A View from Afar

Ugly? More like exciting and dramatic

Photo: Earl Gardner

Good teams win ugly games. Sometimes, they even do it spectacularly.

Philadelphia Union pulled off both last weekend with a big win over D.C. United, securing first place a third of the way through the season, despite playing fewer games than the teams sitting in second through fifth place.

Some have lamented the fact that stretches of Friday’s match weren’t exactly the prettiest.


United are a team that generally plays ugly. The Union were without the key man who runs their engine room, No. 8 center midfielder Vincent Nogueira, who was out with an injury. They deployed two No. 6 defensive midfielders as a result. That explains the segments of the game that weren’t the most attractive. Sometimes, you get games like that.

Even then, this is not what you should take away from this game.

Ugly soccer?

Watch this.

[gfycat data_id=”MasculineUniqueCreature” data_autoplay=false data_controls=false data_title=true]

Is that ugly?

Or did you actually mean amazing?

Sure, the game had plenty of dull and bad moments, none worse than Sebastien Le Toux’s botched touch of a sitter just waiting to be buried in the net.

Then again, Le Toux ended the game by winning it, like this.

[gfycat data_id=”HappyHardtofindBlackbird” data_autoplay=false data_controls=false data_title=true]

Perfect pass from Josh Yaro, followed by Le Toux’s perfect cross and a fantastic finish by Richie Marquez.

Those highlights and the win should be what you remember most about the United game.

The negative stretches of Friday’s game are an outlier this season. The Union have not been ugly this year. They haven’t always been pretty either, but they have been dramatic, exciting, fluid and far more attractive to watch than in the past. Their style of play hasn’t been Barcelona, but it hasn’t been the Union of the last two years either. They are an evolving and much improved club increasingly playing the game more like fans want to see, with an attack that is more than just counterattack and a possession game as good as any the franchise has ever produced.

What the dour stretches of Friday’s game demonstrate is how important and irreplaceable Vincent Nogueira is to the Union. He is the Union’s engine. When he is out, the car doesn’t run the same.

The Union don’t have a true backup for Nogueira at the No. 8 center midfield role, and considering how often Nogueira is injured, that is a problem to address. Roland Alberg has been put forth as a possible alternative, but he has played primarily as an attacking midfielder throughout this career and hasn’t yet matched expectations with the Union. Warren Creavalle is closer to a No. 8 than Brian Carroll, but each is really a No. 6 defensive midfielder, not a fulcrum in attack and possession.

The closest thing to a No. 8 on the roster is the injured Maurice Edu, who most expect would start at the No. 6 when healthy. Once Edu returns, future Nogueira absences could be met by a pairing of Edu at the No. 8 and Creavalle or Carroll at the No. 6.

And Nogueira will miss games. He has never played more than 30 first team games in a season. At 5-7, 140, he’s not exactly a big guy playing in the middle of the pitch.

The fluidity, effectiveness, and attractiveness of the Union’s style of play will depend in large part on Nogueira staying healthy and the Union finding an adequate backup to spell him.

The rest of it? Well, the Andre Blake weekly highlight reel has that covered.


  1. This is a bit annoying to me..likely as annoying as some of my commentary… but either way… that is the fun and point of a page which allows the viewer to laud and vent… most in Philly get to do it on the radio.
    As for me….. I highlighted the positives of the game first in my commentary — which not incidentally are the exact points you highlight as well…
    I also recognized the ugliness was due to a lack of the engine…
    All that to say…so what? There is simply ZERO excuse to play kick ball at this level…
    ZERO. You have a 238K a year player sitting on the bench getting 2.5 minutes a game– you have other options — vet youth at BSFC… figure it out..don’t give me C+C Music Factory…
    Rationalize away. I’m not buying.

