Player ratings / Union

Player ratings: Philadelphia Union 4-1 Columbus Crew

Photo: Stephen Speer

The 2023 season didn’t exactly get off to a great start, with an aggressive opening frame from the visitors and an early own goal, quickly undoing the possibility of the Union achieving an early lead in the shutout standings. But a late Dániel Gazdag penalty allowed them to go into halftime tied, and the Union came out swinging in the second half. Another penalty and two goals built on teamwork saw the home team finish well ahead of the Ohioans in the second half, starting the Union’s 2023 campaign off with a win.

All told it was a complete team performance Saturday night, and when that team is essentially the same well-oiled machine that fought their way to the 2022 MLS Cup Final the performance was unsurprisingly quite good. Yet there were some performances that warranted extra attention, even if it’s hard to project a player’s trajectory off just one competitive match.

Player ratings

Andre Blake — 7

As his scores often do, Blake’s rating suffers from a small sample size. The back line in front of him forced Columbus to take 86% of their shots from outside the eighteen yard box, and most of those never came near enough to the goal to worry the Jamaican captain. In fact Columbus logged just two shots on goal Saturday night. Unfortunately, one of those two went in after deflecting off Jakob Glesnes. That’s not great, but we know Blake is capable of greatness so ultimately there’s no reason to be worried about him in goal this season.

Olivier Mbaizo — 7

The Cameroon international can be a significant threat going forward, but as Columbus was so vulnerable centrally there was no need for the width he provides. As a result it was a fairly quiet night for Mbaizo. Look for more from him when the spine of the opposition has more ability to fend off attacks up the middle.

Jakob Glesnes — 6

Under normal circumstances Andre Blake should have been equal to a low-power shot like the one Cucho Hernández’ took in the twenty-eighth minute, but a slight deflection off the Norwegian defender changed the ball’s course and could have changed the course of the whole game. This wasn’t the heartbreaking blunder some own goals can be, the kind of “headed into the back of your own net” own goals Glesnes himself has scored in the past. Instead, tt was an extremely unfortunate coincidence of physics, not a gross error by the defender. But it counts on the scoreboard, and in player ratings, just the same.

Jack Elliott — 8

It was noted early in the game that Jack Elliott was the only Union player not wearing long sleeves. Which makes sense as the former Mountaineer appears to already be in midsummer form, delivering tackles and tracking defenders as if it hadn’t been nearly four months since his last competitive game.

Kai Wagner — 7

Like Mbaizo, the German can be a significant offensive threat. Like Mbaizo, Wagner didn’t get much opportunity to showcase that ability against a Crew that couldn’t stop a central attack.

José Martínez — 8

Sometimes too much can be made of El Brujo’s sinister magic, getting in opponent’s heads and playing just dirty enough to put them off their rhythm. But this game it was exceptionally noteworthy in that Martínez wasn’t playing too differently from how he normally does, yet somehow managed to remain relatively unnoticed by the whistle-happy officiating team. And it also must be acknowledged that playing “not too differently” also includes exceptional work on defense, and starting more than one Union attack including Carranza’s first goal.

Leon Flach — 7

Continuing a theme of wide players lacking opportunities to shine, the left side of the Union’s diamond midfield had a good-but-not-great game on Saturday. He didn’t do much wrong, in fact he did most things right. But a player can only ever play as well as their opponent asks them to, and Columbus didn’t ask much of Flach.

Alejandro Bedoya — 8

The captain avoided the out-wide irrelevance of others by driving in towards the center, making him as essential as ever to the Union’s transitions and attacks. Only one assist officially in the books for him, but he was involved with both Carranza goals and he played a key role in setting up the play that lead to Gazdag’s second penalty.

Dániel Gazdag — 8

A brace is a brace, but when they’re both penalties worthy of discussion it does take some of the thrill out of things. But those weren’t the Hungarian international’s only contributions to the game as he was a big part of how the Union achieved such complete dominance in the middle of Columbus’ end. If we consider it an appetizer to the 2023 Gazdag plans on giving us, there’s only positives ahead for the Union.

Mikael Uhre — 7

Let’s just take a moment to bask in the knowledge that the Union won this game handily without Mikael Uhre needing to do what we know he’s capable of doing. He got a hockey assist on Carranza’s first goal, and didn’t take a wrong step otherwise. But the Crew letting everything in through the middle, and allowing plenty of space for assists on the right, meant this left-sided player joins Flach and Mbaizo in not having much to do.

Julián Carranza — 9

When the Union rescued the Argentine from his South Florida purgatory, the prevailing sentiment was that at that price even an okay player would be a a good deal. On Saturday night Carranza once again demonstrated that he is so much more than an okay player.


Joaquín Torres (Uhre, 79′) — 10

Perfect scores are exceptionally rare in player ratings, and by design. And this one is only possible because it was “merely” a substitute appearance for the young Argentine. A midfielder replacing a forward is supposed to be a defensive move, but Torres’ attack impressed in his first touches of the game as he dribbled around Philip Quinton and Darlington Nagbe in a patch of footwork that overshadowed the perfectly weighted pass to set up Carranza for his second goal. It was a flawless debut, and in the remaining twenty minutes of play he didn’t do anything that could bring his score back down to earth.

Jack McGlynn (Flach, 89′) — 6

Columbus’ hopes were dead and buried before McGlynn ever set foot on the field, so there wasn’t much for Jack to do despite bringing fresh legs and a known nose for goal into the game.

Quinn Sullivan (Carranza, 90+2′) and Andrés Perea (Bedoya, 90+3′)– Pass

Late stoppage time substitutions for the young midfielders were more about taking time off the clock than anything they could achieve on the field in such limited minutes. Though it is worth noting that this was Perea’s first appearance for the Union after playing fifty one games for Orlando City in the two previous seasons.

