Player ratings

Analysis & Player Ratings: Union 0-0 Rapids

Photo: Paul Rudderow

For a game with no goals and few chances, it is incredibly easy to identify the major storyline.

In the first half, Philadelphia Union played what was nominally a 4-4-2 but, in practice, resembled a back four behind a giant hexagon with nothing in the middle. After 45 minutes of playing kickball with a laughably disorganized Colorado side, a head injury to CJ Sapong led Jim Curtin to introduce Cristian Maidana and switch to a 4-1-4-1. The results were immediate and positive.

The most interesting question is whether Curtin would have been aggressive enough to make a personnel and tactical change if Sapong had not sustained a concussion. Whether you look at it visually or statistically, there are only two possible conclusions to draw: a) The Union and Rapids are both very, very bad at soccer, or b) Both coaches made some oopsies in the tactics department.

Since Pablo Mastroeni did noticeably little to address his team’s issues, let’s look at the Rapids first.

COL successful passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

COL successful passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Colorado calamity

I’m just… what the… why did… How do you even address Colorado’s approach on Saturday? The fact that Mastroeni can claim validation because he’s heading home with a road point is simply absurd. Let’s start with the basics.

The Rapids came out in an interesting 4-2-2-2 that — presumably — was designed to put pressure on the Union central defenders (smart) and spread out off turnovers to allow Marcelo Sarvas to have a plethora of options to pick out with his precise long passes (also smart). So why didn’t anything pan out as planned?

Colorado unsuccessful passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Colorado unsuccessful passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Perhaps that isn’t fair. In the first half, Sarvas did occasionally find time and space. Both Sapong and Aristeguieta worked hard to make sure one of them was either in the passing lane to Sarvas or on his tail, which was probably Jim Curtin’s plan. However, these are strikers; sometimes they get caught high. And they did. In those moments, the Rapids’ issues were self-inflicted.

Problem 1: Rookie Dominique Badji looked like a rookie. His runs were indecisive, he took up Gabriel Torres’ space, he didn’t stay high enough to scare Steven Vitoria with his speed, and he didn’t sit deep enough to link the attack. But all that said: He’s a rookie 4th round pick. Playing on the road. Against an organized defense and no-longer-messin’-around Maurice Edu. So yeah, Badji’s performance should not have been a surprise.

Mastroeni before his famous "Sawing my team's shape in half" trick

Mastroeni moments before his famous “Sawing my team’s shape in half” trick

Problem 2: Vincente Sanchez and Dillon Serna were awful. Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams are good defenders, but they are not magicians. So it is safe to assume that the tactics of the one guy at PPL Park who definitely looks like a magician was at least partly to blame for his wingers’ positioning. Sanchez is a dangerous player and, generally, an intelligent mover between the lines. But he is a much different player than an Andrew Wenger or a Sebastien Le Toux. Sanchez prefers to be involved in buildups, operating in spaces further from goal than a typical 4-3-3 winger.

Against the Union, Sanchez might as well have been Ray Gaddis’ shadow, because he was rarely far from the Union defender. Without the speed to pin Gaddis back, or the freedom to leave his wing, the Uruguyan cut a sad figure.

Heat map for Sanchez and Serna. The blue parts get brighter if/when you do stuff.

Heat map for Sanchez and Serna. The blue parts get brighter if/when you do stuff.

On the other side, Dillon Serna was busy making Sanchez look like a threat. In an effort to make Serna’s impact on this analysis equal to his impact on the match, I will simply direct your attention to the heat map.

Problem 3: Problem Recognition. Mastroeni waited until the 55th minute to insert Dillon Powers, a certifiably useful player. And even after Maidana and Nogueira spent the first 20 minutes of the second half dragging the Rapids’ all over the field, Mastroeni left Lucas Pittinari in the midfield to chase ghosts instead of inserting actual defensive midfielder Sam Cronin. This could go on, but there are plenty of pictures in this post to illustrate how poorly Colorado played on Saturday.

Union unsuccessful passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Union unsuccessful passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Union issues: The return of 2014 and all its crosses

Looking at the Union’s passing chart compared to the Rapids’ passing charts, the first thing you might notice is how little action took place in the midfield in the first half. Simply put, fans enjoyed 45 minutes of soccer volleyball.

The second thing you might notice is how much the Union improved in the second half while the Rapids kept on keeping on.

However, as Philly took control of the game, the demons of 2014 reared their ugly heads. As involved as Chaco Maidana was after joining the fray, that is how uninvolved Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger were in the second half.

Colorado tackles (green), interceptions (blue) and clearances (purple) in 2nd half (L) vs Houston in the 2nd half at PPL Park Sept. 20, 2014.

Colorado tackles (green), interceptions (blue) and clearances (purple) in 2nd half (L) vs Houston in the 2nd half at PPL Park Sept. 20, 2014.

Colorado sat deeper and deeper as they sought to track Maidana’s runs and failed to generate anything related to offense. The result, for Wenger and Le Toux, looked a lot like last September’s 0-0 tie against Houston, in which Dom Kinnear showed his organizational gifts and smothered Philly’s counterattack before it got out of second gear. And much like they did against Houston, the Union resorted to an assortment of ineffective crosses.

All Union crosses vs Colorado

All Union crosses vs Colorado

Nobody looking at a stats chalkboard from Saturday night’s match should have any trouble figuring out where Bobby Burling (well, prior to the 68th minute) and Axel Sjoberg were: Just follow the 20 red arrows. It is true that, to some extent, Philly had to take what the opponent gave them. But they didn’t have to embrace it as some sort of possible solution. And notably, every time Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger got deep into the opponent’s territory, they chose to either cross the ball or take an opponent on. Granted: This is sort of their job. But at the expense of building pressure against such an inept and subpar back line?

Although one may expect an attacking midfielder to step into the aforementioned hole in the center of the Union’s otherwise hexagonal attacking shape, that is not the type of player Maidana has ever been. Instead, he drifted off to the edges of the box and urged Edu and Nogueira forward. Edu’s passing chart is particularly notable for how much more involved he is once Maidana helps the Union establish extended possessions around the Rapids’ box.

