Player ratings

Analysis and Player Ratings: Union 1-0 Sounders

Photo: Daniel Studio

Jim Curtin said after Philadelphia Union’s 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night, “You can only play the team that’s here.”

Luckily for the Union boss, that meant a Seattle Sounders that not only was missing the likes of Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Oswaldo Alonso, but also their entire backline.

These are the little breaks that come in MLS’ world of irrational scheduling and Curtin, speaking on the subject in his press conference, knew his side had to take advantage. With a flight back to the West Coast and a match against bitter rivals, Portland Timbers, on Sunday, Sigi Schmid fielded an extremely inexperienced side that was full of energy, but completely bereft of chemistry.

Too much midfield space
Pappa attacking (L) v Carroll defending (R)

Pappa attacking (L) v Carroll defending (R)

It was the type of match where an early Union goal might have broken the Sounders spirit, but whether it was because of heavy legs from their own cross-country journey, a lack of runs into the box, or Maurice Edu’s poorly taken penalty, the goals simply weren’t coming.

And as Seattle grew into the match at different periods, they found time and space in the center of the park that should never be afforded to a team with so few attacking options. For all of his pace, Lamar Neagle is a fairly one dimensional striker. Out wide, Christian Roldan and Aaron Kovar shouldn’t scare any MLS fullbacks. Yet, with Marco Pappa standing out as the one true danger man in the side, the Union failed to maintain close enough contact with the Guatemalan attacker in the center of midfield. Refer to the chart at right for Pappa’s attacking involvement in a match during which he was surrounded by replacement players.

For all the yeoman’s work he has put in since returning to the starting lineup, Brian Carroll is only human and it is hard to chalk up Pappa’s time and space on the ball to anything specific, other than the Union veteran being a step slow to close him down on the night. But with Vincent Nogueira looking weary in his own right, the ongoing injury to Michael Lahoud leaves Curtin scrambling for answers at the base of his midfield. Other than returning Maurice Edu to his preferred box to box slot in order to rest Nogueira, there are few options to either deep-lying position on the Union’s paper-thin roster. And with one of MLS’ most exciting new players in Ignacio Piatti looming on the horizon, not to mention a US Open Cup match against DC United only three days later, Curtin’s managerial skills will be greatly tested as he weighs the benefits of his preferred starting XI with the very real need to rest certain players.

Thank goodness for Sapong
Sapong ran riot over Seattle's defense

Sapong ran riot over Seattle’s defense

No Chad Marshall? Big problem. For Seattle.

The towering defender, who often single-handedly defeated the Union’s cross, crossity, cross, cross offense when he wore the yellow of Columbus, was rested on the night. That meant a free run at Zach “Foul Monster” Scott and Jimmy “S2” Ockford for the Union’s hottest player. And while his ability to measure the final pass was often found wanting, CJ Sapong stretched the Sounders defense to breaking point before eventually finding the yard of space he needed to stop being unselfish and grab a goal in his fourth consecutive match.

Given a consistent run in the team through both his red-hot form, and also the Union’s lack of healthy bodied strikers to spell him, Sapong’s goalscoring form obviously sticks out. After poaching his early goals in tight, set-piece situations, goal-scoring confidence brought the Union the wicked turn and shot that ultimately proved little consolation in LA, and his most recent display of quality, finding the soft spot between the centerbacks where he could apply a soft flick on Sheanon Williams’ cross.

But it is the manner in which he has improved his running off the ball and hold up play that should have Union fans excited. Despite netting in the Union’s last home match, a 2-1 loss to NYCFC, Sapong completed only 10 passes over 90 minutes of play, dropping out of the run of play for large spans of time. In that game, like Wednesday night’s match, Sapong faced a defensive pairing that should have rivaled Seattle’s in his ability to dominate play, 1 v 2.

Against Seattle, it was an entirely different story, with the Union’s front man looking to bring the ball down instead of simply flicking it on. That not only led to more possession and time for support to arrive, but it also allowed Sapong a chance to turn and run at defenders who, fearing his pace, gave him a cushion of space. His completed pass chart, at left, tells a story of a forward who is more than just a threat in the box, but also one who can bring in his teammates and help create for others, a fact to which his 3 key passes can attest.

