Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Impact 1-1 Union

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

After giving up points at home to Los Angeles, Philadelphia Union snatched a point from Eastern Conference leading Montreal Impact with a tough road performance. Going down a goal in the second minute forced Philly to show maturity, and, defying all our worst fears, they did just that.

Montreal’s fast start

The not-so-secret key to getting past a solid, five-man midfield press like the Union execute is to get the ball into the channels just over midfield then switch play to the opposite flank. By getting into the channel (but not all the way on the touchline), it is possible to draw a central midfield and force the defense to rotate toward the ball to cover the space the first man leaves. This opens the far side of the pitch, and a good switch can pull the fullback out and allow a striker or attacking mid to flow into the space left behind. At worst, the ball is 10-15 yards deeper than it was ten seconds ago.

For the first ten minutes of Saturday’s match, Montreal moved the ball with speed and drew Philly tight in the center before pushing the ball out to the flanks. The Union did not help themselves when they came out timid in back, leaving space behind the midfield as they respected Dom Oduro’s speed and the need to have cover for Nacho Piatti. It looked like Montreal was running downhill as they won every loose ball and countered with speed and precision.

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That all changed in the 10th minute. First, Joshua Yaro found Tranquillo Barnetta between the lines, starting what has become the defining play of the Union’s season. Barnetta runs behind the central midfield then curls back into a hole. Yaro hits him with an accurate, long pass. Barnetta finds either Seba Le Toux or Keegan Rosenberry, and or turns to run at the defense. Since Barnetta and Yaro joined the first eleven, they have consistently linked up with penetrating passes that skip multiple lines of defense. Rosenberry’s intelligent movement creates overloads and the Union take control of a match tempo. An extreme version of this occurred as the Union held the ball for the next three minutes, smothering Montreal’s momentum and forcing Fabrice Bernier to drop in beside Marco Donadel.

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The entire momentum of the match shifted, and Montreal’s attacks came with longer buildups and less urgency. Once Philly had slowed things down, they executed the counterpress extremely effectively, pressing on Laurent Ciman and funneling the ball away from Piatti. After the first ten minutes, the Union were close enough to keep the Impact from picking out crossfield passes.

Working at a slower pace, Montreal needed to connect through the middle to switch play to Piatti. Unfortunately, they only fielded ten playe… wait, Harry Shipp was playing? In this game? Today??

In an attempt to prove that the ship he represents is the Red October, Harry went AWOL. Shipp — and this is just ridiculous — didn’t complete a pass more than 10 yards beyond the halfway stripe after the 15th minute. Not one. And he completed one of four (a short pass out wide) before that. It was truly an epic disappearing act on par with Bobby Fischer and Andrew Wenger.

Even with Shipp out of harbor, the Impact were able to use Piatti to hold the Union at bay. Piatti found success slipping out to the wing and cutting inside. From there he would find Drogba and Bernier through the middle and look to get near the box and attack. He was as impressive as Shipp was anonymous, and nearly had two early strikes that could have finished the match before you could say, “Bonjour.”

Final third issues

Despite Philly’s newfound success moving the ball through midfield, they struggled to create big chances on goal. This has been an odd feature of the Union’s recent play, with Tranquillo Barnetta opening up games with his ability to turn and run at defenses, but Philly rarely finishing those moves with shots on frame.

Last week, the Union needed to bring CJ Sapong into the buildup of those vertical moves, but Sapong was almost always the recipient of the final pass. As a result, LA was able to track Sapong with ease and prevent him from reaching crosses behind the back line. The same issue arose in Montreal, with Sapong struggling to gain separation in the box. This may seem a small quibble, but the Union are dropping points they could easily claim and for no small reason because they fail to turn good opportunities into good shots with enough frequency.

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Additionally, finding the final ball might be the only complaint one could have with the Union’s No. 10 this season. Barnetta has been nothing short of revelatory, providing a consistent link out of the back and wonderful pressure in midfield. Philly’s goal came in no small part from Barnetta’s immediate pressure on Laurent Ciman. The man is playing at a high level, but not as high as the rookie to his right.

Keegan Rosenberry is in a good place right now. is calling him a defensive monster at the same time he’s scoring goals and putting in crosses like the one below, which is pretty much the best cross that can be crossed.

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It may just be experience, but there also seems to be an element of comfort for Rosenberry when Joshua Yaro is next to him. Yaro’s slick passing means Rosenberry can get wide quickly and expect accurate longer passes to feet.

