Player of the Week

Player of the week: Roland Alberg

Photo: Earl Gardner

It was a sub-optimal week for the Philadelphia Union.

First, they watched their former affiliate roar back from a 2-0 deficit to nearly force extra time in a U.S. Open Cup third-round match.

Then, the Union’s talismanic midfield dynamo, Vincent Nogueira, abruptly departed the team in a move that left fans shocked, concerned for the player’s health and apprehensive about what it would do to a first-place side.

Finally, the squad made an ignominious return to MLS competition, conceding a trio of goals to NYCFC’s expensive squad of designated players. The first half at Yankee Stadium was easily the worst half the team has played all year.

Yet, in the midst of all this disappointment, there was one bright spot — a bright spot that provided three goals spread across the two games, including a gorgeous game-winning free kick, and had a legitimate shout for a penalty that could have won the Union a point in the Bronx.

Roland Alberg, the 25 year old Dutchman, did not immediately enter MLS and dominate at his preferred attacking midfield position. Clearly struggling with the pace of the league, Alberg turned in a number of workmanlike shifts at the start of the season, though with little in the way of production to show for it.

Then came an abysmally stupid pair of yellow cards in Seattle, a consequence of 50 minutes of reckless play, which put the Union at a serious disadvantage in a match where they were not far from earning a valuable road point. That match coincided with the return to full fitness of Tranquillo Barnetta — who is having quite a season himself — and Alberg suddenly found himself on the outside looking in for playing time at his preferred No. 10 position.

This week, though, Alberg got his chances, and he made the most of them. Starting against City Islanders, Alberg was omnipresent on the pitch, racking up a deserved goal with a cool finish just before halftime.

After the pesky visitors pegged the Union back to 2-2, it was Alberg who unleashed a deadly free kick from just outside the 18, dipping over the wall and back down so quickly that Nick Noble, the City Islanders keeper, could only look on stunned.

(In my mind, the free kick so greatly resembled Barnetta’s spectacular strike against Orlando City earlier this year that it should be characterized as Alberg’s Annie Oakley moment. “Anything you can do, I can do better…”)

Against NYCFC, Jim Curtin called on Alberg to enter the match right after the disastrous first half. It took him barely ten minutes to notch his first MLS goal on a smoothly taken penalty kick, one of four shots he contributed in a lively half of play. And, of course, Alberg almost certainly should have been awarded a penalty after being clearly scythed down in the box in stoppage time. Alas.

“He’s a guy that is comfortable on the ball, he makes good decisions in possession, can strike a ball from distance,” Jim Curtin commented during his Monday press conference.

And he’s not short on confidence, either. “I did not have any conversation with anybody” he confirmed on Saturday regarding his decision to take the penalty kick. “But it is true, I grabbed the ball [laughs], I just wanted to take the penalty, that’s all.”

The Union are entering a dangerous stretch of their season. Sitting atop the table for three weeks, teams have had time to sit down and decide how to prepare for and attack Curtin’s club, and the Union will need to respond. The loss of Nogueira compounds this difficulty.

With minutes suddenly opening up in the midfield, and new wrinkles required to keep ahead of the pace in the Eastern Conference, Union fans will be heartened from Alberg’s emergence last week. For that, he earns PSP’s Player of the Week honors.

A barely related note from the author: Roland Alberg’s name always reminds me of the Warren Zevon song “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” It is a ludicrous song (if you haven’t heard it, check it out here) and I sincerely hope the Sons of Ben figure out a way to sing it for Roland during his tenure in Philadelphia.

PSP Player of the Week Awards, 2016 Season

Roland Alberg (6/21)

Brian Carroll (4/26, 6/1)

Richie Marquez (5/24)

Keegan Rosenberry (5/17)

Sebastien Le Toux (4/19)

Tranquillo Barnetta (4/11)

C.J. Sapong (3/22)

Chris Pontius (3/15)

Andre Blake (3/8)

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