Player ratings

Analysis and player ratings: Sporting KC 3-2 Union

Photo: Nick Smith, via Sporting Kansas City Facebook page

Last May, Philadelphia traveled to Kansas City with a 1-5-5 record. Sporting was 5-2-2 at the time. The Union took the lead, gave it up, then grabbed it back and held on to win 2-1. It was no season turning point, but it was a gritty, tough performance. The kind of performance that Jim Curtin has insisted his team must give if they want to be anything more than a punching bag this season.

This past Sunday, the Union gave Curtin the ninety minutes of tough, gritty, admirably ugly soccer he demanded. Then they folded.

In six minutes of extra time, all of Philadelphia’s weaknesses were laid bare. There was the lack of depth, with CJ Sapong coming in as a winger and opening the left flank for Benny Feilhaber to finally influence the match. Feilhaber attempted 16 passes in the final third, with 8 of them after the 72nd minute and five from the hole in the left channel during that period.

There was Raymond Lee at left back, looking as though nobody had told him his job was to boot the ball as far away from the goal as possible whenever he got near it.

Wenger final 15 minutes + extra time.

Wenger final 15 minutes + extra time.

There was also the complete absence of the Union’s counter attack. Sebastien Le Toux was active, but CJ Sapong and Andrew Wenger were uninvolved. Wenger so much so that his chalkboard is completely blank for the final fifteen minutes of the match plus stoppage time.

But most obviously, and most disturbingly for the future: There was a lack of belief.

Despite surviving ninety minutes while connecting on barely 50 percent of their passes, despite going into extra time with a lead on the road, despite frustrating Sporting Kansas City’s playmakers to such an extent that they barely entered the final third, Philadelphia went into those final six minutes looking like a team that expected something to go wrong.

Instead of sitting back in the tight shell that had been so effective all match, Philly began chasing. Instead of hauling off the lagging Wenger to add another defensive body to the mix there was only crossed fingers.

In short, the Union played like a group of individuals that were too worried about making a mistake to think about anything like shape, man-marking, or communication. And it cost them three points.

Coaching: positives

Philadelphia came to Sporting Park in desperate need of a good result. To that end, Jim Curtin made adjustments that had been a long time coming.

First, and most importantly, he moved Maurice Edu to the back line. This was not an indictment of Edu’s play in central midfield so much as it was recognition that Ethan White has played his way out of a starting role. All of the little things that White needs to do in order to be a reliable MLS-level central defender have been missing from his game. Thus, Jim Curtin had to accept that keeping a stable back line was secondary to installing confident players in front of a disinterested goalie. Unfortunately — yet, predictably — Maurice Edu has been far and away the best midfielder on the Union outside of Cristian Maidana’s pre-injury cameos. Removing Edu from midfield meant going with Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud: the most blue collar pairing in MLS.

However, keeping Edu in midfield would have meant calling on the untested Richie Marquez. The Union let Marquez play on Saturday in Harrisburg (a questionable decision, to be sure), so that was off the table. I call Marquez untested intentionally: To highlight that he will never be tested until given a chance to play in the big leagues.

In addition to the Edu move, Curtin pulled Sebastien Le Toux off the wing and dropped him into the middle as a hybrid second striker/attacking midfielder. Le Toux tried to get up next to Fernando Aristeguieta on offense while tracking back to clog the middle.

Once again, Curtin seemed to make the right move. There were few (read: zero) options available for the ten role and Le Toux was an active pest in the middle of the park. However, Le Toux was criminally bad at offering support to his fellow midfielders and fullbacks. Whereas Maidana and Nogueira show to the ball, Le Toux’s hold up play consists almost entirely of laying the ball off and hitting the jets upfield. Union fans can laud this trait or throw up their hands, but that is what Le Toux has done and will do as long as he plays soccer.

Eric Ayuk and Andrew Wenger passing.

Eric Ayuk and Andrew Wenger passing and take-ons.

Third, Curtin chose to introduce Eric Ayuk on the wing over Jimmy McLaughlin. And Ayuk was good, particularly in the first half. He exhibited the fearlessness under pressure that made Michael Farfan such a standout in his rookie season. Furthermore, Ayuk was a ballhawk, with his four recoveries leading all Union players in the first half (in a stat that is as much a condemnation of the rest of the team as it is praise for Ayuk). But the most important aspect of Ayuk’s game for Philly was his willingness to roam the pitch when he wanted the ball. In contrast to Andrew Wenger, Ayuk actively sought out holes in which he could become influential. This movement gave Marcel De Jong problems, while on the other side Wenger was neutered by a converted center back for the second straight week.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Curtin finally got his team to play as a unit for most of the match. A good defensive game plan saw Kansas City frustrated in their attempts to enter the final third. Curtin managed to use two positionally sound but offensively flawed defensive midfielders to keep Sporting from establishing any final third pressure.

Carroll and Lahoud broke up play, but did not recover many balls in midfield.

