Player ratings

Player ratings and analysis: Montreal Impact 0-1 Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union did not need a pretty win. They did not need a convincing win. They did not even need a lucky win. They needed any win.

And they got it.

The Union have now won three games with 34, 35, and 36 percent possession respectively. That is quite the… achievement?

Lacking the incisiveness of Ignacio Piatti, Montreal was unable to penetrate the Philadelphia defense in any meaningful way. There were chances, but no clear soft spots. And even with Didier Drogba pulling defenders toward him, the Union remained loyal to their runners and kept the Impact out of their box.

The Impact tried to push their fullbacks forward in the first half but too often the ball got stuck on the wings with no connection to the middle.

The Impact tried to push their fullbacks forward in the first half but too often the ball got stuck on the wings with no connection to the middle.

Carroll + Lahoud = Solidity

The first big takeaway from the match, then, was the resumption of the Carroll-Lahoud partnership in midfield and the positives and negatives it engendered. Positives: Brick wall, coordinated pressure, help for the backline. These are easy to see and appreciate when the other team holds the ball almost two-thirds of a match.

The controlled pressure — not committing to step if the defense around you has not reformed, approaching in a passing lane — from the Union’s central midfield kept Montreal from cycling the ball through Johan Venegas. The Impact were able to find Venegas, but the Costa Rican had nobody to connect with and quickly found out just how limited his wide options were. Notably, Venegas became more dangerous once Justin Mapp entered the match and forced Ray Gaddis to set up further from Steven Vitoria.

The clearest way to see Lahoud and Carroll’s contribution is to look at Didier Drogba’s options whenever he received the ball around the box. The Impact had clearly trained to run off Drogba, but the Union had clearly trained to defend those runs. The center of the park was a Bermuda Triangle for Montreal.

In the second half, Montreal looked for other ways through the Union, sitting the fullbacks deeper and, eventually, just looking to play in to Drogba.

In the second half, Montreal looked for other ways through the Union, sitting the fullbacks deeper and, eventually, just looking to play in to Drogba.

But the negatives. The foreshadowing was there in the fourth minute when Lahoud got trapped on the wing and had his backpass easily intercepted. It was there every time the Union tried to build out of the back, with neither midfielder demanding the ball or checking short enough to escape pressure and receive a pass. With Lahoud and Carroll together, Philly can get bogged down in first gear offensively. It is far too easy to control the Union’s breakouts by forcing play through holding midfielders who both want to play simple and don’t do well under pressure.

The double-deep pivot is especially troubling for an offensive built around a playmaker that operates from the wings. A gaping hole in the middle of the pitch means Carroll and Lahoud would need to play precise 30-yard balls up to CJ Sapong.

And it became clear fairly quickly that Montreal was willing and able to force the Union into hasty clearances and passes by pressing the central midfield. An interesting twist to the typical Union script came from Tranquillo Barnetta, who kept coming inside to find the ball and, at times, occupied that central role that Maidana despises. It allowed the Union to move the ball forward, but it also left the flank bare, with Fabinho understandably reluctant to step too high with Montreal holding so much of the ball.

Montreal built through, of all people, a central defender. Laurent Ciman (L) was tasked with ball distribution while Lefebvre looked to move the ball horizontally.

Montreal built through, of all people, a central defender. Laurent Ciman (L) was tasked with ball distribution while Lefebvre looked to move the ball horizontally.

The slow growth of Tranquillo Barnetta

Barnetta had another middling game, pairing good movement with mediocre execution. The Swiss international is an extremely intelligent runner, but he seems to be adjusting to the all-out counterattacking style the Union have adopted under Jim Curtin.

It is clear Barnetta remains far from his best. But that’s fine: The bigger question is whether he is one of the best two options on the wing for Philadelphia. And the answer to that is a resounding “yes.” The Union simply have not been threatening up the wings all season, but since Barnetta began starting with regularity, Sebastien Le Toux has come alive. Le Toux and Barnetta fit together well because Barnetta is far better at dropping into good positions and making the right pass to start a break than the Frenchman. This has led to improved counters from Philly, and Le Toux’s insistent game has flourished as a result.

The other options on the wing — Eric Ayuk and Andrew Wenger — both bring a more vertical orientation to the position. Ayuk likes to take his men on while Wenger looks to run behind. Too often, this has resulted in the Union’s wingers turning themselves invisible as they run from the play. Barnetta has a different approach, and while it is yet to produce the sublime, it has produced an improved transition game.

