Player ratings

Player ratings and analysis: Union 1-0 Toronto

Photo: Earl Gardner

Since Philadelphia and Toronto play back-to-back matches this week, this analysis will examine how Wednesday’s match played out and the preview of Saturday’s match will focus on likely tactical and personnel adjustments from both teams. 

It hardly mattered how they did it, but Philadelphia Union needed to take all three points from Toronto Wednesday night.

And, in one of the better team efforts this season, they did.

Before the match, Jim Curtin Ed astutely highlighted): “It’s tricky. Any time you get a new coach in, there’s going to be an initial burst. We talked very specifically about how the first 15 minutes of this game will dictate a lot. They’re going to come in flying — everybody always wants to impress the new coach. We have to get through the first 15 minutes and then it will settle down.”

Toronto did not threaten during the important first 15 minutes of the match.

Toronto (all passes above) did not threaten during the important first 15 minutes of the match.

A focus on Toronto's passing in the middle shows how the Union controlled dangerous areas in the first half.

A focus on Toronto’s passing in the middle shows how the Union controlled dangerous areas in the first half.

Opening phase

Not only did the Union get through the first 15 minutes, they dominated. Two shots on goal (one deep, one from a good, central area) from Philly are only the tip of the iceberg; the defense ground Toronto into the PPL Park turf.

TFC had no shots of any kind in the first quarter of an hour. The visitors attempted 11 passes in a generous final third, completing eight (The Union went 17/24 in the final third over the same time frame). Only one completed pass went forward. Philly had no clearances because there was nothing dangerous to kick at.

It was more than just good outcomes though. The Union were tactically set up to handle Toronto’s one-route offense. And while the entire team deserves credit, the bulk of the praise should fall on the shoulders of Amobi Okugo. The transition back to defensive midfield has been less than smooth for Okugo, though playing in double-pivot tandems was always going to be difficult. On Wednesday, however, the hesitancy and overthinking finally vanished. And it took Michael Bradley and Toronto FC with it.

Okugo was 21/22 passing in the first half with four recoveries, a clearance, two defensive blocks, and two fouls drawn, playing quickly on offense and aggressively on defense. Importantly, Okugo’s positional discipline allowed Brian Carroll to move upfield and create the first signs of a possession offense, combining with Wenger and Casey in the final third to maintain pressure on the indescribably poor Toronto back line. (Sidenote: Even when the Union defense was terrible, did they ever look nearly as disorganized, unathletic, and confused as Toronto did last night?) The feather in Okugo’s cap was the simplicity of his passing. While Carroll completed only one of seven long balls, Okugo attempted just one, preferring to recycle play and keep the ball moving.

This was not simply a case of Okugo suddenly “getting” the system. Instead, it looked more like the system finally “got” the players. Okugo stayed central and protected the back four while Brian Carroll had more freedom to chase the danger man, Michael Bradley. The roles were somewhat fluid, but given time to recover, the two midfielders returned to clearly defined positions.

Perhaps Jim Curtin simply tweaked his midfield system to better track Michael Bradley. But it seems more likely that the Union are adjusting the midfield to better fit a future that will accommodate the energetic and aggressive Vincent Nogueira in a deeper role.

Wenger and Le Toux - all passes and take-ons.

Wenger and Le Toux – all passes and take-ons.

Wonderful wingers

No team outside of Philadelphia would give Sebastien Le Toux a real shot as a striker. Andrew Wenger got his shot and failed to deliver. Two players who have had trouble sticking in traditional roles have found homes as hybrid striker/wingers in Jim Curtin’s counterattacking offense.

And the past two matches, they have been difference-makers.

Wenger and Le Toux combined for 6 shots, an assist, and three fouls won. Wenger was only 3/9 when dribbling at opponents, but seven of those dribbles were below the 18-yard box, meaning he was constantly isolating and attacking. On the other side, Le Toux was a consistent menace, and with virtually no help from the midfield, Toronto’s back four were forced to shrink into a deep shape and do their best to clear the area. In fact, if there is one area in which Wenger and Le Toux still struggle, it is decision-making in the final third, where they were each 0/4 crossing.

