Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 2-2 Red Bulls

Photo: Paul Rudderow

It would be easy to focus on the negatives after splitting points with a clearly, obviously, absurdly inferior opponent. But a pair of #OnlyInMLS penalties and a disagreement between Zac MacMath and the slick PPL Park surface meant the Philadelphia Union only earned one point from a dominant display, and they will look to carry the momentum of a late goal into Tuesday night’s US Open Cup final against Seattle.

Describing the Union’s play as dominant fails to do justice to an insipid New York Red Bulls performance. Retaining the 4-2-3-1 that represents Mike Petke giving up on tactics in favor of an, “If we don’t know what we’re doing, nobody else can either” style, the Red Bulls mustered one shot on goal. And a penalty. They both went in.

Otherwise, New York played like a team that recognizes its impending irrelevance and is determined to meet expectations. The deep positions taken up by Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander meant the Red Bulls started every attack far back in their own half. And a continued reliance on the Grumpy Old Men plus Lloyd Sam going forward allowed the Union to treat counterattacks the way New York treats the Red Bulls. In short, they ignored them.

New York (all complete passes) rarely, if ever, threatened the Union goal.

New York (all complete passes) rarely, if ever, threatened the Union goal.

But the Red Bulls’ insistence on a deep midfield successfully slowed the Union’s transition game. Well, that and Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux, and Conor Casey starting on the bench. In the absence of the rest of Philadelphia’s offensive firepower, Andrew Wenger was handed the bulk of the pressure to create. And the winger delivered a trademark performance: Dangerous when dribbling, daft when passing, dubious in the final third, determined, and confident.

Wenger weighs in

Even at Montreal, Andrew Wenger was never a slouch off the ball. Playing as a striker, his movement was often dangerous, always quick, and usually the precursor to a series of unfortunate touches. On the wing, Wenger has more space to receive the ball, obviating the need for a perfect first touch. Paradoxically, the lack of pressure has made Wenger’s touch much more confident.

Watching Wenger — particularly for those that rolled their eyes at any suggestion the player would become a legitimate MLS threat (sheepishly raises hand) — play like a constant danger man, his major limitation remains glaring. His goal is to attack an opponent and get off a cross, which is laudable but too short-sighted. Soon, Wenger will need to climb from his current plateau and take responsibility for his passing in the final third. This means picking out passes instead of jamming the ball into the box and being willing to cut back and start an offense that holds pressure on the opponent.

Once a cast off, Wenger has everybody’s attention now. And that status as a No. 1 pick means he still has potential left to tap.

Ribeiro (left) has been watching Casey (right, vs TOR) closely.

Ribeiro (left) has been watching Casey (right, vs TOR) closely.

Rampant Ribeiro

Well, perhaps not rampant, but certainly impressive. Cast as the strong man doing battle with one of the better physical defenders in the league, Ribeiro was without the considerable support offered by Nogueira and Maidana. He did well.

The rookie’s passing chart looks similar to Conor Casey’s performance against Toronto at PPL Park a week ago. Additionally, Ribeiro put in a solid defensive shift collecting eight recoveries and an interception. The Union were less cohesive as a defensive unit than usual on Saturday, displaying a vein of aggressiveness that often peeks through when reserve players are given their chance. Fabinho, as example, had an absurd seven interceptions as he chased high up the pitch (Even more absurdly, all but one of those interceptions came in either the first five minutes or last two minutes of the match).

Before he scored, Ribeiro made a hesitant run as the ball rolled through to Robles.

Before he scored, Ribeiro made a hesitant run as the ball rolled through to Robles. (click to play)

The highlight of Ribeiro’s performance was his first MLS goal. The run that put him in position to nudge home Wenger’s cross showed striker’s instincts to change direction and step in front of Jamison Olave. If it looked familiar, Wenger and Ribeiro nearly connected on a similar play earlier in the match. In that instance, Ribeiro tried to read Wenger’s intentions instead of simply choosing a run. It was the movement of a midfielder caught upfield rather than that of an experienced striker. Wenger’s pass ended up sliding across the box in front of the Union’s rookie big man. Moments later, when Ribeiro got a redo, he made the right run. And then he celebrated.

To be certain, Ribeiro was far from perfect. He was ambitious and overeager in his passing, reminding observers that he remains an attacking midfielder adjusting to a striker’s role. And off the ball, Ribeiro was slow to read play and move to areas that would make him a useful outlet for defenders under pressure. In short, he struggled with the nuances of a new role but still managed to have a hand in both Union goals.

On a team that has suffered through extended periods without scoring the past two seasons, the Union are fortunate to be in a position to bring Ribeiro along slowly and maintain modest expectations.

A boost from the bench

Moving from the individual to the team level, Union fans must have been impressed to see their team look so confident without Nogueira and Maidana on the pitch. In fact, Jim Curtin emptied his midfield of all new signings and the Union still dominated the center of the pitch without issue. Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll were rarely tested, and drifted into natural roles, with Okugo stepping forward into space and Carroll sweeping into wide areas offering defensive support. Fred, though wasteful at times, remained determined to spread the ball to the flanks where Wenger and Danny Cruz could attack with speed.

New York’s directionless attack helped, but it was very apparent that Philly felt comfortable playing without their two most influential players.

That comfort level served to highlight just how dangerous the Union can be with their best eleven on the pitch. Nogueira and Maidana were constant threats in their twenty minutes together. They exposed McCarty and Alexander as the mediocre protection they are, immediately pinning the defensive midfielders deep and finding the pocket of space on the right left empty by New York’s lack of midfield depth. Ruben Bover Izquierdo, asked to defend after replacing Thierry Henry (who flatly refused), was positionally unsound and defensively abject. But it was the speed with which Maidana and Nogueira recognized this weakness and began exploiting that was truly impressive (Sebastien Le Toux’s introduction also played no small part in the Union’s decision to attack the right flank).

A dulling dominance

It bears repeating: Just how much better the Union were with Nogueira, Maidana, and Le Toux on the pitch threatens to mask how far apart the teams were from the opening whistle. New York managed to score two goals on a soft penalty and a surprise first time shot that skipped on MacMath. Their only other shot was a difficult volley that Tim Cahill put well over the bar (though, in fairness, Tim Cahill can hit him a difficult volley).

Furthermore, the Red Bulls passing chart shows a team that had absolutely no idea what it was doing offensively. There is no pressure up the middle, no pressure up the wings… no pressure anywhere. And this against a Union team starting only two of the midfielders they will likely use against Seattle on Tuesday.

Punishing a rudderless Toronto side was hard not to do. Smothering a New York team with playoff ambitions feels a bit better. And while coming back to tie the match up twice is nice, the Union will watch video of the match and wonder how they ever fell behind at all.

The truth: Bad luck. Performances like the one Philadelphia put forth on Saturday will usually result in three points; there is little to change, but plenty to refine.

In a conference controlled by a hardly-imperious DC United and an injury-depleted Sporting Kansas City, Philly put down a marker on Saturday. They do not need to run their top players ragged to control games. During the final stretch of the season, the Union will compete with New York, Columbus, Houston, and New England to enter the playoffs with DC and KC. After watching Saturday’s match, would you pick three of those teams to finish above Philly?

I’m a pessimist and I wouldn’t.

Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 3

Yeesh. A huge dip for the young goalie who had been on fire for the past few weeks. Confusion with Ethan White led to the penalty, then the only shot on goal of the game flummoxed him. The field conditions were never going to be great for goalies, but that is hardly an excuse. To be fair to MacMath, he knew it after the match, saying, “I save that ten out of ten times. Just not tonight.”

Ray Gaddis – 7

Does Ray Gaddis-on-the right highlight just how much potential Ray Gaddis-on-the-left has? Or does it point to just how limited the player is on the left? The Union obviously believe it is the former, handing the fullback a new contract last week. Gaddis rewarded the team with a strong performance, drawing five fouls and generally closing down his side of the field. Thierry Henry may have scored a goal, but he found space hard to come by most of the night because Gaddis gave the superstar none of the space he is normally allowed by overawed defenders.


Penalty? (click to play)

Ethan White – 5

Strong, important tackles offset by the confusion that led to the penalty. Was it a foul? Judge for yourself.

Maurice Edu – 6

Against a slow New York attack, Edu played high and ate up everything that came through the middle. Four interceptions near the half line (Fabinho had three in the same area) point to both the incompetence of the Red Bulls offense and Edu’s willingness to step up without any speed to threaten in behind. Everything else aside though, Edu will be thinking about that volley more than anything. What a run, what a ball from Nogueira.

We have lift off. (click to play)

We have lift off. (click to play)

Fabinho – 4

Fabinho’s aggression was rarely punished by the aforementioned Red Bulls empty attack. But the real issue for the Brazilian was a series of ballooned set pieces that wasted good work by teammates. Fabinho showed that he can always create space for a cross, but until he can be more consistent in that service and show more discipline in back, he will always be second choice to Gaddis.

Amobi Okugo – 6

A solid outing under little pressure. Okugo continues to look more and more comfortable picking his head up, looking for a threatening pass, and getting forward in support. After struggling to close down the area around the “D” at the top of the box for most of the season, Okugo’s extended run in the middle has coincided with a marked improvement in defending that dangerous area.

Brian Carroll – 6

You gotta love it when Brian Carroll gets to go out and do Brian Carroll. The guy has come under plenty of criticism the past two seasons, but when he can float around putting out fires without being asked to do anything more offensively than short passes, you can see the intelligence that has made him a MLS mainstay.

Danny Cruz – 5

Less involved than he should have been, but Cruz created two opportunities when he got deep.

Andrew Wenger – 7

Yes, he should have done much more with the chances he created. But without Nogueira, Le Toux, and Maidana, Wenger was under pressure to be the guy. Last time he was under that weight, Wenger produced virtually nothing as a striker. On Saturday, the newly minted winger showed he can be dangerous at any time, but he needs more time to figure out what to do once he beats his man.

Fred – 5

The Union spent a lot of time going up the right side of the pitch. Fred was the player most likely to switch fields and release Wenger up the left. And while this was a huge help to the offense, one has to wonder how the attacking midfielder was not more involved than he was. With McCarty and Alexander so deep, Fred should have been more influential.

Nice touch, rook.

Nice touch, rook. (click to play)

Pedro Ribeiro – 8

Scored, earned a penalty, and put in a good defensive shift. Still learning the role, Ribeiro showed the kind of potential and ability that point to a bright future.


Sebastien Le Toux – 7

Seba may only deserve a 6 for his play, but the guy just. keeps. converting. penalties. So the big question is: Why can’t he be more consistent with his set piece service?

Cristian Maidana – 7

Taking up a post on the right, Maidana helped the Union establish themselves in the Red Bulls final third. While the team was always the better side, they struggled to maintain pressure before Maidana entered the match.

Vincent Nogueira – 7

That pass to Edu… I mean, really? Just dinking it into the middle of the box? Oh, you bad. Nogueira entered and immediately started hitting Maidana, putting the Argentine in space and pinning New York deep.

Geiger counter

Allan Chapman – 3

Without a lot to do, Chapman made a pair of controversial penalty calls. I was less than impressed.


  1. 5 for Wenger for missing that relative easy header in the first 5 minutes. A goal there would have crushed NY

  2. Re: Ethan White “Was it a foul? Judge for yourself.”, to me, and i have no idea what i am talking about (i learn a LOT from this website…), it is not. There’s a difference between having your hand on a guy as he is falling down in the box and actually pushing a player down which White is clearly (to me) not doing.

    • That’s the way I saw it: White had his hand on him, and the guy went to ground. Embellishment if not outright simulation.

      • Credit to Luyindula who when he felt White’s arm on him, he clamped his arm over White’s before falling down. If you watch the replay closely, you can see White trying to free his arm which was being pulled down with Luyindula’s body.

      • UnionatHeart FC says:

        I agree George. Arguing Luyindula dove is missing some of the subtly of his play on that specific play.
        I’m not a huge fan for the histrionics of the dive but I absolutely recognize the dives importance to the game. It is the checks and balances players use for a referee to keep the game ‘pure and flowing’. Truth be told, on that play it wan’t a dive and nor was Ribeiro’s. They were fouls in the box. Put them on the spot.
        Without the dive, the game would likely more resemble that other game of football where we cheer gladiators in the coliseum.

    • In the end it doesn’t even matter if Ethan White truly committed a foul or the other guy dove. The play is still entirely White’s fault because he did everything wrong after the initial double team.
      White and Gaddis double teamed the NYRB player and he blindly backheeled a ball of Gaddis’ leg. At that point, White turns around and sees the ball and presumably Edu on his way in. White then stops and when the opposing player goes around him, White makes contact with him including putting an arm across his body.
      If White does nothing, Edu likely still wins the ball and there’s no penalty. If White actually goes back towards the ball instead of stopping, there’s no penalty. If White immediately slides his body in front of the NYRB player instead of grabbing at him after the guy is already on his way by, there’s no penalty.
      He put himself in a position to fail, which is a shame because his defense is usually pretty solid overall. His distribution on the other hand…

    • I seem to be in the minority, but I thought both penalty calls were correct. White clearly has his arm wrapped around Luyindula. Does he go down a little easy? Sure. But that’s his job. White’s job is to not wrap his arm around the guy and give the ref an excuse to brandish his whistle.

      Meanwhile, Segakya and Petke were absolutely furious about the penalty call at the other end, and I have no idea why. He clearly scythes down Ribeiro, getting man well before ball. I have no idea what the hell they are bitching about. And they sure can’t claim that the calls were biased in the Union’s favor.

    • This video confirms my initial reaction to the play (from Section 129).

      Looks to me like the Red Bull player pushes Gaddis down, hooks White’s arm, then grabs a fistful of White’s jersey while taking a dive.

      In this situation, the appropriate call would have been a free kick for the Union (as a result of the push off by NYRB) or no whistle at all.

      The PK decision was terrible.

  3. 3 is overly generous for Chapman. He was star struck by Henry, refusing to call him for a foul.

    • Let us not forget the 60 minute delay in game start. That was 100% Chapman’s call, and Henry had all to do with that. (you needed to watch them at the 2.30 warm up to see).

  4. The Black Hand says:

    Spot on ratings, Adam.
    Huge point. The old U would have folded.
    Ray Gaddis stripping Thierry Henry (right before Henry subbed off) was a thing of beauty. The kid is very good!!
    Ethan White may have been slighted by a point. The penalty was a pure dive. White was very formidable. He paired well with Edu.
    Didn’t HATE Carroll’s game. Didn’t like it either. Smart selection by Curtin. Kept Noguiera fresh.
    Seba needs to stop taking corners.
    Mike Petke needs a lesson on composure. While I truly enjoyed getting under his skin, he was way too easy to rile.
    Let’s lift a trophy!!!!!

  5. Did JC say he started the reserves – rather than sub them in – because of conditions? A tired NYRB team without BWP took our B team while our regulars took their tireder squad without Titi – is one way to look at the scoring. If JC waited on pitch playability, you have to factor that in to the ratings. Robles made the saves but he didn’t face a shot as well executed as the one Zac muffed. I’d give the PPL drainage design a 0.

  6. Richie The Limey says:

    Adam – gotta disagree with your analysis on Ribiero’s ‘hesitant’ run. He actually did what a forward is SUPPOSED to do on that play (the one for which you included the video) – i.e. just as your winger is about to play in a cross you slow down your momentum sharply, thus creating a little space between yourself and the defender. The defender inevitably continues running hard toward goal, but because you as the forward ‘put on the brakes’ you have created space and a passing lane for the cross to come in to you. Watch enough good strikers running at goal and you will see this a ton.

    On the goal he scored he didn’t actually get behind Olave – he just got a little lucky. For sure, if you CAN get behind your defender (while staying onside) that is the best position to be in but generally you want to do exactly what he did in your supposed ‘wrong’ video – you just need to get the proper cross.

    • @Richie – Fair point. I think you’re absolutely right for any situation in which a striker is actually being marked – and, thus, needs to create space – or if the cross looks to be a flighted one. For a striker attacking a likely ground cross, my argument is that you want to get in front of a defender and get a touch or cause havoc. If you’re already deep, leave that gap to the penalty spot for your late runner.

  7. I’d give Fabinho a 5 — you’re right about his dead ball service, but he did a pretty good job defensively. (And he’s not a great player, but I think he gets s bit unfairly maligned on this site.)

    On the other hand, I think a 5 for Cruz is quite generous. The wing is out biggest depth problem right now, because the drop-off from Le Toux or Wenger down to Cruz is just huge.

    • I agree with your comment about Cruz. As I recall, he had one or two nice crosses during the match, but most of his game was of the “run fast, fall on face, yell at refs/opponents/teammates” style that we’ve seen too often from him.

      • True and he was up against a centerback playing as a leftback. He should have been able to skin Armando.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I put the blame for a lot of his inefficiency on the selection. Cruz always seems to do well when Maidana or Nogueira sends balls in behind for him to chase. That is where he is at his best. Fred and Carroll don’t offer that same kind of service. Obviously it means that Cruz is limited, but its hard to hold him overly accountable when he isn’t put in a position to use his strengths.

      • Plus the pitch in the opening half especially hurt his style. If Brown could have played for Casey, Pedro starts on right instead.

      • Pedro is too slow to be effective outside on either wing, at least, too slow to be effective on this team in this league.

      • I hear you, but aren’t you just grading on a curve at that point?

  8. I don’t think that Opta tracks flick-ons (or at least I can’t find where they do), but I thought that Ribeiro did really well in that department. He had at least 4-5 of them which was impressive given that he’s not really a targetman and he was going up against two large centerbacks.

    All in all, the ratings are pretty fair.

  9. soccerdad1150 says:

    Great analysis. two things — 1) technically we are currently out of the playoffs on GD. 2) has anyone even addressed or gotten to the bottom of what happened with the field? No way that bit of rain should have delayed the game.

  10. If we convert a corner against Seattle, we will win. That’s my belief after seeing us go 27-9 corners for/against and ZERO goals over the last 3 games.

    • Is there an average or target ratio? Offensive set piece play remains an Achilles heel (while defensive – like defense generally – has improved over the season). This is the kind of tactical point I’d like to know how JC & staff are addressing as he auditions for permanent manager. Why must our best scorer – who is also tallish – be taking nearly all corners? Why not default to Nogs or Chaco? Or more short kicks with designed plays to get off shots, not headers. Corners show superior play in final third but the rewards are going uncollected.

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