And even when Yaro leaves him a little short, Rosenberry can do things like the clip below.

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Nobody exposes the ball like that in their own half. At least not on purpose. But it’s so smooth that you don’t even really question it.

Gaddis got it going on

A final shout out needs to go to Ray Gaddis. I used some space on these pages to argue that the gap between Fabinho and Gaddis has grown to the point that the latter should be a spot starter only.

So of course Ray Gaddis went out and had one of his best games in a year. Good, aggressive decisions and smart, quick recoveries. Comfort on the ball, intelligent overlaps, and an extremely professional caution that slowed a two-on-one. That was about as well as a fullback can play coming off limited game time.

Ray Gaddis: I salute you. More performances like that — and maybe some improved passing in the final third — and it will be hard to deny you deserve another shot as a MLS starter.

Player ratings

Andre Blake – 8

Bit of a yawner for Blake as only two of his five saves required absurd athleticism and reflexes. The best part of the night for Philly’s stopper was his box control. He ain’t afraid of no Drogba.

Keegan Rosenberry – 8

Keeping the offense moving and throwing in some spectacular 1v1 defense? Sure, that’ll do. The best part wasn’t the key late-game defensive stops, though. It was the way Rosenberry learned from the way Piatti attacked him early. The shoulder drop that created space for a first half shot worked a second time, but Rosenberry’s recovery was quick and effective.

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Joshua Yaro – 7

Not a single misplaced pass in the first half, and his defensive confidence seemed to reach new heights late in this one.

Richie Marquez – 7

Great competing in the air matched with a few highlight-reel tackles on the speedy Oduro. Marquez went long a bit too often, but it’s better than forcing bad passes through midfield.

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Ray Gaddis – 8

Look, it’s a 7 for the performance and an extra for making me look foolish. Gaddis can’t use his left peg in the final third, but he showed great care for the ball over the rest of the pitch and his aggressive defense stifled Montreal’s counterattacks.

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Warren Creavalle – 6

A good, quiet night for Creavalle. He was most effective when he stayed in the center and played quickly, but he also chose his forays forward well.

Vincent Nogueira – 7

Pushing forward more and more, Nogueira is figuring out that sometimes it’s better to have numbers closer to goal than to have space for passing. His movement around the box looks much improved from a season ago. In the clip below, Nogueira waits for Shipp to overcommit to Barnetta before sneaking in behind. It exposes a huge hole in Montreal’s defense and creates havoc in the box. This is something Nogueira did all too rarely last season when he didn’t trust his teammates to hold the ball in the final third. 

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Tranquillo Barnetta – 8

Five key passes will do, I guess.

Sebastien Le Toux – 8

Seven for the performance and a bonus point because that assist was beautimous. In the second half, Seba came inside too often and left Rosenberry to skate near the touchline. It made Philly too predictable.

Chris Pontius – 6

An unspectacular performance from Pontius, but he worked extremely hard defensively to shore up holes through the middle after Montreal’s hot start. Three giveaways is an uncharacteristically high number for Pontius, but that’s partly a function of working with a different fullback.

CJ Sapong – 7

Hard work and another goal for his efforts, Sapong continues to provide the initial press that allows Philly to blanket opposing teams from front to back. This was Sapong’s first goal on the road, and puts him at exactly one goal every two matches this season. It also puts Sapong firmly in the second tier of MLS goalscorers, behind only the elite all-day finishers like Giovinco and Wondolowski. The next step in Sapong’s game is to develop that top of the box play that his replacement in KC does so well.


Fabian Herbers – 5

Good movement as always, but his pressure was not as well thought out as Sapong. Herbers needed to shade toward Ciman to keep the Belgian from getting on the ball in space as Montreal pushed numbers forward late. Ciman is a brilliant passer, but he’s liable to dawdle on the ball, which means having someone near him is almost a necessity. Still, great work to beat Ciman and come close to a game winner.

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Brian Carroll – 7

Holy crap, what a good showing off the bench. In 15 minutes, Carroll had two interceptions, a block, a clearance, and spread the ball around well. Granted, this was because Philly was in bend-don’t-break mode, but still. Brilliant stuff.

Roland Alberg – n/a

Not a lot of involvement for Alberg in a brief cameo

Geiger counter – 7

Gotta be honest – seemed like more calls went the Union’s way in this one.


