Preseason / Union

Stock rising/falling: Union-Impact 2-2

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Wednesday’s match against Montreal served as the fans’ first real chance to see a full-strength Union side against MLS competition. As with any preseason match, there were bright spots and rough patches (including the broadcast). Preseason can be tricky so you don’t want to be too overly critical of any one player in particular as the team gathers its legs under it.

Stock Rising

Fabian Herbers and Ilson Jr.

Fabian Herbers took a beating early from Impact defender Hassoun Camara on the unfamiliar left wing, but responded on both sides of the ball. Herbers regularly combined well with Fabinho and drove directly at the Montreal defense. He did work defensively, too, providing pressure and cutting off link-up play along the wing. His finishing touch under pressure still needs some work, but if he finds some composure we can expect a big season from the young German.

O Jogador Formerly Known As Ilsinho put on his usual display of ridiculous dribbling. Of course, he scored that cracker of an opener from a good 25 yards out, but there was a lot more to like. Ilson Jr. combined well with Alejandro Bedoya and even put in a decent defensive shift. Can he do it for 90 minutes? Probably not. So it will be interesting to see how Curtin stacks the depth chart on the right wing with Herbers.

Oguchi Onyewu

Gooch had a solid game. He was composed on the ball, didn’t look off pace, and brought much-needed tenacity and, dare I say, dark arts to a Union back line in need of bite. Montreal isn’t the quickest team, and he didn’t have to deal with the Impact’s usual starting striker Matteo Mancosu, so the jury is still out on whether he can handle a lightning fast front line like, say, Vancouver on turf.

Jay Simpson

Within the first half-hour of the match, Union fans were already complaining about Simpson on Twitter. Easy, y’all. Simpson was by no means perfect, but last night we saw the skill set Simpson brings that separates him from C.J. Sapong.

While his touch failed him a few times, Simpson offers excellent vision and playmaking ability that Sapong simply does not possess. The Londoner combined well with the Union’s midfield and opened up several scoring chances for his teammates. He did not see nearly enough of the ball in dangerous positions, but once he does, expect the goals to come in.

Marcus Epps

The second round draft pick looks to be an absolute steal for the Union right now. Epps is quick, confident and aggressive on the ball, and, most importantly, possesses a terrific soccer IQ. He consistently made intelligent, intuitive, and dangerous runs that posed problems for the Montreal defense throughout the second half. As mentioned earlier, however, the Union have an abundance of riches on the wings, so expect Epps to bide his time with Bethlehem for the majority of 2017 before cracking the Union 18 next year.

Stock Falling

Ken Tribbett

Ah, Kenny, you know we didn’t want to put you here! The Union defender was once again the victim of his own poor marking on the first goal and well-intended bad luck on the second. Of course, he provided the assist off the corner for Sapong’s goal, but it’s not enough to get him out of the dog house. So long as Joshua Yaro remains injured, there remains a large chasm between the first and second team center back pairings.

No. 10s

Split between Alejandro Bedoya and Roland Alberg, the No. 10 role was just too ineffective offensively for the Union. Bedoya did well to combine with Ilson Jr. and Simpson a few times, while Alberg had a few scoring opportunities, but it’s hard to ignore the creative gap at the forefront of the Union’s spine. Whether it’s Bedoya or Alberg, the Union need their No. 10 to have more space and time on the ball. When you look at the top 10’s in the league – Kljestan, Lodeiro, Valeri, Diaz, Feilhaber, Higuain – they all have the time and space to pick out intricate passes that break lines and set up goals.

Offensive insufficiency aside, there’s plenty to like about how Curtin is positioning the 10s defensively. Both Bedoya and Alberg were upfield providing pressure alongside their striker counterparts. While it gave Montreal plenty of back line possession in the first half, much of it was non-threatening.

Giliano Wijnaldum

In the last two preseason matches we have yet to see anything from Wijnaldum that indicates he is heir apparent to Fabinho. While he wasn’t tested too much defensively, he looks surprisingly shaky on the ball and disinclined to push very high offensively. I’ll give him a pass for being with a new team and a new league, but we need to see way more from the Dutchman before handing the left back position to him this season or next.


Derrick Jones

Maybe this Derrick Jones in the starting lineup thing isn’t a preseason experiment. And you know what, that’s cool. After earning Stock Falling last match (deserved, mind you, despite the goal), Jones didn’t necessarily wow in this game. That said, the Union have a real lack of pace and athleticism in their starting 11. Jones is rangy, inclined to make big challenges, and willing to foray into the attacking third. In between the hustle-happy Bedoya and Pirlo-esque moniker of Haris Medunjanin, the Union need someone to close down attackers and force pressure in the middle of the field. Jones can be that guy.

Does he need work? Oh, yes. Jones had a few bright moments Wednesday night, but he must be more composed on the ball, calculate his challenges, and most importantly, figure out his positioning alongside Medunjanin. Despite his inexperience, giving Jones a chance to play this preseason and even start the season opener could pay real dividends for the Union by midseason.