Carroll and Lahoud broke up play, but did not recover many balls in midfield.

Those two d-mids, Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud, were excellent defensively. Criticize their first touches, crush Lahoud for missing an open look late, but there is no getting around how well the two veterans suffocated the space between the center circle and the box. Carroll tended to stay more central while Lahoud roamed. But, importantly, Carroll called Ayuk back all day, and stepped into the channel so Gaddis didn’t have to chase forward and leave space behind. Thus, one of the Union’s biggest defensive issues all season was effectively solved but one of the team’s most maligned players. It is no coincidence that so much of Gaddis’ defensive work took place closer to his own goal: There was no space available for a winger to drag the fullback out of position. And when he can focus on simply defending a zone, Gaddis remains a lockdown defender.

Feilhaber final third involvement post-72nd minute.

Feilhaber final third involvement post-72nd minute (open play only).

Coaching: negatives

Obviously, it is important to get CJ Sapong back in the mix. And it was great to do it in Kansas City.

But how is Sapong for Ayuk the right substitution with 18 minutes to go in a game when the Union have seen 30 percent of the possession?

Sapong is big, strong, fast, and an intelligent mover as a central striker. On the wing, he is big, strong, fast, and positionally questionable. At best. Because, y’know, he’s not actually a winger (which is a big part of the reason he’s not in Kansas City anymore).

Sapong was actually very good at following Seth Sinovic and making sure the fullback didn’t get forward. But whereas Carroll had Ayuk tracking back and drifting to the middle to keep Espinoza and Feilhaber from establishing positions, he could not get Sapong to do the same. As a result, Carroll ended up deeper in the right channel and Espinoza finally found the space he needed to influence the match.

Curtin had other options. He had Jimmy McLaughlin. He could have hauled off Andrew Wenger, who, unlike Ayuk, was offering nothing as an outlet man. He could have moved Le Toux wide, sat Aristeguieta deeper and let Sapong’s speed scare the KC back line.

Roger Espinoza post 72nd minute involvement.

Roger Espinoza post 72nd minute involvement.

Both now and in retrospect, the Sapong substitution feels pre-planned. And that is not a good thing. It feels very much as though the Union coaches wanted to get Sapong into the match and prioritized that over both winning the game and making the most tactically sound adjustment. Obviously, no coach makes a move that he or she thinks will be detrimental to winning. But coaches are subject to biases just like the rest of us. And from the outside, it certainly looks like Curtin and company anchored on the idea of using Sapong in KC and rationalized away the potential issues of placing him on the wing.

And even if we accept that the Union really wanted to get Sapong some minutes, there is still this issue: Andrew Wenger has been a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad second half player.

In the 63rd minute of Sunday’s match, Wenger was set up on the edge of the box and got the ball right where he wanted it. He placed it tamely into the goalie’s hands. That sounds bad, but this makes it worse: That was the first shot Wenger has put anywhere close to the goal in the second half of a 2015 match. Prior to Sunday, Wenger had exactly one shot in the second half of a game. It was a blocked shot. No shots off frame, no shots on frame. Just a lone blocked shot.

This would be acceptable if… no, wait. This is not acceptable. Wenger has been peripheral in many first halves and invisible after that. In 2015, he has one key pass in the second half of a match. He has no successful crosses.

This is a big, big problem. Wenger is a better player than those numbers (I mean, he almost has to be). So: how to get the player going? There are zero signs of improvement from game to game. And unlike Le Toux, Wenger is not a player that chases play when it doesn’t come to him. Instead, he sits out wide and waits.

And the Union have waited with and for him. Even though Jimmy McLaughlin has shown himself capable of putting on a show in Harrisburg, the Union have waited.

No more. Wenger may get better, but Philly cannot afford to keep fielding a player so low on confidence that he dribbles with his head down even without pressure. It’s a tough decision, but Jim Curtin needs to make it. Zero wins in five is as good a time as any to make the tough decisions.

Feilhaber and Espinoza effectively cut off Union attacks, but only had two recoveries in the Union half, meaning they just weren't spending time there.

Feilhaber (10) and Espinoza (27) effectively cut off Union attacks, but only had two recoveries in the Union half, meaning they just weren’t spending time there. Carrasco (16) shuttled side to side in front of the defense.

The gameplay

All of Jim Curtin’s tactical and personnel choices influenced the slog of a match that played out. But Curtin was a minor actor compared to the Kansas City midfield, which was fascinatingly terrible. Carroll, Lahoud, and even Le Toux were positionally strong, but that is no excuse for Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza to be so easily dissuaded from pushing forward.

For most of the match, watching the midfield battle felt like watching an old pitcher with a fastball topping out at 86 MPH continually fool brash, young hitters into checked swing grounders. Feilhaber and Espinoza had no idea where the pockets of space where supposed to be, and they eventually stopped trying to find them and just settled for dumping balls into the Union half. After a half hour of straining his eyes to see his midfield, Dom Dwyer started checking deep to at least offer some connection that would allow KC to move out of the back. It was an intelligent move, but it meant Jimmy Medranda and Jacob Peterson would have to push the Union back line deep. Predictably, they did not.

