Player ratings

Player ratings & analysis: Union 2-1 Orlando City SC

Photo: Earl Gardner

Let’s just take a moment and bask in That Shot (also, check out that ‘second wall’ Jim Curtin talked about post-game).

I’m sorry, what’s that Andre? You have something to add?

Alrighty then. That was… intense.

Tranquillo Barnetta’s shot was brilliant. It was tremendous. It took your breath away so your mind couldn’t process what it was seeing, then it went off freerunning through your cortices gleefully lighting off whatever adrenaline-fueled fireworks it could find.

Blake’s save, on the other hand, was unbelievable. Who makes unbelievable saves this regularly in their first year as a starter? Blake has bailed the Union out so often that it’s hard to tell the defensive boat has as many holes as it does.

But in between odd lapses of concentration, Philly’s defense has become more and more organized, particularly against teams attempting to penetrate the final third. And this organization has been matched by a steadily improving press that was at its best against Orlando City on Friday.

Same name, different game

Both teams employed some version of a defensive press, but calling them the same would be like saying tarsiers and chimpanzees are the same. They come from the same branch of the defensive tree, but they probably don’t hang out much.

Philly’s press is the same system they have used all season, except it was quicker and facing a midfield that was out of sync the entire first half. The uptempo defensive style rattled Orlando City, and they established a deep line from which to start buildups. Unfortunately, this played directly into Philly’s hands. Without Cyle Larin — or any true striker — the Lions struggled to stretch the field in the first half. So when they dropped deep with the ball, the entire Union shape pushed forward and squeezed the central spaces where Kaka was roaming as an outlet. The visitors have a midfield built to close down spaces quickly and advance the ball directly when they collect it. In other words, passing in tight spaces ain’t exactly their bread n’ butter.

And it showed: The only shot on target Philly allowed through the first 45 minutes was Johnny Depp/Michael Keaton facesmash Aaron Winter’s sly touch-n-finish that evened the scoreline.

The Union press was particularly impressive because it featured Sebastien Le Toux, a player who has been running a one-man pressing operation in his head for the past however-many-years he has played soccer. Integrating Le Toux’s workrate into an effective team press has always been like buying clothes you like even when they don’t quite fit right. You convince yourself they’re close enough… but at some point you have to admit that it just isn’t working. Similarly, Le Toux’s energy seems perfect for an aggressive defensive posture, but his insistence on being a lone wolf has always made him like the guy who is gung-ho to go out drinking then disappears and leaves you with a big tab.

On Friday, Le Toux was more measured in his approach — and it helped — though there is still far more work to be done.

OCSC press

The Orlando press was of a different sort, and it’s use was likely borne from some very strange early decisions by head coach Adrian Heath. To compensate for the lack of a true center forward, Heath tucked his dangerous attacking wingers inside to take the spaces left when Richie Marquez and Ken Tribbett followed Kaka into midfield. This is not a flawed idea, per se, but it is a bit like taking off part of your roof to fix a hole in your wall. You solved the first problem but created one that could be far more damaging.

And sure enough, Orlando City was lost on the counter for most of the first half. Philly’s defensive soft spot, the channel between Tribbett and Rosenberry, was rarely attacked (Brek Shea’s absence hung nearly as heavy over the OCSC gameplan as Cyle Larin’s). Kevin Molino, operating off the right flank, is a limited player in possession, so whenever he drifted inside, he might as well have drifted into another dimension.

Credit where credit is due though: Heath recognized his errors and introduced a triggered press in the second half that gummed up the works of the Union attack.

The trigger is easy to see once you start looking for it. Ken Tribbett, who spent a good portion of the first half driving possession forward up the right channel, learned to empathize with King Koopa, as he had to face a round-ish Italian zipping toward him whenever he looked up. Heath sent Antonio Nocerino flying upfield toward Tribbett whenever Philly’s central defender had the ball. The goal was to keep Tribbett from moving up the pitch and drawing in defenders until Keegan Rosenberry or Vincent Nogueira got free for an attacking pass. On the other side, Richie Marquez occasionally saw pressure from Kevin Molino or Darwin Ceren, but with Marquez less inclined to venture forward, the Lions were equally disinclined to expend energy chasing him.

Once Nocerino pressed, however, the rest of the team charged into action, with Winter stepping to Rosenberry, Marquez pressed, and the entire Orlando midfield stepping forward to close space. The goal was to trap Philly near a touchline or force an errant pass that could be turned into a counterattack. It was a classic road system, and it worked far better than whatever Heath was trying in the initial frame. Nocerino’s pressure was exceptional, and that allowed the rest of the team the freedom to step forward without opening clean lanes.

It helped that the Union’s response was to sink deep and try to play short passes through midfield. With Roland Alberg fading as the match went on and staying upfield, connections through the middle were hard to come by. In the end, it took some daring substitutions by Jim Curtin to re-establish Philly’s momentum; the Lions only shot between the Barnetta/Herbers subs and extra time was a speculative Kaka effort from distance.

Focus on the fullbacks

Sometimes it’s what doesn’t happen that draws attention to a position. Brek Shea is in many ways a terrible fullback. His positioning and isolated defending are more inconsistent than Nick Sakiewicz’s roster-building strategy, and his forward runs are often embarked upon with little consideration for the world around him. But boy oh boy, did Orlando miss him on Friday.

Heath tucked his wingers narrow to take the space normally occupied by a central striker, but this left the flanks more empty than a cupboard labeled, “Jurgen Klinsmann’s Tactical Ideas.” In Rafael Ramos and Brek Shea, the Lions have two players that can dominate wide areas and disrupt teams that look to compress Kaka’s space in the center. But Luke Boden is a less consistent offensive contributor, and Ramos’ brain only showed up at halftime and seemed jetlagged during its brief appearance.

