Player ratings

Analysis and Player Ratings: Union 2-2 Impact

Photo: Paul Rudderow

After taking a beating from LA Galaxy and struggling to victory over a depleted Seattle Sounders, the Union battled Montreal Impact to a draw in a match that featured sheets upon sheets of rain and gale-force winds.

If not for the Union’s immovable US Open Cup match with DC United this Tuesday (and Montreal’s packed schedule following a deep CONCACAF Champions League run) this game may have been postponed.

Both sides immediately knew they were in for a challenging evening when the ball alternately skidded over the slick surface and splashed to a stop in puddles of standing water. In fact, the first cross of the match yielded near-panic at the back for Montreal as Evan Bush quickly rushed off his line, only to realize that the wind was sending the ball hooking and swirling well away from his grasp. Playing soccer in those kinds of conditions is not easy, but it is not impossible either. Two basic rules apply:

Step 1: Play simple.

Step 2: Play in the attacking half.

Centerback comparison: Montreal (L) vs Philadelphia (R)

Centerback comparison: Montreal (L) vs Philadelphia (R)

During the early stages of both halves, Montreal failed in both facets. While the Union cleared quickly from their backline and completed simple passes in midfield, the Impact attempted to play out of the back as if conditions were normal.

A simple comparison of the centerbacks (see right) shows the sheer number of touches taken between Laurent Ciman and and Victor Cabrera, a recipe for disaster in slick conditions, and one that nearly put Montreal in peril on a handful of occasions.

But, in the end, as Montreal learned how to effectively battle the conditions, it was the Philly who began to get caught out in the back. After a disastrous showing in LA, Union captain Maurice Edu was again guilty of trying to do too much on the ball, and he was at fault when Callum Mallace’s pressure led to the turnover that Dilly Duka turned into an assist for Jack McInerney, who scored Montreal’s second of the night. After all, it is not only passing that is made more difficult in tough conditions, but also footing and cutting. Thus, letting the crafty McInerney run with a head of steam at Richie Marquez was only going to result in one ending.

If it’s Union, and it’s good, it’s going through Maidana

In this season of struggles and inconsistencies, one player continues to prove his merit and importance match after match. Even as he adapted to MLS under John Hackworth, Chaco Maidana has always shown that he has something special. And while fellow Argentine Ignacio Piatti got on the scorer’s sheet Saturday, Maidana again proved his worth in different ways. With Zach Pfeffer struggling to find the match, and Eric Ayuk unable to create chances anywhere near as well as he finishes them, Maidana was not only the primary playmaker, he was just about the only one.

Four key passes, a handful of dangerous set pieces played into the box, and a constant ghosting around the pitch opening up space for his teammates showed how essential Maidana is to a Union team that desperately requires creative contributions. The inability of Andrew Wenger to replicate his 2014 form stands in unfortunate contrast to Maidana’s growing ability to influence matches.

Without a goal-scoring winger, Maidana’s behind-the-scenes influence all too rarely results in goals. Yet, much like Marco Pappa in Seattle’s lineup of replacements and reserves, Maidana continues to find space and create chances even when the defense knows he is the only creative outlet on the pitch.

With the transfer window nearly upon them, the onus is on the Union to add another attacking piece. The requirement? Someone who can get into the box.

Eric Ayuk, during his limited opportunities, has shown the ability to slash into the box, but the other wingers deployed under Jim Curtin have proven inadequate at complementing CJ Sapong’s barnstorming near post runs. Whether it is Sebastien Le Toux or Zach Pfeffer who prefer to follow the play, looking for rebounds or cutbacks, or Wenger, who rarely gets into the box at all, Curtin needs another viable option to crash the box with Sapong.

Ayuk in game
Ayuk's pass chart against Montreal

Ayuk’s pass chart against Montreal

Unlike Zach Pfeffer or Jimmy McLaughlin, the Union have a different challenge on their hands with Eric Ayuk. After being shipped off to Thailand in 2012, Ayuk’s youth development has thus far occurred far away from the bright lights of a top academy in Europe or South America, or even Mexico or the US. He arrived in preseason as a wildly energetic but equally raw talent — a player with the potential to go places, but lacking the polish needed to compete consistently.

That is hardly surprising given his age (Ayuk only turned 18 in February), but the Union must now do something that they have struggled mightily to do in the past: Develop a young player. Turning all of that potential into proven, measurable quality on the pitch is something the Union as an organization have too rarely achieved (McInerney being the exception). For Ayuk that quality is there, as he reminded everyone with an eighth minute screamer Saturday night.

