Player ratings

Analysis and player ratings: Union 1-2 NYCFC

Photo: Daniel Studio

After rolling to a comfortable and deserved midweek romp over Columbus, Philadelphia Union should have been poised to consolidate their claim as a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Instead, playing in their third match in an eight-day stretch, a listless Union side took the field Saturday night. Despite having the better of the chances against the numerically worst team in MLS, the Union failed to make the most of their 37 crosses and 7 shots on target.

Making life easy on a defense

In an aging Chris Wingert and an overmatched Jeb Brovsky, the Union were going up against two of the weaker fullbacks they will encounter in the 2015.

They failed to take advantage of the opportunity presented to them.

The right flank proved the more active for the Union, with both Sheanon Williams and Sebastien Le Toux bombing forward against the slow-footed Wingert. However, unlike Wednesday’s match where Le Toux looked a good bet to get in on goal with each driving run, his touch consistently eluded him in the final third. Whether it was a simple touch to keep him moving in on goal, or a pass to a teammate joining the break, Le Toux lacked the quality necessary to trouble Josh Saunders in a match where the entire Union attack seemed to be about getting him the ball in the final third.

Still, while Le Toux’s touch left a lot to be desired, his efforts running the Union’s right flank completely outshone Andrew Wenger on the opposite touchline. After another tepid, disappointing effort, Jim Curtin must go back the drawing board in his attempts to inspire Wenger into providing even a whiff of offensive production. While Union fans are growing impatient with Curtin’s decision to put Wenger on the field in the first place, once he is there, the lackluster performances turned in by a player many expected to be one of the breakout stars of the season are all on the player.

Perhaps the biggest gripe of Union fans forced to watch Wenger endure his current woeful start to 2015 is that he still doesn’t seem to have changed anything in an effort to work his way out of a slump. When Fabinho brings the ball up the left flank, just like clockwork, Union fans can expect Wenger to take 2-3 slow steps laterally to the touchline before running slowly up the line in hopes of a pass played to his inside foot, allowing him to cut in on his right. Or when the Union control the ball just within their own half, Union fans need only look to the patch of grass 5 yards off the touchline and another 5 into the attacking half to find Wenger, standing waiting for a pass to his feet. The predictability has made it easier and easier for opposing fullbacks to walk up and deny him the entry pass. They simply do not fear him running beyond them.

Finishing crosses: It starts with getting into the box

While the Union launched 37 crosses into the NYCFC box, Wenger rarely even made it into the box to make himself a threat. Of that alarmingly high number of crosses, 15 came from the right flank from the combination of Williams, Le Toux and Chaco Maidana.

Only one found a Union teammate.

On any ball flighted into the box in the Union’s current offensive system, there are two mandatory runs. First, the striker, in this case C.J. Sapong, attacks the near post. Next, the far winger, Wenger, crashes in on the far post. That, at the bare minimum, needs to happen on every cross into the box. Before assigning blame to the midfielders for failing to follow the play into the box or poising themselves to pick up any loose balls at the top of the area, those two need to be the initial runs into the box, behind which the rest of the team can follow.

In his postgame press conference, Curtin pointed to the lack of quality in the final ball as a reason the Union failed to capitalize on their myriad chances going forward. While not every ball that left the foot of Williams, Fabinho, Maidana or Le Toux was perfect, there was quality in abundance throughout 90 minutes. But given the number of hard, driven crosses flighted into NYCFC’s box, the fault for none of those balls finding the back of the net has a lot more to do with the players racing into the box, and even more to do with those who somehow remained outside of the area.

Who do you trust?

Much has been made of Curtin’s in-game adjustments and substitutions. Obviously, missing out on both Fernando Aristeguieta and Conor Casey put a damper on the Union’s ability to add an attacking threat where they need it most. But it is within the midfield where the Union find themselves the most thinly spread.

As Jason Kreis made his adjustments, preferring veterans Ned Grabavoy and Mehdi Ballouchy down the stretch, the only attacker Curtin had to call on with significant experience was the soon-to-be 36-year-old Fred. The two midfield substitutes that might have best risen to the situation have been cast off without viable replacements being brought in, with Danny Cruz plying his trade in Norway and Leo Fernandes with the New York Cosmos. The closest analogs Curtin has at his disposal to those players are the exceedingly raw Eric Ayuk and Eric Bird, who has been injured since his acquisition. Throw in the departure of Amobi Okugo and Pedro Ribeiro, and the paper thin character of the Union’s midfield continues to reveal itself.

Unlike the injury riddled forward corps, Michael Lahoud was the only midfielder to miss out against NYCFC through injury. The players on bench Saturday night — Ayuk, Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin — are the Union’s depth. There is no one else.

