Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 0-2 FC Dallas

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

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Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t think there was intent in the red card. In fact, I believe that without the incidental contact to the head, that play is as much a caution as the stamp on Le Toux that earned Michel a yellow card earlier in the match. But whether Pfeffer meant it or not, any contact with the head puts the referee on the spot. Contact to the head is not an automatic red card, but it does automatically force the ref to consider a sending off. And Jose Carlos Rivero was fully justified in his decision based on what he saw in real time.

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Now on to the action!

And there was plenty of action, in much the same way there plenty of action in a food fight but in the end everyone just ends up messy and relieved that it’s over. But even an ugly match can have bright spots, and you can bet the coaching staff will be saying some version of those words as they sit in the video room this week trying to figure out how to move forward without attacking midfielders.

Central midfield

The brightest spot was the central midfield, where Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira put in tireless efforts chasing Mauro Diaz while simultaneously cutting off service to Blas Perez.

Keeping Perez out of the match was key for Philly because it meant that Dallas would struggle to spread the field. Perez excels at sucking defenders in, using his big body to hold the ball, then releasing wide players through the channels. He did this with such regularity against the Union in the US Open Cup semifinal — particularly in extra time — that he and Fabian Castillo nearly convinced the Frisco City Council to rename the left channel the Texas Autobahn.

The Union had clearly learned their lesson, and Edu balanced his aggression and blocked the passing angle to Perez until the big striker was subbed off.

Diaz, on the other hand, almost caught the midfield napping early. In the second minute, Fabian Castillo hit warp speed around Ethan White, only to watch his playmaker miss a sitter on the resulting cut back. Diaz only found himself with that kind of space two more times: A scramble in the box off a free kick led to Akindele serving it up in the same spot, but Nogueira dashed in to defend and the shot went well over. The last time he got free, Diaz never touched the ball. But his run was perfect, and Dallas scored.

Nogueira/Edu second half activity

Nogueira/Edu second half activity

Mauro Diaz is inherently dangerous on the ball, so it was a “How much do you trust Pareja’s tactics” moment when the playmaker was moved deeper after halftime to accommodate Ryan Hollingshead.

Pareja was betting that the Union would park the bus, and that Hollingshead’s movement would occupy midfielders and give Diaz time and space to sit deep and quarterback. This is not the biggest gamble Pareja has ever taken, and still one could make a strong argument it did not pay off. Edu and Nogueira remained surprisingly aggressive in the second half and managed to make Dallas fairly one-dimensional. When that dimension is Castillo, though, a ten-man team rarely feels safe.

Dallas second goal - Click to play

Dallas second goal – Click to play

It is ironic, then, that one of Diaz’s somewhat rare forays into the box in the second half set up the second goal. A beautiful passing move down the right — one of the few times Dallas built through Akindele instead of forcing things down the left — became a scoring chance when Diaz darted between Gaddis and White, drawing both defenders and opening space for Castillo. Akindele hit the Colombian who drove in at an angle.

Though he got credit for the assist on Hollingshead’s goal, Castillo’s pass was intended for Akindele and missed the wide open Diaz at the penalty spot.

Despite all that defending, Nogueira and Edu still managed to push play forward in possession. They did so carefully, however, and usually only after building through the back. In other words, the free-flowing breakouts that characterize the Union’s offense in bloom did not arrive with the Spring.

Where is that offense?

So the Union go out and acquire a Real Live Striker approaching his prime years. And they drop him between one of the more consistent producers in the Eastern Conference over the past few seasons and a guy that everyone and their mom’s mom thinks is due to break out. Aristeguieta has delivered, but Le Toux and Wenger have struggled to assert themselves. How come?

On the PSP Post-game, Kevin Kinkead argued that Nogueira and Edu seemed slow to get the ball moving in transition, and that is certainly a factor. Amobi Okugo could be a surprisingly divisive figure among fans, but if you both: a) Didn’t think Okugo was any good/good enough and b) Now think the Union need to play faster… time to do the algebra.


But the central midfield looking slow to move the ball may be more symptom than cause. Andrew Wenger’s post-game comments were telling when he explained to Eli Pearlman-Storch that Atiba Harris was playing high and tight. Additionally, Jim Curtin said he has talked to Wenger about looking for different gaps in the coverage and trying to find different ways to get involved if he is not seeing much of the ball. These bits of information say something about how teams are preparing for the Union’s wingers. Last season’s game tapes should be enough to convince any manager that leaving Wenger and Le Toux to run at centerbacks is like waving your ski poles in the air during a lightning storm: If you get hit, it’s mostly your fault.

Both Harris and Tony Beltran of Dallas played Wenger tight, understanding that while he can run onto a throughball, he’s much more comfortable running at you with the ball. The defenders were also very careful in their forward runs. The bombing sprints that so many teams use effectively these days were delayed, meaning the huge gaps that Wenger exploded into on counterattacks last season haven’t been available in 2015.

Le Toux

Le Toux has suffered from some of the same issues, but he has managed to stay involved by moving central whenever he feels isolated. This tendency turned the Union’s defensive shape wonky against RSL, but it does serve to keep the Frenchman involved. No, Le Toux’s bigger issue has been a worrying lack of consistency on the ball. In the first 30 minutes of the match, Le Toux only attempted four passes. And over the past two matches he has taken two shots, neither on frame (and the shot he had against RSL really, really should have been on frame).

So while Kevin is right that the Union have been too slow in transition, figuring out where to point the finger is more difficult to determine. In the game and a half that Cristian Maidana has been in the hole, the team has looked dangerous but hardly free-flowing. Under Zach Pfeffer’s guidance, there were chances but a fairly obvious lack of coordination (both Pfeffer and Maidana have tended to drift right to pick up the ball this season, possibly contributing to Wenger’s isolation).