Sheanon Williams is back

Most Union fans will agree that their team has contested too many matches in which a goal always seemed to be coming, yet somehow never materialized. Fortunately, in addition to Sapong’s timely return both to form and to the team, Sheanon Williams has also raised his game over the past month. If it was Curtin’s intent to motivate the, at the time, out of favor fullback, it certainly worked, though it may have backed him into a corner. In early May, Curtin declared Ray Gaddis to be his starting right back for the remainder of 2015, eschewing competition and giving the nod to the consistent, pacy Gaddis.

After Wednesday night’s match, Curtin referred to all three of his fullbacks as being at a level to play in any game, but after singling out Gaddis as his starter, it will be interesting to see how the Union manager handles the current situation. For all of his pace and 1v1 marking capability, Gaddis still lacks Williams comfort on the ball, and while he has made minor strides to become more aggressive going forward, he cannot compete with Williams’ ability to get forward in attack, both supporting his midfield as a flank option and providing the kind of service that can win a match, as it did on Wednesday night. But, while Gaddis has been a model of consistency for the Union, Williams has been subject to a veritable roller-coaster of form and injury, looking at different times both unstoppably sharp and surprisingly out of sync.

At the end of the day, there are pros and cons that can be listed for both of the Union’s talented right backs, but with Williams rounding into his best form in some time, Curtin may have to do an about-face, retracting a statement that never needed to be made as he continues to get his best players on the pitch.

Player Ratings

Brian Sylvestre – 6

Rarely tested, Sylvestre commanded his box well and never looked like being beaten. Distribution still remains a minor issue, as he occasionally loses focus and sends a ball into the seats.

Sheanon Williams –  7

Has added balance to his game when it comes to choosing times to attack and when to stay at home. Against Seattle, he mady tidy work of Aaron Kovar and exploited the space between the winger and left back Dylan Remick to deliver the ball Sapong needed to settle the match. Could have easily racked up two more assists immediately following, as he again got deep and put the ball on a platter for both Sapong and Pfeffer.

Maurice Edu – 6

Aside from the saved penalty he took, Edu was back to his solid best at the back for the Union. The penalty however, cannot be overlooked. Not only did he take it poorly, but as the captain he likely should have ceded the chance to a more renowned ball-striker.

Richie Marquez – 7

All Marquez has done is step into a lineup in chaos, not too mention a backline that was leaking goals, and play so consistently well that he is a no brainer to start each week. Not too shabby.

Fabinho – 5

Had little impact on the match, as he reverted to past tactics and failed to get deep against the aggressive Oniel Fisher. Fabinho’s delivery is most dangerous (as is most fullback’s) when he can make defenders turn to cope with his low, raking crosses. Without getting deep, it might be assumed that he was defensively conservative, though knowing Fabinho’s style, is to know that that was not the case. Conceded too much ground and too many chances down his flank during the final quarter of the match when Seattle were pressing for an equalizer.

Brian Carroll – 5

As mentioned above, Carroll made no glaring mistakes, but was unable to close down the space he normally patrols so efficiently. Now that he has again become a critical cog in the Union’s midfield, Curtin will have to manage his minutes to ensure he is available down the stretch.

Vincent Nogueira – 6

Continues to be the Union’s catalyst in possession, spreading the ball as quickly as his teammates movement will allow. The wear and tear of being a tiny player who is subjected to a string of heavy fouls in each match is something to watch for from Nogueira, who has begun to let a few errors slip into his ordinarily spotlessly clean game. The Union cannot afford to be without him for any extended period of time.

Andrew Wenger – 3

It was nice to see a player who is so often criticized for overthinking things win a penalty for using his head. (Apologies for the cheap joke, but there’s only so many ways to write the same things about the latest underwhelming Wenger performance.)

Zach Pfeffer – 6

Bright and energetic, Union fans will delight at the sight of a non-striker who loves to get into the box to try and finish. Unfortunately, Pfeffer failed to double the Union’s advantage when Williams’ cutback picked him on the penalty spot in the 72nd minute. The next step for Pfeffer will be to turn a series of bright spots into a more consistent performance, with the youngster still struggling to maintain his involvement for the full 90.

Chaco Maidana – 7

With Stefan Frei looking suspect under the high ball, Maidana picked a good game to serve up some of the best set piece delivery ever created off of a Union boot. Pushed out to the wing where his speed proved a liability, Maidana did well to drop back to help connect midfield and attack.

