Player ratings

Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 1-1 Fire

Photo: Earl Gardner

Midway through the first half of Thursday night’s dismal 1-1 draw between Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire, Alexi Lalas took time out from his busy schedule, one that included calling the game for ESPN, to succinctly sum up the first 87 minutes of the match:


How’s that for analysis?

Oh, I have to write more? Well…

On a night when neither team came prepared to support their lone striker, the Union and Fire combined to put 2 shots on target before Amobi Okugo grabbed what looked to be a sure winner just before stoppage time. Then. Well. Yeah.

Where was the attack?

Before everyone sharpens their pitchforks, pause for a moment to remember just how inept the Chicago Fire were in this match. Of course, Cristian Maidana needs to put his 56th minute shot on frame and, two days on, most fans are still trying to figure out just how Brian Brown mishit his open look so badly. But those are only two instances on a night that lacked a genuine attacking impetus from the hosts.

In a match that still set up well for the Union despite injuries to critical attacking pieces, Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey, Jim Curtin missed the chance to take advantage of a Fire team reeling their way towards a disappointing 9th place finish. Considering Chicago fielded a backline that included Alex, an attacking midfielder, Lovel Palmer, a journeyman whose best days are well behind him, Patrick Ianni, an old-fashioned hatchet man, and Baky Soumare, who has suffered through one of his toughest professional seasons, the table was set to attack the Fire. Throw in two plodding defensive midfielders, both with limited range and on the wrong side of 30, and the Union had a raft of options for how to break down MLS’ “King of Ties”.

Instead, Curtin stooped to Chicago’s level, and with the soon to be retired Logan Pause getting his first start in midfield since July, the Union boss handed Fred his third start of the year, sliding Maidana to the wing. Adding another playmaker to the mix was a head-scratching decision considering the Union interim manager had spent the week bemoaning his team’s lack of bodies in the box, despite good service. “On our home field, we’ll have to do a good job committing more numbers into the box,” Curtin said after a 1-0 defeat at RFK Stadium, “We have to have more commitment from Chaco, from Vincent, from Amobi to get in the box late.” And while he managed to get that commitment from precisely one of those players, the addition of Fred to the midfield puzzle meant that the Union had even fewer numbers to naturally get forward than they had against DC.

Where was Wenger?

With no Le Toux on the right side, the match set up as a showcase for Andrew Wenger, whose late season form has quieted much of the angry murmuring surrounding the conditions of his acquisition. But while Wenger has become a menace on the ball, he remains a reluctant runner without it. Whether it is Ray Gaddis or Fabinho at left back, whenever the fullback receives the ball in an advanced position, Wenger’s first movement is assured. Always stepping to the touchline, Wenger wants to make space to receive a pass to his feet. And while that is not a bad first instinct for a wide player, it cannot be the only one, especially when it is an attacking midfielder on the ball. A complete non-threat to run, Palmer was simply never made to fear Wenger might creep in behind him. While Le Toux and Cruz thrive on balls played in behind, allowing them to turn their defenders, Wenger waits patiently on the wing for his chance to run with the ball.

So, if Pedro Ribeiro looked isolated up front, that’s because he was — badly. With Fred easily marshaled by Pause and Jeff Larentowicz, and Maidana slinging in crosses from wide areas and trying to make the final pass from nearly every position, Wenger needed to get in the box and make something happen. Instead, he too was on the periphery, watching Maidana and trying to do the same. So, after saying in his weekly press conference, “I’m happy with the amount of chances we’re creating, we just have to have a little more commitment to get in the box and finish some of them, get on the end of stuff,” Curtin’s squad ended up with even fewer numbers crashing the box than against either DC or Houston.

Player Ratings

Rais Mbolhi – 1

He had one thing to do and he did it wrong. Perhaps Thursday night’s disastrous mistake was simply the natural confluence of the poor distribution and the cavalier, casual attitude Mbolhi has shown in goal since arriving in Philadelphia. It is not his fault that he is being scrutinized far more intensely than your average MLS goalkeeper, but so far, Mbolhi’s presence and quality on the pitch have not lived up to the hype and cost of his signing.

Ray Gaddis – 6

Given Chicago’s lack of real offensive threat, Gaddis strode forward more often than is normal for the typically stay at home fullback. The chance to run on the Union’s right flank was a clear demonstration of how much more potent he can be driving forward on his dominant foot. But while his man marking was still top notch, Gaddis’ struggles to read the play, especially when the ball was in the air, followed him across the pitch.

Maurice Edu – 6

Solid and dominant at the back yet again, Edu made sure that Amarikwa never got an inch of space in the Union’s box, where the Fire attacker can be handful. Attempted to press forward in support of his midfield, though most of his runs were of the aimless variety, as his teammates failed to press up with him to provide options.

Carlos Valdes – 5

Solid if unspectacular in the back, Valdes continues to appear to be laboring. Lacks the fluidity in his game that Union fans remember and they will hope that a few extra days off before the critical home match against Columbus will give him time to get back to looking more like himself.

Fabinho – 6

Perhaps his finest showing in a Union shirt. Seriously.

