Preseason

Stock rising/falling: Union 1-1 (5-3) Crew

Photo: Courtesy of Columbus Crew

Call it a Bradenton Particular.

Conditions were challenging in Philadelphia’s penalty kick win over Columbus Crew on Wednesday night, with high winds and fog throughout the game.

The fog also made viewing the stream of the game challenging for fans trying to follow the action. Here’s an admittedly fog obscured look at players who impressed or otherwise in the win.

Rising

Fernando Aristeguieta

This is the easy one. Three goals in two games, even if the majority of those goals were against a pick-up team, is exactly what the Union and their fans needed to see. The Venezuelan was left alone to turn in Sheanon Williams’ first half cross, but the excellently headed finish points to a calmness that points to a finisher’s mindset. More than the goal, though, Aristeguieta impressed with his willingness to press and get involved in buildups the way Conor Casey did to great effect last season.

Conor Casey

Speaking of the big pirate, Casey played one of the more interesting role in Wednesday night’s matchup. Starting the second half next to Dzenan Catic, Casey tended to drop deeper than Catic defensively, letting the rookie force Columbus wide then cutting off the pass into the checking midfielder. These tactics proved quite successful against the Crew’s second team, and it will be interesting to see whether Jim Curtin opts to employ a similar look against a first eleven in the near future. Going forward, Casey was involved and intelligent, springing the wingers and helping them find isolated pockets from they could attack the fullbacks. Also, Casey made up for an in-game penalty miss with a stellar finish in the shootout.

Eric Ayuk

The trialist took advantage of his isolation to drive at the Columbus defense on more than one occasion. Most notably, Ayuk used some spider-like moves to squeeze between two defenders and draw a penalty that Casey promptly panenka’d into the goalie’s hands. It’s a small complaint for a young attacker, but Ayuk tended to stay high and wide, leaving Raymond Lee alone in the back. The Crew took advantage of this space and managed to overload Lee to put in a series of good crosses.

Rais Mbolhi

The Union need the 2015 Mbolhi narrative to stop before the “but” in, “He’s good but not worth the price.” Wednesday’s performance was a good place to start. Mbolhi was vocal, moved around his box well, and was good with his feet despite some iffy back passes. He can’t be blamed for giving up a one-on-one goal, and he certainly came out on top of Justin Meram in the end with a spectacular diving save in the shootout.

Maurice Edu

Playing behind two out-and-out attacking midfielders, Edu had a lot to do tracking Federico Higuain. Yet, it seems the more that is asked of Edu, the better he does. Without a second sitting midfielder, Edu was active, decisive, and restrained in his forward runs, giving the Union midfield a strong central base. It helped that Columbus seemed intent on exploring wide areas, but with Higuain in the middle, a momentary defensive lapse can very quickly turn into a game-changing moment. With Steven Vitoria in the mix and Zach Pfeffer pushing for minutes, it’s looking more and more certain that Edu’s place is in defensive midfield and that the consistency of his play will be a huge factor in the Union’s 2015 success or failure.

Raymond Lee

Look, the Union need fullback depth and Lee has been nothing if not steady this preseason. On a team that is looking at Fabinho-or-bust behind Williams and Gaddis, Lee is doing exactly what he should to make him tough to cut. It’s not flashy, but it’s solid. And it’s solid without a ton of defensive help up his wing.

Richie Marquez

Once again, Marquez did everything he needed to do to to look like a MLS-ready defender. On a team without much depth in defense, it is looking more and more like Marquez will earn a regular spot in the first 18. Most impressive was the young defender’s tracking of crossfield runs, as he snuffed out a few chances that were reminiscent of the Jairo Arrieta goal that ended the Union’s playoff hopes last season.

Falling (or at least staying in place)

Ray Gaddis

Gaddis is a tremendously talented athlete and a strong one-on-one defender who can shut down an opposing winger with his aggressive and physical approach. So it was interesting to see Columbus test Gaddis again and again by letting Ethan Finlay simply ride him down the wing, using the wide man’s strength as a counter to the defender’s aggression. On more than one occasion Finlay held off Gaddis until he had enough room to cross, including an early chance that Higuain finishes every other time he gets it.

Dzenan Catic

A mix of good and bad from the rookie. Catic’s willing defending and good angles should not be overlooked, but that’s hardly enough to earn minutes off the bench. For the second straight match, Catic failed to get any good looks on goal, and a guy with a reputation as a wonderful finisher needs to start finding ways to show off that part of his game. Once again, the Union’s service left plenty to be desired, but that hardly absolves the striker. He is a willing runner, but there is a hesitancy in his decision-making that needs to be ironed out as he asserts himself at the next level.