Thus developed a turgid stalemate in which Kansas City did not have the bodies forward to attack Philadelphia. And the Union did not have the passing skills to transition to offense.

In this context, was Philadelphia’s historically low 52 percent pass completion percentage that bad? (Hint: yes.) But it is not as damning as it first appears. The Union are going to concede possession if they play to counter, and they are going to pass poorly as long as Maurice Edu is the only player in the back six with above-average range. And even Edu is going to become a subpar passer when the energetic Dwyer is intent on closing him down all the time.

Second half Union defensive passing. Look at all those incomplete short passes: Dangerous own-half turnovers.

Second half Union defensive passing. Look at all those incomplete short passes: Dangerous own-half turnovers.

To pull something useful out of this disturbing number, let’s look at short passing. In the second half, Gaddis was 1/6 passing short. Fabinho: 1/4. Vitoria: 3/7. Edu: 2/4. Raymond Lee: 1/4

Those passes are the ones that should improve with Nogueira and Maidana back in the lineup. This Union defense is not going to hit any Hollywood passes to set up the break, but missing short passes creates the turnovers that can destroy even an organized defense. Focus on the short passing against NYCFC next week and see what kind of influence Vincent Nogueira has on those numbers.

So 52 percent is a bad stat, but get used to it, because it is a somewhat accurate representation of the Union’s back line without Sheanon Williams.

Set piece defending

This will be a short section: Do it better. Teams only have so many tricks. Picks, movement, subtle fouling… that’s about it.

Do it better.


Wow, talk about a softball for an analysis piece. Mbolhi was very, very bad on Sunday. The first goal was a low point, but his positioning on the second was hardly better.

Body language: Awful.

Aerial game: Pretty awful.

With his feet: Questionable at best.

Here is the biggest problem, though. And it’s the obvious one. Rais Mbolhi doesn’t make the Union any better. Under his guidance, the back line has been a mess. Problems that need fixing remain problems. The problems Zac MacMath had — controlling the box, playing with his feet, taking a leadership role — remain problems.

The worst part – both for fans and for Mbolhi – is that he is such a perfect symbol of the Union’s organizational problems.

  1. He is an expensive solution to Zac MacMath being an average goalie (after MacMath himself was drafted far too high given the number of solid goalies available in MLS).
  2. He was anointed a leader because of his experience, not because he has ever been a leader at another club (or even remained at another club long enough to become a leader).
  3. He plays at the expense of young talent that, quite simply, needs to be allowed to prove its worth. (Not what you expected as the number one overall pick, is it Mr. Blake?)
  4. And, perhaps worst of all, Mbolhi represents the general misallocation of resources that has defined Philadelphia Union. Maurice Edu has been a good player, but he was a misallocation of resources, since the Union needed a true central defender more than three central midfielders. Fabinho is a misallocation of resources: He was protected ahead of a high draft pick who was given all of 351 minutes to prove himself. Andre Blake was a misallocation of resources: He was drafted ahead of numerous positions of immediate need, and his trade value has been going down ever since. Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer are underused resources, relegated to the bench as the Union continually chase a playoff pot of gold that they have not built the foundations to reach with any sort of consistency. Even Jim Curtin is a misallocation of resources: An intelligent, strong-willed young coach who could become a very good head coach given time to learn. Instead he has become the face of a franchise that has not provided him with the resources anyone but an elite coach needs to succeed.

(As a quick aside, it’s ironic that the Union are willing to let Curtin and Chris Albright learn on the job with so little coaching and front office experience given that young players have had such a difficult time breaking into the club’s mediocre lineups year after year.)

But Edu, Fabinho, Blake, the young guys, and Curtin never give the impression that they are doing anything but trying their hardest. Call Edu out for coasting if you want, but he expected to be a midfielder and instead has been shuffled into defense and out again to cover for overall frailty of the roster. No, only Mbolhi perfectly represents a misallocation of resources. He was obviously poorly scouted, he is overpaid, and he cares little about playing in Philadelphia, even though he plays for a coach who sees the city as a representation of all the values he wants his players to exhibit.

To sum up, the Union are playing bad soccer in front of a goalie who oozes disinterest. Mbolhi may not want to talk to the media, but nowadays there are many other ways to communicate with fans, to tell them that as a player, you share their pain when things are going poorly. That means a lot to fans because unlike players they don’t get paid to go to games; they front the cash and expect an effort in return.

Even Freddy Adu gave an effort.

Player ratings

Rais Mbolhi – 1

Don’t worry, you’ll still get paid on the bench.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Playing next to Edu, Gaddis had his best game of the season, and it isn’t even close. Four interceptions on the edge of the box are just one indicator of the strong positional game Gaddis played, working with Carroll to keep the channels empty while ensuring that nobody ran in behind. The big issue Gaddis had was that he was marking Dom Dwyer on set pieces. This makes no sense. Gaddis is small and doesn’t jump particularly well. Dwyer is an exceptional leaper and wonderful in the air. Dwyer lost Gaddis on the first goal and had a second waived off for a questionable foul.

