Player ratings

Player ratings and analysis: Orlando City 0-0 Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Rare is the match where the positives and negatives weigh out so equally that they genuinely seem to reflect the goalless scoreline.

Philadelphia Union bracketed Kaka beautifully, defended efficiently, and grew into the match rather than fading down the stretch as they have done so often this season.

Orlando City played into Philly’s hands by sending out a flaccid, uncreative midfield that lacked width and movement. But let that not take away from this one important fact: Put any ten MLS players around Kaka and he still has a fighting chance to beat you. Brian Carroll and the returning Michael Lahoud made sure that didn’t happen, and it made a porous Union defense look impregnable.

Brian Carroll steps to the ball to force Neal wide then shadows Kaka throughout Orlando's transition. Also notice Barnetta closing the ball down in the bottom frame.

Brian Carroll steps to the ball to force Neal wide then shadows Kaka throughout Orlando’s transition. Also notice Barnetta closing the ball down in the bottom frame.

Intelligent defending

Sometimes playing defense is about finding your zone or finding your man. Sometimes it is about knowing when to press and when to stay put because you don’t have support. Brian Carroll may not be the best at defensive pressure (though he is far, far, far from the worst), but the man can still play a cover role in midfield as well as anybody.

As expected, Orlando had no width and took an “all roads lead to Rome” approach, with Kaka as the embodiment of the ancient city. This is less than ideal, but it can work. All Kaka needs is balls into his feet that allow him to run at goal and he can collapse a defense and give players around him the time they need to look a lot better than they are.

OCSC’s one shot on goal came from Kaka (accidentally?) making something out of nothing. In the 30th minute, Cristian Higuita strode forward in the left channel, ignoring his wide options and focusing on Kaka. As if to demonstrate precisely how poor Orlando’s midfield shape was, Higuita found Lewis Neal sitting in the passing lane to Kaka and had to drive past a defender to find the Brazilian’s smart run away from Michael Lahoud. Kaka was instantly surrounded and only managed to find Cyle Larin’s feet with an absurd no-look, outside of the foot precision pass through Brian Carroll.

Orlando possessed the ball a lot in the first half (L), and got stuck going up the wings in the second. Both approaches proved ineffective.

Orlando possessed the ball a lot in the first half (L), and got stuck going up the wings in the second. Both approaches proved ineffective.

Throughout the whole move, Orlando never looked to their wide open fullbacks. And Philly had done their homework, collapsing centrally around the dense Lions midfield and allowing the fullbacks to trounce about harmlessly on the wings. This calculated gamble worked because Adrian Heath’s team does not have the personnel to attack through the wings, so leaving the fullbacks alone only lets them put in crosses. And as dangerous as Larin can be, he’s the only danger from the air. Let me know when Kaka, Neal, Darwin Ceren, and Higuita start making darting runs through the box so I can check my window for the flying pigs.

That Higuita-Kaka-Larin move was the notable exception for Orlando. The rest of the day, Kaka either found no service or found no options around him. The Union’s success controlling Orlando’s main threat was surely a joint function of smart defense and a poor midfield setup from the home side, but it was heartening to see Carroll and Lahoud execute the pregame plan with such consistency. Orlando’s counterattacks were noticeably slow, but that was partly due to the fact that they had to play through Neal or Ceren before finding Kaka, who was constantly locked in a closed off passing lane behind a Union midfielder.

Maidana's influence grew in the second half when he was allowed to search for space rather than being pinned to the right.

Maidana’s influence grew in the second half when he was allowed to search for space rather than being pinned to the right.

That weird balance

Tranquillo Barnetta’s first extended run in the center of the park produced mixed results. On the positive side, Barnetta provided an extra body in the midfield, slowing Orlando down and adding a second vertical layer to the Union defense that is largely absent when Chaco Maidana is off wandering. The Swiss midfielder is a far more mature defender than Zach Pfeffer and played to force the home side backward rather than pressing without support. Along with basic positioning knowledge that has surely come from many years of high level soccer, this defensive contribution was the standout part of Barnetta’s game. In other words, the new signing was less than a revelation offensively.

Jim Curtin said he would not change his formation to suit Barnetta. Instead, he changed Cristian Maidana’s role and, essentially, modified the purpose of the formation without changing its shape. So the formation-as-shape remained the same, but the formation-as-tactic was quite different.

Barnetta spread the field well when he had time, but his vision for the outlet pass is wanting compared to the Argentinian he replaced in the middle of the park. Maidana is an ambitious passer, and when he is confident he turns bad situations into chances with quirky, unexpected looks across field or through mazes of defenders. A former winger, Barnetta played offense like he was back on the touchline with time to receive the ball and look up before a defender arrived. That sort of time is rarely available in the middle of the park, and it showed in Barnetta’s passing choices, which were largely conservative.