Wenger (11) and Le Toux (9) all passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Wenger (11) and Le Toux (9) all passes in 1st half (L) and 2nd half.

Andrew Wenger has received many plaudits for his 2014 performances on the wing, and rightly so. However, Wenger is still fully capable of looking like just another athletic MLS winger who dribbles with his head down and produces either flash or fizzle. The moment of danger Wenger created on Saturday clanged off the crossbar, providing a respectable counterweight against the multiple times he completely overlooked an open man at the top of the box. In other words, Wenger’s greatest strength — the mindset of a striker, but in a wide position — can also be a weakness if he doesn’t control it. Dribbling with your head down around the box can produce exciting, memorable moments. But it also allows a defense to recover and leads teammates to search the heavens for the key pass that got away.

It is this unidimensionality in Wenger’s game that makes him so easy to disappear by simply playing deep. Lauded as an intelligent footballer by more than one coach and scout, it is surprising that Wenger does not do a better job of making in-game adjustments. Sebastien Le Toux is prone to a similar hardheadedness, but the Frenchman has the stamina to keep playing the sprint card long after others are soft-legged. Wenger has no such reserves.

Passing for Nogueira 1st half (top L), Edu 1st half (bottom L), Nogueira 2nd half (top R) and Edu 2nd half.

Passing for Nogueira 1st half (top L), Edu 1st half (bottom L), Nogueira 2nd half (top R) and Edu 2nd half.

Midfield shape: Maidana changes the game

The introduction of Maidana encouraged Edu forward (in concert with Burling’s red card, of course), but it had a different effect on Vincent Nogueira. If you’re like me, you thought Maidana would free up Nogueira to roam and play some of his beautiful long passes.

Instead, the Argentine’s arrival gave the Frenchman the final point he needed to build triangles in the midfield. With Maidana in the channels, Nogueira could drift over to the fullbacks — most often to Sheanon Williams — and play small connecting passes. As the defense stepped up, Nogueira used Edu as an outlet, giving the captain time on the ball.

In the first half, Le Toux and Wenger were against the back four, and Aristeguieta was in the process of discovering just how many times a giant can run up your back before you get to experience the subtle melodies of Silviu Petrescu’s whistle.

As soon as Maidana entered, that all changed.

Overall tactics: The identities of Wenger and Le Toux

Hopefully, analysis of the second half will be the most useful part of this post. The flaws in the Union’s 4-4-2 were easy to see but largely unearthed by Colorado’s valiant attempt to set an extremely low bar for their 2015 season. Through heavy rationalization, one can arrive at a scenario by which the Union would generate offense by spraying the ball to the wings and attacking the box with big, strong strikers. However, the extent to which such a formation sacrifices control of the midfield and begs an already lob-happy Ethan White to practice his punting game negates any advantage getting that second striker in the box brings.

The inevitable conclusion is that Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger are not wingers: They are strikers. Calling Wenger a target winger is pretty fun, because that position didn’t really exist before. But it also risks disguising what he really is.

Both Wenger and Le Toux are just forwards that use width to create a runway that can be used to attack the goal at speed. Note that both players, despite being wingers, are only marginally effective in wide areas. Their true comparative advantage over normal wingers is that they tend to act like strikers around the goal: Picking good runs, shooting from good positions, and generally feeling comfortable in the tight spaces the central part of the attacking third affords.

There is nothing at all wrong Le Toux and Wenger playing like strikers. Until you play a 4-4-2. Which requires wide midfielders. Which the Union’s wide players are not.

Player ratings

Rais Mbolhi – 6

The only Colorado player who took a shot anywhere near the box was Bobby Burling. And yes, the Union defense was solid and organized on the rare occasions when the Rapids ventured forward. But, unfortunately for Mbolhi, it is hard to give a goalie more than a 6 when he only deals with two shots — neither on target — and needs to punch once. There was simply nothing for Mbolhi to do. His season basically starts next week.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Williams settled for dumping the ball into the box too often, even in the second half. But he may also have caused Dillon Serna to experience an existential crisis, as the midfielder was so invisible he must have started to wonder if he ever existed at all. Williams had five interceptions and was very quick to step into the middle chasing loose balls after Colorado once again went vertical. It was a smart, useful performance from a player looking to take his consistently above-average performances up a notch in 2015.

Ethan White – 5

White won the lottery with Badji, a speed merchant yet to develop a feel for moving a defense around. If there is one part of White’s game that is appointment viewing, it is his speed (though Fabian Castillo showed it has limits in the US Open Cup semi-final last year). The point is that Badji did little to trouble White. What was troubling was a continued reliance on long balls out of the back from a guy that is now locked in as a starter. Even light pressure convinced White to boot deep. To continue his development, White needs to play a bit faster with the ball at his feet.

Steven Vitoria – 6

Whether by Mastroeni’s design or, more likely, by dumb chance, Vitoria received much less action than White. It will take another game to better assess his abilities at the MLS level.

Ray Gaddis – 6

Did Gaddis have more than one overlapping run? Unworried by Sanchez’s lack of speed, Gaddis could play high, but even in the second half this did not translate into offensive involvement. The Union’s left back may prove a wonderful companion for the less fleet-footed Vitoria, but he remains very much a work in progress on the left. The reticence to use his left peg means Gaddis is either invisible or predictable, but rarely adventurous.

Maurice Edu – 8

Overall, the Union’s strongest performer. Edu was a stout defender of the back line in the first half and had the freedom to dribble forward in the second. In a game that fit his skillset, Edu did very well. With Nogueira far from his most effective, Edu was required to patrol the center of the pitch alone for long periods. He did that while managing to help on the wings on those rare occasions that Colorado got the ball to their wide players. A good showing from a player who was hardly challenged. Real Salt Lake will bring a much tougher test.