Maurice Edu – 7

Another player who was solid all night, Edu was marking Ike Opara on every dead ball. Opara took off on a number of freakish leaps, but Edu was always with him. Additionally, Edu got his positioning right, keeping Dwyer from having enough room to turn while ensuring that Gaddis was never left in 1v2s on the wing. Edu’s passing was far below his usual level, but in fairness there were rarely passes to play, and he was never caught in possession, nor did he leave passes short in his own half. The back line was a much stronger unit with Edu, and that’s a step in the right direction for the Union.

Steven Vitoria – 5

If you kick the ball at Vitoria, he will head it away. But it’s becoming alarmingly clear that Vitoria is not the most competent aerial player. His size gives the loanee a big boost, but he is slow to read runs across his body and he has yet to dominate the box on set pieces. A competent, but hardly impressive display.

Fabinho – 5

An anonymous performance? Yup, that’ll do. Fabinho looked more comfortable than he has in the past, with two midfielders protecting him and Anibaba offering little in terms of offensive threat from the fullback position.

Brian Carroll – 7

You hardly knew he was there. And that’s when he’s at his best.

Michael Lahoud – 6

The roaming half of the midfield duo, Lahoud showed why he can be such a valuable squad player. His passing also showed why he is a squad player. His shooting just makes me angry.

Andrew Wenger – 2

This was a troubling performance from Wenger. He did nothing to trouble Kansas City and nothing to help Philadelphia. To justify his subpar defense, Wenger needs to be a relevant outlet for the midfield. And once again, he was not. Furthermore, Wenger has absolutely zero chemistry with Aristeguieta, who again looked lively and smart in his movement compared to the static Wenger.

Eric Ayuk – 5

Ayuk can do wonderful things with the ball. But he can’t do them while looking around. Much more effective than Wenger at holding the ball and taking a bit of pressure off the defense, Ayuk looks like a very valuable piece off the bench. But the fact that the Union are already asking so much of what remains a very one-dimensional player says a lot about the state of the roster right now. Ayuk should get generous praise for his defensive work, as he tracked back and sat to the right of Brian Carroll with more consistency than Le Toux has when played on the right.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Le Toux struggled offensively yet again, but his defensive work was actually quite good. The Frenchman’s energy kept Feilhaber and Espinoza looking over their shoulders, and, most impressively, Le Toux tracked back to the middle instead of chasing and losing shape. Also, both set piece deliveries that led to goals were well placed. You may expect Marin to get to the first one, but by forcing the goalie to make a decision, Le Toux accomplished a large part of what a set piece taker hopes to do.

Fernando Aristeguieta – 8

A glorious goal, a glorious steal and breakaway that fizzled because, hey, he’s not that fast, and a lot of defensive work on set pieces. The Venezuelan continues to impress while the team struggles.


CJ Sapong – 4

This was just the wrong place to play Sapong. The team didn’t have enough possession to spring him, and he had more defensive responsibilities than he could handle.

Raymond Lee – 2

Not the best debut… hopefully he rebounds mentally.

Geiger Counter

Ismail Elfath – 5

Elfaith didn’t have to try hard to be better than the two teams he was reffing.


  1. Totally agree with the coaching positives. It was nice to see the gameplan was very attacking based. Some of the poor passing percentages can be attributed to the fact that they were attempting some difficult passes rather than trying to keep it in the back. The game was pretty enjoyable to watch… before the collapse.
    Very glad to see Carroll and Lahoud get their credit for a very good game in the center of the pitch. The miss was obviously unfortunate for Lahoud, but it shouldn’t erase what otherwise was a very good performance.
    After a couple days to cool off, I’m not ready to count these guys out just yet.

    • I agree. The blood pressure has come down to near-healthy levels now, and I think an assessment can more honest now.

      If we can imagine the lineup as it should be with everyone healthy, I think there are strong possibilities for this season. Whether or not the live up to those possibilities is a discussion for another time.
      But this is a lineup that can make some possible noise:
      GK (TBD)

      Mix in Ayuk, who has a ton of potential, and this team is definitely better than we have seen.

      I get it, I’m being overly optimistic. But keep in mind, the East is very mediocre (again). One win and we’re back in a playoff spot. It’s early. I will remain patient for a few more weeks.

      But damn, was that game disheartening…

    • One more point. I agree that Ayuk was excellent in his first start. The fact that Vermes had to sub out DeJong at halftime is a testament to his impact on the game. This is such an underrated aspect, and something the Union have struggled with – how to influence our gameplan and make the opposition react to us. Lots of promise, and I don’t mind a little bit of attacking risk he takes in the offensive end of the pitch.