Thus, it is incumbent on the Union coaching staff to do one of two things. Option 1 is to lean into the players on the roster. Give those three the minutes it will take to get them fully up to speed with the pace of the MLS game. After all, at any moment the Union are only one injury or suspension in midfield away from being in crisis. So when Kreis goes for his veterans, Curtin needs to place his trust in his young guys — win, lose or draw.

If he lacks the trust in those players to hand them the opportunity, which looks increasingly to be the case, then there is always Option 2, acquire more players. Of course, there is the issue of the Union’s seven inactive (officially or otherwise) players in Rais Mbolhi, Carlos Valdes, Zac MacMath, Austin Berry, Danny Cruz, Leo Fernandes, and Dzenan Catic with which to deal.

Those are the options. There are only two. Play the players on the roster, or find a way to get new players to take their place. After failing to use his subs early enough against a Crew team that waved the white flag after Clark’s howler, Curtin again held onto his cards too long against NYCFC. Letting games slip later and later into the second half before making substitutions and adjustments has not cut it to this point, nor will it prove a viable strategy going forward.

Player Ratings

Brian Sylvestre – 5

It’s hard to lay blame at the feet of Sylvestre, as it took a wonder strike and cruel deflection to beat him.

Sheanon Williams – 7

Efficient and composed at the back, Williams again took on a lot of responsibility for his team’s attacking forays up the right flank. His tenacious running up and down the right touchline for the full 90 kept Wingert from ever looking settled and opened up space for Le Toux and Maidana time and again. While Williams’ return to near top form does cause a lineup problem, it is the type that his manager will be happy to have.

Maurice Edu – 5

It was an odd night for the captain who, at times, looked strangely uncomfortable and agitated at the heart of Union defense. He struggled to cope with Villa’s movement down the stretch and got himself into the type of shoving matches that Union fans would probably prefer their captain avoid, especially when chasing the match. While he might have done a little more to close down McNamara on NYCFC’s opener, it is hard to lay much blame at his feet given the distance from which the first time MLS starter let fly.

Richie Marquez – 6

Worked very hard to insure that Adam Nemec remained a mohawked punch line on Saturday. Didn’t give an inch in the physical battle and had more than enough pace to contain the lumbering striker.

Fabinho – 5

After a first half that saw a brief return of the old Fabinho, the one who couldn’t complete a pass and was quick to foul, the fullback roared into life after the halftime break. His low, rasping crosses were some of the Union’s most dangerous. In the end though, his night will be remembered for the ease with which Patrick Mullins turned him before scoring the match-winner.

Brian Carroll – 7

Another game, another clean, effective performance from the rejuvenated midfielder. Owned the middle of pitch, making quick work of Sebastien Velasquez.

Vincent Nogueira – 7

A healthy Vincent Nogueira remains a sight to behold, and the Union midfielder absolutely laid a blanket down of the middle third of the pitch on Saturday night. With Maidana lacking the legs to offer the chasing he has shown lately, Nogueira stepped into the breach, setting up higher on the pitch to break up play and distribute. Sadly though, he will be forced to watch film of himself walking back after Thomas McNamara won a 50/50 challenge off of him in the build up to his equalizer.

Sebastien Le Toux – 4

After showing some much needed ruthlessness and efficiency on Wednesday, Le Toux’s touch simply let him down all over the pitch against NYCFC. The chances were there though, as he continued to put himself into good scoring positions, but he lacked the polish required to make a difference on the night.

Chaco Maidana – 5

After two of his most active matches in a Union shirt, Maidana didn’t look fully up to the task against NYCFC. He still managed to drive the Union’s attack however, with 4 key passes in the first half, but he lacked overall sharpness and faded badly down the stretch. With so much service from the fullbacks, he must do better at getting into the box and pulling the trigger when he does get opportunities to shoot.

Andrew Wenger – 2

Made little to no impact on the match and failed mightily to help his team in the box, where they needed him most. With 5 shots on goal in 15 starts and 1160 minutes of play (1 SOG/ 232 minutes), his continued inclusion in the side becomes less and less defensible.

CJ Sapong – 6

Took his goal well, even if it was largely aided by a knock down from his right hand. Overall though, Sapong proved a step down in open play from either Aristeguieta or Casey. While he can jump out of the building on aerial challenges, Sapong rarely used that leaping ability to hold up play for his teammates, choosing rather to flick balls on. On a day when Maidana was low on fuel, the Union needed Sapong to raise his defensive work rate. He did not. In fact, his only defensive contribution in the attacking half of the pitch came when he won a tackle, in the 90th minute.

Zach Pfeffer – 5

Did exactly what Curtin wanted him to do, as he provided an energetic spark running beneath Sapong. Unlucky to have a late cross come off his thigh, Pfeffer deserves credit for getting into the box in a manner rarely seen by Union midfielders.