There is no easy fix here. The Union can either use the absence of Pfeffer and Maidana to date other formations or Jim Curtin can try to reach back into the past and rediscover the strange success the team had with Vincent Nogueira as a fish-out-of-water in the No. 10 role and Michael Lahoud holding. Luckily, Chicago is a pretty good team to face when you are searching for form.

Fullback follies

Ah, Fabinho. In some ways he is a frustrating player, and in other ways he is the most frustrating player.

Fabinho is frustrating because he plays like most MLS players, only more so. Before the season, Jim Curtin said that MLS is a bit like controlled chaos compared to European leagues. Fabinho embodies that statement as well as anyone outside of Aurelien Collin (who is an All-Star when his dial tilts toward control, and an eyesore when it tilts toward chaos). Watching Fabinho can feel like watching your friend poke a beehive. Sure, it’s thrilling to see the all-action tackles, the full-on sprints into the opponent’s half. But eventually the bees get angry, block a slow clearance, and score.

Fabinho is the most frustrating player because this is his only setting. There is no evidence of a Fabinho that plays a conservative, safe fullback role and steps forward as an outlet, recycling play to the creative players. No, he’s like The Mask: Once you put him on, the volume goes up to eleven.

Yet, for all the frustration he can cause, Fabinho remains fascinating. For one, he stuffs the stat sheet. If tackles and interceptions were clues, Fabinho would solve mysteries faster than Sherlock. Second, he was protected over the guy now starting at striker for Orlando City SC. Third, if ever there was a fullback that looked like the perfect candidate to be converted (back) to midfield, it’s has to be Fabinho. Throw in that a) He can’t beat out a converted right fullback with no left foot, and b) That the Union keep late-drafting and converting left-footed midfielders like they think they can eventually accumulate enough to trade them all in for a Chris Tierney, and the whole concept of Fabinho as a left back becomes a mishmash of fascination and frustration. Why go to such lengths to keep him? If he’s rated so highly, why not do more to get him on the pitch?

I have no answers. But after an eight tackle, two interception, one costly failed clearance performance, I feel justified asking the questions.

Vitoria (top) and White all activity vs Dallas

Vitoria (top) and White all activity vs Dallas


Three games into the season, and Philadelphia’s qualities and flaws are coming into focus. As ugly as the Colorado match was, the Union have looked better against Real Salt Lake and Dallas. Even after going a man down, Philly did very well limiting good looks on frame: An 80th minute shot from Castillo was the only one from inside the box in a central area after Pfeffer’s red card, and Hollingshead’s goal came from a misplayed pass and a seeing eye shot.

On the negative side of the ledger, the offense that looked poised to be a monster has been hiding under the bed. Both wingers are adjusting to new defensive schemes designed to slow them down, and as good as an Edu-Nogueira midfield is for a possession-based team, it is still growing into its potential in a counterattacking system. Additionally, Ethan White and Steven Vitoria have been stout but incredibly well-protected. White’s oddly deep positioning and lack of confidence passing (and Vitoria’s on-again/off-again passing radar) raise questions going forward, but a lack of depth in defense means the pairing will have every opportunity to succeed or fail on merit.

Vitoria (top) and White all activity vs RSL

Vitoria (top) and White all activity vs RSL

These things take time, and the Eastern Conference is shaping up to be a wide open race. The Union seem to be off to a slow start, but in truth they have dropped two points on the road to a good team thanks to an objectively terrible penalty decision, and lost to a very good team at home with ten men. The wacky, wild, what-am-I-watching game against Colorado was much worse than the last two matches, and that in itself is an encouraging sign.

Look at the Eastern Conference after three matchdays. Who looks poised to run away from the pack? That context alone should keep hopes high.

Philly faces a tragically flawed Chicago team next. A win without Maidana, Pfeffer, and Sheanon Williams will go a long way toward putting the season back on track.

Player ratings

Rais Mbolhi – 4

Not the confident goalie of preseason. If Mbolhi had a confidence meter, it would take a significant dip every time he’s asked to play with his feet. How apropos that Mbolhi would backpedal when forced to decide whether to come out and challenge a Dallas fast break. Zac MacMath chose to run at Fabian Castillo last year in the US Open Cup in a similar situation. Both plays resulted in goals. There’s a Bergman movie somewhere in here, I just know it.

Sheanon Williams – 5

Get well soon.

Ethan White – 3

It hurts to give White such a low rating because his confidence on the ball seems shot and I really don’t want to contribute to that. But aside from on-the-ball issues, there are other things like the gap between White and his midfield and the spacing between White and Vitoria. These are potentially major issues that have thus far been held in check by some scrambling and some hard work in midfield. How long can that last?

Steven Vitoria – 4

Shaken up early on a collision with Edu, Vitoria played a solid defensive match but was subpar on the ball. None of his long passes found teammates and the midfield ended up dropping into defense to build because otherwise nothing could get off the ground.

Ray Gaddis – 4

In fairness, Castillo is about the toughest assignment a fullback can have in MLS right now, especially when you were preparing to face the significantly less scary Tesho Akindele. Gaddis struggled at times with Castillo’s explosiveness, but generally he held on tight and kept the Colombian in wide areas. Gaddis earned points back with good decision making in the final third, picking his head up and choosing the right pass instead of popping balls into the box against the solid Matt Hedges.

Maurice Edu – 7

When Pfeffer was sent off, Edu’s role immediately expanded from, “Protect first, get forward second” to “Do everything you can!” He responded with a quietly brilliant performance. After collecting two key passes and a blazing shot that stung Chris Seitz’s hands in the first half, Edu was forced to play more conservatively in the second frame. He did so, misplacing only two passes and continuing to pressure the Dallas midfield and prevent long, deep buildups that heaped pressure on the shaky Union back four.

Vincent Nogueira – 7

Until the red card, Nogueira was ramping up. He flitted all over the park picking out short passes and trying to get the absentee wingers involved. After the card, he chased long after he was gassed and created two of the team’s best chances. It would be hard to ask for much more from a two-man midfield.

