Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 2-3 Columbus

Maybe Jim Curtin said it best.

After giving away a two goal lead in two minutes, with the clock ticking down in the biggest game of the season, Philadelphia Union proved all the doubters right.

Columbus advanced up the field with five players, most unmarked. Tony Tchani galloped beyond Ray Gaddis, drawing Ethan White from the middle. Amobi Okugo, finishing a full-field recovery run, drifted into the box, but not deep enough to cover White’s space. When Tchani’s low cross came in, it met Jairo Arrieta’s foot, and then it met twine.

And thus ended the playoff hopes of a team that rarely looked like a playoff team.

Not a playoff team

The Union came from behind in seven games thus far in 2014: Six ties and a loss. They gave up the lead 10 times and only got it back and kept it twice.

They have won nine games this season, yet the only playoff teams they beat are the enigmatic Revolution, the mediocre Sporting KC, and the thoroughly mediocre Red Bulls. They beat two teams from the west. If you look low enough you can guess who.

Along the way, the Union started a striker in defense, a midfielder at striker, and multiple midfielders in defense. They traded last year’s leading scorer for a striker who turned out to be a midfielder.

They drafted a goalie first overall; they bought an expensive goalie midseason.

And yet, thanks to the flaccid Eastern Conference and a wild summer hot streak, it took until the 81st minute for the Union to be eliminated from the playoffs.

And yes, they were done in the 81st. One shot off target and one blocked shot after blowing a two goal lead at home? That’s not Philly tough.

Looking failure in the face

But let us return now to the scene of the crime: PPL Park. Where Philadelphia Union were the better team for 75 minutes. And the losers after ninety.

Cristian Maidana’s flu-like symptoms forced Jim Curtin to shuffle Maurice Edu into midfield and restore Ethan White in defense. Fabinho retained his spot at left back, though there were conflicting reports that Sheanon Williams was still injured or simply not preferred.

Edu’s return to midfield pushed Vincent Nogueira into a more attacking role, and the Union used the Frenchman’s energy to press Columbus across the full pitch from the opening whistle. The strategy surprised the Crew, and they were forced to drop Wil Trapp between the central defenders to play longer balls out of the back. Though the press worked extremely well in the first half, as the game wore on it became less effective. Interception and tackle numbers dropped in the second half, and after Danny Cruz opened the scoring the Union only managed three recoveries and a tackle in the opponent’s half.

Yet they continued to press. And boy, did it ever backfire. Danny Cruz’s goal must, unfortunately, be measured against his complete absence in defense. And if anybody thought that Andrew Wenger was not spent after notching the Union’s second, he made it clear with his movement and defense for the last fifteen minutes.

As the Union fell apart, one could not help but remember the first matches under Jim Curtin. The discipline, the shape, and the calmness.

Keeping up the press

When the second half started, two things were clear: Columbus was looking for routes around the home team’s pressure, and Philly was doubling down on the tactic. Danny Cruz’s entrance for Conor Casey in the 58th minute was a clear signal that the Union were dedicated to high pressure, with Le Toux pushed forward to keep Wil Trapp on edge.

But even as Philadelphia took, then doubled, the lead, danger signs were flashing. Bernardo Anor was pushing up on Ray Gaddis and Justin Meram drifted across the formation to overload Fabinho. As Vincent Nogueira stayed high and Edu stepped into a more advanced role, the Union were putting numbers in the box but losing their shape. One would have expected them to return to a more conservative agenda once the second goal was scored. But they did not. Nor did Philly adjust after Columbus pulled one back. Or after they pulled even.

Kudos and criticism

Jim Curtin’s tactics were spot on from minute one. But his lack of adjustments after the team went up two is baffling. Events were moving quickly, it’s true. But chasing a team with good long range passers after going ahead was not the right call.

Nor was leaving Fabinho in the match. The Brazilian’s aggressive game fit the Union’s approach perfectly early on, but moving Ray Gaddis to the left was the obvious move once Philly went ahead. Curtin has called Gaddis the best one-on-one defender in MLS, and those services should have been deployed against Finlay for the stretch run. Columbus coach Greg Berhalter must have felt that Christmas feeling when he slid Justin Meram to the right and Curtin failed to respond, leaving Gaddis to cover the late runs of Bernardo Anor.

