Player ratings

Analysis and player ratings: Union 2-0 Sporting KC

Photo: Paul Rudderow

But first, a note from the author: Adam is out of town this weekend, so I’m filling in on the player ratings and analysis. This means that the player ratings and analysis will be, undoubtedly, less informed and comprehensive than usual. Apologies in advance.

For the first 15 minutes after halftime, it looked like Philadelphia Union were set to rue a wasteful first half.

But after Jimmy Medranda was sent off and Roland Alberg scored, Jim Curtin’s team took advantage of the situation. In total contrast to the collapse several weeks ago against D.C. United, the Union controlled the ball, frustrated SKC’s probes when there was a giveaway, and put the exclamation point on the win with Tranquillo Barnetta’s stoppage-time goal. But another poor performance from C.J. Sapong will leave Curtin with decisions to make about his center forward.

The Union defense destroys another dangerous probe from Sporting Kansas City.

The Union defense destroys another dangerous probe from Sporting Kansas City.

Seeing out the game

In the first half, the Union had by far the better of the chances. The back four, along with an industrious performance across the midfield five, kept Sporting’s offense in check and Andre Blake barely troubled. Meanwhile, Tranquillo Barnetta led an assault on the Sporting goal, with Fabinho providing some great service from the flanks. (More on that later.)

There was nothing separating the sides on the scoreboard, though. Thankfully for the Union, Jimmy Medranda loves fouling people, and Roland Alberg loves blasting soccer balls into the old onion bag.

24 minutes to go, up a man, has been dangerous for the Philadelphia Union in the past. But the Union did three things very well on Saturday night.

For one, they used their man advantage to make KC chase the ball. Rather than simply ceding possession or bombing forward on counter attacks, the Union spent several stretches settled into a comfortable groove in the middle third of the field. If there was nothing going forward, they made the safe pass to Yaro, keeping the ball moving around and the increasingly tired visitors sprinting all over the park to try to win the ball.

Second, the Union did a great job of keeping their defensive shape once Sporting recovered the ball. Despite having the extra man, all ten outfield players took nothing for granted in keeping KC away from Andre Blake.

Everyone behind the ball.

Everyone behind the ball.

Here’s the Union’s defensive shape after the final substitution. C.J. Sapong is practically playing left back, Roland Alberg is sort-of chasing a couple guys, and SKC’s two danger men are trapped in a four-person box. How is Sporting supposed to work through that? (The answer: they couldn’t.)

And the third thing: they got a clinching goal. Yes, Sporting was down to nine men by that point. But there’s a difference between having an advantage and exploiting an advantage, and Barnetta and Alberg took full advantage of a tired, shorthanded backline to notch the second goal.

That being said, there were a few sketchy moments. Alejandro Bedoya, for example, picked up a pointless yellow card and conceded a free kick in stoppage time. Charlie Davies ignored three teammates trying to start a counterattack and turned the ball over just ten yards outside the box. These are mental errors, like Walter Restrepo taking on defenders 1-on-3 vs. DC, that the Union need to eradicate if they’re going to win (everyone knock on the world’s biggest piece of wood) a playoff game or two.

But they were much, much better on Saturday, and that’s an encouraging sign.

The Sapong Conundrum
Conspicuously lacking: shots.

Conspicuously lacking: shots.

This is not the shot chart you want to see from the starting striker on a winning team. You’ll notice, for a start, that there are no shots on it.

That’s not “no shots on goal.” It’s no shots, period — none blocked, none off target, none on target, and certainly none in the back of the net.

C.J. Sapong is going through a rough patch at the moment. He’s not getting clear on headers. He’s not getting to crosses from Fabinho — seriously, how did he miss both of those brilliant balls right across the six yard box? And his decision-making in and around the box has been poor.

Take, for example, this sequence just after the first goal. Sapong receives the ball in acres of space, with just one man to beat, and with Pontius and Barnetta trailing him. He has options: one dribble and a long shot, try to hold the ball and play in a runner, or even go at Matt Besler with pace. Instead, Sapong seems caught in two minds. He takes two dribbles towards the center, allowing the second defender to catch up to him, then takes a heavy touch cutting away from the goal which is easily tackled away by Besler.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 9.57.05 PM

C.J. needs to do better here.

Sapong’s slump hasn’t hurt the Union because they score goals from other sources. In the last four games, Sapong scored only one of nine Philadelphia goals, with three coming from defenders, four from midfielders, and one from Fabian Herbers. But if C.J. continues to be impotent in and around the box, it might open up an opportunity for either Herbers or a fit Charlie Davies to get an chance to lead the line.