Zach Pfeffer – 1

Always remember that replays don’t run at full speed. I still don’t think he meant it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bad, costly and ultimately needless foul.

Wenger run - Click to play

Wenger run – Click to play

Andrew Wenger – 3

Wenger was mostly invisible, except for when he was handed off his mark in the box and failed to pick up Ryan Hollingshead, ending up easily beaten and shaking his head after the second goal. Notably, though, this game featured a play that sums up Wenger almost too well. In the 29th minute, Wenger picked the ball up on the touchline about five yards into the Dallas half. He proceeded to burn Atiba Harris and Victor Ulloa like they were standing still and drove at Zach Loyd with real intent. But then it all fizzled out. He never saw Fernando Aristeguieta at the top of the box, he hesitated as soon as Loyd set his feet, and

Harris easily dispossessed him. Wenger can get into dangerous locations easier than James Bond, but then it can look like he’s flipping a coin. That thoughtless action is what strikers do around the box, and Wenger needs more of it.

Sebastien Le Toux – 4

A terrible, no good, very bad start was countered by a glorious run and pass to set up Pfeffer in the seventh minute. But then Le Toux disappeared again and didn’t resurface until the second half. Oddly, this is when Le Toux did his best work on the ball, but as a second striker he couldn’t get anywhere near the goal. Overall it was a bad day at the office but there were some encouraging signs from a player still well below his peak.

Fernando Aristeguieta – 6

Loving the movement and workrate. There are still some positional issues as Aristeguieta figures out how to play with Le Toux and Wenger. He isn’t the full-on poacher that Conor Casey is, meaning he often arrives slightly later and needs to sync up the timing with his wide men. Aristeguieta works so well with Maidana because he moves extremely well in tight areas. On the break, he is a bit less sure of himself but that should come with time.


Fabinho – 2

See above.

Eric Ayuk – 6

Came in, got involved, did some unnecessary stepovers, created a chance. If you’re going to play a teenager late in a game when you’re down a man, you just hope he’s fearless. Ayuk is that, though he may join the growing injury list if he keeps playing cute with MLS vets.

Michael Lahoud – 6

No complaints. Played simple, covered ground, helped on Castillo and prevented odd man rushes when the Union were pushing. Lahoud rarely plays beyond his means, and when a team is backed against the wall, that can be a really good thing to call on from the bench.

Geiger Counter – 3

Jose Carlos Rivero made some tough calls and made many of them well. But man, did it take a long while for him to figure out how chippy the game was getting. Dallas was aiming for Edu, Philly was aiming for Diaz, and anything that came through the middle of the park was liable to get whacked one way or another. Diaz started handing out cards after Michel raked the back of Le Toux’s leg in what one would struggle to call a half-hearted attempt at playing the ball. The red card meant a lot less contact and an easier match to govern, but even before Pfeffer drilled Diaz, this looked like a game that could get out of hand at any time.


  1. All I want to know is, red card or not, why we look like we can’t string together 5 passes.

    The way we play, 4 passes is a period of prolonged possession.

    • Starts on the Training Pitch….This team cannot pass, has no consistency or confidence on the ball, and the players that do (Nogs and Chaco) have to play with LeToux and Wenger who can run and that is about it. Curtin coached Youth Players, his senior players play like youth/reserve team and look like come game day.

      I am sure the “hate” will pour down upon me…..but I am just calling it as I see it.

      • Thank you for calling out the wingers. They simply aren’t technical or skilled enough to be expected to be good players on the wings. It’s a joke.

        They would be perfect wide players in 2006 but this is MLS 2.0 and they aren’t good enough.

      • Exactly!

  2. JediLos117 says:

    I still don’t think he meant it, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.

  3. I have so much to write about this game it is just better to write nothing at all.
    Up until I went to this game I never thought going to see the Union was a complete wast of time and money.
    First time for everything.

    • sadly i reached this point after the Open Cup last year. each successive match compounded that realization to the point of skipping my first matches (last 2 homes).
      this season’s opener was more of the same.
      i knew i’d feel the it Sat and chose not to go.
      being at a Bed Bath and Beyond in New Jersey was more satisfying than at PPL Park.
      that truly sucks.

  4. Maybe I just don’t see it regarding Maurice Edu. You seem to always give him the benefit of the doubt Adam. Maybe it is my lens. Maybe instead of what I do not see him giving, I instead need to focus more on what he takes away.
    Discernment. I will try again.
    I certainly appreciate the algebra reference. It is spot on regarding #14’s efficiency and strength of play. You never had to worry about a bog down in transition from defense to offense.

    • For this match I agree that defensively we got ‘interested Edu’. The problem is there is no guarantee we get the same version next week, or in many cases from half to half of the same match.

      Offensively, I believe the algebra regarding addition & subtraction in the midfield is correct. Math is hard.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I missed it, as well. I have seen a Mo Edu that reeks of mediocrity and slows down our counter.

      • Would have loved to have seen Edu at CB and Okugo to Nog as the link up for this season but that ship has sailed. Again, I saw ‘good Mo’ defensively on Sat, but agree with you & Joel that he is slow on the transition.

        Hopefully Union get a good result this weekend or you’re going to need a bigger campfire on the cliff to keep all the newbies warm. 😉

      • The Black Hand says:

        I’ll start gathering some more wood…

      • Please no more Edu at CB. During the run of play, fine. But unless you can take him off for set pieces and corners, NO. Too many goals given up last year because Edu just lost his man, or forgot he was supposed to mark someone.

    • I agree with Adam on Edu. He wins balls in midfield, is strong in possession and distributes fairly well. I do think there’s an adjustment period for him and Nogueira, as there is less role clarity than last year when Nogs played with Okugo. Has he taken a play or two off in the past? Probably, but I didn’t see that this weekend. Stylistically, I also believe that he’s the anti-Cruz; his motions are very fluid and to the point where it looks a bit effortless.