Michael Lahoud

Lahoud didn’t get a ton of time alone in the middle, but he continues to show off the traits that make him tough to get rid of but hard to rely on. He covers a ton of ground, helps his defenders, and generally plays safe passes. But then he leaves a pass short in a deep position or fails to clear when he should, and you realize you’ve been holding your breath whenever he has the ball. As it stands, Lahoud should be the primary backup for Edu and Nogueira. But Brian Carroll will start stealing minutes unless Lahoud eliminates the errors. Leaving aside anything Lahoud did during regular play on Wednesday, his best moment was in the shootout, when he had to score to win it for Philly and fired what can only be described as a warp-speed blast into the lower left corner of the net.

15 Comments

  1. Don’t forget our lad Zach, who last year couldn’t even get into the 18 and now was put with the top group rather than guys like Carroll, Lahoud and Cruz.

  2. I think Cruz has to be falling a bit. He is way behind Wenger now on LW and Sapong comes off the bench before he does, and maybe Pfeffer does too. If Eric Ayuk makes the team, he is younger, faster, with more technical skill, and cheaper than Cruz. Between injuries and not standing out in games, I think Cruz has had a rough preseason so far.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      The on field advantage thaCruz has over Ayuk and McGlaughlin is that he has proven it on an MLS field against multiple MLS starters. Eric and Jimmy have yet to do that; the tea leaves read favorably, but the proposition remains unoroven

      • Proven what? After watching him for a few years, my opinion is that Cruz does not have the skill to play at the MLS level.
        .
        I’d much rather see the younger players given a chance this summer.

      • So I’ll start by saying I too would rather see the younger players. That said, Danny Cruz is only 25 years old – it’s not like he’s some over-the-hill guy taking up a roster spot. Cruz took strides forward in his skills in 2014 compared to 2013. He seemed, at least to me, to be a little better on the ball. Especially taking on a defender 1v1.
        .
        He shouldn’t start more than 1 or 2 games a year. Against an older defense that’s likely to get more tired, he’s a nice option off the bench. He’s also a nice option off the bench when a defender is already on a yellow card, because he has a knack for getting under people’s skin.
        .
        With limited minutes, I think the Union could take better advantage of his skills while covering up his weaknesses.
        .
        Now, as I said at the top, with all that said I too would rather see Pfeffer or McLaughlin or Ayuk getting those minutes. But Cruz isn’t as bad as some people say; I’m not at all saying he’s an all-star. Just that he has a specific skill set, and that skill set can be a useful tool off the bench if it’s used correctly.

      • Completely agree, MSG.

    • I agree. We haven’t heard the extent of his hamstring issue from yesterday, but if he misses any significant time, he might find himself buried on the bench (or even out of the 18) when he gets healthy if a few of Pfeffer, Sapong, Ayuk or even McLaughlin are making an impact. He essentially hasn’t had a preseason.

  3. Watching the IMG video streams is a challenge in and of itself, regardless of weather conditions 🙁

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I stand in awe of Davis Russell’s ability to identify players, especially if he was using the same video feed as the rest of us.

      • It was written somewhere on here that Russell was in the press box, but it was still impressive since it seemed to be trending toward the Bears-Eagles “Fog Bowl” out there at times.

  4. I agree that Rais can’t be faulted on the goal. He played it rather well and forced the forward to make a tough chip shot which unfortunately was executed well. As I mentioned elsewhere, my biggest beef was with the inability to adjust to the wind. When kick after kick was sailing out of bounds just shy of midfield, he should have considered switching to short passes on the goal kicks to maintain possession.
    .
    I’m not going to take too much away from Lahoud for the goal either. He was asked to fill in at a position he had never played before and slipped on a wet field. That happens. And, as others have mentioned, during the season Edu and Williams both move into that position before he does.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    With respect to Raymond Lee, was he not drafted because he has a left foot? If so (which is what I think I remember), in my eyes he deserves a mention for being a midfielder learning flank defense in the channel of his non-dominant foot, successfully for the most part.

  6. I don’t think Rais is alone in the blame for never adjusting to the wind. Why in world didn’t Curtin pull one of his midfielders or defenders over and tell them to track back to receive passes on the ground from Mbolhi? Another example of situation where Curtin fails to adjust to circumstances or tactics during the game. That type of mindless unwillingness to adjust is the mark of a coach in over his head, regardless of all the silly Philly toughness and winning games 1-0 talk.

    • I would be more concerned about your point if this was midsason. But since Rais was playing his first 90 minutes with the full squad vs. MLS competition, I am sure he was trying to gauge where his teammates will be and where they can go when he decides to distribute quick and long. Yes the wind made that strategy less effective, but for a pre season excercise it was fine. And in the first :45 minutes, even if the passes did not connect, Sapong and Nando applied good pressure and managed to more often than not keep the ball in the Columbus half.

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