Player ratings

Andre Blake – 6

A clean sheet is the most important thing. Strong in the air and coming off his line.

Keegan Rosenberry – 6

The rookie (of the year) is still the most consistent player on the team. Saturday was no exception. 

Joshua Yaro – 7

Showed off his speed, passing range, and decision-making all night long in locking down Dom Dwyer & Co. Deserves to keep his spot next to Marquez.

Richie Marquez – 6

With Yaro next to him, Marquez just has to play a simple game, and it worked wonders in keeping SKC to only two shots on target.

Fabinho – 7

A sentence I never thought I’d write: “Fabinho continued a pleasant string of smartly aggressive performances.” Picked up the easiest assist he’ll ever notch on Alberg’s goal.

Warren Creavalle – 5.5

If Alejandro Bedoya could build his own Sun Rocket, from his body language I think he’d load Creavalle on it. For every solid defensive tackle, there was another moment where Creavalle was standing in the middle of a passing lane, or picking out the wrong pass, or just annoying Bedoya somehow. Not sure if he’s done enough to keep his place over Brian Carroll.

Alejandro Bedoya – 6.5

Perhaps the biggest surprise — for me, at least — of the Alejandro Bedoya Experience has been his defensive bite. He’s not afraid to make a tackle in dangerous positions, and often wins them. Excellent passing and work rate, too. Give him an extra half-point for pantomiming shining Alberg’s shoes after the first goal.

Tranquillo Barnetta – 8

Classy one-time finish in stoppage time capped another great performance (4 shots on target) from the Union’s captain. If his first-half curler had beaten the keeper, after wasting four KC defenders around the box, it would have been an all-time Union goal. Give him an extra half-point for doing finger guns at Alberg to celebrate the second goal.

Chris Pontius – 5

Quiet night for Pontius. Should have scored on a corner kick, but his unmarked header went ludicrously high and wide. 

Fabian Herbers – 5

Not enough offense on this night from Herbers, who didn’t manage a shot in 65 minutes. Still think he’s better off in the center of the park.

CJ Sapong – 4

Another sentence I never thought I’d type: “Fabinho’s deadly crosses deserved better than Sapong’s poor finishing.” Continues to disappoint in the box, regardless of whatever good work he does outside the 18.


Roland Alberg – 9

It’s hard to get a 9 in thirty minutes of work. On the other hand, if you score a golazo, add a classy assist, and draw a red card, I’d say that’s not bad for one-third of a match. A wonderful run and pass to set up the winner, and an improved energy level from the previous Saturday. Give him an extra half point for smiling once or twice.

Charlie Davies – 5

Doesn’t seem to be up to full-speed yet, even in just ten minutes of action. Can’t be turning the ball over 15 yards outside his own box holding a one-goal lead over a nine-man team in stoppage time.

Geiger counter – 3

The Union won’t complain, but Roger Espinoza will. Not sure what Juan Guzman saw on the red card, and the yellow card for dissent seemed quite harsh. For Peter Vermes to say that Guzman decided the game, though, was ridiculous — Jimmy Medranda earned both of his yellow cards, and Vermes’s team offered nothing going forward all night.


  1. the Empire photo just started this week off nicely. thanks, Peter!

  2. CJ Sapong. What do you do with a hold up centerforward who neither shoots nor scores?

  3. Lucky Striker says:

    Sapong needs a true “spot-starter”. Problem is: Union don’t possess one. We’ve seen Herbers in this tree top. Lost his quicks, hit the rookie wall-hurt? Whatever. He looks as gassed as CJ without the minutes played excuse.

    Davies best described as a “tweener” for purposes of this exercise. Better than Fabian, not as good as Sapong. His conditioning after all he’s been through would make it a miracle anyway. The gorilla in the room is that BOTH would be an improvement playing alongside somebody, but……….

    The Chicago game represents quite a conundrum, what with the missing and the returning (BC). At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they go back to the “Rivet Pivot” of Creavalle & Carroll, allow ‘quillo to remain where he’s flourishing and grant Alberg the spot single-high. Keep Roland from tracking as deep and allow him the time, freedom and space to lash on the counter.

    Not like anybody is likely to reach the 6 on cue anyway……

    • Yeah, I’d say we’ve run CJ into the ground. He relies on pure effort to generate chances, and that’s perfectly ok when he’s got the energy to expend. But you’re 100% correct that he needs a spot starter. The good news is, no more midweeks. More good news, Chicago stinks. We beat them (granted in Philly) with quillo at the 8, alberg at the 10, herbers up top. Scored 4 goals that way. I’d say we can do that again, replace Herbers with CJ and push him out wide to take Ilsinho’s place since he probably won’t be good to go.