Vincent Nogueira – 5

In the first half, Nogueira was being counted on to spring breakouts by spraying passes out to the wings. At least, that’s the only thing I can imagine he is supposed to do in a 4-2-4. A second half performance featuring more small exchanges with the fullbacks led to more probing passes, and Nogueira looked noticeably more comfortable operating from the right channel after Maidana took up the left.

Andrew Wenger – 5

He came closest to scoring, but also missed more than a few good passes because he was determined to complete a dribble. The fact that James flippin’ Riley is a starting fullback in MLS right now tells you how much of a useful player Wenger can be this season; Riley alone was no match for Wenger. But this isn’t 2014: Wenger isn’t surprising anyone. The one adjustment Colorado did make was to give Riley help after Wenger spanked the crossbar in the 21st minute. Wenger may have been given a very simple brief to attack fullbacks at speed, but his final third decision making will have to improve if he is going to become the kind of devastating force many think he can be.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

It is flat out strange how Sebastien Le Toux adjusted to Maidana’s entry in the second half. Instead of hanging out wide and playing off the Argentine, Le Toux moved forward and ended up joining Aristeguieta on the edge of the box. Le Toux playing with his back to goal? Is that really a good place for him? It was unclear whether this was due to Le Toux’s natural inclination to get forward or explicit instructions from Jim Curtin, but either way it minimized a potentially impactful player’s role.

CJ Sapong – 6

Sapong’s passing chart looks like what you would see if an attacking midfielder woke up one day and decided to play with his back to goal in the midfield: Lots of short, safe passes and very little action close to the opposition box. I could say more, but why? Sapong is a good player, but he is never going to make his mark in aerial duels with Bobby Burling and a Swedish guy even bigger than Burling.

Fernando Aristeguieta – 7

Four shots in the box, even if only one was on net, is a surprisingly good return for such a choppy game. Aristeguieta was abused from minute one, yet he continued plugging. The Rapids’ center backs stopped following Aristeguieta deep once Maidana entered the game, and he played a good hold up game once he was able to spend consecutive plays without Burling’s knee lodged between vertebrae. Aristeguieta is big, but he also moves very well. The Union may want to focus on a style that maximizes the utility of that movement rather than focusing on Aristeguieta’s size.

Cristian Maidana – 8

He’s here to create chances. And that’s what he did after coming on. Four key passes in 45 minutes is a fine return, especially against a defense that sat so deep. It is clear that Maidana belongs in the first eleven, particularly against equal or inferior competition, and extra-super-particularly at home. The next question is how to utilize Maidana and the Union wing players against teams that sit deep. It was a question Jim Curtin could not answer last year, and he couldn’t answer it Saturday either.

Zach Pfeffer – n/a

One shot, one pass. This sub was at least five minutes too late (especially considering neither Wenger or Le Toux was involved in any sense past the 80th minute).

Conor Casey – n/a

Two shots, one pass. Again: At least five minutes too late. Le Toux was already playing as a less effective version of Casey when he came off.

Geiger Counter

Silviu Petrescu – 4

Not many big decisions, but considering everyone and their mother knew the Colorado central defenders were aiming for Aristeguieta, he let Burling and Sjoberg get rough the entire first half before accepting reality and going into the break having carded both of them.


  1. Thoughts on the game.
    Other than the River End the stadium was empty. I know it was cold but thats not Philly Tough thats not Philly Tough at all.
    If Pablo Mastroeni is going to coach a team of supervillians he better have the facial hair of a supervillian… oh wait nevermind. Carry on.
    I have no idea why in the first half why Sapong was the target forward and why Aristeguieta was the one to go out to the wings. Just because you can kick the entire back lines ass and drags their corpses towards goal doesn’t mean you should. He would have been better served staying in the middle and trying to head the inevitable crosses home.
    If you didn’t guess Aristeguieta has a mean streak. he nets a few and he’ll be popular here.
    As of now I’m completely sold on Rais Mbolhi as our keeper. I am not sold on Vitoria and White tho.
    The Union had zero ideas once they got a man up. Zero. They were cycling through like a power play waiting for what? Colorado to die? To genuflect and open a path to goal? They lost all intensity. It seemed like they were trying to tie.
    I agree the subs came too late
    Maidana should have started
    I am very blah about Jim Curtin.
    New scarf tho.

    Edit: Can we have anyone but Letoux take corners from now on?
    Edit 2: i know people who said if we hit our chances in the first half we would all feel better about this game. While true and we had some bad luck. We failed. and they failed to create good luck even with a man up. so. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

    • I disagree on the stadium. It was late filling for sure, but was mostly full until about 7ish minutes left, when people started filing out. Not great I know, but they were there for most of it. All other points I agree with though.
      Of course I switch to a 9 game plan this year, and the team gives out legit scarves.

      • I have to disagree all things considered the attendance was decent. I didn’t get in til probably the 15th minute because there was a train passing between the outter lots and the stadium which held a pretty big group of us back.

        and once the rapids were man down they were perfectly happy parking the bus and trying for a point. They played very ugly slow soccer. I would have liked to see them get hit for time wasting but i am obviously a bit biased

        this was supposed to be a reply to the top comment

      • i saw that train passing through the 113 tunnel. i was surprised at the lack of a horn and the unfortunate timing at kickoff.
        it filled a bit more, but the “sold” vs “actual” were off by a few thousand.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Starting off strong, Sieve. I agree with every word of it.
      We might need a YouTube clip, that reflects our Matchday 1 display…

    • ‘I agree the subs came too late’
      +1. People complain about the formation, but *this* is my main worry about Curtin, if it continues. He seemed so indecisive about subs last year that he wouldn’t pull the trigger until it was too late. And the same thing happened Saturday; Pfeffer needs more than 5 minutes to find a place on the field. Make up your mind and go with it, Coach.