As strong as Lahoud and Carroll were, Montreal’s hesitancy without Piatti at the controls was obvious from the start. Marco Donadel, usually in a more advanced role at home, struggled to take control of the midfield. Oddly, then, the Impact began relying on Laurent Ciman to start the offense out of his central defensive position. To that end, Calum Mallace would drop out of midfield and allow Ciman to take up a central position and spray passes to the touchlines. When it worked, it allowed Montreal to get behind the LaCarroll curtain. When it didn’t, the ball often came right back to the Impact and they cycled it around again. And here we run into the second problem with playing two defensive midfielders: They commit defensively when diagonal balls are played, ensuring that the first run off that longball is covered. If the ball is won by a Union player, there is often a player either too close to constitute a viable outlet or there is nobody within a metric light year from the ball.

Why is Nogueira a necessary part of the Union offense? Look at all the loose balls Montreal recovered in midfield before the Frenchman arrived.

Why is Nogueira a necessary part of the Union offense? Look at all the loose balls Montreal recovered in midfield before the Frenchman arrived.

Big subs, small impacts

The match was bound to change once each team inserted the strong players on their bench. The Impact brought on Drogba for Duka, moving Oduro wide. Philly sent on Vincent Nogueira for Michael Lahoud, a sign that Brian Carroll remains top dog in the defensive mid pecking order. The Drogba sub finally gave Montreal a presence in the middle, but moving Oduro to the wing neutered the speedster. Playing in tighter spaces has never suited Oduro, and he seemed unsure of how to attack Fabinho when he got on the ball.

Nogueira’s biggest contribution was his speed of play and assured passing. The French midfielder is looking for Maidana or Le Toux as soon as turnovers occur, and the tradeoff between a Nogueira-Carroll and a Lahoud-Carroll midfield is a real one. With Nogueira in the lineup, Philly can move the ball carefully or with haste. Only Nogueira aggressively checks to the ball carrier and actively demands movement from Maidana.

Nogueira's passing range was evident in his abbreviated appearance.

Nogueira’s passing range was evident in his abbreviated appearance.

How to build on this

Going forward, Jim Curtin has to figure out the best way to deploy his assets. Barnetta has been fine on the wing, but not a revelation. Curtin repeatedly said and implied that he saw the player as a central operator before circumstance forced Barnetta wide. Pairing Barnetta with Nogueira seems to border on self-sabotage given the team’s defensive record, meaning Nogueira is likely to partner with Carroll. A team like New England, who the Union play next week, may be able to slice through such a midfield with their numerical advantage. It will be interesting to see how Curtin and his team prepare for the first competent, fast, technical attack they have seen in a few weeks.

Overall, this match is a difficult nut to crack. Montreal has relied so heavily on Piatti to be their orchestrator that they were devoid of ideas in his absence. The fullbacks started off aggressive but slowly receded into their defensive shells as the match wore on. This left the Impact with endless time on the ball but no depth in their offensive shape to move through the Union. Of Andres Romero, Oduro, Mallace, Donadel, Duka, and Venegas, who are you worried about with their back to goal? Perhaps Venegas? If the Impact can be so ineffectual without one player, imagine what will happen to the Union if Maidana goes down? Maintaining the Argentinian’s health and energy should be the first priority for Jim Curtin in the buildup to the US Open Cup final.

Player ratings

Andre Blake – 7

Four saves and athleticism to spare. Blake faced few challenges but met those that came his way. A flying aerial snag on a dangerous cross was probably his highlight. The distribution? Work in progress, we’ll say. It was an overall impressive season debut for Blake, and one would expect to see him again next weekend. Curtin said as much.

Ray Gaddis – 6

After a disappointing outing against Chicago, Gaddis was back to his mercurial ways in Canada. Duka struggled to separate from the fullback and Oduro had to pull quite wide to get involved. The achilles heel is still the offensive game.

Steven Vitoria – 6

Another solid match from the Portugese man. He continued to improve his positioning but not his distribution. The understanding between Gaddis and Vitoria was refreshing given how out of step the latter looked earlier in the season. All of this said, the Union will get a much better sense of Vitoria’s limitations and/or potential against a more dynamic, movement-oriented New England offense (please continue to rest Maurice Edu!)