      • I totally agree on the anti-Cruz point, glad I’m not the only one who sees it that way.

      • I do not question his grace. Maurice is liquid motion and lovely to watch move. My contention is his reading of the game in the build up. He gets caught ball watching all the time and therefore does not provide the outlet relief he could easily provide by adjusting his positioning. Say what you want about Okugo- he was always in space and always a pressure release. I just don’t see those attributes in Maurice’s game. His fluidity can also easily be classified at multiple points as aloofness as well.

      • I agree that Okugo was a more reliable safety valve. Edu’s runs and positioning probably make him a bit more dangerous, but also a bit less predictable as an outlet.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I think that Edu’s runs and positioning might be his problem. He is not a playmaker…he needs to stop trying to play one on TV.

  5. The Chopper says:

    I always tend to be an optimist, and I really thought Edu and Nogs were starting to figure a few things out and saw some things clicking prior to Pffefer’s card. The next step after that would have been finding ways to work the wings into it, but the red card pretty much halted the progress and once again sent us back to square one. Watching the Union is a big old game of Chutes and Ladders

    Now we have to determine what we can try to throw at Chicago. Fred is the safe bet, if Chaco is unavailable. However, it may not be a bad time to throw some more youth out there (shake up the formation a bit) and seemmid we can catch a little magic in a bottle. We are certainly overdue.

  6. Assume Williams healthy
    Gaddis Marquez Vitoria Williams
    Edu Lahoud
    Wenger Nogs Ayuk
    I have to believe that Marquez can do no worse than what is currently seen. I liked what Ayuk brought to the table and I would like to see him start on a wing. Picked Wenger over Le Toux because I feel wengers best chance at learning to play against new scheme against him is to play against it. Le toux just needs to hit reset button.

    • pragmatist says:

      +1. White and LeToux are liabilities at the moment. They need to have a seat until they can find their games.

    • old soccer coach says:

      would that a hamstring, even a grade one, would resolve in a week.
      much wiser to take the long view and let it heal completely as we have 31 league games before us, especially since Williams was unable to play through it as he gamely tried to do.

      • I agree but all we really got from the team was hamstring.
        With no williams it will probably be Fabinho but I would not be against the idea of Lahoud at outside back(where he has played before) and BC getting one shot to see if he has anything left in the tank. This second idea assumes Lee is not MLS ready. Am I the first to think that we may have loaned one too many players? (Cruz and even Leo could be VERY useful right now)

      • The Black Hand says:

        Oh please, God!!!!!!! Please do not ever put BC on the pitch, for us, again!!

      • Other Derek says:

        Let’s see what Steve Carrell says about starting BC:

      • The Black Hand says:

        That’s EXACTLY what I was trying to say.

      • I agree that Leo F would have been a nice option to fill Maidana’s spot. Hope he has a great season with the Cosmos, and that we see him again in a Union kit in the future.

      • How bout Ribeiro?

    • +1. I’d love to see a shakeup so these guys can get their heads on straight.

  7. ebradlee10 says:

    I learn so much from these posts. Thanks, Adam!

    • Agreed. The preview and recap posts are most-reads, and I learn at least one new thing about the game every time. All told I’m a relative newcomer to soccer, never having really paid it much attention until that first game at the Linc.
      I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: kudos to the staff here for having such a great site! And a special “Kudos” to Adam for his previews and recaps. Must reads. No matter how bad things look, or how bad I thought the game was.

      • A “most-read”. A typo, but a great compliment in an of itself these days.

      • Thanks y’all. It’s a lot of work but always worth it because even after bad games (of which there have been plenty) it’s awesome that people are eager to get info and discuss what happened.

        Also, for what it’s worth, plenty of the ideas/thought that goes into the previews/ratings comes from thinking about comments from previous posts. So keep it up! And thanks again.

  8. Pisses me off that Curtin was counting on 6 points from our first 3 games. What coach counts wins before the team even takes the pitch? We’ll be lucky if we have 6 points by the end of April. And Curtin will be lucky if he has a job in August.

  9. old soccer coach says:

    That you and Eli Pearlman-Storch have a set of analytical criteria for these analyses in an attempt have them be comparable between you is right, proper and commendable. And I understand that either those criteria or other journalistic demands call for concise brevity. My own instinct would have been to give Zach Pfeffer a split rating. His mistake destroyed the game, most intriguingly at the level of the team’s psyche, because we’ve had red cards before, but rarely has the heart gone out of the players as clearly as it did for twenty or so minutes after the card. That part of his day deserved the 1, even though you guys so rarely resort to that extreme.
    My argument for the split is that prior to the error, the combination of Pfeffer at the top and Edu and Nogueira at the bottom vertices of the fluidic midfield triangle gave us all sneaking hope that we might actually snatch the game with some luck because we were playing with Dallas, teetering on the edge defensively, but we were scaring them, too, and while not in mathematically equal balance, the imbalance was not hugely disproportionate in favor of one or the other. Zach had a major role in creating that. A single number destroys that positive real contribution. Years ago I taught school and sometimes I gave papers split grades, most usually when the thinking behind the writing was intriguing but the presentational mechanics were a disaster. For me Pfeffer deserves a B/FF.

    • +1 — not for the split grade concept, but for seeing Pfeffer’s contribution prior to the red card. One part of his game that is dramatically different from Maidana’s: the boy GETS INTO THE BOX. And it really showed in the first half, even if the runs never turned into anything.

      I’d give him a 3, in view of that. Also, I completely believe Pfeffer’s explanation for the red card. He just put his arm back to gain a little advantage in the chase, and as he said himself, it basically happened because Diaz is a short guy. I cannot blame the ref for the red card, and (as ed Farnsworth noted this morning) intent cannot play into the red card decision, but it CAN play into the decision about further suspension, and hopefully he won’t get any extra tacked on.