But outside of his wonderstrike, Saturday was a mixed bag for Ayuk as he struggled to influence the match offensively, despite having a large number of touches. In fact, Ayuk failed to register a single cross or pass into the box in 77 minutes before losing his cool and being rightly sent off for a studs up challenge.

This seems an odd statistic for a player with the ability to blow by a fullback, but closer inspection of the five fouls he won on the night is instructive. The ability of a winger to win free kicks for his side is nothing to scoff at, especially with Maidana available to step up and serve balls into the box. But isolated on a fullback, Donny Toia, who Ayuk can beat, the young winger took the easy route too often. Pushing the ball past his marker, Ayuk went looking for contact, instead of space, despite the gaping void left open for him to attack.

That his goal was his sole offensive contribution will frustrate the Union coaching staff, especially considering how rarely Pfeffer, the other young winger on the night, got onto the ball at all. But these are the challenges of developing young players, and Curtin’s team of instructors must prove that they can harness Ayuk’s genuine game-changing ability and turn it into a more consistently productive force.

A loan to Harrisburg during the Union’s bye week and Ayuk’s subsequent suspension might not be a bad start.

Ayuk in context

A quick look around MLS reveals that top teams show patience with young players, giving them both support and playing time, whether they succeed or struggle early. In a tiered world where the Union cannot compete with the salary outlays of LA, NYCFC, Toronto, or Seattle, this must be the way forward.

Whether it was Jay Heaps enduring slumps and struggles with Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell, or DC handing the reins to Perry Kitchen as soon as he arrived in the league (and never yanking them away again), the teams that compete without spending inordinate amounts of money rely on — and support — their young players.

This, demonstrably, has not been a strength of the Union, who have only turned to their youngsters like Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney in 2012, or Ayuk and Pfeffer in 2015, in cases of dire emergency. Were it not for a rash of injuries this season, it is hard to imagine either Ayuk or Pfeffer being handed the chances they have had. That can no longer remain the standard operating procedure for a team that has been sneaking by using a patchwork of veterans.

There will be bumps in the road, dips in form and, as they have seen already this year, red cards. But that is the folly of youth, and it must be taken as a minor glitch, not a career stopper. The teams with lower budgets that hang with, and show faith in, their youngsters have the best chance of building something significantly better than they can afford to buy.

Player Ratings

Brian Sylvestre – 5 

Won’t be happy to have two more shots fly past him, especially McInerney’s, which beat him to the near post.

Ray Gaddis – 5

Struggled at time to keep up with Piatti, who often drifted onto his flank, but overall was defensively solid. His continued inability to influence the match in the final third remains glaring, considering how strong Sheanon Williams’ attacking game has been of late. Got forward rarely, and when he did, his service left something to be desired.

Maurice Edu – 5

Fortunate to redeem himself with a goal of his own after his mistakes led to both of Montreal’s tallies. While his teammates tried to play simply around him, for the second time this week, Edu simply tried to do too much and was punished on more than just Montreal’s goals.

Richie Marquez – 6

So close to opening his MLS goalscoring account and winning the match for the Union, Marquez continued with his consistent work anchoring the Union’s backline. The replays of Jack McInerney turning him inside out before scoring the Impact’s second won’t be fun to watch, but after Edu’s turnover, Marquez was always going to be scrambling against a striker who thrives in those situations.

Fabinho – 6

Absolutely packed his defensive stat sheet, as Fabinho never feared Andres Romero as a speed threat, and thus took even more chances to step up and pick off passes meant for the out of form winger. Despite playing an aggressive attacking style for the entire match, it wasn’t until the 75th minute when he made his presence known in the final third with a scorching drive from distance. Between the pace and distance of the striker, Bush was caught by surprise, spilling the ball into Edu’s path for the equalizer.

Brian Carroll – 6

While Piatti scored a great goal and put in some beautiful touches on the ball, Carroll returned to his recent high-level in limiting his ability to make those plays in the center of the park. Sitting directly in front of the back four, as he does when he is at his best, Carroll was the poster-child for keeping it simple, managing to complete 100% of his passes, a challenging feat on any night, made more impressive by the deteriorating conditions in which the match was played.

Vincent Nogueira – 5

Forced deeper than he would have liked, Nogueira never found his range and the pace of the Union’s attack struggled because of it. Nogueira might be the Union player most in need of the imminent bye week, as shouldering the burden for the Union’s entire possession game has left him looking slightly below his regular, energetic best in the middle of the park.