And after Curtin spent the past few pressers praising Le Toux’s defense, the Frenchman backed his coach up by recovering quickly and funneling all play into the middle where a surprisingly active Cristian Maidana could collapse with his midfield colleagues to minimize space.

Nogueira (L) and Maidana (R) have similar interpretations of the attacking mid role.

Nogueira (L) and Maidana (R) have similar but different interpretations of the attacking mid role.

Maidana’s motor

If there was one uncomfortable thought that should have been tingling in the back of Union’s fans heads, it was, “Can Maidana play in the hole defensively?”

For all the ingenuity and skill the Argentine brings to the pitch (apparently the league lets him use those attributes instead of shinguards), his defensive workrate has never been the highest, and he has featured so rarely since Curtin took over that he has yet to be tested at the center of the team’s defensive shape.

That shape, the backbone of this strong run under the interim head coach, requires the front man of the midfield trio to play passing lanes and keep teams from connecting defense and midfield once they cross the half line. It requires discipline (no chasing the ball forward!) and hustle (force Bradley deeper to receive!). And Vincent Nogueira has been quite good at it. Wednesday night, Maidana was quite good as well.

Notably, Maidana interpreted his role as a slight variation of Nogueira. Both players like to sneak wide to find space before recovering centrally. But whereas Nogueira checks in to the ball, Maidana tends to drift away at first, isolating himself and creating overloads that force defenders to step to him and leave huge gaps for the Union’s wingers and Sheanon Williams. Philly’s goal was a perfect example of this strategy, as Maidana crept high after Le Toux followed a run deep. When the Union countered, Maidana drew attention to himself and easily found the right pass to release Le Toux upfield.

Smart aggression

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Union were aggressive but intelligent against an emotional Toronto side. Both teams committed 14 fouls, and Jose Carlos Rivero had what could kindly be called an inconsistent game.

But the Union fouled Toronto nine times in the away team’s own half, and only gave up two fouls in good shooting/crossing positions (Okugo’s soft slide tackle and Edu’s handball call). Toronto, on the other hand, committed 11 fouls in their own half, handing the Union a few good shooting and crossing opportunities.

Squawka liked MacMath's performance.

Squawka named MacMath Man of the Match

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 9

Three saves, two clearances outside the box, that tackle to save Mo Edu’s blushes. The Union brass have maintained that Rais Mbohli was too good to pass up, and they have conspicuously avoided pointing to any flaw in MacMath that led the club’s eye to wander both at the draft and in the transfer market. But let’s be honest: Leadership and organization. They didn’t think Zac was going to develop into the voice of the defense. Now that it’s clear that his time in Philly is coming to a close, MacMath is showing many of the traits he will need to get an honest shot elsewhere. Good on him.

Sheanon Williams – 7

92% pass completion. 3/4 long passes. Seven clearances. Williams played a more restrained role to accommodate Maidana’s love of the right wing. The result was a strong defensive showing and good support for Ethan White, who had more of a roller coaster ride in the middle.

Ethan White – 5

White’s up-and-down passing year continues, this time with a big down. 58% passing is not going to cut it. Philly needs good feet in back to get the counters started quickly, and White was not on his game Wednesday. But no matter what criticisms can be leveled at him, White remains a must-watch player. His athleticism has made the Union’s box a much less dangerous place and his physicality, manifested in a still-large chip on his shoulder, remains crowd pleasing.

Edu: Tackles, interceptions, recoveries, clearances, fouls suffered/committed.

Edu: Tackles, interceptions, recoveries, clearances, fouls suffered/committed.

Maurice Edu – 7

Edu was one poor pass away from an easy 8. But since he had the opposition’s best throughball of the night, he must settle for a 7. Just gaze in wonder at this defensive chart. Interceptions, tackles, recoveries, blocks – the stat sheet is officially stuffed. And since he and Okugo are so adaptable, Edu could gallop forward unmarked and feel confident that his teammate would sit in. If he will accept a defensive role, Edu can partner Carlos Valdes in one of the most modern central defensive pairings in MLS.