    • pragmatist says:

      One caveat to your argument: Don’t use a salary as a reason to play a guy. When that 238K has shown up on the field, he’s been underwhelming at best, and clumsy at worst. It’s distinctly possible he is not acclimated to the league yet. But salary does not dictate playing time.
      At this point, he is just as likely to be a poor signing as he is to be a vital cog in our success.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I understand but is there really a question whether Roland Alberg is a competent player …. He isnt going to get comfortable with the league unless he’s playing games…
        they won… I get it … they didn’t look very good I get it… sometimes you dont play well, but I stand by my point that kick ball is a zero sum game even when you win.
        This is my standard and it is a fair expectation- to argue differently – to rationalize it away – IMO is consenting to it and being complicit as well.
        What people and the manager himself need to realize ~ this is not about being a euro-snob. At all.

      • It may not be about being a euro-snob, but it is snobbish. And honestly, I don’t get it. Beauty isn’t just about the pretty shiny things. You may think so, but it’s not. There’s beauty in a grind-it-out style. It’s there. It can be something to behold. The beauty of the effort. The heart shown to find a way to win up until the last minute. These are the prettiest things in the box for me. Not the shiny price tag or the glitter. All that glitters is not gold.
        So lament the fact that it was ugly. Argue it isn’t pretty and not the right way to win, even though this team has done something that previous versions would have failed at. I’ll be watching my team grow, find it’s identity, and learn how to win games when not at their best. I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        What is snobbish? It’s not snobbish it’s fair criticism and a fair rebuttal to the authors POV.
        Professional players panicked this weekend and there are a lot of people who visit this page calling me to task because I’m saying it it inexcusable.
        I’m standing my ground. They panicked. I’m allowed to panic…. not them. Period.

      • It’s snobbish that rather than winning ugly, you’d rather lose pretty. That is snobbish. If you can’t understand that then there’s no way to explain it to you.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        I actually agree with Pachy that it is not snobbish to prefer to lose pretty over winning ugly, with one caveat: I mean that in the broader, big picture sense. i.e. I prefer a middling version of Barcelona-lite over a very successful Stoke City knockoff.

        That said, I’m OK with winning ugly if it is something that just happens now and again.

        Basically, if winning ugly is your strategy every game, then I’m not interested in your team. If it’s something that simply happens sometimes and that you have to do at times over the course of a season, then have it.

        Separately: I too wonder what is going on with Alberg.

      • Agreed, even Barca had to win pretty ugly (for their standard) in the Copa Del Rey this past weekend – 47% possession, 80% pass completion. It happens. “Just win, baby.”
        The larger picture is that the trend of the team though is toward playing more exciting and expansive soccer so I’m not sure I agree with being so alarmed with a few games a season being route 1.

      • pragmatist says:

        The have shown evidence of an evolution. However, that will invariable include a few steps backwards from time to time. But as long as the general trend is in the right direction, there is no need to panic.

  2. Thank You Sir! May We Have Another? says:

    Now that we have all been properly educated with respect to how to think correctly, can we go to lunch now, or what?

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I’m just responding to the article which is a response in part to the response of me and others to the game.
      Go to lunch.

      • Thank You Sir! May We Have Another? says:

        Okay. I was getting real, real hungry. So, thanks!

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I’m glad. Burger or salad today? Executive lunch or in and out? Beer or tea? Solo or with coworkers?

      • Thank You Sir! May We Have Another? says:

        Love to tell you, El P, but this information is on my Discovery List and that means I would be entitled to a ridiculous amount of money as compensation.

  3. 2 deep? Not at #8, until Edu returns. One thing we know about JC after 2 years in the job is that he’s a good soldier. I think Earnie’s preferred style will be taught and players sought below the first team but that as long as the U are unexpectedly high in the table, winning has taken priority. Including winning ugly. It’s Nogs now, but we’d’ve learned CJ was irreplaceable were he to go down. And Blake – the MVP so far? I expect tomorrow night to be a repeat of Friday night. If it get’s a result, JC will talk up confidence and finding a way. But if we can’t return to the form of the better matches played, the results will get harder to come by. Who can complain about 2016 after suffering through the last 2 years?