Eric Ayuk – 6

As mentioned above, it was a mixed day for Ayuk. His early strike was of rare and astonishing quality, but his influence after that was reduced to winning free kicks and eventually being sent off. And while Ayuk can feel aggrieved about his first yellow card, there is little excuse for going to ground on Piatti, giving the referee no choice but to go to the pocket again. The skills are unquestionably there for Ayuk. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to polish him into a consistent pro.

Chaco Maidana – 6

Created chance after chance, as Montreal struggled to close him down defensively. That came at a cost though, with Maidana failing to maintain his recent defensive work rate in the middle of the pitch, allowing Montreal’s defenders and deep midfielders too much time on the ball.

Zach Pfeffer – 3

With Ayuk spending as much time as he did on the ball, Pfeffer stands out for just how few touches he had. Has yet to look comfortable out wide, and Curtin still has some work to do in figuring out how best to use both he and Maidana in a formation together.

CJ Sapong – 5

Continued with his improved work rate up front over the first 45 minutes, before fading significantly down the stretch. This is hardly surprising however, given the amount of work with which Sapong has been shouldered, all while being asked to go a full 90 for the third straight match. Sapong’s knockdown to set up Ayuk’s early blast was indicative of the big striker’s growing confidence in a hold up role.

Substitutes

Andrew Wenger – 3

After entering the match with a flurry of energy that led to a charging run and a well-struck cross that only just eluded Sapong in the box, Wenger regressed back to recent form, turning over 7 of his 10 touches.

Fred – 6

Just like the man he replaced, Fred failed to misplace a pass, also adding more attacking spark than Carroll to the midfield.

Sheanon Williams – N/A

Brought in to add a threat up the wing, Williams had few opportunities, but nearly found a match winner with his one flying run up the right flank.

Geiger Counter

Sorin Stoica – 2

After calling a relatively pro-Union first half, Stoica descended into the all too familiar grounds of wild inconsistency in a second half that often looked on the verge of getting out of hand.

Preferred Starting XI for July 11 match vs. Portland Timbers

4-4-2

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

 

24 Comments

  1. Adding one rating:
    .
    Fans who braved the conditions and went to the game – 10.

    • Just as I was about to leave for Chester my job called to see if I could cover for someone who couldnt make it. I took the shift thinking the game would get called off. Fortunately there’s a TV in the office but it looked like a fun time time at PPL Park

  2. Question: Are you proposing a 4-4-2 diamond or flat?
    .
    By the personnel I think diamond – to which I admit I was thinking about proposing this during the past week for Saturday but could not think of someone healthy I felt good throwing up top with CJ.

    • I think it’s the best idea right now with the wing play where it is. It’s the best time too as there is a little break to implement the formation how Curtin wants and let the guys practice in those spots. I think Nando and Sapong could be very dangerous together up top.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      My formation is a diamond. Maidana at the tip, with Nogueira and Pfeffer behind. Of course, this all hinges on Aristeguieta’s health, but if it works, the Union could theoretically keep the ball in midfield, deny the ball to Nagbe and Portland’s other talented attackers, and push the fullbacks forward with a little bit of cover.
      .
      With Wenger out of form, Le Toux’s health questionable and Ayuk suspended, I figure it’s worth a go.

      • Agreed. And with Fabinho and Williams in form and getting up the wings well I think the attacking width would be there even playing narrow.
        .
        Only thing for me is can CJ and Nando play off each other up top or would they make similar runs? I have always like Le Toux paired with a target striker since he looks to run in behind and he is still out. Could CJ adjust and use his pace?

  3. Gotta stick with Williams and Fabinho on the wings. I liked Ayuk on the wing, and the description here is perfect. He makes some plays and some mistakes, but he is at least effecting the game more than Wenger. There was one replay where they switched angles and Ayuk dove almost 5 feet, it was comical.
    .
    It’s hard to accurately judge a game like this with the rain, but all I can say is that the break cannot come soon enough. Nogs, Carroll, Maidana and Sapong look very tired, and they have basically been the best players lately.
    .
    Tuesday’s game simply MUST include some younger players. I would also let Edu move up into the midfield. Hopefully it lets him get those long runs out of his system, gives White some minutes, and lets Carroll rest. I would also give Jimmy and Nando a start as well.

  4. Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

    Edu and Marquez highly overrated.