  1. I would like to try Herbers in that #10 role, with Pontius and Ilsinho outside and Bedoya dropping back to the #8. I thought Herbers looked decent there last year. Although I like getting Jones minutes. The problem with versatile players is finding the right combo/position for everyone. Hope the coaches figure it out.

    • I don’t know if Herbers is creative or skillful enough to play the 10. With Barnetta we had someone who could find space anywhere and demanded the ball.

      Herbers is still too much of a “full speed ahead” guy for me to ever fall in love with him as a player. He is too direct to find those deeper pockets of space Barnetta did. And even if he does end up finding some, I don’t have mch faith in his ability to dribble past defenders like Barnetta or find the right pass at the right time like Barnetta.

    • Herbers to me at best is a decent winger or striker who makes smart runs. He does not have the technical ability to break down defenders and move the ball quickly enough. He is not an on the ball kind of player his best work is done off the ball making space. This would not work for a 10 in our system.

      • I tend to agree, but when he played there last year I remember him being not bad. Just a thought though, hopefully Bedoya grows into the role.

      • +1. His best attribute is off-the-ball running. That’s for winger & strikers.

  2. I would say that Keegan was also a “Hold”. I only saw the first half but he was a lot sharper vs Piatti last year. Perhaps he’s a little beat up (like Pontius) from his USMNT experience.

  3. I like the evaluation of D. Jones here. He may not of impressed, but he did not underwhelm, and the growth potential is awesome for this kid.

  4. I really appreciate the report on Simpson. I didn’t get to see the match and was really curious how he looked. I think for this team hit peak performance this season, Simpson has net at least 10 goals. At least. Glad to hear you thought he looked good.

    Player I’m most excited to see this season has to be Ilsinho. Might be a real breakout star. He looks great.

  5. This team as constructed will struggle to score goals in a 4-2-3-1. Neither Jay Simpson nor CJ are dominant center forward talents and without Barnetta we don’t have a 10 who can create chances. Jim Curtin will either have to change his formation or should be fired when this team has only 1-2 wins in first 10 games of season.

    • I see your overwhelming support of Curtin has not changed. Glad no one else could ever be responsible for any failure in this franchise.

      • To be fair, Curtin never should have gotten the job and has done absolutely nothing to disprove the notion that he is an awful coach. The fact that he is still here is one of the major reasons I still don’t trust Earnie – any GM has to be able to recognize when he has an egg on the sideline and take appropriate steps to remedy the situation.
        Also, I mean, Ben’s right. We really don’t have the personnel to execute a 4-2-3-1 and we’re apparently not going to change. That’s on both Curtin and Earnie. Andre Blake hid a whole lotta weaknesses on this team for much of last season and he’ll probably do it again this year, but it would be nice if we could put a functional team in front of him. You don’t want to be weakest at ST, DM, and CB, and yet, here we are. A team that can create opportunities for nobody to finish and can stop shots that should never be allowed. Fantastic.

      • He’s not an awful coach. If the roster is as bad as you say then he’s an amazing coach getting us to finish mid-table last year. I think at this point he’s a mid tier coach with a lot of potential. My main argument is how much all the players talk well of him. Ben just straight up hates the guy for reasons I do not know.

      • This is almost a comical piece of negative hyperbole. “Awful coach?” How could an awful coach get to two Open Cup finals in a row? And with a number of players who probably wouldn’t make the current squad’s 18. If you’re going to pin negative results on him, you also have to account for the successes. He’s definitely not Jurgen Klopp, but he’s not awful. That’s not even remotely fair.

    • The Union scored 52 goals last year using that system, good for 6th in the league. Why would we struggle any more this year when the personnel seems improved?

      • Because the engine that powered that offense is gone and hasn’t been replaced. Bedoya is not Barnetta, and neither is Alberg. Neither are an improvement. They are both a step below or more, for me.

  6. I would say the #10’s are are working with whatever their teammates are giving them. It’s preseason and the space Bedoya and Alberg create will be there as Medunjanin, Ilson Jr., Pontius, Simpson…etc learn each others tendencies. The Union must consistently learn to move the ball quicker to feet. Eventually they’ll read 1-2 plays ahead rather than giving opponents time to press and force turnovers. Practice is good but they’ll need to be able to adjust as a group to their opponents.

    • Agreed. And as Ilsinho likes to cut in to the middle, Bedoya can drift wide. Similarly, Simpson seems open to coming back for the ball and allowing other teammates to push higher. I think what we’ll eventually see is that the spear of the attack will be a rotating, highly flexible space.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I’d love to se Ilsinho play on the left so he can cut in on that right foot. I’d rather see him command the center of field as the 10. That alone I am certain would account for 3 goals this season. He demands the space and keeps defenders honest, a lovely attribute in this league, and I feel he’d be best suited in that inverted role.

  7. Phil in Wilmington says:

    This may be a silly question, but if you don’t have a number 10 in your talent pool, is it possible to play without one? My understanding is that a true #10 is actually a pretty rare find.

