Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Philadelphia Union 1-3 Toronto FC

We’ve reached the last player ratings of a long 2016 season. When, exactly, did that season end for the Philadelphia Union?

Was it when the referee blew the final whistle? When Giovinco scored that backbreaking opening goal? When the Union turned up for the playoffs in their ghostly white kits for no particular reason?

No — it ended for the Union in the 30th minute of the game at Red Bull Arena, when Josh Yaro suffered what proved to be a season-ending concussion.

Tribbett or not Tribbett

All year, Jim Curtin skated by with a tandem at one of the center back positions. Yaro and Ken Tribbett essentially alternated based on who was available. A Tribbett injury gave way to Yaro, a red card put Tribbett back in the lineup, a howler saw Yaro play until he was injured, etc. and so on.

Most observers (yours truly included) saw this as a curious move. Yaro is currently a much better centerback than Tribbett, and has more long-term potential. Yaro is faster, can pass the ball like a midfielder, reads the game well, and is not prone to unbelievably boneheaded plays.

Tribbett, on the other hand, is tall.

Yaro, however, was unavailable against Toronto FC, as he was for the preceding two and 2/3 games of the season. With Tribbett in the lineup, the Union conceded 10 goals.

Tribbett is directly at fault for two of the three goals scored by Toronto in the Knockout Match. On the first, he wildly mishit a clearance back towards his own goal, then failed to track back and mark Giovinco as the Union began scramble defense to cover for his error. With the match hanging in the balance, Tribbett then could not make a simple defensive clearance, simply gifting the ball right to a wide-open Jozy Altidore.


Not a lot of good passing going on here.

Rarely does one player have such a clearly disastrous evening. Tribbett revealed — not for the first time — that he is not of the quality to be a regular starter on an MLS team. The Union will need to fortify this position in the offseason. (Hey, does anyone have Steven Vitoria’s number?)

Punchless attack

That first goal felt like a backbreaker, and not just because the goal rejuvenated an anxious Toronto crowd.

The Union struggled to score goals down the stretch, and it wasn’t because their good shots weren’t going in. Rather, the team simply created few scoring attempts. I’m not as good at figuring what went wrong as Adam is, but let me point out a few things I noticed.

  • Vincent Nogueira’s value to the Union came from the way he tirelessly connected offense and defense, moving the ball around the field in a way that created danger. With Nogueira long gone, and the Union fullbacks pulled back, too often the team became stretched into an offensive group and a defensive group. In this poor shape, completing any passes to put the forwards in dangerous positions became a challenge.
  • Without good team shape, the Union kept doing their favorite thing: punting balls to C.J. Sapong. But I wonder if Sapong’s holdup play is as valuable as the coaching staff thinks. Sapong reminds me of a (very) poor man’s version of Olivier Giroud. He’s a big dude, an old-school No. 9 who scores some nice goals but also disappears for long stretches of the game. This season, Arsenal moved Alexis Sanchez into the No. 9 role, which transformed last year’s stagnant and predictable attack into something much more fluid and dynamic. In short, the Union are predictable with Sapong, and while they are unlikely to bring a player of Alexis’s caliber to the team anytime soon, it might be worth considering what type of striker the team plays at the top of the formation.
  • Down 2-0 and chasing the game, Jim Curtin should have been more proactive with his substitutes. Ilsinho’s entrance changed the game because he supplemented Barnetta as an attacking midfielder, able to pick up the ball and drive at the defense in a way that Fabian Herbers failed to do in the preceding 60 minutes. But needing two goals and with only 30 minutes to get them back, did it make sense to continue playing two deep-lying midfielders and a full defensive line? Curtin frustrates me, and one reason is because he seems unable to adapt to new situations as they present themselves. He is stubborn to the point of recklessness, a trait that I hope softens with time in the manager’s chair.
Player ratings

Andre Blake — 4

It seems churlish to pick at the performance of the player most responsible for the number of points the Union earned in the regular season. But Blake wobbled under pressure, making a critical error on the opening goal and looking jittery after that.

Keegan Rosenberry — 4

Struggled to get forward, but did some solid work defensively. Ultimately sacrificed for the first time all season.

Richie Marquez — 4

Not an especially great game, but relatively error-free. Had a nice header in the build-up to Bedoya’s goal, earning him an assist.

Ken Tribbett — 1

Harsh? Tribbett gifted Toronto the margin of victory. His performance was unacceptable and ultimately ruinous.

Fabinho — 3

Nearly gave away a foolish early penalty, lost Giovinco on the opening goal, and didn’t add much offensively.

Warren Creavalle — 6.5

Put on one of his best games of the season, and with three broken ribs at that! Creavalle might not be an every game starter, but he’s a useful depth piece and he came to play on the biggest stage.

Alejandro Bedoya — 6

Gets one point for scoring the goal, a very nice finish at close range. Really struggled to find the game in the first half but became more comfortable as the Union switched into attack mode.

