Analysis / Union

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 0 – 2 New York City FC

Photo by Paul Rudderow

Union fans are trying to solve a vexing math problem right now.

The gears in their respective heads are spinning, the low whir underlying the time passed since the team’s distressing loss at the hands of New York City FC. The sum for which fans are trying to solve:

Is Jose Martinez a dirty player?

Five for fighting!

Few Eagles fans remember anything about team legend and first-ballot Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik’s career beyond one picture: standing over New York’s Frank Gifford after his most famous tackle (one that nearly cost Gifford his life and did cost him a year and a half of his football career).  “Concrete Charlie,” as he was known, was a two-way grinder that embodied the idea of “Philly Tough” (the irony of course being that his nickname came because he sold concrete in the offseason). In addition to being good at football, he literally punched players on the field on his way to two championships, eight Pro Bowls, and ten first-team All-Pro teams.

Tough indeed.

In an era when the line between sport and violence was blurry at best, he walked it in such a way that his name will never be forgotten. What does seem to have been forgotten is that he was also a cheater in the game’s biggest moment, laying on top of Green Bay’s Jim Taylor after a touchdown-saving tackle in the 1960 NFL Championship so that clock ran out and the Packers couldn’t run a final play.

“Concacafing” has existed in all sports since time immemorial. It does exist today, and it shall exist forever.

Was Charlie great? Was he a monster and a cheater? Was he a bit of all of that in an era when those things could coexist without mutual exclusion?

The line is blurry, but frankly history loves blurry.

  • Ty Cobb, baseball’s greatest hitter, was also a vile racist who sharpened the spikes on his cleats for sliding into ankles instead of bases and was described by Pete Rose as “the meanest person he’s met in his life.”
  • Bill Laimbeer, a two-time champion and four-time All Star, was also a psychological and physical bully so awful that many of the game’s greatest players don’t speak to him.
  • Sergio Ramos has more soccer trophies than most professional soccer players ever, combined but is more well-known for his twenty-six red cards than any contributions he ever made on the pitch.
  • Danny Califf, a winner of the U.S. Open Cup, MLS Cup, and a gold medal in the Danish Superliga, was the Union’s first captain. Most fans from that era will remember the clothesline he put on a streaking Toronto FC player more than anything else.

How will Brujo be remembered, tomorrow and forever? The answer is blurry for Union fans this morning. It’s ok to chippy, aggressive, on the front foot, and stuck in. It’s probably not ok to be dirty, even with a trophy to show for it.

As the collective whirring continues, many Union fans are stuck with, as a former president once put it, “Fuzzy math.”

A thin “red’ line

MLSSoccer.com’s Sam Jones had this to say about el Brujo after the first Atlanta match.

He is always playing on a knife’s edge and no one balances it better in the league right now. I’ve said it before, but he’s not the crazy guy in the fight. He’s the guy crazy enough — and smart enough — to pretend to be. He knows exactly how to rile you up without losing control himself. And I fully believe his little actions throughout the game built up enough to lead to the larger displays of frustration toward the end of the game. He’s a genius. And I’m desperate to make sure he’s not misunderstood.

After his outburst against City, many fans of the league and certainly a percentage of Union fans found el Brujo to be less genius and more madman. Parsing words, it’s clear his teammates and coach weren’t pleased with his elbow and understand their side will pay a heavy price for it (even if he isn’t suspended for more than his infraction dictates).

That was a dirty play, but is Brujo a dirty player? The answer demands data.

Martinez has been booked about once every three games in his career. That’s more often than players like Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro, who get their names taken once every four matches. It is however a rate that matches teammate Aurellien Collin, a player who was most certainly a villain in his prime and a master of the Dark Arts, though not necessarily dirty.

The only tangible measure, particularly in this day and age when every heavy challenge can be reviewed, is in how many times a player is sent off. Yellow cards are warnings that something a player did is outside of the scope of a regular soccer match, but not so bad they said player shouldn’t continue. Red cards represent an entirely different level of indiscretion. Moreover, there’s no getting away with the things players like Vinnie Jones used to, they simply become punishable offenses after the fact.

By that number el Brujo isn’t dirty at all: Saturday night was only the third red card of his career (and first since 2017).

Summary

As Jones pointed out above, right now Martinez is playing on a knife’s edge.

