Player ratings / Union

Player ratings: Philadelphia Union 0-1 New York Red Bulls

Photo: Paul Rudderow

For the first 45 minutes of Sunday’s penultimate regular season match, Philadelphia Union played some of the prettiest soccer you will ever see in Major League Soccer versus one of the league’s top teams. They absolutely bossed the game, with something around 70% of possession in the first half. The Union remained in control of large portions of the second half, but a flukey handball in the box and — tell me if you’ve heard this before — their inability to find the final ball sealed an extremely frustrating home loss.

Still, it’s not outlandish to think that maybe the Red Bulls were allowing the Union crazy amounts of possession the same way Montreal, Houston, and Portland did on their way to runaway counterattacking victories. The Union were passing feverishly around the red shirts, but New York’s defense simply held their shape and stayed compact so all that passing led to zilch. The one positive is that, unlike those other matches, the Union’s defense was able to snuff out counterattacks really, really well. So despite a bummer of a match, there are some positives to pluck from this one ahead of a huge Decision Day matchup with the blue side of New York next weekend.

Player ratings

Andre Blake — 5

Blake, as usual, was up to every challenge when tested, but his inability to stop penalties remains an issue. Sometimes it just comes down to luck, but Blake is 0/8 on penalty kicks this season — and has only two PK stops in his entire MLS career.

Keegan Rosenberry — 6

Keegan’s chemistry on the pitch with Borek Dockal and Alejandro Bedoya is just absurd. He’s so good with the ball, he just needs to make more of those deep, creative runs that cut teams open. Defensively, Rosenberry was bailed out not a few times by Mark McKenzie.

Mark McKenzie — 8


Auston Trusty — 8

See above. What a game by the young center halves.

Ray Gaddis — 5

Ray Gaddis does what Ray Gaddis does. Solid on defense, but leaves a lot to be desired going forward. Had a few bad giveaways that were lucky not to be punished (as they were against Montreal).

Haris Medunjanin — 5

Medunjanin was smart and composed on the ball all game, but with Red Bulls sitting back, he was unable to find that final ball to undo New York’s back line.

Alejandro Bedoya — 5

An up-and-down game for Bedoya. First there was that very, very bad inadvertent theft of what surely would have been a Fafa Picault goal (though, that could have been on Picault not calling for the ball). The penalty was harsh and I can’t blame Ale from wanting to protect his face from Cory Burke’s massive shoulders. That said, Bedoya was terrific on the ball, but you’d like to see him get forward with those runs more when the Union are bossing possession.

Borek Dockal — 7

Dockal put on a tiki-taka clinic in Chester on Sunday, but all for nought. The quick touches are nice and pretty, but Kapitan Amerika’s teammates need to give him more dangerous options for him to pick out.

Fafa Picault — 7

The Union’s most active offensive threat was not quite as clinical as he’s been in recent matches, but was still an absolute terror down the left flank. Picault actually made Tyler Adams (who was tasked with help defense on Picault) look not-amazing, which is a massive compliment for the winger.

C.J. Sapong — 3

Quiet day from Sapong in a possession-oriented game that did not suit his skill-set. He did, however, have a clear opportunity at the top of the 18 that he scuffed ever-so-softly into Luis Robles’ arms. Was actually pretty fortunate not to get sent off for a very hard elbow-to-brain challenge in the first half.

Corey Burke — 6

Burke did everything but score this match. He was just a step or two away from finding the net several times, but just couldn’t find enough space to put one away. His run with Aaron Long draped on his back was incredible. I think if he moves a little better off the ball, Burke would have had a goal Sunday.


Ilsinho (63′ for Sapong) — 4

Not Ilsinho’s typical substitute showing, as the Brazilian’s flair outweighed any danger he created for the last 30 minutes of the game.

Simpson (81′ for Burke) — 3

The truth about Simpson seeing time at the end of the games — and no third substitution — is that the Union very much lack game-changing depth when they desperately need a goal.

Geiger Counter

Ted Unkel — 4

The penalty obviously gets the headlines, but Unkel actually had a pretty decent game on the whole. He made sure a physical match didn’t get out of hand — and, for the sake of fans, ensured both teams ended with 11 men on the field.

Now on to the penalty… That is such a difficult call. Obviously, the ball hit Bedoya’s hands; obviously that is not a natural position, but (!) Bedoya was clearly shielding his face from getting broken by Cory Burke’s shoulder. There’s no easy call here and I could have seen it go either way. There was no intent on Bedoya’s part and it didn’t affect the game state in any real way, but a hand ball in the box is a hand ball in the box.

Would love to hear what everyone’s thoughts are on this. The way I try to judge a good/bad referee decision is If the other team did the same thing, would I be mad it wasn’t called? On this one, I have to say, “No,” and believe Unkel’s ruling was wrong.

Bonus Round

Red Bulls broadcast team — 0

Shep Messing’s presence on MLS broadcasts continues to be an absolute, icky joke. If, like me, you were watching on ESPN+, you were gifted 90 minutes of ill-informed, one-sided hackery by Messing and play-by-play man Steve Cangioloso. Messing’s lack of knowledge of anything MLS beyond the 11 red blurs he sometimes can identify on the field is an insult to both Red Bulls fans looking for astute tactical commentary and opposing fans seeking more than trash anecdotes and terrible bias.

New York are in the biggest media market in the country with so many talented people who love soccer and this is the best you can do? Boo.

Player of the Game

Aaron Long and Tim Parker: Philly controlled the match and the midfield, but rarely had a good look at goal thanks to New York’s center backs throwing themselves in front of the ball with six blocked shots. It was the only thing that preserved the shutout.