  10. pragmatist says:

    I still feel like we don’t know what this team is. We were undone by officiating in the first 2 games (and our continued inability to finish all our chances, mostly in the first game), and in this one, we didn’t finish chances, and then the red killed everything.
    I would like to see one game where the circumstances are fairly benign. Where we don’t have an early injury sub. Where we don’t have a early red card. Where the refs aren’t trying to get fired. Just a normal, average game so we can see what this team really can do.
    I have a feeling I’m going to have to keep on hoping for that…

    • old soccer coach says:

      Keep in mind that all three games were out of conference and two of them against excellent sides.
      Chicago’s home opener was a game of speed and intensity. If they try to do that to us, as they may well since they are equally in need of a win and are at home, they may create the counter-attacking opportunities that provide us our best chances, historically.
      They have some new players in the offense. None impressed against LA but at least one did not play due to injury. Maloney did not stand out especially in their second game, Kennedy I****** (sorry) is pacy but had little effect that I noticed, and Accam did not play.
      I saw only a few snatches yesterday evening so lack enough evidence to comment.
      I would guess we will face pace from their attack, but how much creativity still seems to depend on how well we mark up on Harry Shipp, the only thing I noticed about Maloney in my cameos is that he takes their free kicks.
      Curtin’s tactical move for the last ten minutes v Dallas might get a discussion as Lahoud did a good job shielding the center backs while Edu and Nogueira went forward.

    • I’ll have better luck hoping to see a M’bolhi score a touchdown for the Flyers.

  11. I didn’t get to see the game live. I was relying on the ESPN app to give me updates. (Interestingly, the ESPN app announced the last sub as Marquez for White, rather than Lahoud. I was intrigued about that one until I found out it was wrong.)
    My first look at the replay, I couldn’t believe Pfeffer got a red. Then I saw the slow motion and other angles, and it became obvious. So – and I don’t say this often – kudos to the ref. He doesn’t get the benefit of slow motion and different camera angles, and it sure seems he got that one correct.
    The next moment of clarity from the highlights came on Dallas’s first goal. My immediate reaction was, “F***ing Fabinho!” In that case, the replays just confirmed my initial reaction was correct.
    I thought both Dallas goals, but especially the 2nd, were soft. I thought MBohli should’ve had the second, and maybe the 1st as well. Also…
    ” If Mbolhi had a confidence meter, it would take a significant dip every time he’s asked to play with his feet.”
    I said something similar after the Colorado match. So it’s nice to get a bit of personal vindication on that one…
    I’m going to go into the week assuming Maidana and Williams will both miss Sunday. And I’m prepping myself for seeing Fred and Fabinho, respectively, in place of them. Alternatively, I wonder if Chicago is a team they can play the “donut” formation against. Move Le Toux up top to run off Fernando, and slide Ayuk into the wing. I still think a Le Toux – Fernando 2-striker partnership has a lot to offer.
    Should be an interesting week in Unionville…

    • The Black Hand says:

      What John said.

    • I actually thought M’bolhi screwed up more on the first goal than the second. I don’t understand how he didn’t come off his line to cut down the angle. Now if you do that, and the guy still beats you, then OK, you doff your cap to him. But Rais made it easier.

      • My immediate thought on 1st goal was the contrast to MacMath challenging everything in the Open Cup semi. Mbohli doesn’t get too much more time before I say we move on and start Blake.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Interesting that you brought up MacMath. While watching M’bohli, I thought to myself; “He is playing just like MacMath.” Complete with the bad positioned ‘fall-back-and-try-a-weak-kicksave’. Rais needs to sit for a spell.
        Where the hell is Blake? Injured?

      • It was so clear that he needed to that I almost started running down the stairs to the field!

  12. Like the Murphy’s Law reference. Don’t like the Bergman reference. 😉

    • I agonized over leaving the Bergman one in, believe me. It was a cheap shot that rebounded and hit me a bit too.

  13. I think giving a 1 to PFeffer is really harsh. He’s no Stevie G – put in a good shift (as Jim would say) prior to the red. For his first starting performance vs a very good team, he was doing quite well and, as was noted above, actually played the position of center midfield by playing in the center of midfield.

  14. You know, before the season, you talk best/worst case scenarios. The worst case scenario was something like “White can’t handle CB full time, injuries and suspensions test the non-existent depth, Vitoria and Nando take a long time to adjust to MLS, and Curtin continues to be slow to adjust lineups, tactics, and substitutions”. Almost all of that has happened, with the lone exception being Nando. It’s time to make massive changes and see what happens. Only I don’t know what changes can be made, because we’re down 3 attackers right now. It would really help if we had another big left-footed attacker…

    • Here’s some options to pick and choose from. Not saying do all of these; just throwing out some “shake up” ideas.
      Bench Ethan White and give Marquez a start.
      Bench Ethan White, move Edu back to CB, and start Mike Lahoud. (I favor this option.)
      Go back to the “donut” formation from the CO match, with Le Toux up top with Nando as the 2nd forward. Slide Ayuk or McLaughlin into Le Toux’s wing.
      Stick with the 4-3-3 formation, move Nogs up to the 10, and slide in Lahoud next to Edu. Not the best position for Nogs, but for a game or two until Maidana is back, it’s OK.
      Alternately, slide Fred into the 10.
      Can Ayuk play the 10? If so, another option.
      Bench Le Toux and/or Wenger, and replace either or both with Ayuk or McLaughlin.
      Start Mike Lahoud at FB in place of the injured Williams, rather than Fabinho.
      I think there’s still a lot of options available, if Curtin wants to go for a shake-up.

      • pragmatist says:

        I love moving Edu to CB in place of White, and starting Lahoud. It makes us less dynamic, but also less vulnerable.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I think that this might be our only ‘real’ solution.
        Makes the Okugo treatment all the more baffling.

      • How about moving Wenger back to left D and letting Akuk start at left wing. Solves 2 problems.