Eric Ayuk – N/A

With a little more than 10 minutes of playing time against NYCFC, Ayuk offered little spark, despite having the space and time to be effective. Maybe it is the lack of minutes, or perhaps it is just the improved play of his teammates, but Ayuk looks much less impressive in his recent string of late game cameos.

Jimmy McLaughlin – N/A

He played!! Briefly. Very briefly.

Geiger Counter

Drew Fischer – 4

Union players had plenty of gripes about being bundled over in the box, but NYCFC had some legitimate claims of their own, with Sapong’s hand playing a large role in his settling of the ball on his goal, and Fabinho slapping down a shot in the second half. Given the ease and theatricality with which Sapong went to ground on some less than hearty challenges, Fischer may have felt he was watching a production of “the boy who cried wolf.” There was at least one clear penalty mixed in there, but the Union striker didn’t help his cause.

Preferred lineup for the Union’s trip to LA Galaxy


Sylvestre; Williams, Edu, Marquez, Fabinho; Carroll, Nogueira; Le Toux, Maidana, Sapong; Aristeguieta

Sapong has been lethal in goal mouth scrambles and on set pieces, whereas Aristeguieta has done very well to hold the ball up, distribute and cover ground defensively. With Fabinho recently providing the majority of the service from the left flank anyway, this might just be the best way to get both strikers on the pitch, and in the box, together.


  1. I’d say Brian Carroll should have been 4-5 better rating than Le Toux…. 7 for him is harsh as he was outstanding for me.

    • Carroll has been brilliant lately. I was trying to count the number of times I mentioned his name during the first half, and even my brother and the people sitting around us were blown away by how often he got involved. He repeatedly broke up attacks, dispossessed opponents and immediately laid the ball off to Nogueira, Maidana or the fullbacks to get upfield as quickly as possible. He’s doing exactly what he’s been good at, but he’s doing it every 90 seconds and producing great results. I know I’m not the only one shocked to say that he’s a definite starter right now.

    • My boys and I went to the game. I asked them afterward who was Man of the Match for the Union, and they both promptly said Carroll. And I agreed. He was all. Over. The. Pitch.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        His legs and feet were lowing and the tackles and interceptions therefore no longer clean in the last fifteen or so minutes. He cannot do three nineties in eight days, ut Lahoud was running 110s before formal warm ups began suggesting he’s close to a return which will create the needed depth as both of them have been playing well.

  2. Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

    Such high scores…for such a crap result…

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    I’m not going to try and come up with individual ratings. The thing I kept seeing over and over was the Union completing two or three short range passes and then the next pass going to the space the receiver should have been running to only to see he was standing still and the ball was turned over.
    I do have a very different lineup for the LA game. Sylvestre, Gaddis, White, Vittoria, Lee, Ayuk, Fred, McLaughlin, Pfeffer, Wenger, Aristeguieta. (unless Lahoud is healthy in which case he plays instead of Wenger). Bring McCarthy as a backup keeper. Maybe bring 3 guys on the bench, maybe not. Take a page out of DC’s book and don’t bring a full squad when you’ve got a cross country trip and then another game back east four days later. Aristeguieta and Gaddis are there to help them get back into match shape. Wenger can get the time off against Seattle and Montreal.

    • that lineup would be interesting to see. they would most likely get blown apart completely

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Yes, but it will save the legs of everyone who doesn’t have to travel and probably get as many points for the Union as the one Eli suggests.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        LA has been in rough shape of late. Very little goal scoring and susceptible at the back. Id try and steal the points in LA and then rest a few guys against Seattle.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I do understand your point about resting guys however, with so few active players on the roster, most of the regular starters would still have to travel across the country with the team to make up the bench for the match. The Union don’t have the luxury of leaving more than 1 or 2 players behind.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I was actually suggesting a bench of 3 (or fewer) players plus a keeper. I remember seeing something like that 4 years ago in the WPS when the Independence played the MagicJack during the WWC and half the MagicJack squad was in Germany at the time.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        Missed that comment. Apologies. It’s an interesting ploy, though it won’t happen. With the rest they now have, that LA game is a winnable one, in my opinion.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        You want to see such a short bench, watch Harrisburg. One recent game they had two legitimate field players only on it. The third shirt was the number three goalkeeper, and that was all there was.

    • +1 on your first point. Over and over again the guys dishing the passes and the intended recipients were not on the same page. To a degree that was not present in the last few games.

    • a tangent to your point: why do we have an off week this weekend, then play 3-in-8 again? And why do so many teams have less games played than us? MLS Scheduling is broken, even with an even and balanced 20 teams.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I think you answered the first part of your comment with the second part. That’s the answer I would have given you, anyway.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I posed this same question last month (and have complained several times this season that I don’t have access to the same drugs that the schedule maker gets). The answer related to the international break next weekend (although half the teams are playing anyway).