Tony Tchani's successful passes (L) and unsuccessful passes (R)

Tony Tchani’s successful passes (L) and unsuccessful passes (R). Those long passes take time to get right…

Edu and Okugo: Not quite good enough

Maurice Edu wears the armband. Amobi Okugo has been in Philly since the beginning. One of them had to step up and organize the team once the game switched from a must-score to a must-defend. Neither did. Or, if they did, nobody listened.

Philly’s wingers stayed high and Nogueira still pressed. When Fabinho shanked his clearance to Tony Tchani to set up Columbus’ opener, four players were already up field.

In analyzing soccer games, there is a tendency to focus on how the game starts. Did the coaches get their lineups right? What about the tactics? Did the players know their roles?

These are all important questions. But equally important is knowing how to play when the scoreline changes. If you go down, what happens? If you take the lead, now what? Even during their summer hot streak, Philadelphia only mastered one formation, one approach. They have given up the lead in over a quarter of their matches this season, including six (!!) times at PPL Park. That is the mark of a team that does not make adjustments once the state of a game changes. Or, at least, not the right ones.

As incredible as Vincent Nogueira has been for the Union, he still pushes on with the team ahead. As good as Cristian Maidana has been, he still drifts wide at the first opportunity instead of clogging the middle of the pitch. These are non-adjustments that must be addressed.

The blame cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Jim Curtin, though. Who does he bring off the bench to play possession soccer? Brian Carroll? Fred? Leo Fernandes? Danny Cruz has shown his value in many ways this season, but holding onto the ball will never be on his resume.

No, the big truth that runs as strong as the Delaware River through the 2014 season is that Philadelphia under Jim Curtin were equal to almost any team in the Eastern Conference when the score was even. But they knew nothing of protecting leads, and even less about coming from behind. The only 1-0 games Philly won all season were the second week over New England and a late season stomping over an awful Toronto side (that has since passed the Union in the standings). Even more damning: The Union are 4-12 in one-goal games.

What else?

Not much. What do you say after a team deservedly goes up two goals then completely shuts off? There were individual mistakes (Fabinho’s clearance, Okugo’s non-tackle on Meram, Valdes’ statue impression) but they were merely the most prominent features of a complete lack of engagement by the entire side after Wenger doubled the lead.

The only thing left to do is face the truth: The Union recruited better players in the offseason, but they did not recruit leaders. Or at least not anyone who took a leadership role against Columbus. Management seemed to recognize this roster issue. But they dealt with it by recruiting a player who was not there when the team needed a leader. MLS is a strange, confusing league that plays through international breaks, and international players should be allowed to play for their country. But the Union knew this when they recruited Rais Mbolhi. And they still thought he was the answer.

Through no fault of his own, he was not.

And so the players, the coaches, and the front office must now face another offseason of questions: Is this roster good enough to compete in the weaker Eastern Conference? Some say yes. And talent-wise, that answer is correct. But something is clearly missing.

Something besides the playoffs, that is.

 Player ratings

Zac MacMath – 5

One save and two punches for MacMath as the Union were on the front foot for most of the match. He had no chance on the three goals.

Union passes into the offensive half. Note the red.

Union passes into the offensive half. Note the red.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Like MacMath, Gaddis was rarely in the middle of the negative action. In fact, Gaddis was so good that Greg Berhalter moved Justin Meram away from the right back just to get him time on the ball. It worked out.

Ethan White – 3

Tough all night, White simply did not do the business as a distributor. And though his physical game often played to his advantage, it came back to bite the defender when Mark Geiger waved play on as White was flipped on his head during a collision leading to the second Columbus goal. In general, White and his partner controlled the box well, but, of course, then they didn’t.

Carlos Valdes – 2

As the veteran on the back line, Valdes needed to rally the troops when things went awry. Instead, he was victimized for the third goal. Though Valdes’ distribution was quite good, he and Fabinho grew increasingly separated as the match wore on, with the Brazilian not tracking back and Valdes drifting centrally following Arrieta and Finlay. It may be as much on the coaching staff as Valdes, but someone has to tell Fabinho to play defense. He just doesn’t do it much on his own.