  1. I tried to pick it out, but it seems as if Marquez was “marking” Drogba on the goal. He chose to go not only around 1 pick but around the entire mob of people. Not to his fault a poor header resulted in the ball at the foot of his responsibility.
    I know this is 1 instance, but for our center back on their most dangerous attacker I feel like the standard should be higher.
    I get Drogba is world class even on an off day but still. I’d have marquez closer to a low 7.

  2. Lucky Striker says:

    Ray and Seba had really nice games, but Philly could really use some attacking speed out wide on the flanks when they counter off the press.

    Sapong and Barnetta struggle to link because defenders who are caught out have too much time to recover against them. See it game after game……..

    Add in the fact that Ray is next to useless offensively and you have problems an exhuasted, single-high striker can’t solve for you.

    Nice to see Sap with another tap-but that whiffed header off the corner to Drog was dismal.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    An extra note on Gaddis. Hi yellow was a smart one, especially for someone only playing limited minutes. Compare that with most of Fabhino’s which could easily have been avoided and often left the Union in poor position giving the opponents a dangerous free kick.

    • I watched on MLS Live, with the MTL announcing crew, and they were whining that Gaddis deserved a red for that foul. Moments like that make me appreciate JP all the more.

  4. I’m a Gaddis hater but he and Marquez really shut down Montreal in their late game pushes. I grew more confident with each of their stops. Very, very nice performance by the entire backline. Confidence in defense in a beautiful thing.

    • I am with you on Gaddis. I originally thought he would be our first player to be moved this summer. However, if he continues to be the professional we have seen this season AND comes and plays like he has last two games, I have a feeling he will stick around. His ability to play both sides gives us depth at both outside backs with an emphasis on defense and speed. AND he is 26.

  5. Rosenberry plays with deception…. makes you think one thing and does the other… doesn’t take a whole bunch of skill, only supreme belief in yourself and a bit of quickness.
    I am of a like mind regarding Yaro and his penetrating passes… it is my humble opinion that nothing says beautiful game like a well timed vertical pass…. even better if that vertical pass eschews one or two lines of defense… which Yaro doesn’t pull off too much yet… but you can certainly see his range and mounting confidence… nothing I have seen from Yaro says, Tribett to me when healthy.
    I would be interested the author’s POV regarding my sentiment in the post game recap regarding Le Toux and Pontius and the acres of space nether winger is capable of claiming as their own on the dribble… and how that shortchanges the ability of the offense…. I even used City’s, Tommy McNamara today in a different thread as an exact counter example— how he would attack the OB or even the R-midfielder heading to the touch line drawing the CB out of position which Pirlo on occasion would happily slide into and continue building play deep in the offensive end like a knight pressuring the king or cycle to other side of field.

    • Jim Presti says:

      McNamara is an incredible player. Very underappreciated with Chivas and even in NYCFC – until this season. He does so many little things right. Not the biggest, or fastest, or most technical. But an intelligent player.

  6. Agree with these grades, and especially the analysis of Noguiera. The U look much more dangerous when he steps up and joins the attack. It was a constant frustration last year when he seemed to be allergic to running into the box.

  7. I seriously do not know what Nogueira has been eating in the past week or two. Dude virtually never gets in the box, and lately he’s been doing it pretty regularly, with results — the goal in the LA game, and that beautiful lashed shot from a tight angle which you savvily highlighted above. And that was purely awesome how he waited for Shipp to vacate before running forward.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I think it could be his comfort level of not having to do and create everything for this team anymore. He trusts other players. You don’t see him with his hands up in the air questioning where the hell everyone is, anymore. I think it’s overall comfort with what is going on on the field.

      • I think it is clearly Barnetta’s presence which is elevating Noguiera’s game… for work load and slipping into the space he evacuates.

      • Jim Presti says:

        He also looked reasonably comfortable with Alberg in the line-up as well. Maybe Maidana and his lack of defensive play was the issue?

      • scottymac says:

        They had a tough time getting on the field together. He’s had ton wonder where Mo was, what Lahoud was doing, why DannynCruz was on a roster,etc. He looks better because they’re better.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Agree that Barnetta and Nogueira together is becoming something important, both offensively, which you highlight, and defensively.

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    A shame Herbie couldn’t bury that. Obviously it would have gotten us the 3 points, but man it would’ve validated him a bit. He tried to slot it 5-hole and just missed it. So close.

  9. -1 point for Sapong for heading the ball to Drogba in the center of the penalty box. Defensive headers have to go to the flanks!

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