  2. I can’t tell you how much I missed these posts. Great article as always, even if I don’t agree with all points.
    It’s hard to judge a game like this, where an entire half was spent in the wrong formation that put more than half the team in spots where they aren’t comfortable. Not to mention, I’ve never seen so many clutches, grabs and actual attempts at pile drivers. The first half was brutal on many fronts, while the second half was better except for finishing.
    I’ll go more with good and bad. Good was Edu, Maidana, Nando and the fullbacks. Bad was Le toux, White and Curtin. Everyone else pretty much played how expected, or were rarely challenged. One big positive out of this game is the authority out of the back that M’Bolhi and Vitoria seem to have.
    Small Points – The referee was a joke, that Colorado CB is a freaking monster, awful set piece service in first half, Casey is a great late sub option, game 1 definitely not in Curtin’s favor.

  3. The Black Hand says:

    8 for Edu??? I didn’t see that Edu…

    • I saw an Edu that shut pretty much everything down, and was part of the attack as well. The rock in the midfield.
      For comparison, I watched the Orlando/NYCFC game to check in on Okugo. He basically played as a 5th defender since his partner, Higuita is much better on the ball moving forward. Sorry to say, not missing Okugo…..

      • The Black Hand says:

        Edu looked slow. Poor vision, on the ball. No cohesion with Noguiera. He turned back play far too often…when up man. I hated his showing, to be honest!! His performance would have been great…if he were a CB.
        Okugo had an excellent first match with Orlando. What didn’t you like???
        We are nowhere near both of those clubs…

      • Not what I didn’t like. He was a perfectly serviceable #6 and nothing more. Nothing special so no, I don’t think he will be missed as much as some people think. Same thing with Zac McMath. In the end, we have a better keeper, no question.
        As far as comparison, NYFC looked plodding at best and David Villa looked very green when confronted with the physicality of MLS. Kaka, on the other hand, looks like he is going to be a special player in MLS. Looking forward to these matches!

      • I agree with article above. As a CDM that is more than just a destroyer, Edu did well….

      • The Black Hand says:

        I respect your opinion…but humbly disagree.

      • JBH- except when a good team makes the Union pay for his 2 turnovers outside the other box and happy jaunt back.
        I have argued Edu would show his value and be an exceptional MLS player this season, we will see.

      • Funny about a good No. 6 being a good No. 6.
        that Amobi Okugo is a good No. 6.

      • azog d'filer says:

        Yes, Okugo is a good #6. Edu is more of a #8 and can join in the attack and that is fine.
        If your back line needs to be fanatically shielded, you need a stay-at-home #6 but better CDMs are integral to any attack and I agree that Okugo is simply NOT that. He is great for shielding the back 4 and scoring on set peices, but don’t count on him to be your playmaker out of the back. Edu can be more of a deep playmaker. Different skill set altogether and if you want to argue about turn-overs. I also watched the ORlando/NYC game and Okugo had 1 huge turnover and a few other minor ones that ORL was lucky not to get punished for.
        Playing out of the back means taking risks and you will lose the ball sometimes. That’s why there are 2 CBs behind him.

      • I watched Okugo and am a fan of his also, but I didn’t see him do anything better than Edu. I am not going to go out of my way to look for reasons and dream scenarios to find unwarranted faults with Edu’s game. I will say that was a mighty big whole left for Diskerud and Nemec to keep exploiting while Okugo was suposed to cover and missed. First Union game, first Orlando game etc. Nearly every team in MLS had the same result or similar to the Union and showed the same rust or is getting used to new players and systems. As someone who will jump all over them if they don’t live up to potential, I don’t see this as a time to panic or even knit pick.

  4. This is great, Adam, and it only helps that you start by recognizing what I always called the “doughnut formation” that my youth teams played, leaving a hole in the center. (Points to you for being gracious and describing it as “a giant hexagon”. I don’t think that the geometry skills for my players had hit the point of understanding a hexagon.) I take a lot of positive feeling from the fact that the Union were able to hold possession like they did, even without any center to the formation for the first half. Colorado had a lot to do with that, since they seemed intent on playing kickball, not controlling anything.

  5. The biggest concern from this game for me is the fact that Curtin talked about this exact type of game all off season – getting points when they’re the better team. This is the situation that this team has consistently failed in for 5 seasons, and when Burling was sent off my first thought was “please don’t fail this again.” They were CLEARLY the better team when it was 11-on-11, but once they went up a man they didn’t convince me they still were. I would’ve made a move at that point to change something up, and I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference, but I’d be willing to try anything to make sure they get 3 points when they have a man advantage. There’s been one to many Septembers of thinking “if we only had 2 more points.”

    • I didn’t view this episode of “playing up a man” in the same way it has been in the past. The “physicality” of the game had taken its toll. The Union should have been up a goal (assuming LeToux converts after the handball) and probably up a man, much earlier.

      In the past, they had been known to not only not score with an extra man, but even give up goals! Colorado parked the bus and I agree that the changes need to have been made 5-10 minutes earlier. 10 minutes of an extra man and no effect should have been an instant note of “hey, let’s get someone else in here”.

  6. It is going to be another long season with a coaching change before the end.

    • The Black Hand says:

      A tad bit hast, with your analysis…but I can’t say I disagree. Colorado were SO poor that it made us LOOK better. Truthfully…we were very poor, across the board.
      Miserable display of club management!!!

    • This is my fear for the year. We play organized defense and try to “grind out” uninspiring, boring games and end up with a whole bunch of draws or worse.
      I hope I am wrong.

  7. My thoughts:

    Leaving Maidana out of the starting XI is absurd. Period. I was shocked and appalled to see this (even before the half was actually played). My respect for Curtin just went down substantially. Hopefully he realizes what a mistake that was and doesn’t do it again. Anybody can make a mistake… as long as you learn from it.

    Colorado played like a bunch of complete goons. The ref let them, for too long, before getting serious with those colored objects in his pocket.

    Nogueira was, especially by his usual standard, just terrible. His passing was way off, even in the second half when the formation changed to allow more positive work.