Ray Gaddis – 4

Luckily for Gaddis, Ethan White took the worst-passing-radar crown. But just barely. Most disturbing were the poor passes in his own half, but Gaddis’ whole game was simply off. He got too tight to Dom Oduro in the run up to Toronto’s best chance of the night, and he generally played on athleticism rather than intelligence. It can’t help that the defender next to Gaddis is in constant rotation, but the Union need, at minimum, better defense from their left back.

Brian Carroll – 6

Speaking of inconsistent, Carroll has been weighed down by the adjective all season. He has lost a step, and is not getting consistent games for the first time in his career, but given a job to do the captain can still get it done. On Wednesday, his job was to shadow Michael Bradley. Behold the best American midfielder’s passing chart, a testament to his desire to get involved and inability to find space in the offensive half. Bradley attempted 16 long passes, meaning he was forced to bypass the midfield if he wanted to be creative. I will guarantee you that is not what Greg Vanney wanted to see.

Amobi Okugo – 8

See above. A more defined holding role, a simple offensive game, and a star performance.

Cristian Maidana – 6

The playmaker started strong, all but disappeared for 15 minutes before re-emerging around the 30th minute, and was showed a high work rate. Rusty? Indeed. But he worked hard to close space defensively and started to find his role in the offense before running out of steam. His ability to fit into Curtin’s system is nothing but good news for the Union.

Andrew Wenger – 7

I wonder if there was a moment in the Open Cup semi-final in Dallas where Andrew Wenger took the ball at a defender, beat him, and thought, “Oh… well, that was easier than I anticipated.” Because the PA native has narrowed his focus and become a constant danger. The decision-making, still, is lagging behind, but he understands how he can be better than defenders now. Note that on Casey’s goal, Wenger had hustled upfield to arrive late. Oh, and he should have had one of his own late on.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

Great assist, great workrate. A player in form. Here’s a math problem: How many Oyongos and Lloyd Sams are equal to one Le Toux? The Red Bulls never gave the Frenchman a chance after trading for him, and he has brought a skillset to Philly that nobody on the New York roster can match. And, boy, do they need a player like him right now. (giggles)

Conor Casey – 7

Fought for everything in the air, cut in front of the defender to score, got his rest for Saturday. John Hackworth had trouble figuring out how to use Casey last season. Jim Curtin has no such issue. Casey likes to bully defenders. He makes smart runs in transition. Put him in a position to do these things, and he delivers.


Brian Brown – 5

Not enough from the backup striker. He finally got that second shot off though! Now he has scored on only half of the shots he has taken in MLS.

Fred – 5

That hard-fought run at the end aside, Fred was less influential than hoped given the number of touches he got after Toronto went down a man.

Geiger counter  – 4

Jose Carlos Rivera seems like a man without a code. He’s trying to read the game too much. He starts out loose (no card for that Casey tackle on Bradley!?) then tightens up way too quick when the players get testy. He can also be very, very slow with the whistle.


  1. Making the playoffs will come down to only a few points. Those few points will be one and lost on set pieces. When the Union win 10-4 on corners, they should have put 1 away. At the very least they should have been threatening on the corners. I haven’t seen it from them lately when the ball sits at the flag.

    • Okugo’s header was solid. But you’re right, a bit more danger there would be nice. To be fair, the service was pretty hit/miss. Aside from Amobi’s chance that Bendik saved, the best opportunity came from Casey after a horrendous free kick bounced in from Maidana.

      • “Hit/miss” is an understatement. Le Toux and Maidana both had strong games, but corner kicks pretty much sucked from both of them. The large majority were line drives hit well too low. Maidana took most of them — I was ascribing this to rust. I do think it will get better as he gets more minutes under him.

    • ~ yet, better than TFC — at least 2 of their corners were directly to a Union player (BC?) at the near post and another air-mailed everyone!