Geiger Counter

Lukasz Szpala — 6

Possibly the most difficult rating of the game. Overall Szpala was consistently tight with his calls, not letting players get away with much. Which can be okay, as the Union clearly adapted to his interpretation of the rules of the game after seeing a spate of fouls early in the first half. But it appears Columbus didn’t get the memo, and their collection of yellow cards shows what that cost them.

But of course this discussion is really about the hand ball calls. Were they hand balls? Opinion seems divided, even among Union fans who were of course happy to take the points from the resulting penalty kicks. But the time it took to decide if they were hand balls beggars belief. It could be the laws of the game are unnecessarily vague on what constitutes a hand ball. It could be that the Video Assistant Review system, despite all it’s benefits, is still far from perfect. Or, as we suspect, both.

Player of the Game — Julián Carranza

There will be cries for Torres to get the honors here, and they’re not unjustified. But the name of this section is “Player of the Game” so it’s going to someone who influenced the whole game, rather than just the final fifteen minutes. Likewise Dániel Gazdag leads the league in goals (a three-way tie with Carranza and Atlanta’s Thiago Almada) and assists (tied with St. Louis’ Eduard Löwen). Even when the season is just one matchday old that’s nothing to sneeze at.

But Julián Carranza continues to be an unmitigated success for the Union. His presence of mind in the above clip, to just tap it past Crew keeper Patrick Schulte with his left foot, is the difference between a good striker and a great one. That goal didn’t come from raw power, from wearing the opponent down, or dumb luck. It came from skill, awareness, and the technique to pull it off. The Union have never had a striker like that before, and they have at least one right now.


  1. Kinda surprised Glesnes scores lowest among defense. Thought Elliot was more suspect-getting caught upfield, turnovers and passive closing down especially on Cucho’s goal. Flach and Blake also share more responsibility for the goal than does Glesnes.

    Martinez MOTM for me. Shut down one of the craftiest and dangerous player in the league all night. Carranza was rather poor in the first half.

    • Glesnes literally kicked it into his own goal to give Columbus the lead, wrongfooting Blake from 2 yards out and Blake still almost stopped it. There is no world in which Blake would be more responsible for that goal than Glesnes. You make no sense.

      Caranza could have played like crap for 88 minutes and still been motm, the two goals he scored were both world class and he’s paid to score.

  2. Richie_the _Limey says:

    ” It came from skill, awareness, and the technique to pull it off. The Union have never had a striker like that before, and they have at least one right now.”

    You are forgetting Pescadito (Carlos Ruíz). He was right up there in the technique and skill stakes with King Julian. Having said that, I LOOOOOOOVE Caranza way more LOL

    • The little fish never would have made a Jim Curtin team. He didn’t do much defensively from the striker position. That is an “without-this-none” for making Curtin’s Union.

    • In my household Carlos Ruiz is known as Fat Chooch to distinguish him from “real” Chooch, the Phillies catcher. Fat Chooch was way past his prime by the time he arrived in Philly.

  3. I think some of the scores reflect a curve for being the first game of the season. The game should have been at least 4-1 without the two PK’s (6-1 with them).
    As a whole, the offense was guilty mis-timing several runs leading to multiple offsides calls. While Carranza was great on the two goals, what about the sitter he missed (although it wouldn’t have counted with Bedoya offsides) and the breakaway where he didn’t get a shot off.
    I would also drop Elliott by 2-3 points as he had several poor passes including one where Flach had to take a yellow to bail the team out.
    That being said, playing a mediocre game and still winning by 3 goals is a promising sign. Hopefully they can follow it up with another win in south Florida Saturday night.
    After watching a replay of the game this morning, I’d give Apple’s coverage a 3 (and probably only a 2 if a factor in the difficulty of figuring out how to watch the full replay). The announcers were fine, but the camera seemed further away than the wide angle shots of years passed, while the cameraman seemed to have had too much coffee as the closer shots were blurry and somewhat jumpy.
    And did anyone notice the mention that with the new playoff format and the leagues cup the date of MLS Cup is over a month later than last year (December 9)?

    • The MLS Cup date has been after December 1 every year since 2012. Last year was an anomaly because of the World Cup.

      • I was hoping that with the season starting in February again that MLS Cup would be on a time table closer to last year…or at least before Thanksgiving. Given that the season ends on October 21, but that’s obviously not happening since they added 3 rounds of games.

    • I thought the pre-game on Apple TV was awful. Too much banter and not enough substance. Once during an injury I checked out their whip-around “360” show. I was hoping for an NFL RedZone experience, but instead we got the people from the pre-game constantly laughing at their own banter. I hated it.

      I didn’t think the game coverage itself was too bad. I liked being able to listen to Dave Leno on the radio. I switched back and forth between TV and radio audio. I want to like Sheanon Williams, since he’s a Union alum, and he makes some good points, but he really doesn’t have a good radio voice.

  4. The Union were rusty all night and to be honest I thought they looked flat all night. In the past we would lost but thanks to some individual moments and handy Montreal we won decisively.
    As far as Union players go I have never met a tiny Torres I didn’t love.
    Also after going to the talen/ppl/subaru park I can say decisively that after looking at the new kits under lights they look bad. Just terrible, they looked like blotchy beige with bright blue shorts. Just ugh.

  5. I would elevate Szpala to at least an 8 for the simulation yellow. It is never easy to make that call, but it was absolutely correct.
    On tv the unis look bad – like tan shirts on top of blueberry blue tights. People who attended in person told me they looked better than that in person. That said, the shorts and socks should not be the same color.

  6. The best part about Joaquín Torres’s assist was the slight delay. He was going to pass one time, after the spin moves, but held a split second. STUNNING

Leave a Reply

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