Amobi Okugo – 7

The team’s most dedicated player, Okugo was frequently seen trying to raise the energy level and berating listless teammates. It felt erily similar to when he was one of the few players committed to the cause against New York in the final game of the 2012 season. Should have been the hero on the night and would have thoroughly deserved it.

Vincent Nogueira – 5

For a player with as much quality as Nogueira possesses, he looked like someone who was just going through the motions.

Cristian Maidana – 3

Somehow managed to do both too little and too much deployed against an attacking player deputizing at fullback. When drifting wide from the center channel, Maidana has a wing with whom he can combine, creating space for each other with sharp, short passes. Deployed as the wide man, Maidana lacked the pace and guile to consistently beat Alex up the wing and tried to do too much with his passing. It was a performance reminiscent of past, oft-criticized showings from former Union players like Michael Farfan and Roger Torres.

Fred – 3

Too slow to keep up with the pace on either side of the ball, Fred was a passenger in midfield, adding few positives. As mentioned above, this was a match that cried out for a pace and Fred’s inclusion took the Union down the opposite path.

Andrew Wenger – 5

Woke up a bit in the second half, but it seems unfair to deem a performance as wasteful as Wenger’s anything more than average. That panic still looks to be his default whenever a cross or shot is required is something the Union will need to spend significant time helping him address in the offseason and going forward.

Pedro Ribeiro – 4

Fought well against Soumare and put himself in good positions, but guess what? After three starts, the rookie central midfielder still isn’t a forward.


Danny Cruz – 5

It was looking like it would be another in a line of typical Cruz performances highlighted by lots of industry, but little end profit, until Cruz whipped in a perfect cross for Brown in the 88th minute. Sure, the striker made a complete mess of it, but Okugo didn’t.

Brian Brown – 2

Even by the low bar set for young rookies being forced to acclimate themselves to MLS in the midst of a playoff run, Brown still came up very short. Ponderously slow on the ball and too hesitant to get into the box, Brown also made the least of his two shooting opportunities, shanking a golden opportunity well wide and hoisting a speculative volley badly off target. On the plus side, had he not literally tripped on the ball and had it go through his legs, Okugo would have never scored the opener. So, there’s that.

Antoine Hoppenot – 5

While he played 15 minutes at the end of the match, Hoppenot made very little contribution, despite the Union’s dire need for offense.

Geiger Counter

Chris Penso – 2

Sometimes it’s almost as if — and please read this while making the appropriate air quotes to yourself — MLS referees are trying to “outcool” each other by seeing who can award the most “play-ons” to keep the game “flowing.” Penso’s nonsensical decision making meant that legitimate fouls were denied both sides, resulting in 22 players who had absolutely no idea what rules were being used to call the match. It is truly impressive that Penso managed to be so bad in a game where so little happened.

Preferred lineup for Saturday’s match against Columbus Crew


MacMath; Williams, White, Edu, Gaddis; McLaughlin, Okugo, Maidana, Wenger; Casey, Le Toux



  1. james Lockerbie says:

    Oh my! Just watched toure score by placing the ball perfectly into the side netting. UNION technical staff next lesson for our young guys good placement of a shot is just as important as power of your strike

  2. Former Season Ticket Holder says:

    I’m still in shock

  3. Why would you start McLaughin over Ribero in the midfield? Seems like a good opportunity to start him in his natural position.

  4. Let’s see the youth!!! Take some positives from sucking.

  5. Former Season Ticket Holder Greg says:

    Still in shock as well.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if this team changes as much next season as it has this season.

  6. Little Fish says:

    I’m still so pissed. I wonder if we’ll pursue a legit striker this offseason. I like our D. I like our midfield. I like our netminders. I just want a proven scorer up top!

    • Agree! I’d even go so far as a proven LB also. JC likes to talk about depth, however this team has no real depth especially when you play 7 natural midfielders at once. I want Williams and Gaddis battling to start at RB. Bring in proven LB’s. Edu in my opinion is the best CB in MLS and could open eyes on the USMNT if he’ll get out of his own way. Overall this team needs to upgrade the talent. Some starters aren’t starters and the roster is littered with unskilled players who aren’t MLS worthy by any stretch. Of course Sakeiwicz is the biggest obstacle and needs to step aside.

    • Who will be said “netminders?” Zac is gone. Mbolhi & Blake will leave periodically international call ups. Who plays then , Nick?

  7. I was just starting to get over the crushing effect of Thursday’s result until I read your paragraph which describes Chicago’s starting XI. Thanks, Eli.

    Spot on regarding Fabinho, he had a strong match (in relative terms, of course).

  8. If White & Valdes are fit, Curtin has to backpedal or play both Okugo & Edu in midfield. Or sit the player who nearly rescued them. Mo may have the makings of an elite CB in this league, but does he want to play CB? I can’t find any better explanation for sitting Okugo than he doesn’t. JC won’t play more youth until mathematically eliminated. I doubt LeToux will go 90. Play Hoppenot on wing & play Ribeiro for Noguiera.