    I cannot understand why White should be having distribution problems. Mo Edu should be right in front of him as an outlet, and if he’s covered, Nogueira should be buzzing around in the vicinity. This is exactly in both players’ wheelhouses, and they are both very talented. They need to be told to compensate a little for White’s difficulty by retreating a little to get the ball from him and start the attack.

    Aristoguieta and Sapong are too similar to play up top together. I could possible see Casey playing with one of them, because Casey is actually quite adept at dropping deep and finding an open man for a pass, but not those two. But I think that if the Union really want to try a 2-striker set, the second striker needs to be Le Toux. Let him run off Fernando the way he ran off our last Venezuelan striker. I’d play the midfield nominally in a Y-shaped formation, with Wenger on the left, Maidana on the right, Nogueira behind them, and Edu behind Nogueira. Maidana would cut in toward the center of the pitch where he belongs anyway, leaving room for Williams to rampage up the right sideline. Wenger would mostly stay wide and play more offensively, with Gaddis staying home to provide cover.

    Colorado is an awful team. So, dropping points to an awful team… at home… using a misguided formation… it’s like Groundhog Day.

    • I completely agree with you that Curtin should’ve started Maidana – and the evidence to support that was clear. However, I’ll give him the pass under the thinking that he did that because he sensed Colorado was not a very good team, coupled with the fact that he wanted to try this formation out, and he might as well do it at home against a bad team. That being said, I am thankful it didn’t work because his decision for next Saturday is now a no-brainer. However, Sapong would’ve been a nice addition around the 80th minute against a back line who lost one player and was playing with another yellow.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Venezuela Striker? Ruiz was from Guatemala. Of whom am I not thinking?

      • hobosocks says:

        He means Moreno. Don’t forget that when Le Toux and Moreno played up top together, Seba was legitimately in the MVP conversation. Ale was a great forward and a huge part of Le Toux’s success that year. He doesn’t seem to be remembered as fondly as a player for this team as he deserves to be though.

    • hobosocks says:

      Totally agree that with two strikers the second striker must be Le Toux. It’s like every coach in the league is allergic to using him in his best role.
      Did you watch the NYRB preseason game? Curtin tried Casey in exactly the role you discuss, but it didn’t work very well (despite the 3-1 win). Casey’s passing is much better than most people give him credit for, but he’s not a number 10 instinctively and he doesn’t have the wheels to be a threat in the box AND come back to collect the ball to distribute. I think Curtin wants Casey’s brain and feet in Sapong’s body, and I don’t think he’s going to get it.

      • ” I think Curtin wants Casey’s brain and feet in Sapong’s body, and I don’t think he’s going to get it.”

        Now, that would be a hell of a player!

      • I know it didn’t work in the NYRB preseason game (based on the reports — I didn’t see myself) but I’d still consider it worth trying. Casey generally takes several games to get untracked anyway.

  8. Hezekiah Ezekial Petershwim says:

    Gaddis and Wenger rated too low, Edu and Aristeguita rated too high. Otherwise I agree.

  9. Andy Muenz says:

    I’m not going to point to anyone specifically, but the ratings seem a bit high. The average is just above a 6 despite the fact that all the Union managed was a 0-0 tie at home against one of the worst teams in the league. For a 0-0 tie in Seattle, then I could definitely see numbers like this, but for this game it seems like the average has to be closer to a 4.5.

    • To be fair, outside of the scoreline or fouls committed, the Union dominated the stat sheet.
      60% possession, 16-2 SOG, 4-0 SOT, 5-1 corners
      I would say the team played “above average” which is what made this draw “points dropped” instead of a “point earned”.

  10. The worst part about the 4-2-4 is that almost all of our players are better suited to the 4-3-3. Why even bother with Nogueira if you’re never going to play a ball in the midfield? At the very least, you need one of the middle two strikers to have some semblance of speed, right? Somebody who can make a run that actually tests the defense? If Curtin is committed to the 4-2-4 (which…why…just why…), I think the change has to be moving Wenger in to the middle, benching Le Toux, and starting Chaco and Pfeffer on the outsides with instructions to move inside when the ball is on the other side of the pitch and to keep width when it’s in the middle. That should at least get some more creativity on the field.
    Or we could just, ya know, play the 4-3-3 this team is built to play.

    • Great One says:

      I am really worried that Curtin is in love with the 4-4-2 and Sapong.

    • hobosocks says:

      In your suggested adjustment, they’d really be playing a 4-4-2, not a 4-2-4, which I agree would be better. Both Chaco and Zach and actual midfielders and wouldn’t push so far forward. In that case, though, Wenger should hit the bench. Le Toux’s best position is playing with another, bigger forward, and he’d do well up there buzzing around Aristeguieta. Wenger has found his spot as the wide attacker in a 4-3-3, but he’s not good enough in a more standard striker role.
      The problem with doing that is that it would get too narrow as both Chaco and Zach tend to drift inside. The Union doesn’t really have any true wide midfielders (someone like Ishizaki in LA), which is why I agree a standard 4-4-2 isn’t a good idea.

  11. azog d'filer says:

    On a completely different topic: If we are the 5th largest TV market in the country, why can’t we get the deeper local pockets on board? Should our fan efforts, SOBs, etc try lobbying these potential partnerships? I’m talking Comcast, Big Pharma, the Eagles, The Phillies, etc.
    If there is money to be made, I’m sure we can get the big $$ sponsorship required to sign the big names and compete with the TFC, NYCFCs of the league but it would required a movement like the original SOB activities that brought the Union to this city in the first place. Just planting a seed to see what people think.

    • +1 !!! Watching an expansion team like ORL, (Orlando?! is that even a city? More like a Disney suburb) splash money around the way they did makes me a bit envious.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Orlando has had at least one huge defense contractor since the early sixties, Martin Marietta it was then. It’s not Philly, but it’s not Lexington, KY either.