      • For an 18 year old on a team of players who don’t understand the first thing sometimes about supporting angles and movement and planning and playing the game in the near future he looked sharp. He has much to learn but thoroughly a breath of fresh air.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Can anyone say with a straight face that Mbolhi is an improvement over the 2010 version of Chris Seitz?
    I do see potential in Ayuk but I would like to see him get rid of the ball quicker once he beats his man rather than give the opponents a chance to double up on him.
    I thought there could have been a few more cards against KC given some of the elbow work, especially on the play where Ayuk went down just before halftime.

    • Dr. Union says:

      I was thinking the same thing Mbohli might possibly be worse than the 2010 version of Chris Seitz. So the question is since we have other options will the coach ever use them. Its far past time the guy has played 10 MLS games with the Union I believe with maybe 1 win if even that. I know people say put Mbohli on US Open Cup duty I might go as far as to put him back to your 3rd keeper who only plays if the other two are injured. He is awful and has the worst attitude I’ve seen from a keeper in years.

  3. Most complaints about the Union are redundant at this point so I will relate a story about how the Philadelphia Union has turned me into a crazy person.
    So the Union were up 2-1 heading into the 90th minute and aside from the standard how the hell are the Union going to blow this lead fear I also recognized that I possessed a secondary fear to go along with that. I had the fear that if somehow the Union pulled off the victory that the Union would somehow learn all the wrong lessons from the game and it would be a prelude to more humiliating losses in the future.
    Part of my brain was like “Shit we are winning. SHITSHITSHITSHIT now he is going to sit Maidana on the bench again! HE will think its because of Lahoud and just say screw it I’ll start him over Nogs. Shit. Shit. Shit.
    It was at that point I realized that I have been so conditioned to be miserable by the Union that there was no scenario I could be happy.

    • I somehow managed a double comment….odd

      • Part II
        Monday I get an email from a season ticket rep asking me if I want a partial season ticket plan. I reply half in jest that the letter was unfortunately timed.
        The reply I got was this:
        Yes I understand last night was a very frustrating match. For 91 minutes Jim Curtin put together a perfect game plan, that was executed to a T in one of the toughest environments to play in our league. The play of Erik Ayuk, Michael Lahoud, Fernado, Seba, BC, Vittoria, Mo and Ray was outstanding – and should be praised. The fact that it all fell apart in the last 4 minutes of stoppage time is a tough pill to swallow and it doesn’t help we have a handful of players out due to injury.
        On the plus side, we have a full crowd for Saturday and I know an energetic atmosphere will help push the players to get those 3 points! Are you planning on making it out for this match?
        I didn’t reply.

      • Funny about who your rep left out in mentioning who played “outstanding”.

        I feel your pain at the “monster” you’ve become. For me it was a little different. I totally EXPECTED the equalizer late – and was becoming more and more concerned it wasn’t coming. Maybe even DISAPPOINTED. When it finally did it was almost like a RELIEF! Just as I was thinking – “wow – that does suck” SKC went ahead and it didn’t even faze me….It just felt like the Columbus game from last year…..when it rains it pours.

        Say what you will about the 2nd and 3rd goals being the keeper’s fault or not – his teammates hate him. He’s not a leader. Your keeper needs to be the rock a team rallies around and Mbohli is made of styrofoam.

        He is a cancer and needs to be on the bench. Start McCarthy. Then if you still want to try to salvage Mbohli let him try to gain confidence on the road. Cause he will be crucified at home until (if) he plays better.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I admit that I expected the equalizer, but would have been proud and happy (given the first four games) of leaving KC with a point. I did not expect to lose. As I said before, I will not expect this team to win again until they actually do.

      • If they really think all those players were outstanding… then we are in bigger trouble than we think.

      • Eh I’m sure they had a meeting that morning to see how to handle this. The decision was to be relentlessly positive. I hope my rep isn’t working for commission

      • lefthalfback says:

        A full house for NYCFC? Jeez, there’s a shock. Things must really be oK after all!!!!!!


    • Wow I’m with you on this…I think it may be a permanent condition

    • I was watching the game with my two boys (11 and 13). Somewhere around the 85th minute, my oldest starts talking about how amazing it will be to win this game. I turned to him and said, “There is no way the Union are winning this game. Don’t even dream of it. I will be content with a draw on the road.” He scoffed at me, and then learned, for the 300th time, that Father Knows Best. And the Union, of course, exceeded even my impressive negative expectations. So: I have the same condition.

    • I felt like this midway through the hackworth regime. I tried to start this year positive. I really tried. I even said the first 2 home games were a pass because the weather sucked and the field was bad, but it’s all over now. I believe nothing. I’ll still plop down money for my season tix, but I feel nothing. I need a beer.