Poor clearance (click to play)

Poor clearance (click to play)

Finlay goal (click to play)

Finlay goal (click to play)

Fabinho – 3

The Brazilian had another stat-stuffing day with five tackles and five interceptions. But 61% passing?? And the only connected pass in the final third was the cross to Okugo to set up Cruz’s goal? Those numbers are partially an artifact of Andrew Wenger’s straightahead style in midfield, but it’s also representative of how limited Fabinho’s game is (and how inflexible the Union as a whole are). Simply put, Fabinho is a left-footed left back. And that makes him unique on the Union’s roster. Being able to put in crosses from the left, and gaining possession from aggressive defense (with all the possibility for major mistakes that style of defending entails) is rarely enough to make up for the Brazilians regular miscues. The failed clearance to Tchani led directly to the first goal (though, in fairness, Fabinho was one of the only players to react once the ball was turned over).

Arrieta goal (click to play)

Arrieta goal (click to play)

Amobi Okugo – 4

Normally, three chances created (including an assist from deep in the box!), 83 percent passing with plenty of long balls out to the left mixed in, and cutting the opposing attacking midfielder out of the game would be quite the match for a defensive midfielder. But when the collapse arrived, Okugo was front and center. Whether it was the soft tackle on Meram instead of using the body or at least staying in front, or getting caught stopping short on his recovery run for the third goal (Okugo may argue he was cutting out the pass to the top of the box, which is probably a fair point), or simply failing to take control and tell the team to possess the ball, Okugo fell short of being the player he can be. Prior to the Columbus comeback, Okugo and Edu were finally figuring out a system that allowed each to stride forward or cover the other. After Ethan Finlay shocked the Union with the first Crew goal, that understanding between Union midfielders went out the window, and the middle of the pitch became a gaping hole through which Tony Tchani was invited to move through with ease.

Maurice Edu – 4

Another player who looked very comfortable prior to the collapse, Edu is also on the list of those who failed to answer the call when the Finlay sucker punch landed. Instead of gumming up the middle, Edu continued to push on after the Union went ahead. The Okugo-Edu partnership has so much potential, as Edu’s comfort on the ball allows him to get involved in the offense in a way that still eludes Okugo. But that comfort is also more useful in an offense that actually tries to possess in the final third. In the end, discipline was lacking for the man wearing the Union’s armband. And as good as Edu may be in midfield, he was shading to the left without offering Fabinho cover and he was all too eager to get forward even after the Union went ahead.

Click to play

Wenger goal (click to play)

Andrew Wenger – 6

In less than half a season, Wenger has reinvented himself as a wing player who takes on anyone or anything in his path. Unlike Fabinho behind him, it is easier to argue that Wenger’s benefits outweigh his limitations, especially in Philadelphia’s counterattacking system. Those benefits: Workrate (leading to the second goal), a willingness to shoot (he was unlucky not to beat Clark on the Union’s finest move of the game in the first half), and the ability to beat people on the dribble. Those limitations: Poor, poor decision-making in the final third, struggles in possession (50 percent passing??), and an inability to keep up the difficult sprint-up-sprint-back wing play that Sebastien Le Toux often executes for 90 minutes. Still, Wenger did his job on Saturday, scoring the second goal and putting the Columbus defense under constant pressure. He should have been substituted before the final fifteen minutes. He was, quite simply, toast after his goal.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

A difficult player to rate. Moving Le Toux to the point of the spear helped Philly continue the pressing game that helped keep the Union on the front foot for most of the game. But keeping that press up was partially to blame for the team’s collapse. With the Crew pursuing a lopsided offensive approach, Le Toux had little to do defensively. Essentially, it is hard to blame the Frenchman for much that went wrong. He played exactly as one would expect him to, and he allowed Philly to execute it’s difficult defensive strategy.

Vincent Nogueira – 4

Such a wonderful player… but much like Le Toux… and Fabinho… and Wenger… and Gaddis… he has a tendency to play his game, with little adjustment for circumstance. Nogueira’s movement was welcome early on, when he helped apply defensive pressure then drifted to the wings (usually the right) to create. It was effective for most of the game, but it also meant the Union never established a dominance on the center of the field that they should with three central midfielders. For all the positives Nogueira brings to the side, he needs someone to tell him when to simply sit back and form combinations with the midfielders behind him.

Conor Casey – 3

Good running and pressing from Casey, who would have had a brilliant assist if Wenger’s first half blast had gone past Steve Clark. But… zero shots? Two touches in the box? Casey, as the team’s lone proven striker (on the roster, not just the field) must be judged by his ability to influence a match. He was a step behind a few balls into the box, and, unfortunately, that’s a perfect metaphor for the Union’s 2014 offense outside of the summer streak.