This is not problematic in and of itself, but in the context of Philly’s practiced transition offense, it tended to take the speed and bite out of counterattacks. Curtin has said Barnetta could take some pressure off the defense by helping the Union hold more possession. However, Philly struggled to possess the ball against a packed midfield and the Swiss man’s bigger defensive contribution was, as noted above, just remaining in the middle and not overcommitting to the press.

Gaddis pushed forward to support Ayuk once Maidana vacated the space modern fullbacks usually use.

Gaddis pushed forward to support Ayuk once Maidana vacated the space modern fullbacks usually use.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Barnetta develops as a central player, but Maidana’s changing role may be even more intriguing.

Maidana has been the centerpiece of Philly’s offense since Curtin installed him in the middle of the park. For all of his flaws (e.g., leaving the center, mediocre defense), Maidana is an incredibly dangerous passer and the unquestioned lynchpin of the Union counterattack. Shuttling him off to the wing is risky because he becomes one-dimensional when unable to drift between the lines at will.

The value of Maidana — and the cost of leaving him wide — was clear to see Saturday after Barnetta left the match. On the right, Maidana was minimally involved and only the narrowness of Orlando prevented him from being a defensive liability. Back in the center, the Argentine could drift into his favored left channel, opening the right wing for Ray Gaddis to get further forward (which he did exactly never with Maidana ahead of him) and turning Philly into much more dangerous attacking unit.

Of course, it helped that Adrian Heath was busy emptying his midfield when Maidana was granted his freedom from the wing. Heath’s decision to remove Neal and Carrasco for the pointless Carlos Rivas and the creaky Adrian Winter left gaping holes in the channels that the Union exploited with relative ease. After producing only two reasonable chances in the first 65 minutes, Philly was suddenly generating shots from the center of the box once Maidana was roaming and Orlando was changing offensive tactics midstream. As expected, the Higuita-Ceren pairing in midfield was an excellent matchup for Philly’s playmaker, as the two midfielders galloped about, leaving space as they sought to close down the ball.

Orlando settled for crosses. And the Union central defenders were fine with that.

Orlando settled for crosses. And the Union central defenders were fine with that.

That was nice, real nice

Finally, props must be given to a Union defense that rarely looked uncomfortable in a difficult road atmosphere. There were problems, to be sure, but overall the back four looked unruffled by Orlando and played as more of a unit than in recent weeks. Questions about Steven Vitoria’s speed will understandably persist, but paired with the absurdly athletic Marquez, the Portuguese man was never exposed.

Furthermore, Vitoria astutely managed the space Gaddis left behind when pressing. It certainly helped that Orlando had nobody looking to take that space — Kaka was staying central and neither Ceren or Neal seemed to have the foggiest idea how to attack space in the final third — but the notion that the Union can let Gaddis go on his upfield missions without penalty feels really good.

The one defensive issue that remains is how deep the defense tends to sit after initial clearances or recycled play. This problem was made salient by the start of the European club season this weekend, in which strong defenses could be seen inching forward from their box to maintain touching distance with the midfield as soon as the ball was pushed out of the final third.

Orlando shots - not threatening.

Orlando shots – not threatening.

This may seem a minor gripe, but the ripple effect can be very meaningful. To understand, look at the first five minutes of the Union-Orlando match in which Philly played the ball into CJ Sapong’s feet three times. Sapong had the space to check back to the ball because Orlando’s back line sat deep and allowed space between them and the midfield. Once Aurelien Collin pushed his back four closer to Carrasco, Sapong had more difficulty influencing the match (the striker had only two touches past the center circle between the 10th and 40th minutes).

Overall, the Union’s improved defense was a major plus, but the dearth of offensive chances with Barnetta in the center is a worrying sign.

Furthermore, Barnetta’s lack of creativity — which may simply be a function of getting up to game speed and learning MLS play — highlights how Philly continues to make odd buying choices. Barnetta is certainly a very good player, but adding him in the middle forces one of the team’s other very-good-players into a less effective role. Solving this positional dilemma will be one of the storylines to watch going forward as Philly seeks to establish an identity that they can carry into the 2016 season.

Player ratings

John McCarthy – 6

Well, that was (relatively) easy.

Ray Gaddis – 6

A good match from Gaddis, as Orlando played to the defender’s strengths. Once the home side inserted the just totally, incomprehensively pointless Carlos Rivas, Gaddis was gifted the perfect partner for an athletic showdown. Rivas settled for terrible crosses and Gaddis looked confident.