  4. Your point 4 under Mbolhi, Adam. Bravo. You nailed it. (Rest of the piece is great, as usual, but #4, that’s art.)

  5. Neutered. Adam in no other context has the word neutered been better used. Case closed. Again a pointed analysis.
    Do you know what truly sucks?
    I knew, knew, knew in the deepest places of my molecular make up that when Le Toux and LaHoud missed the chance to close out the game — and then the sign board flashed 6 minutes the club was in trouble.
    Did I know they were going to lose? No. Did I know something was likely to go wrong in light of the absurdity of blowing yet another break away on goal. For sure. That is what they have done to me- turned what is a generally upbeat positive world view into a fear of the anvil falling out the window.
    This club. This club. This club. This club. Oh my God, this club.

    • To me it just looked like the Union got “figured out” by the end of the match and not a “late game collapse”. Maybe it was the rigid and non-existence of a super-sub decision. Maybe it was the fact that we couldn’t hold the ball for any length of time so they got enough looks at our defense to find soft spots. Maybe they smelled the gushing blood of a goalie who’s being dismembered before us. To me it just seemed at some point in extra time they realized that they were the men and we were the boys and they had their way.

  6. Always love the ratings articles, even after a loss. A question, how much did you drop Lahoud for that miss? If it was me, I would have dropped him 3 points just for the miss, and he wasn’t a 9 performer.

    • @Barry – only dropped him one. Emotionally it was probably three, but I respect the fact that he even got up the field that late after chasing for 70% of the match.

      • I agree completely. He really played a very strong game up until that point. I would personally dock him from a 7 to a 6, just as you did.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        I actually like Lahoud and Nogs sitting in front of Edu and Vitoria (and the rest of the back line) for the next game. Lahoud earned it as far as I’m concerned.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Agreed. As long as he can gel with Noguiera (get him the ball quickly and give him space) he will be a fine #6. He’s very mobile and can get chippy, when called for. As long as he is smart with distribution, Lahoud will be a smart adjustment.
        Hopefully, Maidana is fit for Saturday. Edu (CB)/Lahoud/Noguiera/Maidana/Artie make up a formidable spine.
        Wenger needs to sit. I’m not sure if we have a legitimate option on the left. Although I think that I might prefer a look at Fabinho (as LM/LW), over Wenger…right now. ( Competition is the best motivator.). Can Jimmy play on the left?
        Rais is spent. His performances have been über-shaky and his mental state is not right (understatement). Give him a spell on the bench to recharge, before you stone him. He’s pretty good…and a little competition, again, will go a long way. Curtin is making the right call/statement, by sitting M’Bolhi…as long as we have the backup option (Blake). If he rolls with McCarthy, and McCarthy struggles; Curtin will be trying to get the egg off of his face.
        Hopefully, Blake gets fit and we have two quality keeper options.
        What do we do with Zach Pfeffer. He’s, kind of, too good to sit; but where do we put him???

  7. I had to reread this article. My God it is good. Damn man, thank you for saying this so well.

  8. The entire Mbolhi section is probably the best analysis yet of the current state of this team and how it got there. Concise, analytic and balanced. Well done.

    • Agreed. The Mbolhi section is the best State of the Union analysis I’ve seen. Love how it concludes with the Freddy Adu pardon.

  9. These articles, while always excellent, are just another level this year. Wow. Many thanks. If only the team gave you a reason to have a more hopeful analysis…

  10. Another great article….sums up my feelings to a “T”.

  11. usually i glance at the passing charts though i was giddy to see the Wenger chart. i felt he was invisible all match and that is a beautiful piece illustrating his contribution, not only for those 15 mins but his performance this season.

  12. As a former player (dark ages of the late 70’s) your analysis here is exactly what I was trying to covey on twitter which is impossible given 140 characters.
    Thank you so much for your opinion!

  13. I’m so very curious to see what the atmosphere will be like at PPL on Saturday. I don’t think booing M’Bohli will be helpful and hope that doesn’t happen. I’ll yell out encouragement as I always do but I don’t know if my heart will be in it. Usually, by this time, I’m really looking forward to getting out to the game and cheering the boys on. I look forward to it all week but this constant disappointment has really sapped my spirit. Okay, enough wallowing. Player ratings are what they are. There are always different interpretations. But the analysis in this piece is just sterling work. I’m impressed often with the writing and content of this site but damn Adam…today, you da man.

  14. Got too defensive too quick! u cant just give them the ball for the last 15 mins and not expect them to make something out of it.. still dont understand why the african kid (forget his name right now)..#14 was taken out when having a spectacular game.. then sapong comes in probably couldnt even run straight with that uncomfortable mask on!.. took him out.. then everything went downhill.. its like they dont wana win.. the goalie let some goals in on purpose too.. come on philly!!

  15. Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

    Gaddis deserves an 8 for publicly screaming at M’Bolhi in front of a world wide audience.

    • gaddis was definitely not a happy guy in that moment and i feel like it would take a lot for him to be that mad at a teammate

    • John Ling says:

      I would love to know what he was saying. “Your French accent isn’t as good as Seba’s” maybe?