Substitutes
Cruz goal (click to play)

Cruz goal (click to play)

Danny Cruz – 6

A wonderful goal, crashing into the box on a cross from the far side. But, man, it is tough to watch Cruz sorta play defense and struggle to hold the ball when Philly is playing with a lead. Though Cruz has been a very impactful sub this season, the parts of the game at which he excels are narrow and well known. And protecting a lead is not when you want to see Cruz in the game. The switchover from all-out effort to discipline just never happens. However, note that Cruz’s limitations are well-known. This puts an onus on coaches to communicate with the winger and help him play the right role with the team ahead. That didn’t happen, and after watching Cruz play the same game week after week, it’s hard to blame Cruz more than those who should be teaching him how to make adjustments. In the end, Cruz did what he was put on to do. Asking him to do anything else is to ignore everything we know about Danny Cruz.

Pedro Ribeiro – 4

He’s not a striker yet. Ribeiro could become the late-game hold up player that helps Philly hold leads, but with the team still pushing forward relentlessly, even with a lead, who needs a hold up player?

Antoine Hoppenot – n/a

Aside from a late chance to get his head on a ball in the box (not his game), Hoppenot made little impact.

Hmm... (click to play)

Hmm… (click to play)

Geiger Counter – 2

Credit where credit is due: Mark Geiger was consistent. But… wow. That was a physical game. Just because nothing intentionally dirty happens doesn’t mean you just let players hit each other without penalty. Geiger waived off a clear foul on Nogueira in the box in the first half and was generally unwilling to blow the whistle to establish limits in a rough match.

38 Comments

  1. Last couple of games made me wonder if Williams has a future at the Union.
    Maybe since they resigned Gaddis they are going to use him and get an actual Left Back.

    • Agreed. I know there were conflicting Twitters on whether he was injured or snubbed; Stephano’s comments elsewhere on this site make me think it was the latter.
      .
      For what it’s worth, if we had a left-footed left mid, I still think Williams would be an intriguing option at LB. But I’m guessing that ship has sailed.

  2. i can’t even think about this game; it just gets me down

  3. I still place some blame on Curtin. From day one, he has been so adamant telling everyone that the Union are mediocre. While he may be true, hearing that message from your head coach has to take a toll on your confidence. When faced with a scary first goal from Columbus, instead of hunkering down, everyone thinks “oh no, here we go again…” When you believe you don’t deserve to win…often you won’t. This is probably the biggest impact a head coach has. Beyond the tactical adjustments and choosing the most in-form players, the coach set’s the attitude of the team. Curtin told them over and over again that they were not a playoff team. “You are what your record shows.” Well, he was right…well done.

    • These are professionals. They know what they are.
      The coaches’ influence on confidence is overrated.
      And I’m pretty sure many of the key guys on this team actually smell themselves too much (Williams, Edu, Chaco, Valdes, and more).

      Now you can def. blame Curtin for the lack of adjustments. After 2-0, trust me, they were confident.
      They weren’t disciplined. That goes on the coach, the captain, and the vets.

  4. Adam. You lost me after “Maybe.” I am sorry- was sitting to read your typically excellent commentary and decided I cannot give this team one second of my attention this week. Be well Sir.
    .
    Sincerely,
    .
    Duped Again.

    • Haha. Actually, I thought it would have been fitting if I saw the words “Who cares. We suck so much.” after the headline.
      No ratings.
      No story.
      We all know what happened.

      Thanks though Adam and PSP.
      I’ll probably be taking a cue from Joel and will be back sporadically.

    • Dang it! I knew I should have started with “Perhaps” instead!

  5. I don’t agree that ZM didn’t have a chance on the 3 goals a great keeper comes up with 2 saves on those 3 goals and wins the game for you, goal 1 and 3 he stands on the line without making an attempt on saving the ball. goal 2 went tru him ….. he is a good keeper not a great keeper

    • Just watched the replay again, and you really can’t blame MacMath for those goals. Sure, could he have come up with one…possibly. But Okugo’s effort on #2 was a total disgrace, and the goal was point blank. #1 was out of nowhere. Maybe, maybe #3, he can get a left hand on and make a spectacular save. Let’s call the collapse what it was…a combination of brutal coaching in the last 15 minutes and vets who gave poor efforts and showed no leadership when it mattered most.