    • pragmatist says:

      In defense of JC, he’s pretty much come out after each game and expressed his displeasure at these ugly performances. He’ll give the coach cliches about “good teams find a way to win,” but he has also recognized when they have not performed well.
      I’m not saying he has a cure, but he’s aware of the need for a higher quality on a more regular basis.
      Also, they have played quality ball. This past game was a reversion into old habits, however. And I think it picked at a scab of a lot of fans.

      • philpill says:

        He picks the XI. He chose the double pivot. Two CDMs who rarely complete a forward pass. He sits Alberg. He can say anything. I judge his decisions. Had this been another unsatisfying draw (SJ) in a string of 4 methinks the fanbase would be far more restless. Hail Richie! Oh, and we can look forward to the same pairing tomorrow.

  4. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    I love Dan’s articles! I think, like usual, that the truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s fun to see this team win and gain points that would have been lost last year. I also would like to see more attractive soccer.

    But this is what I think. The Union are moving towards more attractive, possession based, building from the back soccer, it just takes a little while to get there. You can definitely see an improvement in the style of play, you can see that in what they are trying to accomplish. It was evident in the preseason when they were dropping games, it is evident now. However, you just can’t go from A to C without stopping at B.

    Kickball is abhorrent. Drives me crazy as well, but DC play a different kind of defensive scheme. As Adam illustrated they pressure the receiver and not the passer. This makes possession difficult against them, although ugly, I’m glad that they solved the problem and figured out how to beat it. In fact you could argue that DC went away from their defensive discipline in that final play and that is what cost them the game. Yaro was pressured by two(!) defenders, leaving SEBA open. Our young CB was quick enough to realize it and play to feet. Seba opened up when he received it allowing him to hit that cross first time. When DC messed up, the Union built from the back, played possession and punished DC.

    The beautiful game is coming, we just need to get through our ugly duckling phase. And while you are in your ugly duckling phase, since you aren’t pretty, you may as well learn to swim!

    • el Pachyderm says:

      To your point about DC playing a different type of defense as highlighted by Adam…. this is excellent and arguably quite true and speaks IMO even more to certain players having to slow the game down and draw defenders if in theory the ball carrier has more time … I saw over and over – instead of taking space instead of bringing calm…. an “old scab” punting the ball…. and you are dead right the moment with Yaro being calm and patient and probing with a pass that lead to the gol speaks to HIS quality. He didn’t panic or play it purposefully out of bounds… boot it up field.
      100% excellent commentary. Clap clap.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        Agreed about slowing the game and taking the space on the dribble, but it was the backline that was given the space, when the backline begins penetrating with the dribble, you have the risk of losing turnovers in scary places. Not to mention that the preferred method of the U is to push the backs up high and that leaves very little cover for the CB pairing if they create a turnover. Ilsinho and Nogs were especially missed in this game as their replacements (Crevalle/BC and LeToux) are not capable of receiving and dribbling in the tight spaces needed to break down the type of defense that DC was playing. I think all of the issues in this game (and to be fair, the game winning plays/solutions) came down to personnel. I’m curious to see what this team can do when healthy (we arguably had 3 starters missing) and maybe with an addition that could come in during the summer.

        Has kind of gone under the radar, but the LaHoud sale sure seems to be prep for another move. During Ernie/Albright’s tenure, there are always falling dominos.

  5. I think what bugs me more than the lack of beautiful play is the Union’s difficulty scoring goals from what look like really great chances (perhaps they are one in the same). They’ll do some amazing things to deliver the ball to the box (often from Barnetta) only to botch that final touch. That seems — in my time watching this team in 2016 — to be what is sorely lacking. Not that I’m expecting the Union to deposit 4+ goals a game, but I think a slightly better finish would have been the difference in that recent run of draws. The union could have beaten LA and Montreal and should have beaten San Jose.
    Also, I think it should at this point go without saying for those posting critical comments that the team this year is doing better than last year. I’m happy as hell that such is the case. But, I still reserve the right to expect better. We all should.