  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    This match left me as frustrated as any in the last few months. The referee decision seemed to be right in line with what all fans fear about VAR: just because something happened doesn’t mean it needs to be reviewed and called. No intent, no harm, no advantage, and not a single official on the field saw it. As for the Union themselves, a bumpy pitch notwithstanding, they need to be more assertive in the final third. End.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      There is a great evening out in all things. you get the call. the call gets you. we are a fallible species.
      if VAR overturned Hand of God…. football would be lesser for it. But hey…it is perfect so there is that.
      used to be when someone made the ‘square gesture’ you were outside the cool loop. I wish that’s what it meant again.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        The thought of VAR and the Hand of God… England wins that match, Maradona’s legacy is just a bit smaller but certainly less mythical, and up becomes down.

      • Nah…no Hand of God and the game goes to overtime and England loses on PK’s.

  2. if Ale had punched the ball into the net for an own goal would the goal have been disallowed because of the handling?

  3. Haris is too high. He had several crosses that sailed over everyone. The Union free kicks weren’t dangerous at all. I remember one pass back to Gaddis that made Gaddis look bad as he almost gave it away, but was really put in a bad position by the pass when two forwards were converging on him.
    CJ is too low at a 3. Was his game great? No. But he did have one of the two shows on goal. He was trying to place it perfectly but didn’t get a lot on it so it was an easy save, but let’s face it, shots off target never go in whereas even poor shots on target occasionally slip through.
    I’ll completely disagree with you regarding Unkel. As far as I’m concerned he had an awful game. Ignoring the PK (which is the second time in 3 games the Union have been punished by questionable VAR calls), he had no control of the match. There was no consistency in his foul calls. The Cows were getting away with a lot more physicality, in part because they went down a LOT easier in contact or near contact situations. There were several incidents such as the one at the end of the first half and a couple involving Fafa and Robles where nothing was called. I’ve said it before, he was one of the worst refs in the WPS and there was no reason for MLS to hire him.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the dressing down of Shep Messing. Dude is bad. I was at the game so I wasn’t “blessed” with his call this past weekend, but I have experienced him in the past. Terrible.

  5. I was at the game, seated behind the goal where the penalty occurred, so without the benefit of replays and commentary, my initial thought was that he was reviewing the card on Fafa for maybe a red card. I had NO idea based on my angle that there was even a cry for a handball. However, I do find it interesting that had Unkel blown play dead for the 2 Union players laying on the ground in the box he could’ve reviewed then, instead of allowing play to continue for another minute or two and allowing the foul and card at the other end. And just for discussion purposes, what if that play resulted in a goal, or a corner kick at the other end of the field – would it stand? If the penalty did happen, shouldn’t Fafa’s yellow be rescinded since the handball would’ve halted play at that point? Right or wrong call, it’s a pretty sticky situation all around.

    • I was sitting at midfield and saw a couple of the Cow players call for the handball when it happened. They were probably facing away from you.
      If Fafa had scored at the other end, it would not have counted. Another knock on Unkel is that he did not add enough stoppage time to make up for the play between the handball and the eventual whistle. That should have been 100% added to stoppage time (sort of like when there is a review in the NHL and a non goal is turned into a goal, they reset the clock back to the time of the goal).

    • Yeah, like Andy said, the goal would have been ruled off. It actually happened with San Jose v. Atlanta this year. ATL had a handball shout on one end, SJ went down and scored — ref went to VAR, cancelled SJ’s goal, and gave Atlanta a PK (which they of course scored).

  6. Re: The Red Bulls broadcast team.

    After the Union turned themselves around and became a fun team to watch this season, I couldn’t figure out why I still couldn’t engage with the team the same way I have in the past. I used to crave any drop of blue and gold I could get, even while they were losing, but this year…nothing. I’ve finally figured out why.

    I used to watch the Union on comcast sportsnet (I’m in central PA). When they moved to 6abc, I no longer had any option but to use ESPN+. THEY’VE HAD ONE GAME THIS YEAR WITH UNION COMMENTARY! Every game I’m subjected to the opposing team’s feed and commentators and do you know how they feel about the Union? Meh. So do you know how I’m left feeling? Meh.

    So I hope the 6abc moved turned the tides in Philly proper, because outside I don’t know how anyone can be excited by having to consume the Union experience from ESPN+.

    • Most games are on PHL17 which has an (absolutely horrible) app so should should (theoretically) be able to watch it on that. But losing MLS Live was terrible for the league in areas like where you are. Plus there is no reason the ESPN app should let you choose which broadcast to listen to. Hope they fix these issue for you next year.

  7. Since your grading starts with a “5” I don’t see how Medunjanin isn’t graded lower sine he failed to put one corner/free kick into a place where teammates could make a play on it. As for Ilshino, sometime frustrating sometimes brilliant, not much opportunity for him with the ball primarily on the left side of the pitch. He’s in the game to score, get him the ball…

  8. 1) Agree with Andy Muenz that Sapong should be a little higher than a 3. I was at the match, and though he was not fantastic by any means, he actively put himself in good spots to receive passes and mixed it up well with Rosenberry, Dockal, and Bedoya.

    2) Also agree with Andy that Medunjanin should be lower. He was really bad this match. He was so terrific last season, but he’s become a major liability this year.

    3) Dockal should be MUCH lower than a 7. He was way off all game. Errant pass after errant pass. I love the guy, so I’m not being a Negadelphian; this just wasn’t his match.

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