Richie Marquez – 5

Marquez was the more aggressive central defender on Saturday, and it led to a few walkabouts that required prodigious athleticism to fix. Luckily, Marquez has that, and he continued to be the team’s most potent non-Aristeguieta aerial threat in both boxes.

Fabinho – 5

Not a stellar outing for the Brazilian, but a competent one nonetheless. The passing radar was noticeably off, but the tackling and aggression remained. When Montreal was able to get a second player near Fabinho, it was all too easy to work around him because he got so tight even before Carroll or Lahoud arrived with help.

Brian Carroll – 8

Man or machine? Carroll continues to provide exactly what this Union offense needs: A dedicated holding player who slows down opposition play in transition and supports the fullbacks. Teams that play quickly enough to pull Carroll wide then cycle the ball back into the center will find gaps in the Union defense. But those that don’t will have to keep pushing transition play up the wings and beat fullbacks. Because nothing is coming up the gut these days.

Michael Lahoud – 6

Another strong defensive performance next to Carroll, but Lahoud needed to take on some of the distribution responsibilities and he simply didn’t do it. Along with Fabinho, Lahoud was caught in his own half too often and was content to play the easy ball. Perhaps content is too strong a word. Montreal did a very good job hanging in the passing lanes and forcing Lahoud to really trust his passing to get the ball forward. He didn’t, and it left the Union revving instead of countering.

Tranquillo Barnetta – 5

It’s close for Barnetta, but still not there yet. Watching the new signing learn to work with his teammates has been encouraging, as it shows he can be creative within the Union’s system. That is not something that has been a common occurrence off the wings this year. Barnetta is a nice counterweight to Le Toux, and he should continue to improve. Oh, and he should stay on the wing.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

Le Toux didn’t just score the winner, he set the whole thing up with a driving run into the box that freed up Sapong to serve in a fine back post cross. Sapong almost tripped over his own feet, but the final ball was a good one and Le Toux smartly continued his run looking for a rebound. He didn’t get it, but he got something better instead.

Cristian Maidana – 5

Montreal’s conservative fullback play took away a lot of the space Maidana dominated against Chicago. As a result, he was often finding the ball further from goal than he wanted and always with Donadel or Mallace nearby. After a run of games in which he was untouchable, Maidana was kept in check by a combination of cautious defending and the Impact’s constant possession.

CJ Sapong – 5

Hard to criticize Sapong when he gets such little service or help. The big striker fought all night, but he didn’t do enough to push the ball away from Laurent Ciman, who was clearly the distribution point for Montreal.


Vincent Nogueira – 6

The Frenchman’s passing chart says it all: He immediately provided the Union with more range, allowing them to switch play and, at the very least, give the defense a rest.

Eric Ayuk – 7

With Ayuk, Le Toux, and Barnetta, Philly has three wing players who get into the box well. Ayuk has improved his reading of the game and now thinks about creating separation once he arrives in the box. It paid off, as did the teenager’s impressive technique on the volley.

Geiger counter

Edvin Jurisevic – 4

Let’s be honest, it’s a little crazy that Jurisevic called 5 fouls on Sapong, including a couple of flying elbows, and didn’t give the striker a card. If Oduro or Drogba had gotten off scott-free, I would be livid. But it was Sapong so… I’m downplaying it. One thing is for sure: Jurisevic was a heck of a lot better than his more decorated compatriot after whom this rating is named.


  1. There was a moment in the 2nd half where Barnetta and Maidana were working the left wing with a little give-and-go and some dummy distributions. It wasn’t a SportsCenter highlight or anything, but it opened up the defense for Maidana to get to the baseline for a decent cross. THAT is what Barnetta can give us: another valid option on the left that Wenger could not provide.
    You don’t need someone with Messi’s ability on the wing. You just need someone that commands the respect of the opposition’s defense so that they can’t overload anywhere.
    I can see playing a 5-man midfield: Barnetta-Nogs-Maidana-Carroll-LeToux. Maybe slide Maidana up so it becomes a 4-4-1-1, but keep your best players on the field in the most likely positions to find success. Keep it simple, Jim.

    • Yes. This was an argument I made when they signed him. Concur 100%.