    If your “good on the ball” talent is on the flanks, can late runs by a false nine (or two box to box #8’s) create enough chaos in the center to create openings for shots on goal (and I don’t mean sprint to the touchline and boom in a hopeful cross, but possess wide to stretch the center and work the ball central once you’re in the attacking third)?

    Or is a team without a #10 simply incomplete?

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I figured Ken Tribbett would take a beating in the analysis.
    So I tried to look at the video a few times where he was involved. I was lazy and used highlights not the full game footage.
    On the first goal, Tribbett slid over to provide cover to the man confronting the ball carrier wide in the box. that is a legitimate defensive responsibility. Jack Elliott failed to slide at the same timje to the more dangerous of the two men he was having to cover. I do not know whether the ball carrier made a fake to freeze him. And I do not know why Elliott was given the Hobson’s choice between two attackers to mark. I don’t know where Ray Gaddis was.
    On the second Goal, the breakdown is not Tribbett. It is Gaddis. Tribbett tried to rescue the situation and failed, but he is not the cause of the shot being available.
    He’s had his fair share of mistakes. But to single him out for the Montreal event is unfair. He was trying to do his jobs.

    • I get the distinct feeling that we’re going to play a whole lot of “who’s responsibility was that” this season. The defensive capabilities in the midfield are lacking, and when a team can charge out of the midfield with regularity, there will inevitably be breakdowns.

      • And this is why Creavalle is going to play a lot more than people expect/want this year, especially on the road, at least until Edu is back.

    • instant reaction i saw on second was Gaddis.

    • I agree with this to a degree, as he’s often been named as a scapegoat, sometimes unfairly. However, I did choose to include him because as someone legitimately fighting for a starting spot with Yaro out (versus Ray who is purely depth), you want to see him stand out. So the stock falling analysis wasn’t to say that Tribbett was to blame for everything that went wrong on those goals (and was totally not culpable on the 2nd – just another instance of bad luck), but that he didn’t help his stock in earning more playing time.

      • Agree with this. I consistently spoke in favor of Tribbett over Yaro last year, but regardless of how I like his aerial ability (he had an assist Wednesday), you can’t hide the reality that his stock likely falls with the coaches after being at least partially on the hook for two goals.

  9. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Kudos to the person above who pointed out that we will get an assessment of Onyewu versus speed in Vancouver on turf.
    On that point will rest a good deal of any forecast for the future of this team this season, with Yaro out for three to four months and then having to get back to game fitness.

  10. Hard to disagree with any of these. The point about Gooch bringing some bite to that backline is a very good one. We need characters like that, especially with Barnetta gone. When the other team takes down one of your guys with a hard foul, you need 1-2 guys who will come to the scene and deliver the message that this type of thing will not be tolerated.

  11. I would have put Brian Carroll in the stock falling department also. He seemed ever slower, and gave up possession more than we’re used to seeing.

  12. I have not seen the preseason matches, but I keep wondering if the guy to play in the #10 spot is The Brazilian. He has phenomenal ball skills, excellent passing vision, and a sweet mid-distance shot. He likes to dribble at people more than your typical #10, but I think that could still work very well, especially combined with some nice off-the-ball runs from Pontius, Herbers, and Bedoya.

    I still think Bedoya might work in the 10-spot, but if he doesn’t, I think Ilson is the next best option. And Alberg simply is not a #10 and should never be put there.

    • Said this in an earlier comment, but I think if Bedoya is the 10, you’ll see Ilsinho push into the middle a lot (as he tends to do), while Ale drifts wide. They’re two of our best players on the ball and seem to have great chemistry so it’s plausible to think of it as a rotating spot on the field.
      Per Alberg, the talent is obvious, but the 10 just doesn’t seem to be his spot. He really feels like a 2nd forward and as much as I want him to succeed, I’m not sure where he fits in with this squad and formation.

    • I do not necessarily agree or disagree, but what then will happen with Alberg? Where would you play him? Would you look to transfer? Seems like the transfer talk has died down a lot, BUT the talk of him not seeing the field that much has stayed the same. I felt like at the beginning of pre-season it was “he is going to see more time than last year, therefore he will be happy to stay”. But it seems like he is 1.5-2 spots deep on the depth chart, so will he actually be happy and/or play?

      • So I still think Alberg could be a 10 while I think his best role is as a second striker. However, more and more I think you could get a lot out of him by playing him wide on the left or right. If they insist on playing Bedoya at the 10 put alberg and ilsinho on the wing and sure put Pontius or Simpson on as striker. I mean there are still a ton of options and I still think Alberg could light this league up. We saw stretches of it last year he just has to do it consistently the talent is there though.

      • From what we’ve seen of Alberg, he is a second forward. He plays like a poacher with a nose for goal. He could be valuable to someone, but it would have to be a team that plays with 2 up top. I think he doesn’t fit our system and should probably be traded.

  13. Go ahead and call me crazy but why not Ilsinho in the 10?

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