Chris Pontius — 5

A quiet night for Pontius. Will the Union keep him this offseason? No player scored more goals, or offered more leadership, than the ex-DCU man did for Philadelphia this campaign.

Tranquillo Barnetta — 6

Fittingly the most dangerous player on the pitch for the Union in his last match with the team. Active early against Michael Bradley, even earning a yellow card, Barnetta offered good delivery on set pieces and worked to bring his toothless teammates into good positions. Good luck at St. Gallen, Tranquillo — I’ll miss you.

Fabian Herbers — 4

Another player who wilted a bit under the bright lights of the playoffs. Herbers turned an anonymous performance on the wing.

C.J. Sapong — 3

For the 150th consecutive game, failed to score despite being the team’s designated scorer. A typically physical effort that produced little end product. Rightfully hauled off late in the match.


Ilsinho — 6.5 

The Brazilian was an impact sub, eager to push the play in a way the Union were lacking before his entrance. Even got a secondary assist with a header in the box to Marquez. If this was his last game with the Union, you have to say he gave his all.

Roland Alberg — 5.5

Along with Ilsinho, brought some energy as the Union sought to mount a comeback. Should have come on earlier.

Charlie Davies — n/a.

N/A could describe the entirety of Davies’ Union career, unfortunately.


  1. This is a hot AS HELL take, so bare with me here. But I think we can do without Pontius.

    BUT WAIT, you say, look at his stats! And I agree. He can be a dangerous player and can score.

    However, what does he seem to do the other 99% of the time? It seems like nothing. While he is an expert at making late runs into the box and banging in one timers, and is good at the occasional run, cut, shoot and score from outside the box – he is woefully unable to provide anything else to the offense.

    He disappears for long periods of a time, and for games at a time. Despite the skill he seems to have, he doesn’t really contribute to possession or provide an outlet or stretch the defense with runs. He’s just … there. And I think we need better. I like Fabinho, but I hate the over reliance on our FBs to create width and danger on the flanks. I want a LW who is an actual danger over the course of the game. I want one who can contribute to the possession style we are moving towards. Pontius doesn’t do that.

    Yes, I know this basically comes down to “When he isn’t scoring his 10+ goals, what else is he doing!?” And I’m not saying Pontius is a bad player. On the contrary, I think he’s pretty good. He just isn’t the type of player we need.

    As an aside, I feel kinda the same about Herbers. Yes he can make runs and if the defense sucks they get caught out. But in between that? Nothing.

    Oh, how I long for an Illsinho-type on each wing. Someone who can take the ball and actually dribble AT defenders and put them on the back foot. Someone who can take the ball down in traffic and keep possession. A winger how can make noise inside and out. I loved to see Illsinho mix it up again Toronto, and he has some offensive moments out wide, but there were also a couple of times he cut inside and dribbled at players. THAT is the skill and intelligence we need.

    Someone who puts the defense on their back foot, not because of “omg he’s fast” but because of “omg he is a good soccer player.”

    • I do not agree at all about Pontius. There are 3 reasons the Union did as well as they did this season and they are 1) Blake; 2) Rosenberry; and 3) Pontius. Put that guy in with a bevy of talented offensive players and he’ll be devastating. He was already pretty damn good this year with an unproductive striker, D-mids who don’t distribute well, and spotty play at CAM.

    • Goals don’t lie, though. Left wing has just been much more successful than the right. Pontius gives you a great goal scoring threat and he’s got pace. Something the right wing lacked. I’m a fan of Ilsinho, too, but I don’t think it makes a lick of sense to move on from a guy who was our best, consistent attacking player.

    • This is the Cris Carter argument. All he does is score touchdowns. That argument was won by the Vikings when they paid Carter what he was worth and he went on to a HoF career.
      I don’t care if Pontius knits scarves for orphans when he isn’t scoring. If he wasn’t on this team, we’re Chicago.

      • Bit of a different argument between sports, and for Carter it was always dumb. In the NFL it is totally possible to toss it up or feed one of the greatest WRs ever.

        Not possible in soccer. Every player needs to contribute (or ideally, should) to both phases of the game every minute he is on the field.

      • Nope, goals carry a huge premium. It’s the hardest thing to do in soccer and a scarce commodity to find.

        While it seems like a player is doing nothing before popping up to score (even if it’s a tap-in), that’s part of the process. Many times, this act of inactivity is to deceive defenders into forgetting about you. If you don’t believe me, read this.

      • What if we realize Fabinho has been victimized a lot this season on his flank and maybe Pontius being unable to link up, maintain possession and receive pressure makes it easier for teams to target Fabinho, which in turn has led to x number of goals that takes away from the ones Pontius gives you.

      • That’s too subjective of an analysis because there are other variables that will dilute your results.

        If I look at the goals list, I only see 10 names above Pontius. Pretty straightforward of his value here, especially when you look at some of the big names below him. There are a lot of strikers who score less than him that get paid multiples of what he does.

        And he’s tied for 6th in road goals which shows his ability to put away his chances in limited opportunities as MLS teams are terrible on the road.

