Player ratings

Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 2-1 Sporting KC

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Three cheers for moral victories.

Hip, hip, hoo… sigh…

Well, at least it was Sporting Kansas City, as there are few feelings at PPL Park more enjoyable than watching Peter Vermes hypocritically blow a gasket on the sideline or Benny Feilhaber tumble to the turf due to the sheer, crushing weight of his own whinyness (or Ray Gaddis decking him, take your pick).

But after watching the Union cough up leads in critical matches against Chicago and Columbus, is it better that Jim Curtin’s team finally figured out how to hold a lead when it no longer mattered? Or was it worse?

After all, holding on for the win pretty much amounted to simply dropping numbers behind the ball and trying to play out the final minutes in the attacking half of the pitch. Not exactly earth-shattering tactical revelations. It’s hard to count the Brian Carroll substitution as a positive, considering Curtin had both Amobi Okugo and Maurice Edu in the midfield against Columbus. Whether it is down to coaching or on-field organization by the players — probably about a 50/50 split — it’s all too apparent just how avoidable the meltdown against the Crew was.

But for a Union fan base eager to put this season in the rear view mirror and get behind their team for 2015, Saturday’s win was at least a small step towards rallying behind Curtin and this team.

Because after throwing their season away over the past two weeks, there were some definite positives against Sporting Kansas City:

  • After watching Conor Casey fade with what had to be considered inevitable fatigue and injury, considering how overused he has been during the past two years, it was a welcome relief to see the Union win on goals by forwards other than the bullish veteran.
  • Despite looking tired and ineffective of late, Cristian Maidana showed just how dangerous he can be operating as a central playmaker. The Union will need him to increase his goal tally in 2015 to provide another scoring option, but if Maidana can take up the types of positions he did against Sporting, the goals will come.
  • Maurice Edu. Best center back in MLS. You heard it here first (or maybe you didn’t; I don’t keep track of what you hear). Union fans have heard all year that Edu wants to be play in his natural position, in the midfield. Yet, given the sample size of the 2014 MLS season, it would be hard to make the claim that the Union’s top paid player has looked anything but natural in the heart of defense, and definitely more so than he has in midfield. With his future up in the air, the US international might want to have a long, hard think about making his transition to defense permanent, because if he does, there will be few in MLS who can match his strength, composure and skill at the position.
  • Jim Curtin, in general. He may still be green when it comes to coaching at this level, but Curtin is an affable, hard-working guy that is easy for both players and fans to get behind. Plus, he really knows how to tug at the local heart strings with his knowledge and use of Philadelphia sports similes. Besides, it is hard to imagine anyone from the underwhelming list of other potential candidates being thrown around the internet as being a clear improvement. Whatever the reason that Curtin has yet to be announced as the permanent manager, he and the front office need to sort it out ASAP. Any amount of continuity the Union can create will be beneficial to the team as they enter yet another critical off-season and this distraction needs to be taken off the table.
Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 5

Had surprisingly little to do on the night, as the normally aggressive Kansas City attack failed to show up PPL Park. It is hard to lay too much blame at MacMath’s feet for conceding the penalty, considering just how foolishly Nogueira conceded possession for the quick Sporting attack.

Sheanon Williams – 5

Did well against the limited threat of Soony Saad and pushed forward, though none of his crosses reached their intended target. Given Williams’ well-rounded game (he is by far the most complete Union fullback), the decision to leave him out against Columbus is even more surprising.

Carlos Valdes – 3

Hopefully a full off-season allows Valdes to get his feet back, because the former Union captain has been downright poor since returning from World Cup duty with Colombia. On a completely different page from his teammates on Saturday, Valdes’ distribution out of the back left a lot to be desired.

Maurice Edu – 7

It sure is a shame that Edu doesn’t fancy a future at center back in MLS, because he can already stake a claim to being one of the top players at the position. After watching Jurgen Klinsmann awkwardly push Jermaine Jones into central defense against Ecuador, Edu should be scratching his head and thinking, “I can do that and more.” And yes, he really can.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Battled hard to neutralize Sal Zizzo on the Union’s left flank, though he made things tougher on himself that they needed to be with some clumsy turnovers and positional play. Even though Benny Feilhaber was at fault for a first half double assault on Edu and Gaddis and should have been booked, the Union fullback was lucky not see a card for his retaliation on the Kansas City playmaker (as enjoyable as it was).

Amobi Okugo – 6

Tidy and composed on the ball, Okugo spent what might be his last appearance at PPL Park cleaning up sloppy play in the disorganized Union midfield. Put in a good physical shift when it came to keeping an eye on the central runs of both Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura.

Vincent Nogueira – 4

Energetic, though wild and lacking purpose, Noguiera was far too easily dispossessed in midfield, especially on the turnover that led to MacMath dragging down Soony Saad for Sporting’s penalty. At the moment, Nogueira looks like a guy who needs a well-deserved vacation after playing a whole heck of a lot of soccer over the past year-plus.

Danny Cruz – 5

Energetic and eager, Cruz worked hard to make himself available in the possession game. With the Union tailoring their game plan more and more towards Wenger’s direct running and Maidana peeling wide to the right, Cruz grew isolated, though he did have a nice touch in the build up to Ribeiro’s winner.

Cristian Maidana – 7

A constant thorn in Kansas City’s side, Maidana ghosted out wide to find space and had a hand in the majority of the Union’s positive attacking moves. While Curtin will wish Maidana buried his first half breakaway and generally had been more clinical around the box, the fact that Maidana set the table for both Union tallies is a very good sign for the Union going forward.

Andrew Wenger – 5

In a season of Jekyll and Hyde performances, Saturday’s showing will go in the wasteful, frustrating column. Given ample service, time, and space by his teammates against the inexperienced Igor Juliao, Wenger still managed to make the least of a number of golden opportunities. It is hard to understand how Wenger gets himself into such awkward, reaching, contorted body positions every time he is trying to cross, pass, or shoot in the final third. That needs to be addressed.

Brian Brown – 5

I generally give a player a +2 or +3 for scoring a goal, depending on the quality and situation of the tally, so read into that what you will when considering just how poor Brown was in every other facet of the game. Or there are his coach’s words on the subject: “I’m not going to say he had a perfect game, I yelled at him at halftime, a lot. I said, I don’t care that you scored the goal, there’s a lot more movement, and running, and work, that you have to do defensively and offensively to be an option for guys.” So far this season Brown has shown two things: First, that he is not at all ready to be a consistent contributor in MLS; and second, that he does however, have a nose for goal. Considering how hard it is to find players with the latter attribute, hopefully the Union will work hard with the young Jamaican to develop the rest of his game.


Pedro Ribeiro – 7

Made an instant impact, finding space in the Sporting box to settle Maidana’s entry pass before dispatching the chance past Eric Kronberg. Nearly set up Wenger for an insurance goal as well, with the rookie proving that, while he is definitely playing out of position, he still has the quality and desire to make things happen.

Brian Carroll – 5

Brought in to help see out the result, Carroll was less sharp and disciplined on the ball than his coach probably would have hoped, but with his team sitting back in a comfortable defensive stance, the Union veteran helped clog up space and see out the result.

Jimmy McLaughlin – N/A

After a tremendous season with Harrisburg, McLaughlin deserves more than the final seconds of a match. Hopefully he’ll get his chance in Columbus.

Geiger Counter

Jair Marrufo – 2

It is getting exhausting watching MLS officials that seem completely ambivalent to the difference between strong, competitive contact and blatant fouls. Marrufo was nearly as much of a spectator as any fan sitting in the stands, drinking a beer and eating a hot dog. It was fortunate that no one got hurt considering how frequently Marrufo swallowed his whistle for not only clear fouls, but also dirty, off-the-ball offenses.

Preferred Lineup for Saturday’s season finale against Columbus Crew


MacMath; Williams, White, Edu, Gaddis; Okugo, Pfeffer; McLaughlin, Maidana, Wenger; Brown


  1. Seeing Klinsmann trying out Jones as a centerback in the last friendly should be used as fuel to convince Edu that his future should be at centerback. If he can be the best MLS centerback, he might be a dark horse for the 2018 US roster at 32 years old.

    Resign Okugo NOW!

  2. Brian Brown has 2 goals in 230 minutes, just sayin’

    • I’m hoping he stays in the area over the winter and hits the gym. If he can get some strength to fight off defenders, Brown is going to be a real find.

      • I dunno about that but I think he is worth a whole season look. Moreso than Hoppenot and Wheeler.

      • Brown needs to learn that a touch isn’t contact hard enough to cause you to fall. I hate when I see players going down easily.

  3. Was anyone else surprised that Zak didn’t see a card (possibly red) for the foul that led to the penalty? Yes, he was put in a horrible position, but another ref could have easily made things much worse.
    Speaking of the ref, this was the first time I can recall that the Union appeared to get the home field advantage in refs calls. I thought there were a lot of questionable decisions, most of which went the Union’s way. Don’t know whether he is running for mayor of Philly or if Fred and Fabhino said something to him during warmups that convinced him…

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Penalty calls in MLS are always a complete crap shoot. A lot of times it almost seems like in the melee following the call, the ref forgets to go back and give a card. I agree with you, MacMath couldn’t have argued much with either color card.

    • A red would have been really harsh, since Saad was going away from goal when MacMath fouled him. At any rate, Marrufo is pretty infamous for not giving cards, so I’m not too surprised MacMath got away uncarded.
      I can’t help but wonder if your take on the ‘home field advantage’ was colored by the fact that Sporting seem to whine about *everything*.

      • I don’t think it was that. They are not the only team that whines. There were a number of calls that I thought could have gone either way that went in the Union’s favor.

  4. Jeremy Lane says:

    I agree with your ratings for the most part, Eli, but think you’re too harsh on Wenger. I watched this one on TV, and thought he actually made many good decisions and passes in the final third, including at least two that could have/should have been assists (the breakaway to Maidana and a cutback to Maidana after bullying Juliao that Maidana laid off for Nogueira to curl over). Considering how few games he’s actually played in what has become his obvious position, I think he’s getting there, and will only improve.

    • DarthLos117 says:

      He looks great there…and once his one v one confidence grows/betters, he is gonna be a force next year.
      In the end there will be no doubt that we got the better in that trade.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Yeah Wenger looked strong. I agree that we won that trade.

      • Since the club wasn’t going to pay Jack, something is better than nothing. This was always a good deal. Some of the personnel decisions are encouraging and others incomprehensible.

  5. Mbolhi has to start for several (at least 240k) reasons.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      As far as I understand the situation, Mbolhi is not with the team. He is in Paris with his wife who is expecting their first child.

      • So when Sak anointed him the starter in July, he just forgot to add the “for 3 games this year” part? Well, at least our lasting image of his final appearance of his abbreviated 2014 campaign won’t fade from memory. No matter how hard you try. Top paid goalie (per game) in this hemisphere?

      • Sak didn’t anoint him the starter in July. He makes zero personnel and player decisions. He said so himself.

      • Unless there’s credit to be claimed for stockpiling 3 GKs? And where else has this been reported? Would he be here if these games mattered?
        PS Thanks, Eli!

    • Mbolhi better be trade bait. There’s no reason to have him here except to trade for a world class finisher.

  6. OneManWolfpack says:

    “Well, at least it was Sporting Kansas City, as there are few feelings at PPL Park more enjoyable than watching Peter Vermes’ hypocritically blow a gasket on the sideline, or Benny Feilhaber tumble to the turf due to the sheer, crushing weight of his own whiny-ness (or Ray Gaddis decking him, take your pick).” — NOW, that’s some quality writing!!! Haha!

    • I don’t know if the Union bring out the worst in Benny, or if he’s always like that, but he might be my favorite MLS player to despise. Gaddis decking him was cool, but the AR standing like 10 feet away and just kind of shrugging was great.

      • The Ty Domi of MLS. And yes he’s always like that. He makes Clint Dempsey seem like Jimminy Cricket.
        He was a miserable lout in NE when that team was awful.

      • Didn’t he get two yellows for dissent on the same play a few years ago against the U when he was still with the Revs?

      • Absolutely remember that. Good one.

      • He’s always like that. Easily the biggest punk a**hole in MLS. All the more galling because the guy is quite talented, so he has no need to be like that. He’s even worse than Fabian Espindola, which is really saying something.

  7. “as enjoyable as it was”

    Totally agree, Feilhaber has been a whiny little bitch over the past few years…Reminds me of a young Bobby Hurley. Twat.

  8. In general, do you think professional sports teams should give high priority to hiring “affable, hard-working, local guys” when selecting their head coaches/managers?

    Or, are there more important factors to consider?

  9. I like Jim Curtin. If they hire him they got to give him the room and money to work. If they can get a David Moyes I would go with Moyes over Curtin just because of the experience and ability to cope with a tight purse.

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