    • this has been fodder for months. One would think… unfortunately, it seems we were blessed with the small pocket group.
      like knowing your girlfriend is pretty but seeing your buddy’s girl that is smoking hot. You got a girl, a good girl but……

      • pragmatist says:

        The analogy I have made to friends (depressingly) is that we are the Sterling-Era Clippers. Our owners have plenty of money, just no interest in spending it.
        With any luck, they’ll see a nice profit in the next few years and sell to a Cuban-like owner.
        Now back to my reality…

      • Why do you say they have plenty of money. Have seen little evidence of that. Yes, they have more money than you or I do, but they are not in position to compete in MLS 3.0.

      • pragmatist says:

        As of 2013, this was how Brother Game summed it up:
        “Taking into account all of the “owners” and their assets, their collective net worth is best measured in the billions and probably more accurately the tens of billions of dollars. To put it in perspective, the Gross National Product of Keon Daniel’s native country of Trinidad and Tobago is $13.6 billion. Hardly individuals of small means.”

  12. John Ling says:

    Dear PSP Staff. I think you need to send your Geiger Counter out to the shop for repairs. It appears to be returning numbers that are too high. Hopefully it’s still under warranty and won’t cost you anything to get re-calibrated.
    Thanks, as always, for the daily awesome sauce you deliver. Hopefully you can get the Geiger Counter fixed before Saturday’s match.
    Hugs and kisses.

  13. This was a bad re-run of the 2014 season. No fun at all.

    • concise and on point. were the tickets not free i would’ve been glad to have occasionally looked up at the TV inside my warm home.

  14. hobosocks says:

    I think Jim wanted the 4-2-4 to be a kind of pseudo 4-3-3 where Fernando and CJ traded off the center forward role and a deep lying hold-up player role (what he wanted and didn’t get from Casey in the NYRB game. The deeper forward could (theoretically) combine with the one in front of them or spray the ball out to a rushing Le Toux or Wenger. Also, on breaks and setpieces both center forwards can rush to be targets and cause havoc in the box.
    The problem was that neither of the new forwards have the understanding with each other or the team to pull that off yet–if ever. Also, it was unfortunate of Curtin to try this idea out against what I imagine is the biggest centerback pairing in the league. Any setpiece advantage from having CJ and Fernando on the field at once was negated by the two towers back there.
    I commend Curtin for knowing that the team’s counterattacking 4-5-1 can’t break down teams that sit back, but I don’t think his proposed solution is working very well.
    The issue is that the Union pose zero threat up the middle in any formation. They can’t even approach doing what Seattle does basically every week (and did to NE last night). Chaco and Nogueira, for all their virtues, are both very poor at combing centrally to get themselves or their strikers through on goal. They’re so dedicated to sending the ball wide that the offense is incredibly one-dimensional. Edu is actually more of a threat through the center because of his strength and the fact that he’s both willing to shoot and fairly accurate, but he’s rightly being asked to stay back and shield the defense.
    Like I said, I commend Curtin for trying SOMETHING to address the problem–that’s his job after all–but I think the season is going to hinge on whether Chaco and Nog can find their way (ever) forward through the center of the field.

    • I’m happy to see Curtin trying something as well. He admitted in the post-game that going 4-4-2 was a risk and also said the team cannot be one dimensional…all things many of us have been saying since last year.
      The trouble he is having I think is trying to work out how to best use Le Toux, Wenger, Sapong, Nando, and Casey. This is the deepest attacking core the team has ever had. With that said, I do not think any more then 3 of them should be on the field at the same time (unless a dire end of game situation) because it means dropping a creator in the midfield like Maidana or Nogs since neither is a defensive mid and so Edu/Lahoud is a must.
      The lineup he used to start would have been good when playing a time we know would out possess us – the speed and athleticism of the group would be very dangerous. But when controlling possession you need players with more creativity and close control.
      When playing teams like the rapids I would like to see a 4-3-3 with Edu protecting the back, Nogs-Maidana as the mids and Wenger-Le Toux-Nando as the forwards. Sapong (wings), Casey (striker), Pfeffer (attacking mid) as attack minded subs and/or Lahoud (extra d-mid) and Fabinho (as a winger) as defensive “close things out” subs.

  15. Maidana must start, it’s so obvious it hurts.

  16. Old Soccer Coach says:

    As you think about Curtin starting with his two striker set, what better opportunity to experiment than against a weak team when you have home field advantage? He needs to find out if he can trust it to produce. All of us, having become used to the 4-2-3-1 (it’s not the Ajax 4-3-3 because there are two DCMs; the structure from the 6 yard box to five yards in front of the restraining arc and from one edge of the six yard box extended to the other is covered by four players, in theory) are having to figure out by watching how a 4-2-4 is supposed to work. In my case it has been years; the University of Akron played that shape at the turn of the 1960s into the 1970s. For both the fans and the players the 4-2-3-1 is more familiar.

    Second, our preseason opposition as a whole looked more like Our Lady of the Blind than it did a powerful, better, testing series of teams. You learn as a coach when your opponent is stronger, imposes its will, and exposes your weaknesses. Winning IMG was fun. But Montreal and DC had more informative preseasons, if only because they played real games against better quality opponents thanks to CCL and prepping for it. Had Red Bulls been the Red Bulls of old, there would have been two decent games instead of only Columbus, but Henry hung ’em up and they fired Petke.

    Curtin learned what he had in his two striker set; my guess is that he concludes it needs to have Casey in it and therefore can be used in the final fifteen or twenty minutes primarily.

    WE are still a side that needs our opponent to take risks and give us space. When they bunker into a Maginot Line-like defense in depth, we are forced to rely on individual brilliance and we don’t have much of that.

    It was my observation from the stands that when Nogueira went off, we dropped off in creativity in the midfield. Pfeffer did not show as well as he did in Florida. He showed enough down South to get one or two more chances, but he was less effective than I expected.

    Were I Curtin, I would consider tweeking the two striker set to a 4-1-3-2, putting Maidana or Pfeffer in the hole in Adam’s doughnut, having Le Toux and Wenger positioned further back than the strikers (would help provide more distribution options to the back line and would do a better job preserving the space into which both so dearly love to run) and tethering either one of Edu or Nogueira more closely to the shielding DCM role. They played that way against Columbus and it was the best the two striker set looked in my opinion.