      • How can you blame Okugo for the second goal when he was the one that ran all the way from center of midfield to help out White who unfortunately lost the ball due to collision with a Columbus player. The Columbus player was already in the box and any hard tackle or push from Okugo would be point blank penalty. Okugo did all he could by disrupting the play and all White #15 could have done was just poke the ball away for a corner but instead he passed it back to a columbus player that scored the goal. Watch the replay and see Edu on the left side of the field where the throw in occurred doing nothing to help out.
        Just watch the replay closely before you critique.The players might not be good but some of the fans that critique the games are even worse.

      • I completely agree with you. I’ve been critical of Edu many times for stuff like this. I keep hearing that it’s because he’s pressing too high, but he’s barely any higher than Okugo when the play starts. What I see is Okugo sprinting back and Edu getting a nice warmup jog back to the play. This was a time when we needed him to be the All-Star midfielder we’ve seen flashes of. If he was gassed, then they should have put Carroll or Lahoud in for him.

    • So my only argument would be that equating “being a great keeper” and “having a chance” doesn’t quite seem fair. I think even an above-average goalie doesn’t stop two hard, spinning first-time shots in the box or a guy who quite surprisingly dribbles through your defense. If the argument is: Tim Howard vs Belgium makes those saves, so why can’t Zac? I have to think the bar there is just way too high. Howard playing for Everton this season doesn’t stop those shots.

  6. OneManWolfpack says:

    What’s really devastating is that we all thought we were one player (CB Berry) away from seriously contending, and the truth is… we need multiple players at multiple positions (true LB, striker, players to come off the bench). We need a coach (it better happen). We need a real GM (prolly won’t happen)… AND, like the Phillies we have an idiot (Sack) in charge.
    .
    I love the Union, and I renewed my tickets for next year, but I am very skeptical about next season… and that sucks.

    • You get a world class striker (DP) in here, and this team will be a force to reckon with. Valdez is gassed, he needs an off-season. If it were me, I’d try to keep Mo Edu and Noguiera as the holding midfielders in front of Valdez and either Berry or White. Chaco in the middle, with LeToux and Wenger. Keep Cruz for depth. M’Bolhi and Okugo will bring back talent and depth…I’d move both. Keep MacMath as the starter and see what Blake develops into. Draft a wing back and a young striker, and you’re good to go.

      Of course, this assumes that we get someone competent in here to run the organization instead of bonehead Sakewicz. I like Curtin, but he’s not ready for prime time. Get an experienced coach, who knows how to deal with professionals from the management side of things.

      • Very similar to the plan I laid out in the game recap thread. I’m actually not sure you can get anything for Mbolhi, to be honest. I think MacMath is as good as gone, probably Orlando. Hopefully that trade involves a wink and nudge deal about the expansion draft.
        .
        The Union need to get Erick Torres from Chivas. There’s going to be some sort of dispersal draft for their players. The Union need to come out of that with Torres. He’s your striker.
        .
        They need to decide between Okugo and Edu. They shouldn’t keep both. I prefer Okugo, but suspect they keep Edu.
        .
        Lastly, they need to fill the left back position. Fabinho sure as hell isn’t the answer there. If they think Gaddis (or Williams) is the guy, I’ll live with it for a year. But I’d rather see an honest-to-goodness left back, not a right back playing the left. As much as I like Williams, if they need to trade him to acquire a left back I’d be OK with it (assuming the player they get back works out, of course).
        .
        Draft the best striker available when they pick in the Super Draft; immediately loan him to Harrisburg with the condition that he starts. The home growns need to make the game day 18 and get the occasional start.
        .
        Brian Carroll needs to retire – if he joins the coaching staff or front office, I’m OK with that. Mike Lahoud provides depth for holding mid and full back. He’s a good backup player for MLS – makes about $100,000, can backup multiple positions, good community guy. Casey needs to retire, and if not then he’s gotta go. Cruz as a bench and spot starter guy is fine, but he can’t be an automatic sub – pick the right spots to use him.
        .
        They can play that lineup as the 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid they use this year, or they can morph into a 4-4-2 by sliding Le Toux or Wenger or Hernandez up top with Torres. It looks competitive to me for 2015, and builds toward 2016.