        And oh yeah, none of his goals are PK’s.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I remember the time this season when the problems for me were le toux and Pontius only. Near total inability to attack a defense on the ball or maintain possession.
      Boy what I wouldn’t do to go back to those halcyon days.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Wenger, perhaps, el P? Pontius wasn’t here yet.

      • I would argue I don’t see Pontius contribute to our possession game at all. He seems to sit up high the whole game and wait for the defense to give him a hole to run towards. If he isn’t running towards an open acre with the ball passed ahead of him, a pass to him is returned right away.

        Pontius does display some ability to attack a defense, but it always seems to be when he gets the ball in space and is in an advantageous position (for example, his outside the box goals do include good skill by Pontius, but also a defender who drops back and back and gives him space). Illsinho, on the other hand, seems to have no problem attacking a defense at any time. Illsinho is the only player on this team who can possess in space, take a turn, look up, decide what to do, cut inside, dribble towards defenders and put them on their back feet, etc.

        I think the more I think about it the more I fall in love with Illsinho’s play. We need more Illsinho’s on this team. We need players who know how to receive a ball, actually TURN towards the goal and aren’t afraid to dribble.

        Then again, so does MLS and so does the USMNT.

      • Did you ever think that a defender drops off Pontius because they are afraid that he’ll go by them? Sure, he doesn’t have the skill of Ilsinho with the ball at his feet (few pros do), but the inverse of that is that Ilsinho can’t score goals like Pontius can. The team’s attack can’t all be similar type of players. You need runners and finishers just as much as you need creative playmakers as each is equally as important to an attack.

    • james hmmm…. you want someone who dribbles at people takes it down the wing I would argue he was on the team and was in the game he was just sitting playing the 8. This is exactly what Bedoya has done most of his career. He doesn’t have the blinding speed, but he does take people on. He keeps shifting there anyway so why not play him there. I still think this team needs Pontius maybe the would be better off playing him up top as a striker who knows I don’t think he can be much worse than Sapong up there.

      • You’re right, Doc. I always wondered why Curtin didn’t play Bedoya at that attacking mid role as the season went on as it seemed like a way to put him at a position he was comfortable playing. He did OK as an #8, but if he moved up, you could the put C&C Music Factory back there with Creavalle at the 8 and Carroll at the 6 would be making sure that our young centerbacks weren’t exposed.

  2. The Year 2017 says:

    In Ernie We Trust. Upward and Onward.

  3. Well I felt bad for Tribbett. Haven’t seen a guy get that exposed since streeking went out of style! The first 15/20 mins gave me hope for this team. It was a good effort. It’s the ability to keep up that effort they lack.
    Pontius should stay. Illsinho,Alberg,Crevall are good enough to stay if the SD doesn’t find better. Our young defence needs some help to keep them from being burnt out by seasons end. Striker is a must. God speed to Quillo! Thanks for the time! Come on 2017!

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    make a depth chart by positions for 2017.
    There is one number 8, one pure box to box two way player in the center of the center channel, and he has not yet had his first birthday as a professional.
    at other positions there are players, some not very effective and in need of upgrading.
    We should be strong at #8 in a year or two. But for 2017 it is the biggest weakness as of Halloween, 2016

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Further thought.
    Go onto the USL website under games and find the Steel’s third match of the season, away to NYRB2 in Jersey.
    watch the opening minute.
    it is possible to recover from horrendous disaster.
    That mistake by Yaro is the worst center back blunder of the season that I have seen.
    Ken Tribbett screwed the pooch. He is a rookie. Do I like Yaro better? Sure. But I like avoiding a third concussion in less than two months for a 21 year-old even more.
    Young defenders make mistakes. Over a 34 game season, video analysts find flaws and figure out how to exploit them. Other video analysts then figure out how the exploitation works and figure out counters to it.
    Might it be that with frugal staffing in the first year of creating a new system – like proprietary analytics to be the first step in scouting rather than the traditional butts in seats supporting pairs of eyes – the counter to the counter is slow to develop? The key thing to remember about recording electronically is that you have to spend just as much time watching the second time as you did the first. The process is SLOW, time-intensive.

  6. Hold the toast, guys! Earnieball is buy low, sell high. What will Pontius cost after a career-best year – even with a homer’s discount? Too many holes to fill to pay market rate for a LW with his injury history.
    Now the SD must take his eye for raw talent & insider’s knowledge of the Euro talent pool to sign diamonds in the rough.
    And he’s playing the long game, so don’t be surprised if the first team is on the playoff bubble next year. Blake will be sold if the price is right, and, yes; we’re the Fire without him this year.
    His biggest decision: Mo or less, it’s the $750k question. My vote is ship him West even if we eat some of his salary, but I think he’ll be back as our #6 starter, behind Ale as #8 – unless we can’t sign a true #10.

  7. Would love to read a post (or, likely eventually, a book) on the history of the Union as told through its misadventures at CB. From the miscast to the castaways, All-Stars to never-starts, large portions of the history to date have been spent waiting for an answer or two at the position.

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