    RSL did not play the diamond against Portland. Saborio is back up top, as is Olave in the back line. Several of the usual midfield suspects are elsewhere, however. They will be better than Colorado; Portland seemed better than they were. It was in Portland of course.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Experimenting should have taken place in the preseason. We are going to wish we had those two points!!!
      The club took a disappointing draw, on Saturday. Curtin took a loss, in my opinion. The club looked disorganized and unprepared…again.

    • This team needs wins. This team needs confidence. The first game of the season is not the time to start experimenting. There was a win to be had on Saturday and all they had to do was grab it. We started the game with one hand tied behind our backs, and tried to play route one football.
      Wining breeds confidence. Wining allows freedom for experimentation. The first game of the season is not the time for this. First loss of the season goes to Curtain. He can’t afford too many more.

      • Agreed. Kick off the season with your strongest lineup, pick up a few W’s (hopefully), then make adjustments as needed down the road.

  17. Having watched all 3 MLS matches last night, it’s quite clear what the Union are missing – a player to play in that offensive midfield area (aka Zone 14) who has real attacking talent. We ain’t got no Kaka, Klejsten, Villa, Giovinco, Pappas, Nguyen, Trapp, etc. and our strikers aren’t good enough to do it themselves like Dempsey/Martins.

    Nogueira is a good possession player who covers a ton of ground, and seems able to play in tight spaces, but isn’t so quick and seems incapable of making a killer pass.

    Maidana is a great striker of the ball and passer, but doesn’t have the speed, strength or tenacity to make plays in the middle of the field.

    Edu provides tons of physical presence but doesn’t have the touch in close quarters either.

    So we can bitch all we want about formations, coaching, substitutions, etc., but until we have a class player who is comfortable in the middle, the results aren’t going to change much.

    Pfeffer seems like the only one in the entire roster who seems to want to play in the pocket. I’m hoping he’ll get some chances there.

  18. The Chopper says:

    It is easy to get that sense of “Ground Hog Day”, but while it was a Ground Hog result, the match was not really that.

    Previous Union sides would have wilted in the second half and probably given up a set piece goal in the final 20 minutes, This side did generate far more legitimate scoring chances than our clubs in the,last few seasons did for the most part. The lack of finishing seems ground hog like, but I do expect that to change.

    Fernando will score goals in this league. I am convinced of that. He is built for MLS and moves well for a big man and we have seen that he does know how to close the deal. LeToux,is maddening, but will finish some of his chances as will Wenger.

    Noguiera was banged up for most of pre season and is not game fit and sharp yet. That will change. I am not aware of why Chaco fell out of favor in camp, but he did. Sapong’s concussion has given him a chance to regain that trust and I think he already did that.

    Previous Union sides went to the bench and brought us Danny Cruz and Antoinie Hoppenot. We went to our Bench against Colorado and came in with Connor Casey, Chaco and Zach Pfeffer. So to me, result or not, this was not Ground Hog Day.

    We are better. Hopefully it shows soon.

  19. I must start with Curtain’s choice of a 4-4-2. Curtain has said in the past that this team needs to stay together defensively to have a chance at wining. He said the team needs to grind out games and win them 1-0. So why oh why did he start with a 4-4-2? Why did he chose to go away from the team’s strengths? Why did he not start our most creative player? I think he panicked to be honest. He wanted/felt like he had to, put on a good show for the home crowd. And this was his mistake.
    Starting two guys up top who are new to the team was a bad idea. Sure its a more attacking style, to go after Colorado’s weak defense, but it went against our strengths. With Maidana in, this team has the ability to keep possession, build play, and cause immense pressure, which in theory, should lead to scoring. The team seemed to feel the pressure too. There were times where they seemed rushed to get a goal. Attacking, just to attack (i.e. Wenger). When a simple pass high into the box could have offered a better shot, or more time of possession (credit to the author of the article). More possession, generally equals more pressure. Which can and does lead to goals.
    Despite these things, I still think the team looked good. They did show the ability to possess, just they should have done more of it. The new additions played well, but to me shouldn’t have been counted on so early in the season. Pick one, Nando or Sapong, not both in a 4-4-2. Bring the other in off the bench later, when/if, playing to the teams strong suits doesn’t work.
    This tie(more like a loss of a win), goes straight on Curtain’s shoulders. This shows his inexperience as a head coach, and the learning curve he will need to climb if he and the team are to be successful. I just hope it doesn’t take to long. Another mid-season coaching change is not what this franchise needs.

    Oh, and take Letoux off corner kicks. Someone who can drive the ball into the box please!

  20. When a Draw Feels Like a Loss….

    1.) The Union need to keep the ball on the floor and not play aerial ping-pong.
    2.) The Union needs to have more patience on the ball and start building play that doesn’t look so panicked or erratic.
    3.) Rais is going to be a beast and I think our backline will only get stronger
    Orlando made an absolute statement as a team that is really well coached, and has a ton of technical ability. Their possession and ball movement was pretty incredible, while Kaka was pulling all the strings in the midfield. Orlando was the better team by far, even though Mix’s strike was clutch as well and they almost ground out a win at the Citrus Bowl.

    I feel more confident the Union can play/win against NYFC more than I feel confident they can compete against Orlando. The simple fact that Orlando looked: 1.) better organized 2.) Defined System of Play 3.) Coached extremely well

    Orlando looked more akin to a European club with style of play more so than a typical MLS expansion side.

    I am envious of Orlando because 5 years here in Philly and our players still just run around with their heads cut-off, and what skilled players we do have just make the rest of the squad look even worse. Orlando was building up play with great 1-2 touch passing, triangle passes, and Shea getting played wide with huge overlapping runs…..this looked like football…….The Union and Colorado looked like abject Sh*t in comparison. I am not saying I expect the Union to lool like 2008 Barcelona playing “total football” but at least resemble something more to football than a rugby match.