CJ Sapong – 8

If Sapong was as cool when he was looking to pick out the final pass as he was when he is trying to finish, he might have 6 assists to go with his 6 goals. Still, it was a masterful performance from a striker at the top of his game. Against Montreal, he’ll face a much stiffer test again Baky Soumare and Laurent Ciman. Should be fun to watch.


Eric Ayuk – 4

Disappointingly flashy as he again tried the fancy stuff when simplicity would have been best. Worked hard defensively, but often picked the wrong runner to track, most glaringly giving Pappa a clean look at goal in the 77th minute. Still, it is worth noting that less than a minute into his run out, Ayuk streaked into the box to nearly give the Union an advantage on a run that Wenger, the player he replaced, would never contemplate.

Fred – 6

After a string of disappointing substitute appearances, Fred proved to be the right call on the night. After having the run of the green for most of the match, he gave Pappa something to think about as he nipped at his ankles in midfield.

Ray Gaddis – N/A

Waste a little time. Add a defensive body. Finish out a victory.

Geiger Counter

Edvin Jurisevic – 3

As the years have gone by, Jurisevic has really settled into his role as an inconsistent, throw-in location obsessed, confrontational MLS referee. At least he saw Wenger get kicked in the face.

Starting XI for Saturday night’s match vs Montreal Impact


Sylvestre; Williams (RB), White, Marquez, Gaddis (LB); Edu, Nogueira; McLaughlin, Maidana, Pfeffer; Sapong

For all that he’s done lately, Carroll needs a rest, and you won’t find anyone more eager to get into the midfield than Edu.


  1. Great piece as always, Eli.
    I’m usually a Gaddis proponent, but its clear that he’s been overtaken recently by Williams. Gaddis just can’t match Williams’ offensive performance.
    One tweak to your starting XI, I would try Fabinho on the left wing (if he has enough left in the tank for another start) and push Maidana to center, then use Pfeffer as a mid-second-half sub to spell Maidana in the center of the attack.

    • Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

      Williams played aloof and lazy for what seemed like over a year. All of a sudden, boom, here he is. I’m telling ya, I think Jim announcing Ray as the starter a few months ago lit the fire in him.

  2. Ayuk would really benefit from a loan spell @ Harrisburg once other players get healthy. He certainly has flashes, but his game has a lot of filling out to do.
    Pfeffer sort of reminds me of Jack Wilshere. Can give you a combination of goals and assists from the midfield, but still a bit raw. His development this season is crucial if the Union are to have success in the next few years.
    Sapong is looking to be a steal at this point. This is the type of Moneyball business the Union should be doing more consistently.
    Marquez is making Vitoria expendable. One of the few success stories of the Harrisburg/Philadelphia partnership.
    Maidana and Nogueira continue to be two of the best players to ever suit up for the Union.
    I think once Mbolhi is off the books, the number one priority is upgrading Wenger’s at LW. IMO, his poor play is one of the biggest reasons this team has been so bad this season. You simply cannot field an attacking player that offers next to nothing game after game. I believe seriously upgrading this one position (Ronald Vargas perhaps?) would see this team improve leaps and bounds. It’s asking too much of your center forward to be the only true scoring threat.

    • Marquez has been a great example of what to do with a usl partnership. Draft a young player with promise and don’t expect anything from him, just send him on loan

  3. During the first half I kept thinking the Union could take control of the game easily. I also kept thinking that their defensive shape had fallen apart from the performances before the Galaxy loss. As I agree Carrol looked tired and needs a rest, I think more of the blame about the space in the midfield should go to Chaco and Pfeffer. Maidana was wandering all over the field. Sometimes on the same wing as Pfeffer. Pfeffer, for his part, looked unsure how to deal with this. Granted, I think mobility and interchanging wings is a fine idea and can lead to some exciting creative football. But in this case I don’t think Pfeffer, Carrol, or Wenger adjusted well to Maidana’s wandering. I think it hurt the Union’s defensive shape, and pretty much led to the mess that was the first half.
    What seems more disconcerting is they way the Union played in the second half after getting the lead. They seemed timid. They were all to ready to bunker in and hold on for dear life. The only efforts contrary to this were from Ayuk and Fred. It was their hustle and work ethic that kept the Union the three points.