  4. I don’t mind concise analyses after a win. When we lose I need a few thousand words of dissection.
    Biggest takeaway: Although WC is the weakest link in the XI as of late, he’s at least serviceable. CJ is doing a lot of work but the lack of production has reached a new low. The chances he had in this particular game were too good. Fabi earned three assists this match but only one will show. I think CJ needs a break and we let Roland roam up top. He won’t body as much as CJ but his nose for goal keeps every defender honest.
    Happy with the result after an opening 35 minutes that I thought would give me an aneurysm.

    • Creavalle is less than serviceable IMHO. Either Creavalle is going to get himself thrown out with one of his many untimely tackles or Bedoya may just try to injure him on purpose to get a better partner. At this point I think anyone is a better option than Creavalle at the 6. I’m inclined to say that even if Carroll isn’t ready you try Tribbet out there he at least would stay home positionally.

      • +1 with the Tribbet experiment

      • He had a very good game wednesday against columbus, and to be fair he wasn’t bad defensively in this game. The problems begin to occur when he starts getting happy feet in the middle of the park and he has to make attacking decisions. What he needs is a simple set of attacking instructions. 3 options, 1. Bedoya. 2. Drop to a CB. 3. Play to the near wing. That’s it. Tell him we do not need him to change the game with his creativity, just to protect our back 4.

      • Creavalle did have a bad game defensively if you count the yellow card, the positional aspect of the game where he was all over the field out of position, he couldn’t stay on his feet. And you could count his 5 turnovers in the defensive aspect as he could’ve made the simple pass to keep possesion in the game.

      • Section 114(formerly) says:

        Agree he’s not the answer. Neither is the Giant Tribble. Fortunately we have BC then Edu returning.

      • Lets face it Edu may never be back this season so lets just forget that option plus we have no idea if he can fit in anyway. Yes Carroll is coming back but we need a second option.

    • any word on Edu. I know the party line but has anyone seen him around/at practice etc.

      • pragmatist says:

        They seem to be saying he’ll play for BSFC this week – either Tuesday or Saturday. That will be a huge step, but we’ll all have to see how that plays out.

      • Big hope he gets minutes today.

      • The Chopper says:

        At this point, I refuse to even mention this player by name until I actually see him again.

      • In the release from new Bethlehem Steel communications staffer Tom Via that listed the Union players available to the Steel for tonight’s Harrisburg game, Maurice Edu was NOT listed.
        It is worth noting that goal keeper Matt Jones was listed. That would seem to solve the goal-keeper depth issue that had been facing the organization this weekend.
        Until I saw Jones’s name, I had thought the roster rules provision for an Extreme Hardship USL short-term roster signing were going to be activated. (Samir Badr to a four day Union contract for a league game) because the MLS roster has no room and the MLS side would have had only one of three signed keepers available.

  5. Fabhino is underrated. Have a hard time rating Creavalle ahead of Herbers and Pontius, although I’m glad to see the return of the half points.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I agree that Herbers did better from my perspective than others seem to think. He integrated seamlessly into the offensive flow with Bedoya, Barnetta, Rosenberry and Yaro. His technical skills and athleticism are of a piece with them. They flowed together, is the best way I can say it.

  6. Creavalle played all night like his shoelaces were tied together; he went down again and again, and sent his passes to either the wrong foot of his targets, or directly to the most dangerous place for that target to receive them. Sapong missed those crosses by Fabinho because he is playing too deep on the defensive side of the ball. When he drops into the Union half of the field, he pulls the opposing fullbacks up and gives the short field to the opponents. Had he stayed at midfield or slightly beyond, he keeps them honest and, more importantly allows himself to be on the point for the crosses that Fabinho manages. That strategy stopped from the left after the second miss in the goal mouth, and had never been established on the right all game. Instead, the attack went up Route 1, with little involvement from Sapong, because he is looking first for the post-up instead of receiving and controlling the ball.

    • Bedoya’s near refusal to play with him tells the story.

      • By know you have to think Creavalle has seen the game reply at least a few times and noticed Bedoya’s frustration with him. Hopefully they have a productive conversation and figure things out, at least until Carroll and/or Edu get back.
        Showing visible frustration like that could be a negative thing in the locker room if left unchecked.

      • By now*

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        yup, altho’ we had another Europe trained player express such body language frustration without apparent consequence repeatedly and predictably. I refer to Vincent Nogueira.