  5. Edu deserves a 3 to me yes he scored, but as was said he was responsible for both goals. They also look very much like mistakes made by little kids learning to play soccer. As a captain he should be holding himself to a higher standard. His runs are ill timed and leave his teammates hanging out to dry. Marquez has covered him for far to long in his instability and inconsistency. To me time to move Edu to another team in return for pieces of need. Like a LB a CB and another capable CDM that fits with Nogs. In return we use any extra cash from M’bohli selling and the trade to upgrade the wings. Oh and if Vitoria’s loan is up send him home, he never fit in this league he is to slow.

  6. Gaddis and Noguiera the picture is worth a 1000 words….
    .
    On TV review, Ayuk could have received a straight red even….double studs up.

  7. Gotta give credit to Fabinho. He has been fun to watch lately. He doesn’t ever seem to get tired. His shot that found Edu on the rebound was amazing; too bad it was blocked.

    • I agree, he looks like a completely different player over the last 5-6 games. I think Curtin’s comments that Ray would be the starting right back and that Sheanon and Fabinho would battle for the left, AND that they were looking for help in that area, lit a fire under his ass in a big way (and Sheanon too for that matter).

  8. 1) Yes yes triple yes on “someone who will get into the box”! Despite his growing pains, that is Pfeffer’s major asset. Since we have a gifted CAM who simply will not go there, it is imperative that our wingers do so — or else we switch to a 2-forward formation.

    2) Let’s be fair to the Union coaching staff: you say that they need to give time to young players and let them develop, but isn’t that exactly what Curtin is doing with Andrew Wenger, for which scorn is heaped upon him in these very pages? I notice that Wenger isn’t in your starting XI for the next MLS match either, Eli. So, I think it’s not just a question of giving support and playing time to youngsters: it’s the critical decision of WHICH youngsters to give that time.

    3) I agree that Sylvestre deserves some blame for getting beat at the near post on the second goal.

    • Part of developing a young player is knowing when he’s mentally hit the wall and needs to sit for a while to find his composure again. I think everyone saw Wenger reach that point about two months back, and Jimbo just kept going to the well.

      Furthermore, placing Wenger in the same role he’s failed at over and over again is probably doing more to stunt his development rather than accelerate it. It’s probably too late in the year to experiment, but they need to figure out where this guy’s skillset fits on the pitch, if at all.

  9. I have to take issue with your blaming of Edu on the 2nd goal. 1st goal, you can make an argument because he turned when trying to block the shot instead of staying faced up and reaching his right leg out. Poor form, and he lost his center of gravity which allowed the Impact player to gain the necessary space to take a quality shot. But the 2nd goal? He’s trying to bring down a backspinning airball on an in-between hop in a torrential downpour. In that very moment, how else would you have liked him to have treated that play? There were zero passing lanes available and no one would have had the foresight to immediately bang that ball into the stands first time. Can’t blame him for that…very “hindsight is 20/20” to do so.

    • Great One says:

      Edu gets more shit than most when a mistake is made bc of the money he’s making, the captaincy and the fact that he is not Okugo. That said you are correct that he couldn’t have done much different in the moment

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      His first touch was to bring down the ball with his chest (he read it poorly, likely on account of the rain beating down, and arrived late). His second touch was to try and dribble out of traffic. He could have A. pushed the ball wide for Fabinho to drop onto, B. put it into the seats on the second touch (or on the first touch, once he realized he was late arriving, he could have just put his foot through the ball the way plenty of other defenders were on the night), or C. Trapped it and engaged Mallace physically. instead, he tried to dribble out of 1 v 2 pressure and paid for it. No hindsight is 20/20 here.

      http://matchcenter.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2015-06-27-philadelphia-union-vs-montreal-impact/details/video/42454

      • that was the mistake of an inexperienced CB IMO.

      • Dr. Union says:

        Mistakes of an inexperienced soccer player period in my opinion. While I see what was trying to be done, at that time in the game in that weather put your foot through the ball and just get it out of danger. Edu to often tries to make the skilled play he just doesn’t have the skills to make. When he plays simple yes he is a good and solid CB in this league and could even be better then that. But more times than not he is over complicating things causing problems for the rest of the backline who just don’t have the skills to cope with his mistakes.

      • It’s not just when he’s at CB. It’s also when he’s at CDM. When Edu plays simple, he’s great. When he tries to take on 3 players, he’s terrible.

      • Booting it downfield in any old direction was the safe play there.

  10. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Rain impedes long distance vision of tiny but telling key details. Everyone is affected. Perhaps that is why Sylvestre was a quarter of a count slow on both goals?

    That game ranks with the one several springs ago against Seattle that Seattle tied in the last minute or so. Best rating – 10 – to any fan who showed up. I was amazed to see some folks tailgating in that weather, they rate 11 or 12.

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