hoffenheim and his success with the U-20 USMNT.

    • Because he started against Vancouver and didn’t do great. I love him too, but apparently getting outmuscled by Nigel Reo-Coker is enough to get him thrown down to Harrisburg.

    • Kevin Kinkead / philadelphia union says:

      No distaste at all. I think I put that line in parentheses because most of us forget he’s even on the team. Not sure why he can’t get a chance in his preferred position. He wasn’t effective as a LF against Vancouver.

      • Okay, thanks for clarifying. Wasn’t too sure what to make of that the way you said it! I agree, Pfeffer is yet another case where the team has not put him in a position that he is comfortable in and can be best utilized from. More to your point Smoovinho, it’s sort of disappointing how one game like that automatically means the end of using him in games. He had a couple of good showings before the Vancouver game and he had still been out of position. He’s a bright player who has a pretty smooth touch on the ball and can distribute really well or support the attack from the #10. The frustrating thing in addition to him being out of position is that he is also another young player the team are not really giving much of a look. Could fill a couple of roles. Perhaps they see something we don’t in training, but it’s a little baffling given his success with the U20s at the national level.

      • Kevin Kinkead / CBS 3 says:

        yea no problem

  8. JC: “Leo Fernandes is just not picking himself during the week.” Anyone got a better explanation? Not only has VN been misused during Chaco’s lengthy recovery, he’s been run ragged when he’s the only guy who has now played a full season with no break. If he wears out in the stretch (or decides he’s leaving), playoff chances nose dive. Yes; try Ribeiro. Brown for Casey. JC has had 2 months and the USOC to audition our backup role players and he still trots out Carroll or Lahoud & Fabinho and rides Casey & LeToux until they drop. He’s playing it too safe. And too Hack.

  9. In total agreement about nogs. He’s great running at people with ball not moving it away from pressure. Problem with him in deep midfield is defensively. Couldn’t he serve team well working from outside in with the ball? Then you don’t have to rely on him defensively and he has time and can see field when in possession.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      He does not have the attacking interest or desire to play on the wing. And while he has a slight build, he gets stuck in defensively and wins back possession. With Amobi or Mo as the heavey-hitter, Nogueira fits in perfectly as a player who picks off passes, pokes the ball away and annoys attackers.
      And again. It is the position he has played his entire career. His game both with the ball, and without, is ideally suited to the 8, even in the rough and tumble world of MLS.

      • it is funny because you have been talking about this since preseason and yet everyone wants him to be a different player than he is. let him play his game, i don’t understand why people want to move him into a different position. he is so good at being the 8 and he has skills in that position that no other player in this team’s history has ever had.

      • To me Nogueira is the best player on the team (maybe even the best in Union team history). So why in the world would you move him into a different position which limits his effectiveness? Don’t over think it. Player your best players in their best roles. And when Curtin’s filling out his weekly line-up, Nogueira’s name should be written in pen in the “8” spot. The rest of the squad should be picked around him.

  10. The Hambone says:

    No doubt that Nogs has a skillset and vision that few in the game possess. I wonder does he overcomplicate things at times? Wants to hold up play and get numbers forward in the final third when maybe he needs to take more chances. Respect to a guy who left his home club in France to have a go here. That was a big risk– now take a chance on the field of play!

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      That’s the thing. He’s playing 10 like he’s an 8, which he is. That’s the point. He’s not a risk taking playmaker, he’s a quick passing, possession dominating, teammate including organizer.

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