Richie Marquez – 7

Do you feel that? It’s calmness. Tranquility. It’s a much more common feature for Philly defenses when Marquez is part of them. The athletic defender matched up well with Cyle Larin and was not bullied around by the big rookie striker.

Steven Vitoria – 7

Vitoria does not pass the eye test, looking slow and uncertain on the ball. But the big man showed some aerial backbone and attacked the ball much better than he did in his previous run out in back. A positive match.

Fabinho – 6

With hilariously little to do, Fabinho played a solid offensive match. Though he was only halfway involved, the Brazilian had to be smart about going forward, and he was.

Brian Carroll – 8

Just because you only have one job to do it is no less impressive when you do it well. Brian Carroll’s defensive sweeper role may be a bit anachronistic in modern soccer, but Philly’s roster requires just such a player. The captain of the day made certain that even when Kaka received the ball in dangerous areas, he would have to take his second best option. Additionally, working with Lahoud in a double-pivot proved to be no problem for the man who is at his best when he is unnoticed. Also: Only four misplaced passes all match? Stellar.

Michael Lahoud – 7

Four misplaced passes, Mr. Carroll? How about zero? Lahoud’s perfect passing day coincided with a decisiveness borne from knowing that he was going to give the ball to a) Maidana, b) Barnetta, or c) Carroll every time he could. That simple progression allowed Lahoud to play a contained match that highlighted all of the positive attributes he brings to the pitch. Whereas Carroll plays passing lanes brilliantly, Lahoud closes down the ball extremely quickly and takes good angles. Combined, they snuffed out everything Orlando threw at them. It will be interesting to see how Jim Curtin moves forward with Lahoud and Carroll since, for all the good defensive work they do, it would be hard to find two less ambitious passers.

Barnetta interprets the attacking mid role differently from Maidana, staying central and trying to move the ball to possess rather than looking for the throughball.

Barnetta interprets the attacking mid role differently from Maidana, staying central and trying to move the ball to possess rather than looking for the throughball.

Tranquillo Barnetta – 6

A quiet match from the new boy. The defensive work was spot on and the offense showed glimpses of the technical skill and fluidity that make him such an enticing signing. Barnetta had a noticeably better relationship with Le Toux than Pfeffer did a week ago.

Sebastien Le Toux – 7

That shot off the post! Oh, so close. It was indicative of Le Toux’s game, which was as close as it has been all season to the top form he showed in August of 2014.

Cristian Maidana – 6

Though Maidana seemed a bit neutered on the wing, he remains an intriguing wide prospect, with the ability to serve balls into the box if anybody should decide to join CJ Sapong on his lonely forays into dangerous zones.

CJ Sapong – 5

Sapong’s rating may be low only because he was isolated for extended stretches of the match. Going toe-to-toe with the physical Collin got the better of Sapong, who ended up in more of a personal war than part of the team. That said, the striker’s work rate remains a huge boon and continues to prove that he belongs in the first eleven.

Substitutes

Eric Ayuk – 5

Not the most influential match from the teenager, but he did provide a much-needed vertical element to the Union offense that was missing with Maidana on the touchline and Luke Boden pushing forward from the back.

Fernando Aristeguieta – 6

Good fight and competitiveness as usual from Aristeguieta. With only 17 minutes on the pitch, he was able to quickly get involved which is a very positive sign.

Warren Creavalle – 6

Put into the match to charge around once the midfield opened up, Creavalle showed plenty of energy and smart decision making. That said, Orlando had largely given up on going forward by the time he entered so it was difficult to get a handle on how he would perform under more offensive pressure.

Geiger counter – 5

Allan Chapman is not a great referee, but he was consistent on the night. Sapong and Collin were allowed to huff and puff all night, and both sides got away with their fair share of borderline cautionable offenses.

34 Comments

  1. The one I’m going to significantly disagree with is Chaco. There were a couple of opportunities he had to finish and he needs to be able to do so.
    .
    Also LeToux’s score (which I agree with) should be more about the crosses he made that should have been finished than about the bad angle shot that hit the post.

    • Agree on Chaco. He has to be more selfish and take a few more shots. He’s got the leg. He needs the confidence to attack.

    • Yeah no one is mentioning when Chaco inexplicably didn’t get a touch on that golden ball in front of goal. I know he’s not that fastest cat on the pitch, but you’d think he’d stretch out for that one?? Right?!