    • I would not push Maidana up into the “false 9” role (even though they got away with it for the Open Cup against DC, with few other options). Maidana is awesome, but he just doesn’t shoot enough. If you’re going to push someone else up, it should be Le Toux, who is fundamentally a striker anway. Then it becomes a 4-2-2-2, with Carroll-Nogueira at D-mid, Barnetta-Maidana at attacking mid, and Sapong-Le Toux up top. I’d rather try this, and just get rid of wingers altogether. And don’t tell me there wouldn’t be enough width — Maidana, Barnetta, and Nogueira will all find space on the touchline when it’s available.

  2. Le Toux has been in the Le Touxest form even the last few games. He seems like he does everything wrong, and you’re getting progressively angrier at him, and then he inevitably scores the game winner. Oh Le Toux, Le Toux…

    • That’s so le Toux?

    • As in not making a hard run to the far post for an easy tap-in during the first half, then following it up later with a goal from a redirected volley? Yeah. Its frustrating. He really should have had that first goal in the back of the net, but 3 points is 3 points.

    • Agree; he does everything wrong, except for when he started that play and scored. Had he not scored he should have been given a 2.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      LeToux… 89 minutes of agony… 1 minute of brilliance. That’s the man’s career in one sentence. Ha

    • His earlier volley at the back post was pretty nice as well.

  3. Agree with nearly all of the above except Lahoud did not play well. He passed the ball to the opposition early and often.

    • Agreed. I was very frustrated with his game Saturday. He’s a good ball winner, but he takes SO much time on it once he wins it that the other team can leisurely move forward to press.
      He’s gotta take a page from Carroll–rather than try to be Nogueira–and just move things along.

    • I haven’t seen data, but from watching the game, the Union were very sloppy. Too many unforced errors that gave the ball away from a lot of players.
      Couple that sloppiness with Sapong inexplicably not shooting the ball when he muscles his way into the penalty box on a break-away, and you almost have a disaster.

  4. That was Steven Vitoria’s best game in a Union jersey.
    Still not keeping him at 400k a year but still maybe 200-250k is justified if he can consistently play like he did this weekend.

    • True. He even had a few nice cutting passes that made you say, “oh…that’s why we bought him.”

    • 200-250k is still too high for me he seems like an average player an average player with the cap should be making around 150k and that is what I think he is worth. The Union have to stop learning to overpay for what they don’t need. I mean whether or not they keep him they still have Marquez, White, Edu, Berry, and then Vittoria on the roster that is just under 1.5 million in center back salary to much invested in the position. It makes more sense to have that money invested across the back line and GK included in the 1.5 – 2 mil.

  5. Love the name LaCarroll curtain. This game was one of the few ups in another up and down season

  6. I’m looking forward to Nogueira getting a full game with Barnetta and Maidana. Add LeToux’s current form and Carrol’s solidity and I’m optimistic about next weekend vs Revs.

  7. I like the comparison of Lahoud and Nogueira. I think Nogs is the perfect guy for Lahoud to try to emulate. If he can involve himself more offensively, gain even more confidence on the ball, he will really take his game to the next level. I wonder if the addition of Nogueira last year has played a role in Lahoud’s game really improving this year.

  8. Ayuk’s volley (on which Le Toux scored) is so difficult that it is a wonder he got that shot on goal. Most who try a volley like that shoot it sky high over the goal. Ayuk is exciting to watch when runs down the wing and he is exciting to watch when he shoots. Then you have Sapong who barely ever shoots, even when 1 on 1 with the goalie….

  9. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Only watched the replay on MLSLive, but had the sense that Barnetta and Maidana could find each other easily and then had two options of Sapong and Le Toux, almost as if the major axis of play was at a 45 degree angle from the left and left of center central channels to the center and the right channel further up the field, rather than vertical, goal -to -goal that is. Barnetta certainly can play passes from outside channel to outside channel with consistent accuracy.
    I was not expecting them to win,very pleased that they did.
    Adam Cann makes sense out of our defensive strengths and weaknesses sensibly and well.

    • This is why I’m thinking maybe this team should play a 4-2-2-2 with Sapong and Le Toux up top (see my comment further upstream).

      • I’d love to see Le Toux back up top, either with Sapong or Fernando on the days Sapong is out (injury, rotation, whatever).

  10. I’d argue for a 6 for barnetta. The move down the wing around the 56th minute was brilliant the way he froze montreal’s defender. the cross found CJ and that was one slightly better touch from being a goal. Regardless of the ratings, the potential screams out. Just hoping we can end the ageless philly story where we see the potential, but get no matching results

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