  7. Little Fish says:

    It’s a damn shame. Losing like that (and not making the postseason) turns 2014 into a TOTAL LOSS. There is no way to ‘sugar coat’ it. We are bottom dwellers. I’m not going to cry about it though. Hope springs eternal. Let’s see the following lineup take the pitch this weekend:
    Y*O*U*T*H
    Blake
    Gaddis Marques Valdes Wenger
    Pfeffer Ribiero Lahoud McLaughlin
    Brown Hernandez
    !
    Let’s see what we’ve got. Can 2 or 3 of these guys be productive in MLS? It’s (finally) time to find out. I’m kind of looking forward to that! No excuse whatsoever not to play the kids now. Period.

    • Little Fish I am down with youth but Lahoud? I hope he is outahere. The only problem with Blake is his international team needs. I want MacMath back next season. But the teams first need is a GM.

  8. Great piece, as always.

    I think a few things about Curtin.

    1. I think he really did work a miracle out of this roster and got out of it the best he could.

    2. But I agree that he deserves blame for failing to get this team into a transition to hold a lead. If Chicago can sit on teams and force draws from some of the best, there is no reason to believe that the Union couldn’t know going in that once they get a lead they better sit back and just play defense.

    3. I’ve liked him in press conferences. I think saying the team is not playoff ready is honest. He sticks by his players and says they worked hard, doesn’t single anyone out, but tells it like it is when it comes to the team.

    I think in the end, he has the making of a great coach but is still too green to deal with the kind of adversity we’ve seen. It’s learning on the job. Which is understandable, but not something you can use to take a mediocre team into the playoffs.

    What will be telling is how he manages these last two games when he doesn’t have the expectations that come with back- to-the-wall, do-or-die playoff implications. Let’s see what kind of lineups he rolls out in the next two games.

  9. Edu has the band. Curtin is the coach. It was up to each of them to change the style and to put in the players to do it. Fabinho shouldn’t have started & he shall have been subbed. In his defense, it looked like Wenger’s midsection met the post on the goal & his play after might’ve been due to injury. Curtin’s remarks – on & off record – fail to admit his hand in the collapse. Not because he’s disingenuous, but because he doesn’t see it. Because he’s not ready. When is Sakiewicz going to say something? He couldn’t stop talking when things were going well. Since right after USOC final, he’s disappeared. Cowardly.

    • Curtin did take responsibility when it starts at the top and goes on down.

      • I concede that he exempts no one, Neal, but I can’t find anywhere that he admits a failure in strategy or personnel selection in this game as key factors. Apparently he wasn’t asked about his reflex to put Ribeiro in for LeToux, or why we didn’t immediately change strategy up 2-0. Then again, he’s a student of Nick “How dare you question the Great Mysterious Oz” Sakiewicz. It’s why Curtin should run from this Bimbo and rest his trajectory with a better run club than this joke of a franchise. Show up Saturday and sign the “Enabler” pledge.

      • Most of his critisism was of the “We” variety. And while we usually means we, many times “We” means “you”. With Curtin I am almost sure “We” means “You”.
        And I can’t really blame him no matter how many bad decisions he made.(and I thought he made plenty.) a profesional soccer team should
        1. not kick the ball straight to the opposing teams striker
        2.Be able to close out a lead up 2 goals at home with 12 minutes left.

      • The players making those mistakes were chosen by the coach instead of other players. Specifically Fabinho. Isn’t the way they were playing (pressure up 2-0) the coach’s job.

  10. Wenger should get a 1, if not a 0. He looked absolutely atrocious all night. Everyone in my section groaned when he touched the ball. Pass after pass to defenders and taking people on with wide open men right next to him. I have never seen someone perform so poorly and not get subbed.

    • he scored a goal tho

      • And he came close to scoring on a couple other occasions.

        There’s no doubt that Wenger was gassed at the end of the match, but Mark’s suggestion that he played poorly the whole game is off target.

  11. I always enjoy the analysis, but it seems like you use the words “possession” and “defense” as synonyms. They are both ways of preventing the other team from scoring goals, but they are not synonyms. Possession as a tactic to prevent the other team from scoring is, at face value, appealing. Unfortunately, this Philadelphia team is not good enough to hold a lead by trying to keep the opposition from having the ball. Few teams are. It would be nice if they could just play some fucking defense some time.

    • Possession is defense in the sense that when you possess the ball the opponent will attack to win back the ball but if you possess well (defend well) the opponent cannot win back the ball or dispossess you of the ball because you are “defending” the ball well.