  7. Regarding Juan Guzman, my favorite example of him as a terrible ref is when Besler clearly handles the ball when trying to control it and then plays it forward 10-15 yards into our half where the U immediately intercepts it. Guzman then throws out his hands forward for Philadelphia to play the advantage rather than give the clear free kick about 35-40 yds from SKC’s goal.


  8. “Not sure what Juan Guzman saw on the red card, and the yellow card for dissent seemed quite harsh.”
    He saw an unnecessary high elbow to the area of the head/neck/shoulders. The league and PRO have taken the position that this is a red card as it endangers player safety. Yes it was a soft red, but it is consistent with how the league wants these called (I recall the Union being on the other end of similar calls last season…I think it was Ayuk and/or Pfeffer). For me, the real question is whether the ref would have gone red without Alberg’s salesman of the year performance.
    It is unwise to assume that a yellow card for dissent was harsh unless you know what the player actually said to the referee.

    • Don’t know what was said but Espinoza did appear to go ballistic and had already argued another call.
      On the other hand, it was somewhat harsh since Espinoza had a valid point that Guzman should have called a foul the other way about 10 seconds earlier which would have prevented the KC yellow card foul which I think was just in retaliation.

    • Gonna agree here. It happened right in front of me and I immediately knew by the body language towards the ref and the close proximity of the player it would/should yield a yellow. no idea what was said exactly but the body language was not that of a polite conversation.

    • I think Alberg sold the red, but that’s a yellow all day in my opinion. He was moving up field, pushed the ball up field, looked back and saw Alberg, moved his direction back away from the ball and threw an elbow into Alberg’s chest. That’s a yellow. Period. The way Pro has acted the past few, that’s a red. It is what it is. You just can’t change your direction like that into a player for no reason. I’m not sure I understand the confusion on this, other than I think it should have been a yellow. But pissing the ref off all game as Espinoza clearly did also causes the ref to be harsh towards you.

      • Vermes is a very, very good coach…but he’s also a huge asshole. Not necessarily one-to-one or at home, but definitely at work. A lot of his players are mouthy, Espnioza included, and it’s not hard to see where the influence comes from.

      • Peter Vermes for NT coach? Please.
        I don’t want a coach who fixates on referees as much as I don’t want us to fixate of referees.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I think he saw the force with which the elbow was delivered.
      Further, he was right on top of the play and looking towards Espinoza’s front side. He may have seen his eyes and read his face.
      Finally, Espinoza may have paid for his previously existing reputation. That happens among human beings in all circumstances.

  9. Mostly a lurker here, but I am sure that you all may see similarities between the impacts Roland Alberg and Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson (he of the Detroit Pistons glory years) have upon games…

    Just curious what the esteemed henny pennys have to say…

    • Good call. Spot on.

    • pragmatist says:

      The slight, but important difference between the two is that Vinnie recognized his role, and at no point thought he was underappreciated. You get the feeling that Alberg feels that he should be starting, and is a little miffed about that.
      If Alberg can fully embrace the late-game-killer role, then the analogy will be even better. And it will be a huge benefit to this team.

      • It may be a benefit for him to accept that position, but if you ask me it is high time for him to start and drop CJ to the bench. I mean how can you argue that CJ should start over him. Alberg has more goals more assists in less than half the time. And recently his defense has been on point and he knows how to kill a game off keeping possession. Everything that I have seen shows Alberg is improving and needs to start. While I see CJ’s value I think bringing him on at 60minutes to win balls up top and hold the ball up could work just as well. You let Alberg and the team gain a lead than bring on CJ who can’t score and let him kill it off with the hold up play if he steals a goal here and there and gets back in form so be it, but this allows the team to get the lead earlier.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        the argument for CJ is easily made when you remind yourself of what you already clearly know, that is is a two way game.
        Choose between one word or two: “defense” or “dirty running.”
        Were Alberg to show the mental inclination to do either consistently, he would start at striker.
        If you remember last season, a good guy named Conor Casey no longer had the wheels to defend. He hurt us defensively every time he came onto the pitch.
        With Alberg on the pitch the Union would have to change their defensive philosophy. They’re not going to do that.

      • However in the last 2 games the defensive running and closing out of the game was taken over by Alberg so I would argue he is doing that dirty work where he may not have been earlier in the season. Saw him clearly covering for Creavalle a few times in the Columbus game when once again Creavalle went on one of his crazy I’m going to get the ball runs out of position.

    • Lucky Striker says:

      I’d say he Pist-on some folks from Mizzou fo sho.