    • I would very much appreciate the opportunity, dare say, to see Ribero play as, what? central attacking midfielder. Wholly Shit did I just suggest that? you know the logic of seeing what we have at CAM with a natural CAM. Pretty sure Pedro Ribero can score 3 -5 goals as a lone striker. I am curious though would he provide service for 15? All of it makes no sense.Agree with your assessment. If they lose or draw against Columbus, which one part of me hopes, I would really like to see what we have with some players who do not play or are not in their most natural position- save Edu.
      If JC starts Edu at Midfield and benches Okugo again, after last week- I’m going to be apoplectic.

      • Was it Earl who remarked on this rare example of the CEO -not the coach – losing the locker room? Sitting Amobi again would make it irretrievable.

      • “I like Okugo. Think he has been playing really well lately. But he is the odd man out because we not sitting Maidana or Noguiera.”
        Truth be told- AO has outplayed VN and CM.
        but what do I know, I’ve never played at a ‘high’ level. I only play 2x a week with players from around the globe and only watch 4-7 games a week played by the best teams in the world coached by the best coaches in the world for roughly the last ten years.
        In the words of Cole Trickle. You would be amazed what you can learn watching on TV.

      • “Vision.” We know before match one, Edu is here mostly to audition of USMNT as CDM plus we stole a great 8 (Nogs) & got what will prove to be our first true 10 (Chaco). So Okugo plays CB. Looking ahead, how do you play them both – because they’re both in your best XI & your DP should be signed for his natural position? And who will spell your 8 (who had no off season) & 10, because MLS takes a toll on newcomers? Maybe you train Okugo to move into 8. But you make a plan. One that doesn’t force your interim coach to pretend on the eve of your franchise’s biggest game that there’s no room for your most dynamic rising starter. Simple foresight.

      • the coach could abandon the 4-3-3 and play a sensible four-man midfield

  9. The Black Hand says:

    Had to get that out. Carry on…

  10. What an abysmal mess! Smart move would be to move M’Bolhi or Blake. Of course I emphasize “smart.” There in lies the problem!

    • How can Zac stay after being dumped mid season?

      • Exactly, How indeed? It’s obvious to anyone who has watched this nightmare unfold. Sakeiwicz! He needs to make the effort to fix his mess and then get out of the way.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Disagree. I think the smart move is to move Zac. Let Blake study from M’Bolhi and then reap the rewards. Blake is very, very good.
      Zac + Cash (Edu/Berry salaries) should be able to bring in a quality striker.
      Oh yeah…expansion draft. The Edu/Berry/Valdes? cash should fetch a striker.

  11. OneManWolfpack says:

    Zac is gone. He better bring a proven MLS goal scorer back in a trade. Then go sign a striker as well. THEN… Oh my god… you might have OPTIONS… .
    After the results this weekend I can’t believe this team still has a shot at the playoffs. Wow.

    • MacMath – gone in expansion draft.
      Okugo – gone on a free transfer somewhere.

      In both cases, Union will receive no return on two of their most valuable assets. Players move in soccer, but if the FO had planned to go with Edu & Mbholi long-term (not my preference, but its their choice) they should have moved both players this summer and gotten something for them.

      Of course, the Union are committed to growing the team through their young players, so this would have been an impossible move for the FO. (sarcasm)

      • old soccer coach says:

        There is some pedigree for playing lots of natural midfielders. It was said of Walt Chyzowych when he was coach at Penn Stte that he recruited only center mids, because they were the best players on the pitch.

  12. old soccer coach says:

    Eli I agree with your perception that Mbohli is not a clear upgrade over McMath as a keeper. His style is different; MacMath plays further off his line than the Frenchman. The quality I cannot evaluate is leadership, as Mbohli has been brought in late in the season without a fair chance to establish relationships with his teammates. No one has seemed to match Mondragon.

  13. Not sure why ppl are suggestion replacing Nogs. He is our nucleus, he moves the ball with pace and creates space in the midfield and creates opportunities to push forward in the attack and keeps possession. Shit, I could say a ton more that he does for this team. He is one who has been playing the game right and professionally.

    • His passing has been off at times during the last few games. Around here, that gets you thrown into the Brian Carroll Dog House from which there is no return. If he misses another pass this Saturday, people will call for him to be benched, released or tarred and feathered.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I think you guys are going a little too far. I proposed resting/sitting him for one game. That’s it. To me he has looked absolutely exhausted over the past month and less sharp because of it. No dog house. No driving him to the airport. No pitchforks and torches. Just not starting this one game. Just a little rotation to give a critical player some valuable rest when it looks like he needs it, that’s all.

      • Can we afford to rest him at this point ? I just think that would be a mistake. I understand resting him but it’s too late for that and no one plays the position as effective as he does

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        My argument is that his effectiveness has waned over the past month and given that he has played more than a full calendar year of soccer, Curtin would do well to go back to Okugo and Edu and physically dominate the midfield. I am a huge fan of Nogueira’s. Huge. But he has looked a bit off his game of late. Either way, my guess is that he or Maidana will make way, giving a fresh Ethan White a chance to come back into the team

  14. The Black Hand says:

    Rest him for what??? The whole club will be resting, soon enough…

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