    • alicat215 says:

      you have to be careful about that stuff…..remember, its seen all over the world. Its just like baseball when players show each other up and get pissed….there is an unwritten rule about what you do in front of the cameras………and what you do in the locker room or clubhouse……..same goes in footy. Jamie Carragher ripped Minolet for doing that to his backs over the weekend when LFC was getting flamed by the mighty Gunners, he said it right in his commentary. I have no doubt that was part of the problem in the U’s locker room. Wenger rips a few guys a match…………Ray isn’t the only one. He gave Pfeffer all kinds of shit that match until he received a red. All comes back to the players not respecting their coaches….if they do…this shit doesn’t happen!

  16. Funny that you mention Michael Farfan, a guy the Union passed on this year that could really help out at multiple positions.

  17. This is not a defense of MBohli by any means; I agree that he hasn’t yet lived up to the hype (or money). It has more to do with my lack of knowledge of soccer technique. I watched the replay of the 1st goal on Borg’s Instant Replay video, which had a great view of what unfolded from behind the net, and I’m tempted to cut MBohli some slack on the goal. It looked absolutely horrendous in real time, but I think he gets to that ball easily if he doesn’t step on Edu’s foot.
    Can anyone enlighten me as to what should have happened on the play if it was done correctly? Are defenders supposed to do everything possible to get out of the way when a GK is coming off his line? Is the GK supposed to jump earlier to avoid getting tripped up by other players? What would a GK coach say about this play? I feel like MBohli made the only play he could on that corner. It was whipped in there and perfectly placed just beyond the back post, and if he stays on his line, I don’t think anyone stops Dwyer from putting that in the net.
    Go and watch the view on the Instant Replay video. If everyone agrees that it’s still his mistake, that’s fine. I honestly don’t know who is to blame, or if it was just bad luck. I just feel like we might be heaping this entire loss on him when a lot of other things went wrong.

    • Also, I think SKC has legitimate gripes on the two other plays that Borg reviews. Fabinho could have easily been called for a penalty when he runs into the back of Dwyer, and I don’t think Gaddis was even trying to jump for the ball on Dwyer’s disallowed goal. In real time, it looked like a push-off foul, but I don’t think he actually used Gaddis for leverage. If both of those calls go the other way, we’re not even in a position to collapse at the end of the day.

    • Section 114 (Formerly) says:

      Yeah, the keeper is supposed to take a line where he can get to the ball, and make clear to his teammates that he is coming. If you can’t do that, then stay put and try to make a save. M-D’oh-li did neither.

      The line he took was wrong and the ball was going over his head even if he doesn’t trip himself.

    • How does stepping on Edu’s foot cause Mbolhi to fall to the ground & grab his head as if he had been fouled after he whiffed? And there was nothing preventing him from playing the second goal better.

      Mbohli was brought here & is making a high salary to not make the mistakes a young keeper would make, to ‘save us points.’ It is his failure to perform any better than the GK he replaced or the GK in waiting on the bench that is drawing the criticism. Higher standard, yeah, it is. But it comes with the contract.

    • alicat215 says:

      Keeper takes line to ball……. and he destroys everything in his path, even his own teammates…… get to that damn ball.

      • alicat215 says:

        I’m sorry, I played D1 college ball and my All-American keeper was never nice coming out to the ball……he called for it and thats it….if you were in his way….you were getting destroyed by a 6’5 brick shit house…….no sorry, no excuse me. We would just laugh about it after the match or talk shit over pints when the season was over!

  18. OneManWolfpack says:

    This is a phenomenal piece of writing: “But most obviously, and most disturbingly for the future: There was a lack of belief.” Short, but absolutely spot on.
    This is also brilliant: “Both now and in retrospect, the Sapong substitution feels pre-planned.” And this occurred because Curtain cannot manage.
    I also love the entire section on M’Bolhi. It captures it all. This whole piece was well done… as it is every week.
    What a freakin’ mess we have here…

  19. old soccer coach says:

    That Nogueira was not subbed on suggests that his ankle was not worth risking on a wet field with three games in eight days impending.
    Jim Curtin strikes me as a generous forthright guy. Harrisburg faced something private but very likely immediate and surprising with Coady Andrews – their information says its a personal situation where he needs to be closer to home – being released, and Curtin loaned them Marquez to play a familiar position with teammates from last year. We can all guess at the personal situation, Curtin probably knew what it was.
    As you may not have watched Harrisburg get thumped by Pittsburgh two weeks ago, I will comment that Jimmy McGlaughlin’s play was not as effective as I was expecting. In fairness to Jimmy I have no idea if he had had any opportunity to practice with new teammates.
    The one thing I was expecting you to point out is that Curtin’s excellent game plan was keystone-premised on the fact that it was Peter Vermes providing the opposition. A similar plan will have more limited success against other coaches, as demonstrated by last fall’s frustrating results.
    Thank you for confirming my in-game impression that Sapong was a defensive liability.
    Finally, I have an intuitive hint of a sense that Richie Marquez is mentally a more flexible soccer player than is Ethan White. Back when I was coaching, I would have put the idea to my long-time head coach who would have instantly analyzed whether my “gut” was right or wrong.