    • pragmatist says:

      I think we’ve all become cold to Chaco’s goal-scoring inadequacies. It’s more of a shock when he puts one on frame than when he chooses not to shoot. It’s like he had a coach at some point that gave him electric shock every time he shot, or something.
      Pull the damn trigger, dude!

      • Should he shoot more?
        Yes.
        Is shooting his primary job and first consideration when he has the ball?
        No.

        • Andy Muenz says:

          At times it needs to be his primary consideration. Otherwise we just watch the Union trying to setup the perfect shot and instead losing the ball without even attempting to score.

        • Agreed but come on. I know the game differs but John Stockton wanted to pass first and he still took the shot when he was open.

          • In agree he should shoot more but Maidana seems to be the only player judged by what he doesn’t do as opposed to what he does do.

          • Andy Muenz says:

            Maidana has the most opportunities where he could take a good shot but passes instead and this team needs more scoring.
            .
            And to my mind the first person I think of when we discuss judging by what they don’t do is Gaddis not getting forward.

  2. Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

    Way, way too kind to the attacking players.

  3. I think it’s waaaay too early to suggest Barnetta may not be a good signing. He’s hardly had a week(?) to train with the team. His setup of the LeToux goal in his first appearance is a promising sign that he’s very capable of unlocking defenses. In this game, it’s no accident that Carroll and Lahoud looked stellar. If we can find a way to play Barnetta, Nogueira and Maidana together through the midfield, we could play some impressive ball.
    .
    So good to see Lahoud back on the pitch and picking up right where he left off with probably the best soccer of his career.

    • Barnetta’s through ball to LeToux that wound up being saved by the post was just beautiful.

    • The Chopper says:

      We also have to keep in kind that this is the start of the season for Barnetta while MLS is mid season. He had no pre season or friendlies to get ready. You can’t expect him to be,in form or in shape yet.

  4. All of the attacking players’ scores are too high; we didn’t score a goal. Chaco’s failures to convert were especially glaring. Even when Nando comes on with “fresh legs” he still looks pretty slow.

    I would give McCarthy credit for that great long throw to Letoux, and I didn’t see him shank any goal kicks or send them right out of bounds, so that is improvement.

  5. Agreed with most that the scores for attackers were way too high.

  6. I will be universally disappointed in this team if once Noguiera is healthy, Barnetta is the central playmaker and Maidana is shuttled wide. Wing play is the glaring need for this team and they just brought an international level very skilled winger here to help with that very glaring need. If The Calm isn’t on the wing what was the purpose? If you handicap your most lethal passer and hest creator you further display a lack of vision philosophy and plan.
    .
    I’m counting on JC to get this right.

    • I hope you are right. I hope Barnetta can play the wing. He just seems scary lacking in the pace department.

      • Barnetta was never been a pacey winger. His goal was never to just run the touchline. His ability lies in being on the touchline distributing switches in the field of play, possession oriented passing, and ability to pull defenders wide to get him off the ball. This opens up space for those in the middle to make a run and redistribute to either the other side of the field or to someone running the channels. He can also hit target forwards with passes and make runs off of them from the wing he knows when and how to get in the box if needed. This is at least what I have seen him do in the past for Schalke and the Swiss national team. He was never a beat you for pace kind of winger.

        • What you says is exactly correct. He’s not fast he’s a smart winger. I’ve watched him as well and his ability to preoccupy and preoccupy in the multiple ways you mention is very intriguing. We need quality futbol on the wing and he is quality futbol…CJ Sapong and the weak side winger have the most to gain.

          • So then, my question to you both, is that what this team needs? I think possession and the ability to pass are good, don’t get me wrong. But doesn’t this team need a winger that will actually attack and take someone on? I’m just asking for your opinions.

          • One of this team’s big problems this year has been wingers attacking too much. That sounds crazy at first. But think back to how often we all yelled and cried about Le Toux and Wenger both being so far up field, Nogueira and Maidana couldn’t find them with anything other than an absolutely perfect long ball. A smart, steady, smooth winger who builds play with Nog, Maidana, the fullback, and the forward would do wonders for this team, I think.

          • You misunderstand John. I mean attacking with the ball at feet. Or by attacking the box when a cross comes in. These are not things that our wingers do. Exception being, maybe, Ayuk. Again, this being what I think the team needs more, than a guy just hanging on the sideline.