The rate at which he’s been booked has increased since coming stateside and, after his first league red card and suspension from international play for yellow card accumulation (all in the same week), the trend looks bad.

In terms of solving the “dirty player” math problem, there is only one variable remaining. It’s the last one, but it’s crucial to answering the question. The last variable is “time.” Whenever Martinez is allowed to lace them up again for the Union, any subtlety he has left about him will be gone. Opposing coaches and players will know to needle him, refs will know to give him a short leash, and the Union will know that they are playing with fire.

What he does next with the time he is given will determine his legacy, because ten good moments like this one will always be overshadowed by the bad one from Saturday night.

14 Comments

  1. Sean Hamel says:

    I wouldn’t label him a dirty player, but there are times where the knife’s edge risk of losing him isn’t outweighed by his skills on the pitch. We know the outcome of game 1 vs ATL is more than we all hoped for (especially with ATL dominating most of H1), but keeping El Brujo on the pitch with a yellow from the 6′ mark on was a total gamble in my eyes. We’ll see what happens tonight w/o him.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I think that’s the general sentiment too. I would argue the data says otherwise: the risk of losing him has been 0% since 2017 until last week. Now if it starts creeping higher…

      • Sean Hamel says:

        I hear ya, but recent data shows a yellow and a straight red in his last 96′ of playing time.
        My bigger point was why take the risk in the ATL game – away, 0-0, 84+ minutes to go?

  2. To me the fact that he is a diver who rolls around every time he is touched factors in to the conversation. Its one thing to be overly physical, but if you cant take it and only dish it out, you are a dirty player who ruins the beautiful game. Every union fan knew a martinez red was coming sooner rather than later, but we assumed from a mistimed tackle.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I honestly don’t think his writhing around has anything to do with whether or not he can take a hit. He knows how much psychology goes into the game re: his opponents and the ref, and he uses every opportunity to tap into that during a match. It’s not something I enjoy, but I also know it’s naive of me to think it has no effect. There’s a reason Castellanos rolled about 30 times after the elbow: he was selling the foul.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Rolling around was just as big an issue Saturday night as that was what he was doing when NYCFC counterattacked for the game winning goal.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    With due respect, if people are spending time whirring around in their heads about wether Martinez is a dirty player— they are thinking on the wrong things.
    .
    Period.
    .
    This team has greater concerns then Martinez… who incidentally offered an apology via Twitter the other day.
    .
    I could itemize the issues, but I aimgine plenty of other people will do that.
    .

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I was hoping you’d grab some lyrics from “Heroes and Villains” that would put a bow on this.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      This feels reductive to me. Yes, the Union have more than just this problem. But considering how important Martinez is to allowing the team to “Just Play Well,” as you so often ask for, it seems appropriate to consider whether he can be relied upon to be available. And if his style of play results in sanctions that make him unavailable, then that’s a big deal.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I respect the POV. After a year and 5 games however I feel he’s developed legitimate slack and we do not need to dissect whether he’s an asset or liability.
        .
        Seems excessive in light of the glaring issues this team has at the moment as it relates to league play.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      That’s fair, el P. I think most of the agita stems from us being disappointed in him, more than anything. He’s important, and become representative of the Union, so we want him to be better than that.

  4. SilverRey says:

    At the beginning of last season El Brujo and Bedoya were tit for tat on yellows at a breakneck speed. After they were both suspended for accumulation I thought it was going to be a race to the second suspension. Bedoya went charging into it with reckless abandon (which not surprisingly is how he gets most of his cards) and earned his 2nd vacation day, but what ~was~ surprising was El Brujo reigned it in and didn’t get above 7 yellow cards for the year.
    .
    I’m hoping this suspension is another wake-up call, and he balances himself again.
    .
    We need him.

    • What’s scary for me is how much publicity this red card got. Now he is on everyone’s radar. opposition players will try to provoke him, and refs will have his number in their notes. The positive: we have multiple games to experiment without him, which will come in handy during international duty with Venezuela. Here’s to hoping tonight’s game vs atlanta isn’t the worst in union history!!!

  5. McMohansky says:

    Sam Jones got it spot on.

    I can’t believe Union fans are actually wondering whether it’s worth it to them to have to worry about him.

    As Silver Ray points out, the only meaningful data we have to compare his card accumulation puts him in favorable light, so stop with these ridiculous posts about whether he is dirty player.

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