    Still think Curtin is out of his depth as a Coach, and we shall see how we play against Real Salt Lake……if its just aerial ping-pong and running around……we all are in for a long season.

    • Ian. I have read every comment over the last two days and this is easily, easily, the most accurate and astute. What we see in comparison with the Union is precisely as you have stated. Keep up the good thinking because it is truth. The only and I MEAN the only thing to take away from that game against Colorado is the clean sheet. The rest of it, by the comparisons you succinctly point out it total shiite.
      It is despondence for me to see such poorly orchestrated and tactically bereft soccer, but that is what we have in Philly unfortunately, soccer — not football and certainly nothing resembling the Beautiful Game and the aesthetic I so deeply desire.
      If you read my post match comments on Saturday’s Post, you will see that I echo your position.

      • Thank you for your affirmation Joel. I think the fans understand growing pains, but now the team is 5 years in and we still look like a hodgepodge MLS side.

        You are also correct in your statement that the Union are a “Soccer team” and NOT a “Football team.” I know we both sound elitist for raising this point, and get flack for saying it. However, the same fans which call us elitist, only need to clear the Romanticism away from their eyes about this club, and seriously look at what you are seeing on the pitch.

        10 minutes of watching the Union yields: High Rate Work Ethic (ie Running around disjointedly) / Battering Ram Target Men for Long Balls & Crosses, GK keeping you in the game, No real build up play from the back.

        10 Minutes of watching new comers Orlando yeilds: Strong and quick tactical Buildup Play, Team playing pretty cohesively and keeping their shape, not losing their heads after going 1 goal down, and having their dynamic DP Mid-Field Maestro stepping up time after time while finally coming through with a clutch goal (after a deflection) from a set piece through strong buildup play.

        I just have this sinking feeling that the Union could go the first 9 games with out a win, and we will have our 4th head coach in 5 years before the end of May.

    • The Orlando/NYFC game was very watchable. The Orlando team plays a very attractive style of soccer. Why did Philly end up with a bunch of plow horses (i.e. fit the bill as MLS style players) and not show horses like Orlando? How does the FO explain to the Union fans that a team less than a year old looks to have more talent than a team that has been around for 5 years? Orlando should have taken all 3 points.

      • To your reply TSC8&18, I think the answer to your Plow Horses to Show Horses is the fact of club “culture.” I think with Rais, Vitoria, Fernando, Maidana, Edu, and Nogueira we have “Show Horses.” The issue is that these players play with Overvalued “Plow Horses” like Wenger, LeToux, Cruz, Casey, Lahoud….. Our better players cannot play better ball, because once they pass to a “Plow Horse” the movement falls apart because the quality is not there, because the TRAINING and COACHING is not there.

        Jim Curtin has no problem playing typical American Bruiser Soccer…The WILL To Win cause we Play “HARDER” jargon BS. The same BS he was fed when he was a player himself.

        Orlando has an English coach who has probably forgotten more about the game, than what Jim Curtin currently knows. Yes Orlando has Shea, Kaka, etc but they also are not made of ALL Show Horses. However, the coach has been able to have these Plow Horses play to another level to better match his Show Horses.

        Yes Orlando spent money on players, but they also have a real coach, with a real philosophy, who coached in England/Europe, and knows more about how to coach and bring out the best in players than JIM CURTIN.

  21. Am I the only one who sees Maidana and Nogueira as players who just cannot sync? It’s always one or the other–whether by half or by game. They never seem to play well at the same time. There’s got to be something to that and a solution.

  22. Considering it was only the first match and many of the players have only been together for a relatively short time; I’ll be much more patient for better form.
    My only complaint is your best starting 11 has White on the bench Edu at CB and Chaco at the #10.
    Furthermore, Jim was very late making the substitutions when Colorado went down to 10 men.
    Colorado plays mug ball, so this was a difficult game to truly assess player performances.

    • Interesting thought:
      Talent-wise player for player I agree with what I think you are saying in that the best starting 11 would be something like:
      ……….Le Toux…Nando……..
      (Le Toux and Sapong being interchangeable)
      The problem being that the MLS is still primarily a physical league and in this lineup our midfield would get pushed around and not provide the best protection for the backline.
      Though thinking about it now, something along these lines would have been good to see once up a man this past weekend:
      …Le Toux…Maidana….Wenger…
      Or even to go 3 at the back since the Rapids clearly were bunkering and not playing:
      …Le Toux…Maidana….Wenger…

      • I honestly think the Union could benefit from playing a 3-5-2 as long as you feel that Le Toux and Wenger can play as Wingbacks. I think Edu and Nogueira have enough to be able to shield/go forward. Here is my Starting XI (3-5-2)

        ….Le Toux……….Maidana………Wenger….

        Subs: Pfeffer, Casey, White (to shift to 4-4-2 to close out the game IF NEEDED)

  23. WestmontUnion says:

    Great article Adam. Really well crafted, and the type of analysis that is often (always) lacking during MLS broadcasts, and ever touched upon on soccer shows. I’d love to see you organize a weekly radio show/podcast with Kevin K, Jon T, Eli and the other local beat writers to discuss the Union. Coming from England, supporters consume this type of insight and then regurgitate it all week to their friends pretending that they’re some of kind of closet Mourinho. Anyway, enough of the waffling but I wanted to let you know that I think this would be really well received by the Union faithful

  24. As far as the midfield situation goes, I think the Union need to start generating more play within the central midfield. This means once again, like we’ve all said time and time again, this team needs to show a lot more movement on and off the ball. There isn’t enough by far in my eyes. There was too much playing the ball in the air and hoping that a forward or winger would collect the ball, although I did notice that the field was kinda harsh so it could have been a game plan of Curtins, but I’m not quite sure. Either way, that had to die down a lot and also sending In crosses without picking players out. This happened a lot in the opener and last season. They need to start taking more chances in the middle of the field, especially when playing a team like Colorado and being a man up!

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