  20. Section 114 (Formerly) says:

    Time for a rebranding: Chivas PA

  21. Looks like the other shoe dropped w/ M’Bohli being…well, dropped.
    I’m impressed that Curtin had the fortitude to do it, to be honest. Who you got coming in on Saturday, Blake or McCarthy? For me it should be Blake, dude needs to play, but maybe Curtin gives McCarthy a shot as he has been training and in the 18 all year. Either way, it’s unlikely either of them can do worse..

  22. The Black Hand says:

    Rais M’bohli is NOT shit. He is a good keeper, just streaky. Right now he is very much in poor form but that happens (De Gea, Valdez, Iker, Mignolet…to name a few). That said, I agree, the money spent on him is ridiculous…given the return…not to mention, we had zero need for him )(As Adam mentioned, in one of the strongest analysis to date…Great job, Mr. Cann!!!) Rais has played a lot of football (ACON) and needs a break.
    Get healthy, Andre!!! I don’t like the MaCarthy option.

    • alicat215 says:

      I’m all for Blake being our starting keeper…..but until he’s match fit and ready…..I’ll support McCarthy. I think Blake will be in the net for our return trip to NYC, but I’m more comfortable with McCarthy for this week…….didn’t Blake just get back to training again? McCarthy has been with the traveling squad since week 1….getting his reps everyday.

  23. Here is a lonely photographer’s opinion and I might add a founding member and a season ticket owner since day one. I was lucky enough to be seen by PSP and added to their amazing crew of writers and photographers. I finally got my stomach to settle down after last Sunday’s game and it only took three days. I actually had to shut everything down after the game because I started to get physically ill.
    As tweeted during the game I was disappointed to see Ayuk leave the match because I thought he brought an energy and imagination to the field that we sometimes saw years ago from Marfan. I know he had a couple of giveaways and could have been a possible defensive liability but I can live with the tradeoffs. It seemed that once he left the field so did the energy!
    Mbolhi! I was hoping more than anything that he would pan out and add something to this team. I kind of blow off last year as a learning curve and figured this year he would shine for us. I still think he is a stellar goalkeeper and at times (on film) looks great but I haven’t seen it here yet. It’s hard to read how even the MLS’s website is making fun of he’s bad play.
    What’s up with Wenger? So much talent but he almost seem as disinterested or detached as Mbolhi! Late in the game he seems to just take off plays and watch. I’m doing the watching, I need him to get into the play. Is this a conditioning thing like my brother thinks or a disinteresting thing?
    Edu needs to stay in the back, he is great in midfield but he’s needed in the back until someone else can take over. I always like playing midfield too but was needed in the back.
    Aristeguieta is working out great but I’m tired of hearing the announcers talking about him being muscled off the ball. I know he is getting use to the physical aspect of MSL but he needs to stop being surprised about being hit and start throwing his weight around.

    • alicat215 says:

      I don’t think its a fitness problem with Wenger……its all attitude. That falls on Jim for not breaking the colts…………..

  24. DarthLos117 says:

    Insanely well written piece.

  25. I’m sure all of this was mentioned before, but I’m a day late reading this and wanted to get my thoughts out.

    If Nicky Sac really wants to build through the Academy, then why is he intent on going out and finding players to come here and play, instead of building through youth? If this team had sat down after the 2012 season and said to me “We’re gonna focus on our young players and build them into something special, so bare with us” I would’ve been completely on board. Instead, it’s been 5 seasons of rebuild, and I’m seeing Chris Seitz, Andrew Jacobson, Amobi Okugo and Pedro Ribeiro play meaningful minutes for MLS teams. I’m not suggesting Chris Seitz was the answer, but simply that the Union’s business model is impatience, especially when it has come to goalkeeper, and team in it’s 6th year should not have 5 captains and 5 different goalkeepers. The lack of consistency and impatience is maddening, and this team is in no better shape than it was at the end of 2012, or 2013, or 2014, even though there are better players in the starting XI. Curtin may become a great coach one day, and I’m willing to give him a chance to develop and grow, but the front office HAS to start giving him pieces to compete and implement a long-term plan that is more than just growing the academy. This team is not very good, and it is simply because of the moves the team has made, not moves they haven’t made. I’ve been a season-ticket holder since 2010, and I’m losing patience every season because of the way the franchise is run. It’s very frustrating, and I really hope they turn this around soon.

    • Vision. Philosophy. Plan.
      Well said Steve.

    • alicat215 says:

      The purge begins with the FO and coaches………….no one gets a pass. To quote the Godfather again…..” its not personal, its just business”………, GTFO!

    • The Philadelphia Union FO are the poster boys for the need for promotion/relegation in MLS. Without it we are Chivas East until they are out or Union go poof.

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