    • I got to my seat right after the start, and several times during the first half I was trying to figure out what positions Pfeffer and Maidana were playing, it did seem they were kinda all over.

      I also thought the Union started the 2nd half very flat, which got me very nervous.

  4. This analysis is mostly right-on, as usual.

    I only disagree slightly concerning Noguiera and Maidana. While you rightly give Pfeffer credit for going into the box and trying to score, both Chaco and Nogs seemed at times like they were allergic to trying to score, passing on a shot or a clear move towards the net.

    And, as usual, Curtin waited too long for the subs, especially with 2 more games within a week.

  5. A lot of this post seems to point out how much is on Curtin to be a good manager. I’m not sure I’m excited by that prospect. That said, we’ve never needed some more bodies to come in and be actual professionals

  6. Thought nugget:
    If Curtin doesn’t think White the best option to push Edu into the midfield for a game, remember that Williams has also played CB in the past.

    • Scott Ellis says:

      Probably the safest call to keep the defense steady. On the flipside, what message does that send to White? Also, you steal from the attack by sliding Williams inside, when he’s been dangerous running up that right flank in recent weeks.

      Good thought nugget – if only we had the health/depth to avoid the need for such creative thinking!

      • Agree 100%.
        It is just unclear what Curtin thinks of White at this point. It seems he won him over at the end of last year then lost his trust the beginning of this year.
        With Vitoria out yet Williams does give another option at least for this 3 game in 8 days (with west coast travel).
        Personally, I would keep Williams on the right while in form because of his offense but it would not surprise me to see him on the inside depending on how Curtin feels about White.
        I should say that I am thinking that Curtin is going to rotate a little bit and likely push Edu higher based off his comments last time the team had 3 in 8. Something along the lines of he did not feel the need to rotate then because the only travel was a bus ride to DC and not across the country. This time it was and Carroll and Nogs looked to have heavy legs at the end of Wednesday’s game.

      • I think Curtain has to do some rotation. But if he was going to move Mo back to the mid for a game, wasn’t the Sounders game ripe for that? Just a question. Also, I think this is where Curtain’s motto of running his best players to death to get wins, is really going to hurt the Union.

  7. I like Pfeffer, but he kept making these short passes to the player standing right next to him (who appeared surprised to be passed to) and then running away for service. I’d like to see him be more creative in distribution.
    As always, great insight Eli. I look forward to your comments each week.

  8. DarthLos117 says:

    Please no White!
    Or Gaddis!
    If we must drop Carroll (don’t think we should or that he will be):
    Fabinho, Marquez, Edu, Williams, Nogs, jimmy, Chaco, zach, wenger, CJ

  9. Eli, I don’t understand what you and so many other PSP contributors and readers see in Pfeffer. To my eye he disappears for huge chunks of the match. He is pushed off of the ball way too easily and he has of late acquired Carroll’s disease (the overwhelming need to pass backwards). While I do appreciate his willingness to get forward and take shots, his skills at putting said shots on frame are sorely lacking. Is it just his potential that draws such praise? Help me out here. I just don’t get it.

  10. My starting XI to try this weekend
    Gaddis Edu Marquez Fabinho
    Pfeffer Nogueira
    Williams Maidana Ayuk
    All of this assumes no new players available recovering from injury. Williams has an attacking game and could be the best wing option right now

  11. complaining about the ref makes me feel so trite, but Jurisevic! just STFU about the goddamn throwins already

  12. “the Union’s cross, crossity, cross, cross offense”

    love it

  13. Mike Latyn says:

    I guess we were at different games or you discount all of Pfeffer’s give aways in rating him.

  14. I was kind of surprised with the Fabinho ranking here. I think once again he had a pretty damn good game. He’s getting back on transitions and disrupting plays. From what I saw he got beat only once in this game. Every defender on this team gets beats, even Gaddis. He has become more disciplined in the back too. His attacking ability is exceptional right now. His touch and skill is a lot better then williams. His work down the flank creates more success then William’s. Williams is way too predictable on the flank. He just looks for crosses in the box every time and got picked off for it in the Seattle game. Fab. Looks to distribute through the middle and down the flanks as well. Except for the goal, williams puts crosses in blindly and that almost never works.

    • I forgot about the play where Fab. dribbled the ball into the middle of the field and played a through ball for Fred as he had a one on one chance with the the keeper. Just an example of the impact he had on the game.

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