  10. After the addition of Bedoya and the impending return of Edu (optimism, friends!) and at least Carroll, and the further maturation of Yaro, the main issue for the club is goals from the striker position. Watching CJ run but not really get on the end of anything was a bit heartbreaking. One would think that much effort would be rewarded with goals like Fabinho offered up; alas, it was not. The break in the 2nd half that Peter described well was another one – imagine Giovinco getting that chance – well don’t imagine, just recall back a few weeks … It’s no secret but perhaps he would do better playing in a position similar to Pontius. It’s an area of need.
    Re WC, my pal who comes with me to a game or 2 a year said it best – “not sure how that guy got to this level in the middle of the field without the ability to receive and pass the ball cleanly and consistently.”

    • Yeah, the striker is the number 1 starter need this off-season (assuming no one else leaves). I will say after watching Bedoya play a few games now, he could definitely play the 6 which gives us more options going forward too. I really would like to see him play with Edu, I think he is clearly smart enough to realize when to cover him when he goes on one of his runs. Could turn into a really nice pairing.

      • To me number one need is a 6 yes Bedoya does seem like he can play the 6 or 8 but prefer that he doesn’t play at the 6. Edu I am done with and think the team should be as well time to move on.

      • Well, I don’t think I could argue too much, but I was just talking about players on the team right now assuming no one moves. I wouldn’t mind if our 6 was another Bedoya like player. Obviously they are not easy to find, but I wonder what a Jones/Bedoya pairing would look like next year with Carroll still around if we wanted a more defensive look. Not sure if Jones is ready for that, but a player of that style.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        I strongly suspect that if Edu had been making the decision, he would have been on the game pitch for minutes a few weeks ago.
        He is subject to the will of the medical staff and is dealing with a stress fracture. Research Joel Embid to hear my next several points.

  11. I would give Marquez at least the same score as Yaro, if not higher. Richie is the rock. I noticed him several times yelling and directing the back line; he is the leader back there. Otherwise these grades are right on, as usual

  12. These seem pretty awesome to me. Especially liked the breakdown of where the goals have come from recently. Hadn’t thought about it positionally before.

    And the U kept their defensive shape after going up!? Yup, I’m pumped to watch.

  13. I like CJ Sapong I like him more than some of my Union buddies who choose not to blog here. i appreciate his value… I appreciate his value more as a late game sub. Wasn’t he a 9 at KC then moved to the wing?
    There was likely a reason for that.
    I know striking is an art form of right place right time, service and nuanced movement but correct me if I’m wrong…how many of CJs goals this season were the product of his excellence and not just the happenstance of deflection or diving at a cross?
    ….one or generously……two?

    • Lucky Striker says:

      NE: 2 mishit balls off defender shins.

      ORL: 2 foot putt off of a defender’s failed clear in the box.

      NYCFC: somebody’s angled blast caromed off his heel as he was falling down (backwards) and splashed into the far corner.

      Montreal: standing, open net tap-in from a foot out.

      Jersey: PK- blasted it ! (placement was awful)

      NE: Side-footed angled deflection off a sizzling Alves cross. Timing was perfect, to be fair.

      That’s all 7

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Well done, LS. Solid factual info. Thanks. Appreciate it.

      • Lucky Striker says:

        Anything anybody needed to know about Sap the finisher was on display in the first Chicago game.

        It’s just not who he (consistently)is.

    • Far fewer in number than balls floated across the front of goal that he’s failed to touch with head or foot. He seems chronically a second behind the play on so many chances.

    • I’m sticking with it, Alberg up top. CJ to the bench. Time to see what a new striker looks like up top who can put the ball in the net.

      • I wouldn’t be against it honestly, Just not sure if Alberg would crash the post like CJ does, and if out striker isn’t doing that the box may be empty. Just trying to think how it would really play out.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      The fly in your ointment is that he does not want to play the 7/11, if I remember reports front early in the season and last season correctly.
      the Union are wise to give him an extended shot at trying to be what he wants to be. It will make the sales pitch for change easier down the road.
      You have noticed I am sure that he replaces Pontius when it is time to lock down a lead and someone else comes on as the striker.
      It will be very informative to see what the Union do with Pontius in the expansion draft.

      • Lucky Striker says:

        Will they be prepared to raise his $400k/year salary?

        Rest assured he’ll be asking them to if they want him back…..

  14. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Peter Andrews, thank you.
    Your circumstance reminds me of the stories told about creating the order of the speakers for the March on Washington’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial back in 1963.
    No one wanted to speak after Dr. King.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *