Player ratings

Analysis and Player Ratings: Crew 2-1 Union

In an ironic but unsurprising way, the season ended in the same way that it started.

Philadelphia was positioned to pick up a good road point on Sunday afternoon, but just like the season opener in Portland many months ago, a late defensive breakdown cost the club the result it should have had.

The only difference is that this game was meaningless.

Jim Curtin’s team was already eliminated from the playoffs, and the only thing at stake at Crew Stadium was Columbus’ positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Philadelphia was eliminated from the postseason two weeks ago, but Columbus was jockeying for better seeding. Gregg Berhalter’s Crew rode an exceptional September and October right past New York and Kansas City and safely into the second playoff round.

The Union, meantime, finished the season with 10 wins, 12 losses, and 12 draws, and took a step backwards from the 2013 club that did not feature the talent currently on the roster.

For a team that worked so hard to turn around a failing season and qualify for a cup final, this season ultimately finishes as a huge disappointment.

The Young and the Restless

When you’ve got nothing left to play for, there are a few different ways to approach these types of games:

  1. Field a strong team and finish the season in a competitive nature;
  2. Play your young players and get some minutes for fringe guys;
  3. Experiment — maybe try a fullback in the midfield, or roll out a different formation.

In these final two games, Jim Curtin pretty much went with philosophy number one, with a couple of young guys seeing minutes off the bench.

Curtin seemed perturbed when asked about this decision in his midweek press conference, explaining that he wasn’t going to throw his young guys onto the field to get slaughtered by a playoff-bound Crew team. He wanted to reward players who performed well in practice, field a strong team, and stick with the same philosophy he installed as interim coach in the summer.

It was almost paradoxical then, that the Union couldn’t find the back of the net until substitute Zach Pfeffer nicked a goal late in the second half. That followed up last week’s similarly incongruous result, which featured goals from rookie Pedro Ribeiro and on-loan 21 year old striker Brian Brown.

My opinion goes something like this: If not now, then when?

When will there be a better time to get these young players onto the field? Union home grown players have spent the last 2, 3, and 4 years playing on loan or sitting on the bench. Pfeffer’s goal was the first contribution ever made by a Philadelphia homegrown player. Andre Blake hardly played this year, Ribeiro didn’t get minutes until Curtin took over, and the previous two drafts missed the mark.

If it wasn’t for Pfeffer’s goal, Saturday’s lineup would have been notable for just one thing — Brian Carroll’s final appearance in a Union shirt (and maybe Okugo and MacMath as well).

Le Toux as a lone striker

Curtin used the same formation that he’s been playing since he took over. Sunday, it played like a 4-2-3-1 in the first half and a 4-3-3 in the second half, once Okugo started getting forward into the attack.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sebastien Le Toux play as a solo striker in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was very successful in the 4-5-1 that Peter Nowak installed halfway through the 2011 playoff season.

Back then, Le Toux had tons of space to run, with Roger Torres serving in long balls and Michael Farfan and Veljko Paunovic moving freely in front of Brian Carroll, who was essentially playing the No. 6 by himself. The Union won games down the stretch against D.C. United and Columbus with direct balls that Le Toux was able to run onto, collect, and fire on goal.

Sunday’s shape was a little bit different, and Le Toux only played in the center forward role for the first half. With Cristian Maidana’s tendency to drift wide, and Okugo holding back initially, it didn’t function exactly like the formation from a few years ago. This team was built more to support a big center forward, as opposed to a clever backline runner. Think of Le Toux’s role as a lone striker as that of Marco Di Vaio, or Filippo Inzaghi during AC Milan’s Champion’s League days. They become the primary target for direct service and do not have the back-to-goal skills that you’d see from a Conor Casey or Brian Ching.

Player Ratings

Zac MacMath – 5

Hung out to dry on the first goal, playing the breakaway more aggressively would have risked a red card and sending off. There wasn’t much to do on the second goal either, as Maurice Edu’s deflection put the ball on a platter for Bernardo Anor.

Ray Gaddis – 4

Didn’t seem to be his usual self in this game. There were a couple of situations where Columbus wide players were able to wiggle free and put in crosses from his side, which is unusual considering Gaddis’ normally stellar one-on-one defending and gap-closing capability.

The problem with Gaddis on the left is that he’s not left-footed. He’s growing into the role, but he needs to develop his offensive game to complement his defensive proficiency.

Sheanon Williams – 7

He had a good game opposite Waylon Francis. The Costa Rican fullback’s tendency to push forward opened up some space for Williams to get forward and fire in a couple of crosses, several of which went out for corner kicks. He also started the best movement of the first half, which was a quick series of one-touch passes with Carroll and Le Toux that lead to a Danny Cruz shot on goal. In the second half, he left his feet for a clever outside of the foot touch to Le Toux, who was caught in an offside position inside the penalty area. He then made a bombing run which was spotted by Okugo, but the through ball unfortunately struck his heel on the way through the Columbus backline. Williams got back to make a sliding clearance that probably saved a goal in he 84th minute. Then his heads-up throw-in started the sequence leading to Philadelphia’s goal.

The only issue with Williams on the day was on the second Columbus goal, where Francis had too much space to square his pass inside the box. Williams had sunk in to cover for Ethan White, while Pfeffer was also pinched inside.

Maurice Edu – 3

Fans weren’t happy with Edu’s effort on the first goal. Mo had pushed forward on a recycled set piece, then tried to loft the ball over the Columbus backline. That ball fell short, and sparked the counterattack. Looking for an offside call, he then jogged all the way back to the penalty area, hardly hustling to make a play. He then botched a clearance in the 61st minute, but worked hard to win the second ball and allow MacMath to make a play and snuff out the danger.

It’s hard to give him too much grief on the second goal. Tony Tchani’s shot comes in from point blank range, and he’s really just sticking a foot out in a reactionary way. Still, the mishit negated the offside call and gave Anor an easy tap in.

Ethan White – 5

He was caught ball-watching on the Jairo Arrieta strike that struck the crossbar in the 12th minute. Then, on the first goal, he kept Arrieta onside while the rest of his defense was jogging back on a Columbus counterattack. It’s really tough to defend around midfield in those transitional types of situations. It’s not as easy as “stepping up,” because you have to consider whether or not the player is going to be inside his half or inside your half when the pass is played. Other than those two scenarios, he was solid enough on the day.

Amobi Okugo – 5

Took him and Carroll awhile to get comfortable in their positioning. He was much better in the second half, when he essentially assumed the No. 8 role and pushed further forward. Go figure then, that he earned the primary assist on Zach Pfeffer’s goal from an advanced position inside the Columbus penalty area.

Brian Carroll – 5

This was probably Carroll’s final game in a Union shirt.

His performance on Sunday was much like Okugo’s. When the pair figured out how to position themselves, Carroll sank deeper and Okugo pushed higher. That made things more fluid in the midfield, and evened out the possession numbers.

I’ve always felt that BC played best for Philadelphia when he was alone in the No. 6 role. He had some great games in 2011, and he was really a key part of that playoff team. As he got older, the No. 6 position evolved, and he fell behind guys like Kyle Beckerman, Osvaldo Alonso, and Dax McCarty in the ranks of MLS defensive midfielders.

There’s no shame in that. Carroll was a prototypical d-mid in his prime, and he had a phenomenal MLS career. The game evolves, and the cycle continues.

Andrew Wenger – 4

Probably could have done better with the 28th minute cross that was fired in by Gaddis. Put in a cross or two that missed the mark, and was subbed out early.

Danny Cruz – 6

Lead the team with four shots on goal, with one from the top of the box in the first half, and another from a Wenger cross in the second half. He followed that up with some nice individual work from the right side, where he cut onto his left and hit a curler that was saved by Steve Clark. Worked his typical blue-collar shift, and put in a couple of low crosses, but just couldn’t impact the score sheet.

Cristian Maidana – 5

Fired just wide with his weak foot in the second minute. He had his best spell of the match at the start of the second half, where he began to drift around the field and find space, mostly on the left. That’s unusual, considering that he spent the second half of the season popping up on the right side of the field. Chaco misfired on a wide-open back post cross for Brian Carroll, but served in some decent balls otherwise.

Sebastien Le Toux – 6

Hardly had a sniff until a turn-around effort in the 28th minute. He was too often forced into back-to-goal situations, which isn’t his strong suit in this formation. As bland as it sounds, Le Toux is more successful at latching onto direct service and long balls where his endurance and ability allows him to get into space behind defenders. When he started to drift around and look for the ball in different areas, that loosened things up a bit. Watch him check, receive, and try an overlapping run in the 41st minute of play. That creative movement set up a great scoring chance.

Le Toux was then moved out of the role and into his normal right forward position when Pedro Ribeiro entered for Wenger in the 53rd minute. His idea to float around got him behind the defense and got him a secondary assist on the Union goal.

Substitutes

Pedro Ribeiro – 5

Came in, put in a decent shift, took a hard knock to the head, and had to leave the game. Ribeiro is playing out of position as a center forward, so it’s hard to rate him here. He’s a good kid with great upside, so it will be interesting to see what happens in 2015.

Zach Pfeffer – 7

Scored his first MLS goal, which happened to be the first goal ever scored by a Philadelphia Union homegrown player. He gets a 7 just for making that ghost run (late run) into the box, which was something the team lacked this season. You saw Okugo score a couple of goals in this fashion, but it’s a run that you wouldn’t really see from Maidana or Vincent Nogueira.

Michael Lahoud – n/a

Came in for Carroll and played in the holding spot for the final 17 minutes.

Geiger Counter

Ismail Elfath – 5

Typically one of the worst referees in the league, Elfath was alright Sunday. The second Columbus goal was on the linesman, who I assume ruled that Edu’s touch constituted a “change of possession” and nullified the offside call. There was a little bit of a dust-up between Gaddis and Eric Gehrig late in the game, which was defused rather easily, with a humored Jim Curtin proclaiming from the sidelines, “No one’s going to f$#%^&! do anything. No one’s going to hit anybody. It’s a soccer fight, everyone’s a tough guy.”

Preferred starting XI next season
4-4-1-1

Goalkeeper, left footed left back, center half, center half, right footed right back, Amobi Okugo, Vincent Nogueira, left mid, right mid, Cristian Maidana in the hole, DP striker

 

29 Comments

  1. What was somewhat ironic on the last goal was that if Edu doesn’t touch the ball, it’s an easy save. If Anor doesn’t touch it after Edu deflects it, there’s a decent chance that it’s trickling in just inside the post. If the linesman gets the call right, we’re back where we started with no goal. So 3 people managed to do the “wrong” thing on the play.

    • I get your point but neither Edu’s nor Anor’s reactions can really be classified as “wrong” can they?

      • I think that point is that that was a perfect example of right time, right place. Edu’s touch negates the offsides, which means Anor can touch it, and he gets just enough to knock it in. That play alone perhaps symbolizes the Union’s season in 5 seconds: Hard work, battling back to tie, and even though a guy is clearly offsides and Edu and MacMath were in positions to affect the play, somehow it goes in the net and the Union leave with 0 points. See ya in March.

  2. I heard that yelling with cursing clearly on the broadcast. JP actually apologized to the viewers for the language but I had no idea it was Curtin. I assumed it was a fan but the fact that it was Curtin just makes it better.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Yeah that was funny. “It’s a f—in soccer fight… no one is gonna hit anyone…” Haha. That was good stuff.

  3. The funny thing is that every one keeps saying what a busy offseason this is going to be. I’m not sure that’s a sound prediction. Curtain seems to think Carroll, Lahoud, Cruz, Fred, and Wenger are some of our top players, so even though the rest of us think we need upgrades, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the FO spends zero $ in the offseason and we have basically the same team (minus expansion draft losses and plus some draft choices who will never play a minute) next year. And win 12 games and finish with 45 points and miss a playoff spot. Again. Oh, and why would they go get a striker? Ribiero is a striker, right? Right?

    • Are you making a prediction for 2015, or just recapping previous seasons?

    • Curtin has to say nice things about the guys on his team.

      He’ll push to get the best players the team will allow him to buy/recruit this season. He has nothing to gain with running another average lineup out in 2015.

      I bet the midfield stays the same and that we add a DP striker to the team. I wouldn’t count on any big changes past that. Maybe a new back.

      This team could really use a Bradley Wright-Phillips (what team doesn’t?). We just need to hope we’re not too stingy and can sign a real impactful player. A scorer of goals.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      BALLS OF STEEL if this FO spends zero dollars. Also, there will be a revolt… pitch forks and all. My issue is that what they spend money on will be another keeper and a right footed left back.

    • Does this team really need new players? We need 1 starting-quality forward, 1 backup-quality LB to replace Fabinho, 1 less GK, and 1-2 less CMs. I would be thrilled if we made minimal changes this offseason and focused on consistency.

      • yes we really need new players. First off, Idk why Hopp. and Wheeler weren’t integrated up top at all this season. Together they have done well in the past. Although some players are good in the back, as a whole they are the worst back line in the league. We need players who are disciplined and smart with their decisions. A new coach with more experience would do well too. A lot of things need to change to put this team in the right direction. That includes front office changes and a roster shake up.

      • Hoppenot isn’t the answer. Do people still believe that? The defense should be fine once they land on a steady CB pairing (Edu, Valdes would be my preference). The outside backs are fine. Upgrade to a true LB if there’s one out there, but you can have a very good team that features Williams and Gaddis at the fullback spots.

    • Curtin doesn’t think that.
      Right now Wenger is a starter.
      Cruz is a spot starter.
      The rest are squad players or on the way out.
      We know that, Curtin knows that.
      The FO spent a reasonable amout of money last offseason and it will spend for at least one big signing this summer.
      If it is the right signing, if the line up will be manages properly, if the team will have the discipline to finish out games tose are moore pressing complaints.

    • They’ll almost certainly spend some money in the offseason for a new keeper.

    • Maybe we can get Kennedy (GK) in the Chivas USA clearinghouse draft!

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    Could you imagine if the 2nd offside goal had kept us out of the playoffs?!? Wow…
    .
    And your preferred starting XI for next season is both funny, and kind of sad

  5. So I’m a gambling man. I say Carroll, Lahoud, Cruz and Casey are put up as part of the expansion and retread draft. I hope the Union go after Kenny Cooper from Seattle. He’ll will be up for grabs again.

  6. I left out Fabhino.

  7. The Chopper says:

    Much of what happens in the offseason starts with the Edu question. Is he coming back? He is a guy you want on your team, but there is a sense in the front office that they were not getting their money’s worth and I can’t argue that.

    If he is gone, there is a lot of money to spend and some of it likely ends up in Amobi Okugo’s pocket. If he stays, Okugo may be gone and you are spending less to fill the needs up front and left back.

    Regardless of that, I expect we have seen the last of Carroll, Fred, Fabhino and Hoppenot.

  8. Well the Union have a right back (Gaddis) who gets the job done. And honestly, if they want a left footed left back, the draft is not going to produce those this year. But the starting left back for Louisville is a Union Academy player isn’t he? Shane Campbell? And watching highlights of their games, he seems like he has a deadly left (takes free kicks and corners for them) and scored off a free kick and has four assists this season (from their website stats).

  9. old soccer coach says:

    Firstly the foundational question for the expansion draft is strategic, do you protect you eleven best players by position, or do you protect your best eleven by value, value being some combination of age, cost, “chemistry” compatibility, upside, and technical and tactical qualities as a field player. My own view is that you protect your eleven highest value players and then figure out what tactical formation maximizes their effectiveness, but we do not know what Jim Curtin will recommend to Chris Albright and Nick Sakewicz. We civilians will hear nothing on the subject because such information allows competing organizations to anticipate more accurately what the team will do in early December.

    Second, contrary to all the recent rhetoric, Sakewicz is neither not involved in personnel decisions, nor fully involved in personnel decisions. Never for one moment lose sight of the fact that he is the steward for all the other investors’ money. He very likely does not propose signings, unless the potential signee reached out to him specifically in the beginning and he chose to maintain that pattern (for whatever reason). But he probably reviews them and approves the ones that have major financial implications. He probably approves all of them, officially, but rubber stamps the ones under $50,000 and really, really carefully scrutinizes the ones over -say- $175,000. His non-soccer savvy investors won’t be as likely to ask about Richie Marquez and $36,500 as they will about Maurice Edu and $650,000.

    • Joel Prushan says:

      Thank you. Your second point about Sack is what I’ve been trying to get people to understand. Also in terms of expansion draft I’ve actually seen a potential strategy in regards to goalies.

      Protect MacMAth and hope the no picks up Rais because of the cost. If a team picks up someone else from the Union they get an extra protection spot which they can cover him with. Now you have (ideally) a very strong 1 and 2 where either could start any given day of the week.

      This hopes to leverage the reputation Blake has and that the Union think he really is not worth that much and would rather lose him than someone else.

      • Blake can’t be taken in the expansion draft because of his GA status. He’s auto-protected.
        .
        That said, I agree with your plan of protecting MacMath and leaving Mbohli unprotected, assuming, of course, they don’t arrange a trade beforehand. I don’t think either team would take Mbohli, between his salary, the fact Kennedy is available, and his history of not sticking with any one club team.
        .
        If Orlando or NYCFC takes him, you have a little bit of egg on your face but you move on. If they come out with all three keepers still, we can then work to trade one – or invent a new formation that puts three keepers in at the same time.

      • I would have no problem with leaving MacMath unprotected. He has shown time and time again that he is extremely inexperienced and no one can deny that. Yes he has improved a lot over this year but my problem is his inconsistency and decision making at critical times in matches. If we were just playing Pks the entire match then I would do everything in my power to keep him but that’s not reality. Unfortunately all three of our keepers have looked similar in their play. I feel we still have a keeper conflict that needs to be solved.

      • Why in the world would MacMath re-up as a backup after starting for 100 games here? He’s gone.

    • Exactly.

      • But his message is so thick with self defense and umbrage at his critics that he prevents most fans from understanding. Candidly, I think he’s painted himself into the corner of promising ownership results that can’t be squared with the results he promises the Union loyal. All his chips are on the new CBA & more TV money to find a few more diamonds in the rough.

  10. PD in Wilmington says:

    As long as Danny Cruz is our most energetic and hustle-filled player, this team is doomed to fail.

  11. The Black Hand says:

    We’ll get ’em next year!!!

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