  15. unnecessary stepovers make me 🙁

    • So you are not a Christiano Renaldo fan then.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        That guy sure does LOVE a step over. Wow. Haha.
        As for the Union: They need to hit the reset button. Either swap some guys in to the starting 11 (either because of injury or due to play), and just take a breath. A win this week against a beatable Chicago team would do wonders to bring everyone back Earth. Again, Curtain needs to NOT be Hack 2.0… and show us he knows how to manage. Unfortunately, my confidence is not high. Prove me wrong James.

      • He’s great. Stepovers at top speed are often effective even if not absolutely necessary. It’s the unnecessary part that I don’t like. I like chipping the keeper, toe pokes, and flick on headers. Just what is necessary.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Ronoldo is one of the top 5 players to ever play the game.

      • I’m just stirring shit up. It’s what I do. Though to be fair, Ronaldo does engage in the flamboyant scissors sometimes.
        He’s so good sometimes he just stands still and waves his magic wand over the ball. But Lionel Messi he is not.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Different payers…but, I agree, Messi is better.
        I hate the stepover…I think that the majority of the time, they are merely a comical cosmetic. Ronaldo’s? His are different. He will step over and see where you lean…and then make you look stupid, with his next flamboyant touch. He’s got the moves…Messi’s got the control.

      • and is the prototype of what all ballers will look like in the future. Thats why the Messi/CR7 argument is so interesting. One is a throwback (Messi) of how ballers used to be built……..Ronaldo represents the future of what footballers will look like. CR7 has made a lot of footballers hit the gym too!

  16. Hezekiah Ezekial Petershwim says:

    I had Gaddis as the best player on the field for the Union. A 4 is a brutal rating given what he was expected to do. He watches film all week preparing to play LB, then gets shifted to RB. He was the only respectable defender this week and facilitated much of the very limited offense the Union attempted. At least give the man a 5.

    Nogs at a 7 is pretty generous to me, too. Then you give Ayuk an above average rating for basically being the guy doing the fancy sword moves before being shot by Indiana Jones? When Adu did it, he was properly lambasted.

    Fabinho is the guy who deserved the “1.” Maybe give Pfeffer a “2” just to show that Fabinho was, in fact, worse than a dude who elbowed a guy across the face.

  17. Really, I was encouraged by the first half. Edu was resplendent. I feel like if any one of three things didn’t happen we would have got a result.
    1) Maidana’s injury
    2) Sheanon’s injury
    3) Pfeffer’s redcard (obviously)

    Pfeffer did not help his case by standing over Diaz after the foul, in the posture of someone saying, “Don’t try that shit on me.” That needs to be coached here too. An apology, a helping hand can change red to yellow and yellow to a warning.

    • Resplendent huh? Okay. I definitely need to watch in a different way. I will try.
      It’s funny how this is the third game in a row of some saying had x or y or z not happened we would have gotten a result. Good teams find ways to get the result. Mediocre to poor teams do not, they tend to say, had x or y or z happened things would be different.
      2 points is what this teams if after 3 games.
      Maybe 5 points is what this team is after 4 games.
      Maybe 3.

      • I agree that, overall, you tend to make your own luck.

      • Edu had a great game. It’s time to stop missing Okugo and move on. Mo is a better player…

      • Mo’s a great veteran player in this league but his days are numbered. Okugo is just as good with his whole career ahead of him. The Union went with name recognition…..not a plan for putting any better future product on the pitch. When Mo retires in a few years and Amobi is an MLS all-star or playing in Europe….the reality will kick in!

  18. My other thought was our fullback depth sucks.

  19. Adam, always fun to read your stuff. A slight problem with analysis in general is that the view is technical in an aloof sort of way. The problems with Phila. are much more fundamental. I see that the coach does NOT have control of the team. The team in a general sense does what it wants. Because there are no restrictions set by the coach in terms of style of play, fu8ndamentaql mistakes abound. First, the team has NO concept of support, which is integral to possession. It takes a minimum of 4 players in a specific area to initiate a possession game. This is set up by the coach. This is not present in Phila. Also, Midfielders facing their own goal are turning with the ball, losing possession. 50% of goals fron the run of play are scored by midfield and defensive turnovers. Midfielders are dribbling WAy to much, allowing defense to set up. Way to much 1 on 1 everywhere, The players are not being taught how to play with combinations. The spacing on the field is awful (coaching flaw) Which de creases conectivity. This coach is at the moment too weak (too nice) to set rules. ALL good coaches are somewhat tyranical and this gut better get with it, although I think it might be too late.You would make a good technical director but maybe not such a hot individual performance guide.There is a lot more but what the hell.

    • @DrK – Yeah, I tend to go for a technical POV since I’m always hesitant to try to draw causal arrows from coaching to on-field play. If we were sitting in July or August 2014, we might be talking about how well the coach had implemented a system that required very little support and pushed play through the team’s best attacking assets, the wingers. Philly went on a pretty surprising and sensational run last year with that setup, and it takes some level of coaching/technical acumen to implement that system after Hackworth had preached a different sermon the first half of the season.

      And I don’t disagree with your points about spacing/dribbilng in midfield, I just look at how Wenger and Curtin describe the way defenses are approaching the Union and wonder whether that midfield play is an outcome of defensive schemes rather than some fundamental flaw in Edu/Nogueira.

      Finally, the Union are playing a system that tries to establish 1v1s when possible: And that’s probably a good idea given the personnel. Le Toux and Wenger are never going to have great pass completion %, but they can change a game running at defenders, so that’s what the Union want to set up. And there aren’t too many midfielders that can wriggle away from a single defender as well as Nogueira, so he’s always going to spend a bit more time on the ball than most deep-lying players.

  20. Ok, I know I’m going to get some hate for this comment…but…

    I thought from the time Fabinho came in to the time of his botched clearance, he played pretty well. He made some interceptions and won the ball a few times high up the field – yes, you can make an argument that he was too high up and that he gets caught out of position a lot, and that’s an entirely valid (and probably largely correct) argument. But if you take out that botched clearance, he’s not earning that one-way ticket to the sun.