    • Of course I meant *won* and not “one” there. I can’t believe that just happened X{

  2. I’d dock Fred a point for that blown pass off a quick break sometime around the 80th or so minute. I think it was Le Toux darting up the right with nothing but an open field in front of him and Fred only needed to chip or pass the ball to Le Toux for (probably) another breakaway. After hesitating and double clutching, Fred played the ball right into the only defender within 10 yards of the play and the chance was blown… Maidana definitely a bit rusty… Still love seeing Wenger take on defenders and wished they went up his side more throughout the game… Okugo had a wonderful night, and he and Gaddis may be among the best 1-on-1 defenders in the entire league.

  3. In the recap I wrote about BC. I think you are being very generous. He creates his own problems but generally manages to solve them. That’s not a good thing.

  4. These rankings are pretty spot on, the U played well as a team. Curtin’s analysis that to win each player needs to play well, not great, seems to be accurate.

    While I agree with both substitutions, I don’t understand why Curtin didn’t use his 3rd sub last night. Cruz for LeToux or Fabinho for Gaddis around the 80th minute would have made sense. It made even less sense that TFC didn’t use their 3rd sub.

    • TFC did use their 3rd sub. They subbed out Lovitz and Oduro in quick succession. But I agree that it was odd that Curtin didn’t use the 3rd sub. I was thinking he should’ve spelled Wenger to keep him fresh for Saturday’s game. Subbing Gaddis would’ve also been a decent notion, except that having Fabinho in to close out a 1-0 game is a bit dicey.

    • I’m guessing there was actually something to MacMath’s need for treatment around the 87th minute — Curtin held the sub in case he needed to bring in Blake.

    • Scottso is right…TFC made a sub at halftime (Gilberto), then two subs very close together later in the half. I’m also surprised at no 3rd sub either with the short turnaround, though with Valdes and Lahoud away, any of the remaining available subs would’ve been a downgrade defensively. I would like to think that fresh legs from Cruz, Fernandes, or Ribeiro could do enough to help protect a lead though if they came on for LeToux or Wenger.

      • I was hoping to see Ribeiro for Casey, rather than Brown.

      • Agreed. I think Ribeiro gives you more in the ability to create and link with the wingers like Casey does. Brown is the reggae version of Jack Mack.
        Did anyone else notice his lack of effort? He never defended and he only looked for through balls the hole time he was in the game. That’s just not good enough for this team.

      • I agree with this Ribs could do a better job holding the ball up and challenging for headers. The more I see brown the more I think he isn’t ready for the game at this level.

  5. The view from 138….

    You are too generous with BC. He passed all too frequently to Toronto, including one chest pass right at their feet. Nit-Picking but a 5 or 4 would suffice, as he had help shutting down Bradley (who wasn’t all I expected, honestly).

  6. Why is the above not deleted?!
    Who cleared with his head the ball from the goal line? One extra point for that player!
    Wenger should have also scored early in the 2nd half when he was 1-1 with the goalie and hit it wide. Incomprehensible that he is so bad at shooting! He justifies the need of the proposals to change the College soccer season!
    Brown and Fred same score? At least Fred drew a free-kick just outside the penalty area that Letoux almost converted.

  7. But it does matter how you win because – playoffs. Converting corners has been a problem all year. Similarly MacMath’s reflexive punting (noted elsewhere) surrenders possession at least half the time & takes away from his vastly improved game. These are fixable. The Sheanon throw-in is thankfully no longer the routine, so JC & CA will jettison unproductive tactics. These are 2 more that could make a real difference the rest of the way.

  8. soccerdad1150 says:

    I’m constantly amazed at the wonderful, insightful analysis I find here at PSP. I bow to your superior wisdom. I will take umbrage with the “5” for Fred. Sorry, he was just horrible. He was constantly making poor passes that were intercepted, putting the union in unneeded danger.

    • Tell you what, I actually thought Fred’s positioning was too undisciplined, but when I checked the stats, he had a better game than my first impression gave him credit for (and speaking of credit, h/t to Ed for pointing out that Fred drew 3 fouls to help waste time as the clock ticked away).

      Along with those 3 fouls drawn, he also put a key pass through, collected four recoveries in the middle when everyone else’s legs were tired, and made a tackle in the Union’s defensive third. So that’s why I boosted him a point more than my first impression said he should have.

  9. Chaco deserves another point. He makes our offense click!

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