          • My opinion is Barnetta on the wing is what this team needs if you play Chaco and Nogs in the middle it gives you an outlet for both of them with someone who understands movement. This then opens up the right for Ayuk to make his runs and take people on thus helping to develop the play and open more space. Which Barnetta certainly understands how to use space better than most on this team. However as I’ve mentioned before this team and its personal are moving away from a typical 4-2-3-1 with wingers up high and wide to a personal that fits a 4-4-2 better and this is where I think Barnetta would excel. This doesn’t provide defensive cover but think of a middle of Barnetta LM Chaco CAM Ayuk RM and Nogs CDM you then split up either Sapong and Nando up top or Sapong and Le Toux up top and I think you got something here. I mean it will take time to get the tactics right but you would have the rest of the season to work on it. Thus in the off season you upgrade who is next to Sapong and up grade the defense to stand on its own with this midfield and it pushes things in a new and better direction. It also fits for the young players and subs we got. So Wenger can be a striker sub or outside mid. Pfeffer covers Chaco. Lahoud if you keep him covers Nogs. Maclauglin covers either outside mid. It opens possibilities.

    • My guess is that once Nogs is healthy, Barnetta moves to the wing and Chaco goes back in the middle.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Think about the defensive responsibilities. Whom do you want covering the space in front of Carroll and Lahoud, Maidana or Barnetta, especially since Orlando’s threat down their left flank, our right defensively was minimal. My guess that Maidana on the right was a response to the specifics of this particular game, not necessarily a long-term decision. Also affecting the shift of Maidana may have been that other teams had been adjusting to his patterns in the center – to move to the wings – anD had been isolating him from play better.

  7. Thinking out loud here…
    *
    So Jim will have an interesting (but finally) good dilemma on his hands once Nogs and Mo return. At that point, what do you do with Mo? Do you leave him back at central defense, or do you move him up to CDM next to Nogs? Adam is right that Orlando played exceedingly narrow, which allows your outside backs to keep shape rather easily. But what about when the opponent uses the whole width of the field, forcing the outside backs…outside? For my $$, I think I keep Mo back at central defense. Vitoria didn’t really have his lack of speed tested on Saturday night, but teams will go after that aspect of his game. So, I think I’d line it up as follows:

    G – McCarthy
    RB – Gaddis
    CD – Edu
    CD – Marquez
    LB – Fabihno
    CDM – Nogs
    CDM – Lahoud
    RM – Barnetta
    CM – Chaco
    LM – Wenger
    F – Sapong

    Adding Barnetta to an attack of primarily CJ, Chaco, Nogs, and Mo (making 7 or 8 runs per game) should allow for enough chances offensively. Defensively though, I shudder to think what Chaco or Seba paired with Fabhino on the left side would bring. So to me, I’d start the more defensive-minded Wenger on the left. Seba becomes your primary backup for both outside MF positions. Same with Creavalle, as your primary backup wing defender. Nando / Casey should be the primary sub for CJ up front. Get yourself a real GK for next season, and we could be onto something here.

    • Don’t agree with the Wenger start and as I would start Ayuk on the right Barnetta on the left Wenger is on the bench. Still many holes for next season though can’t see Fabinho in the starting role on the left again Lahoud is not reliable due to injuries and you need a GK and to build the defense around Marquez at this point and lock Marquez up at a cheap price for the future. What could we have had with a Birnbaum Marquez CB pairing now that could’ve been a solid duo.

      • To be clear, I was talking about the lineup for the rest of the year. Barnetta can player either winger spot, but again, is he too much of a defensive liability of the left-hand side right now re: unfamiliarity with the team, the league, etc. I think protecting Fabihno (especially when he makes runs) has to be of primary importance. If we can upgrade at LB next year, then I’d be more than fine with Barnetta at LM and Ayuk (who I really like) at RM.

        RE: Birnbaum…you can blame Sak for that one. Water under the bridge, move on.

        RE: Lahoud injury history. He’s had two semi-serious injuries (sports hernia and hamstring) in 7 years of professional play. Hardly a pattern.

        RE: Marquez. Agreed.

        • Ok maybe Lahoud doesn’t have the history I thought, but he hasn’t been in shape the last 2 years from what I remember and has never really shown he can hold down a starting spot I personally see it as an area to upgrade next year. I also believe Barnetta is better cover for Fabinho then Wenger. I do not see Wenger defensive contributions and find him largely lost on the field especially with the likes of Sapong Chaco Nogs and Fabinho.

  8. Here’s a wild thought for how to get the most out of Barnetta and Maidana on the pitch simultaneously… Let them both play a free role. They can interchange at will from the middle to their preferred flank and hopefully with some time and chemistry can really pick apart defenses, especially with Nogs springing the counterattacks and providing service. CJ will still be up top to clean up the scraps. The only real issue I can see with this is that it might open up a wing for the opponent to attack and really apply pressure to Fabi or Gaddis. At the very least, its worth a try in the last few league games?

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