    I don’t believe he’s a good option for us moving forward, precisely because of what happened Saturday – he plays decently (too aggressively, perhaps) and then has a game-breaking mistake – like, almost literally every game he’s in.

    BUT I can see a rationale for protecting him in the expansion draft. What’s worse – losing a promising young player who nevertheless didn’t look like he was ready for prime time (playing for us, anyway) last year, or being caught with potentially no backup fullbacks when Williams has a sensitive hamstring? From experience, I can tell you those hamstring issues never really go away for good. The fact that they didn’t pick up another fullback anytime in the offseason makes me wonder if the FO didn’t think they had a chance at picking up an upgrade at that position for a backup price. Yes, that gets into issues about how cheap the FO is, all that, but I’d still rather have Fabinho as backup fullback than somebody who never or rarely plays that position.

    • I thought this too- but you need a fullback who
      1) doesn’t get beat (much) and
      2) doesn’t lose the ball in your half.

      If a player can’t do these things, he can’t play fullback.

    • @Tom – Good points for sure. I guess my answer is what I wrote – that Fabinho does make quite a few good plays when he’s in, but he has no off-switch. You get the good tackles and aggression, but you also get busted coverage, tons of gaps between him and his CB, and rarely a full 90 without something that makes you cringe. So it’s a tradeoff, and you have to ask how many questionable decisions you’re willing to put up with if you want that aggression out there. So in the end, it’s really the consistency with which Fabinho has been inconsistent that makes him a tough sell at this point, even if he does put a good 45 minutes together, that does very little to assure me that he’ll do it again.

      On Ribeiro, I guess I see a 6’7″ midfield project as a pretty good tool in the toolbox. There are quite a few role players I’d protect over Ribeiro – Lahoud for one. But Fabinho isn’t one of them. If you are going to take your chances with Fabinho, why not do it with a young, cheap player who is going to make many of the same mistakes and, possibly, learn from them in a way Fabinho hasn’t shown himself capable of?

      • While I basically agree with everything you said, I just wanted to add a little perspective to this conversation – a lot of people seem to HATE Fabinho. I merely dislike his tendencies as a player. Dr. K below is totally correct when he says discussions about players are about decisions, consistency and mistakes (and projects). And Fabinho definitely leaves a lot to be desired in all these categories.

        But I don’t agree with the assertion that putting another defensive player in over Fabinho at fullback is the solution. I’d have thought we’d learned these lessons under Hackworth – even brilliant players like Nogueira and Maidana looked lost when they weren’t playing their preferred MIDFIELD positions; even Sheanon is merely serviceable in a pinch at CB – obviously there are guys like Edu and to an extent Le Toux who can play multiple roles on the field, but they are exceptions to the rule. I get the sense that most people who read and comment on this site played in the past (or currently still play recreationally) and we should all know that on defense, as anywhere on the field, situational awareness is 4/5 of the game and when you’re playing out of position, you lose most of that. So when you’re talking about benching Fabinho when Sheanon is injured, you’re talking about a tradeoff of the potential for a catastrophic mistake vs. the loss of more than half of a player’s effectiveness on the field. So, guys, which do we want?

        Edit: I should add that I am exclusively talking about the Union’s situation RIGHT NOW, not long-term. Clearly we all agree that the Union need an upgrade (or multiple upgrades) at defense, both on the bench and in starting roles (I’m looking at you, CB).

      • Yeah, great point. That’s a lot of what I was trying to get at when I described Fabinho as fascinating. He can read play very well at times, which allows him to get close enough to make tackles and interceptions. But he takes so many chances jumping into passing lanes instead of playing his role in a system that the needles moves from fascinating to frustrating pretty quickly.

        Also, I may be wrong, but I think Fabinho himself is a converted midfielder. So you aren’t losing a lifetime of positional awareness. In fact, you’re probably losing just about one MLS season’s worth of minutes.

        And I agree with Dr. K that the bigger question is how does a player like Fabinho fit into the broader picture of what the Union should look like as a team. And my current thinking is that he ends up being a poor fit because the Union play with high wingers and don’t offer their fullbacks a ton of help, meaning a guy that takes chances can get into trouble. Even a guy as quick as Gaddis has gotten into trouble playing high and aggressive with so much space in the wide areas.

      • I would like to see Fabinho and whoever is on the left at a given moment- set up some 2v1 overlaps. That is a seldom seen tactic by the club- they love the 1v1 battle, yes I agree– but sometimes the space down the side of field is so underutilized in attack- more often than not just a spot to hack a cross in from.
        It would be nice to see us in a 2v1 down the flanks and push ball to touch line then cut in and look for late movement, late run, draw out the defense- and if its not there, cycle back to the mid and rebuild- whatever may be.

      • They have always played a very narrow brand of footy……..I can’t remember how many times I sat in 114 and saw the ball passed to the middle and the pivot begin….and NO ONE would be on the other side. They play like they are in a bowling alley…….easy to defend.

  21. IT is useless to comment about players as if they can control their destiny or their play. They cant. This Fabinho is a island adrift in the Union sea. Why even discuss his mistakes in NO context? The discussion here is always about the trees, never the forest. Never about concepts,always about decisions, consistency and mistakes and projects. The big question is how to integrate these guys into a team. Right now Union is not a team yet. Minor Hamstring issues take about 6 weeks to go away. Just watch to see when the player is returned. If in less than 6 weeks, expect trouble.

    • You don’t think debating whether the midfield’s slow transition game is more a function of their own tactics versus opponent tactics is a forest question?

      What about the concept of a known quantity at fullback versus an unknown quantity with potential? Or the tradeoff between putting pressure on a playmaker vs cutting passing angles to a striker?

      The context for the Fabinho discussion is his style of play (aggressive, mistake-prone, cross-happy). The focus is on his most recent mistake and how, in the context of his previous games, it shouldn’t be that unexpected.

      Context can take different forms. We could talk about the team support and midfielders helping their defenders (in fact, we spent a good portion of Danny Cruz’s Union career looking at his value in the context of energy vs defensive responsibility).

      Last year, we talked about MacMath’s USOC semifinal mistake in terms of the Union’s defensive tactics, not simply as an individual mistake of engaging in a footrace with a guy who might as well have wings.

      Had Fabinho stepped high and left space behind, we could talk about that in the context of Wenger/Le Toux staying too far up and creating a gap between wings/defense. But that isn’t what happened. The mistake wasn’t one of team shape, it was an individual error.

      None of this is to say you don’t have a point, but simply that these are single game analyses and there’s only so far into the conceptual realm you can go before you are no longer writing a single game analysis, and with that context a more narrow focus makes sense for these pieces. In the offseason, we can ask more questions about how team goals (e.g., counterattacking) influence team shape and what you ask of your wide players (track back more centrally? Help the fullbacks?) These are interesting issues but they also take a ton of time to try and answer. During the season we tend to do more posing of questions (i.e., how do these trees fit into potential forests?) because, y’know, 24 hours in a day and all.

      • I said this before. Adam you are quite an intelligent reader of the game. Curious what aspirations you have beyond the analysis on a blog.

      • Adam is in my opinion one of the two best technical analysts of the game in American media. Only Matt Doyle is in his league.

        If I could nudge Adam into a role like that, I would. Unfortunately, there are so few soccer media jobs out there, and those that are don’t pay much.

        So he’s probably a future fantastic coach. But that’s up to him, eh?

    • I struggle with these words “always” and “never”. It precludes any remote possibility of a deeper discussion that could be going on, has been going on or may someday go on. There is a good deal of good thought amongst these pages- tactical and analytical – even if sometimes Adam says it a bit more astutely.
      I feel many here have written about some of the things you mention. I for one have be-labored the apparent lack of organization and managerial Vision. Philosophy. Plan. and how it manifests in the haphazard play we so often have seen, see, and very likely will continue to see from the club- “where is thumb-kin where is thumb-kin”
      I appreciate Adam’s response to your post Dr.K as it feels right. “here I am here I am”

  22. Very good stuff but my take is from a different angle.For example, I think for the Union, their slow transition game is a function of not having a clue as to what they want to do or should be doing at all. There is only rudimentary tactical discipline in midfield. If a player can not discipline himself to play correctly, he must sit. Given the lack of sophistication of most teams in attack, (Hence, as you know, the paucity of scoring,) Getting a decent fullback is not so difficult in these circumstances. This game may be a one off, because 10 men can change single game dynamics certainly psychologically if the team is not well prepared as a unit.

    • Yeah, I see what you mean. I guess I’ve been approaching it from a “how does the Union midfield prevent the other team from reaching their goals” instead of putting more focus on how the midfield is meeting their own goals in terms of controlling a game and forcing their own style on a match. I’ll try to keep both perspectives in mind going forward.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Union midfield “controlling” a game? What can we talk about? We don’t have the horses. Disrupting the opponent is our only realistic option.

      • Even donkeys can can play a 4-5-1 midfield to disrupt the opponent and counter with 2 or 3 speed guys. Italians made a living off of that for years.

      • Holy shit did you just say that?

      • The Black Hand says:

        Shit, man…call in the donkeys, because we are struggling. Can any of them stretch the pitch AND link play?? That would be useful, right about now.

      • Ah, so maybe my lens regarding Maurice Edu isn’t so cloudy. A bit more discernment from all, then- myself included.

  23. Keep up the fun. Best column about the game in the blog. You are making me watch the Union even though Im a NYC guy. Although I did go to Penn Grad school so im a little Philly. Even Played for the Phila. Spartans

    • If I took in a few Yankees games during a World Series run in ’96 am I a bit New York then?
      Good stuff Dr.K

  24. On your rating of Edu, my point is that he didn’t do everything he could. Yes, in the first have he wasn’t playing bad at all, but then in the second he looked horrible. What I saw was a guy who was standing still most of the half. There were so many times where he could have moved into spaces to receive a pass and show some creativity and change the flow of the unions passing game. Instead he was caught standing still and watching the game instead of being involved. He really is only one example of how this team is not moving enough with and without the ball. I watched the NYFC matches and they look like the complete opposite of the union. If the union play in this manner and do not follow Nogueira’s footsteps then NYFC and others are going to have a field day against us. I think simply moving and wanting the ball and not being flat footed can go a long way with improving this team.

  25. This teams biggest problem is that they can’t move the ball from one side of the field to the other with any pace. They just pass it nice and slow from wing to midfielder, to another midfielder and finally to the other wing where the defense has already set up shop. The other issue is that this team doesn’t play down the middle enough and look for through balls for Fernando or Le Toux and Wenger if they decide to make a diagonal run. Rais is a mess in goal and our center backs are not good on the ball. We are not winning balls in the air on set pieces offensively or defensively. I wasn’t expecting a great season to begin with. What little hope I had is quickly going away.

  26. We can debate what happened after the red, but we were the better team for the first 40 minutes of the game. Sure, its another bummer of a game but missed chances aside we were controlling play against a good team for 40 minutes. That is a positive.

    Maurice Edu is a good MLS number 8.

    He never has or never will be a number 6. He doesn’t have the positional discipline . . .

    Maurice Edu is a top 5 MLS center back. Top ten at the worst. I don’t give a flying f@#$ where he wants to play.

    I wouldn’t mind giving Ayuk a start. I love Seba’s work rate but he is looking more lead footed than usual.

    M’Bohli is disappointing me.

  27. I have never considered Mike Lahoud a viable MLS starter but in this scenario I think it could work. He won’t get in Nogueira’s way and be would drop in when Mo decides to take a journey up field. Ethan White, to me, is our biggest liability at the moment. Wenger still needs to be in the first eleven because he can change the game on a dime.

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