  4. Frankly, the team played like a team that had played a high-energy game two days before. They were, as a whole, not as sharp as we’ve seen of late. Curtin can swear up and down they had legs, but watching from the stands, it didn’t show.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      They did okay from minute twenty-five or thirty until about minute seventy or seventy-five. Then they were ready for the proverbial fork.

  5. Dr. Union says:

    Curtin to me clearly does not understand how to manage the players minutes and/or substitutions. Its clear to me at this point he thinks he can run the same people out there almost every game for 90minutes and this team is just not that physically fit to do that. I’m not saying that all the injuries are related to this, but I do think some could have been avoided with the proper substitution tactics. I mean quad strains, hamstring strains, calf pulls, all kinda lead to players legs being over worked. Yeah they are professionals and should get in shape to play all the time, but sometimes things have to be managed hence why there should be a manager to overrule what the player thinks their body is capable of. I hate to say it, but I see both Carroll and Maidana going down soon with injuries cause I think they’ve been over worked. Luckily they get a break now so hopefully its not true at all, but it seemed to be going that way at the end of last game.

    • This loss was on Curtain. I have no faith is will change this season. He is learning in the job, and it’s costing us points

    • The Chopper says:

      Curtin clearly mismanaged his roster over the 3 games in 8 days. I know his bench options are limited and he doesn’t trust much of what is on the bench right now. That being said, Carrol and Maidana need to leave the field the minute the third goal is scored in Columbus. If your team can’t hold the 3 goal lead, so be it.

      The NYFC game offered an opportunity to start Pfeffer for Chaco and either Ayuk or McLaughlin for Wenger. Try some new legs,for the first 45 and the. Bring in Maidana to change the look for the final half.

      Curtin was just hoping he could ride his horses to the long break, but his horses broke down. Bad managing.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        For me, you answer your own criticism in your second sentence. Given the season’s trend of losing leads, and the desperate need for points, no way he should sub the heart of his midfield in the Columbus game.
        Someone earlier, Eli P-S I think, said he either needs to trust the youngsters on the bench or get more players. Speaking from experience it is a difficult leap of faith to trust the young, when you have no pressure on you aside from that which is self-generated. If you’re not in the habit of taking leaps of faith, it’s a hard skill to learn (see one of the Indiana Jones movies!). curtin’s got self-generated pressure, and who knows what other pressures from without. HE’s learning. Hopefully the positive experience with having to trust Richie Marquez may encourage him; unfortunately the attempt with Lee in KC was less positive.

  6. Section 114 (Formerly) says:

    The Wenger rating is really three or four points too high.
    Curtin lost this game when he went with the same lineup on Wednesday. You just can’t pretend that running the same 11 out there three games in a week is smart, even if they are your veterans. Or maybe particularly then. I really like the Maidana-Nogs-Carroll triangle until Lahoud returns, but but none of them can do three effective games in a week.
    Same goes for Wenger and LeToux. Why Ayuk or Sapong didn’t start for one of them on Wednesday is beyond me. And Ayuk was a must start at LW on Saturday.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      We saw why not Sapong on Saturday, defensive work rather ninety minutes. Pfeffer receives no mention from you, for me, he has seemed legitimately the first midfield sub off the bench. I think he deserves a start at left flank midfield over Wenger.

      • Section 114 (Formerly) says:

        Because ZP was the guy I was thinking of in paragraph 2. He was supposed to be spelling Nogs, Maidana, and/or Carroll in both games. Leaving Ayuk/Sapong to help on the wings.

  7. Dr. Union says:

    Wenger just needs to be benched end of story. As I’ve said before this is not a slump this is just how he plays. BENCH BENCH BENCH is where he should be.

    • You weren’t with the guy wearing the Blackhawks jersey at the game on Saturday by any chance, were you? 🙂

      • The Oenophile says:


      • Dr. Union says:

        No I wasn’t at the game and don’t curse players out on the field unless they may be on the other team. However, I do think Wenger has clearly gotten way more of a chance then I would have given him at this point coaching this team.

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Eli, a point of detail you have not have had time to notice no doubt, Eric Bird has come off the bench for Harrisburg at least two of their last three games, and probably did so in the third, but I haven’t gotten the second half of it watched yet.

  9. Pfeffer needed to come on at halftime. Maidana was spent and continued to make all of the wrong decisions while he was out there. I don’t understand why we constantly cross the ball when there is never more than 1 guy in the box. It’s not going to work if only 1 guy is in there. I don’t even know if we’ve scored a headed goal this year. It was an inexcusable loss after we got ahead against the worst team in the league. That killed everything we did over the previous 4 matches. The next 3 league matches are brutal too. It could still end up being a very very long summer.

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