      But you are right that the U cannot even possess the ball to save their life.

    • kingkowboys says:

      I completely agree. The Union players as a whole do not have the technical ability to maintain possession in order to close out a game. It’s much easier to concede possession and defend. We have had a lot of success with the latter. Why we decided to stray from that strength in the most critical part of the season is beyond me. I think that reflects on the coach. Put the players in the best position to succeed. That has proven to be organized defending and striking on the counter attack.

    • @Osager – I don’t think they’re synonyms (clearly, one involves having the ball and the other doesn’t), but I do think they can be functionally very similar. And if you had an objective choice, I think you’d always choose to possess the ball rather than give it away and defend.

      I do slightly disagree with the argument that Philly is simply not good enough to hold a lead through possession. I think that’s a conclusion that can’t be drawn until they’ve actually tried. That is my bigger issue. There are three options when you’re ahead: Go for more, hold possession, or circle them wagons. As you say, the Union have not been so good at the wagon-circling. And when they go for more, they don’t do it well enough to scare the other team into sitting back. So all I was suggesting is that possession is the other available option, but it seems as though the team doesn’t practice how to shape up to possess the ball (keep the 3rd CM central to get a man advantage, for example).

      Finally, I do think all of this is at least partially a function of the options available. I said in the article: Who do you bring on to help hold possession late? A similar question could be asked: Who do you bring on to park the bus late? Lahoud and Carroll are central players. You really have nobody to bring on to play a responsible wide role. I think that’s why Sheanon-for-Fabinho was the missing move – it’s the only way to improve defense in the wide areas given the options at Curtin’s disposal. Thanks for the comment!

  12. I don’t care how much Edu wants to play midfield, he is no longer a top level midfielder (if he ever was one). Yes, he looks great running up and down the field, but his touch in traffic is poor and his decision making with the ball is mind-boggling slow. He can be a very strong CB for the Union. If he is refusing to play there he should be shown the door and let’s use the money elsewhere.

  13. We’ve changed pretty much every aspect of the team. What hasn’t changed is Sakiewicz. It’s time he steps back and let someone else take the helm. Personally, I also think we need a new head coach. Flush out the remnants.

  14. Certainly the front office has made more than its fair share of mistakes. The head coach is responsible for preparing the team and the linneup and substitutions choices, which are easy to question.

    But at the end of the day, in an elimination game, if Danny Cruz and Andrew Wenger are your two highest rated players, that comes back to the guys in the uniforms and what is inside of them. And from where I sit, time and time again, it doesn’t look like much.

  15. I always like your analysis and I agree that there is plenty of blame to go around this week.

    I also agree that there is a real lack of player leadership, there has been all season. There were many times Saturday night when whoever had the ball made a hand gesture showing frustration at not having someone to pass to. Not good.

    I disagree with you grade for Fabinho. For most of the game he was playing harder, and more effectively than anyone else for the U. He at least seemed to understand how important a victory was.

    On the other hand I think you gave Wenger too good a grade. He missed at least 3 scoring chances in the first half. He did score, but it was kind of a gimme. If he is going to play the wing/forward role he has to be able to convert.

    • @JMac – Fair points. Fabinho was a tough number to figure out. He did play well – and fit the pressing system well – for a good portion of the match. But for as well as he played, he contributed surprisingly little to the offense outside of the cross to Okugo. The major issue for Fabinho was that he made a terrible clearance for the first goal, and was caught way upfield on the second. Unfortunately, those turned out to be major problems. If those issues don’t turn into goals, the rating is probably quite a bit higher. Such is the nature of soccer, I guess. Some mistakes turn into spurned chances, some into goals.

      I think you have to give Wenger a bit more credit for that gimme. I mean, he did set it up with one heck of a play to win a header in the middle then follow the play up so well. The truth is, he’s playing a Le Toux role, just wider. Neither player is very good at distribution, but both create their own space and take a lot of shots. Wenger put three on frame, missed with three (one very, very close) and had three blocked. Given that league average is to put less than 30% of headed shots on frame from the areas that Wenger had chances, I’m inclined to say he played the role expected of him. His shot from wide left was a very good strike that hit a well-positioned Clark. And, like someone else said, he scored. This is not to say I’m certain I gave him the right number, just to explain why I feel the number he got was justifiable. Definitely could have docked him for disappearing late, but I think everyone can agree he should have been subbed off after the goal. He was gassed.

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