    • Jim Presti says:

      The Union have been far from clinical in front of goal. They would be considered an elite squad if the front four would put away some of those golden chances. Numerous times – particularly CJ and Le Toux – have fluffed at excellent chances. Pontius has been a little bit better.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        This goes back to Dan’s article a few weeks ago about whether the U need a DP striker or not…… time is a flat circle.

      • I like what Sapong brings to the table, but I think we still need that guy who can create his own space and put a shot on frame. CJ actually had one pretty good moment in which he dribbled in from the left corner of the box and managed a decent shot, but it was a little too slow and went right to the keeper.

  6. el Pachyderm says:

    I just figured something out and it came like a thunderbolt to me while driving so much so I pulled over.
    I want to win the World Cup. As a child it is that tournament which captured my imagination beyond anything else I’ve ever seen and EVERY post I have made on this site for 3 years is an echo of that desire a movement towards that gol. I don’t care about Supports Shields. I don’t care about Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. I don’t care about MLS Cup. None of it matters.
    This comes as a tremendous relief to me because all that I want to develop a system capable of hoisting that one trophy ~ the Bazilians have had their time the Europeans in various forms have had their time… We have the pts ti in this country to be the New Age… the dawning of a new football world power and we can’t just exercise our might and muscle like in all other diplomatic manners… we have to EARN it and it can only be earned in a free and open market that allows no demands that the best rise to the top while replacing those that cannot meet the standard. This is democratic imperialism and the nature this great nation was founded under.
    Every post I have made has been to the end of developing a culture and league with national team players playing at the highest level to win the World Cup. I feel better. I have healed myself and can view everything through this lens as such. Signing off. God bless.

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    I am enjoying that “we” have begun to argue / converse / yell / discuss about HOW the Union played… instead of saying how crappy this team is, and how they lost again.
    You want progress… this my friends, is progress 🙂

    • Zizouisgod says:

      So very true…

    • yes, the Purist view can be stated so as to aid in the speaker’s self-affirmation of identity (no problem with that). Most Purists don’t seem to care about outcomes anyway.
      I’ll take the wins and the success. As Earnie said, the goal is to win the league (the MLS Cup), not play pretty or the “right way” (although, generally speaking, playing the “right way” gets your there). there is no other goal. I see progress towards that goal.
      likewise, the USNT goal is to win (both of) the World Cups – halfway there.

  8. James Lockerbie says:

    Earnie stewart amazing, Andre Blake Brilliant, Ben Olsen’s reaction to Blake’s save Priceless !!!

    Secondly, only three passes to end the game with a spectacular goal!

    That’s what I witnessed Friday night. I can’t wait for tomorrow night.

  9. It was pretty clear from the first 10 to 15 mins that this was going to be a different game from the past few. The passing was off and with no Nogs…the offensive struggle very clear to see. I really think that most who frequent this site want the team to succeed. The influence of Earnie Stewart is taking hold…I think the team is feeling how much better they can be. It is exciting to win late. And what a dramatic change from the Union of the past.

  10. Oof, what a divisive article. One thing though: Being a Union fan is easier when they win. It’s much easier to answer in the positive when a clueless parent/friend/coworker/lover asks “how was the soccer game?” Three points is always going to equal three points, pretty or not.

  11. Its not about pretty or ugly. Athletico or RM, different styles , One prettier than the other, both effective. Italian catennacio , Ugly but can win you a world cup. This team was not pretty or ugly, it was BAD. poorly prepared, poorly executed in every way. Nice goal but shockingly bad and lazy defense by DC. You cant count on that kind of stuff. This is not a good team, slightly better than last year. It will revert to the mean soon. Saying something logical is snobbish is pathetic . Inability to accept the obvious is what is snobbish.

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