Philly’s fullbacks were far more influential, with Fabinho advancing up the left and sending in his usual array of both pretty and profoundly unnecessary crosses. Lost among the Brazilian fullback’s disturbingly consistent ability to pair attacking power with nightmare-fuel defensive errors is the undeniable fact that Fabinho looked a lost cause early last season. Forget lapses, he was a flat-out bad defender, with many of Brek Shea’s flaws and only Brek Shea’s inconsistent crossing as a makeweight.

Fabinho is competent now, and that’s a big step compared to where he was. There will still be games like the season opener, and teams that can catch Fabi on the ball in deep positions will reap immediate rewards, but there is no escaping the defender’s growth. That Chris Pontius can cheat across the formation to press central defenders is a testament to Fabinho’s improved positional sense; that teams can still remove the Brazilian from a play by exploiting his aggression with simple one-twos is a reminder that he still has learning to do.

On the opposite flank, Keegan Rosenberry continues to raise all sorts of interesting questions for the Union and for the league. Questions like: Why is that tiny box-to-box midfielder playing at right back?

I am hardly the most informed MLS mind, but I have trouble thinking of another fullback that plays so much like a midfielder. Rosenberry advances without the ball like a fullback, but on the ball he shares little DNA with the modern attacking wingbacks that are prized in today’s game. When Rosenberry attacks with the ball, he does it through little give-and-goes with the midfield. When he passes out of trouble, he makes lengthy, at-times dangerous passes that would generate disciplinary action from a coach if any other fullback tried them. His crosses are not the hard curlers that most wide men send in, but straight, lofted balls designed to die in corners the way midfielders hit them for strikers. And defensively, Rosenberry often gets locked in on the ball, thinking about when to attack it instead of tracking his runner and leaving the press to his winger. It’s odd to watch because there is nothing inherently wrong with how Rosenberry plays fullback — though there are the clear defensive flaws to fix — but it’s definitely different.

In the second half, the full range of Rosenberry was on display. There was a phenomenal inside run that established Philly in the offensive third (seriously, this is a great, great run). And there were numerous skip-passes to Marquez that relieved pressure when Orlando City thought they had the Union trapped.

But there were also the defensive brainfarts like turning off when Tribbett stepped up to pressure, and cheating toward the wide man at the edge of the box and leaving Tribbett with two to defend. These are the mental lapses of a player still learning to play at a level where he isn’t orders of magnitude better than his opponent on most nights. MLS teams, and good MLS players, do not always execute expansive tactical gameplans effectively, but many are very adept at pushing hard at a pressure point once they find it. The league knows there are chances to be had down the Union’s right, and it is just a matter of parsing out how to best attack that space.

Rosenberry should not bear all the blame, though. Unlike Fabinho, he has not had a consistent partner ahead of him. Chris Pontius is no defensive superstar, but he recovers to the right positions and doesn’t overextend pressure very often. Meanwhile, Rosenberry has now been behind Leo Fernandes, Ilsinho, and Sebastien Le Toux this season. Ilsinho put in one stellar defensive showing and an iffier one. Fernandes did not come back far enough to help, and Le Toux showed he can learn, but still struggles to resist donning his mental Speed Racer outfit and go racing around the field after the ball.

Speed of play

In a match that neither team dominated, chances often appeared out of absolutely nowhere. Both sides generated few good opportunities with extended build-ups, Kaka’s layoff for Winter that brought a videogame parry out of Saveasaurus Blake being the best of the bunch.

Notably, though, the Union tended to control the tempo of the match with a quicker speed of play that forced OCSC to chase across the pitch. Though Alberg was a useful tool in the center, playing quickly and occupying space in front of the defense, the Union missed Ilsinho’s ability to drive at defenders from a central position. Orlando City’s defense is easily stretched, but it also recovers to shape surprisingly well. Being able to play behind it and immediately advance the ball pays dividends, as the Union showed when they drew fouls in delicious positions in the center.

On the road next week against a squad that has had plenty of systemic defensive problems, the Union may consider a more selfish player in the center of the attack. Potentially one that looks like a character Matthew McConaghy will try to play when he goes for an Oscar and hits heavenly free kicks…

Now, if you’ve read this far, here’s your prize: One of the better Jim Curtin “What the hell is going on?” faces I’ve ever seen.

Player ratings

Andre Blake – 9

The dude earns his team points. Blake’s distribution remains fairly hilarious, but who is going to complain when he keeps competing against himself for Save of the Week honors.

Keegan Rosenberry – 6

Seriously, he’s a midfielder playing defense. It’s a lot to say he’s redefining a position, but he’s certainly approaching it in a different way than most. As strong as Ken Tribbett has been, it would be nice for Rosenberry to have a vet next to him as he develops defensively. That said, if both Tribbett and Rosenberry grow together, Philly’s right side will strong on the ball for years to come.

Ken Tribbett – 7

Still working out the kinks on when to follow into midfield and when to hold deep. Tribbett also needs to figure out his spacing with Marquez and Rosenberry, as he can get sucked too far central at times. Also, how did he not open his account?? Joe Bendik’s gigantic cheekbones barely denied the Drexel product his first MLS goal. Carrying the ball out of the back in the first half, Tribbett showed a calm, technical side to his game that has been somewhat dormant. Tribbett might’ve lost a few points if he had injured Blake when the two collided in the second half.

Richie Marquez – 6

I will never tire of watching Marquez run down attackers from behind. I always expect him to be dripping blue or orange sweat afterwards because the total effort involved makes it seem like a Gatorade commercial is being filmed right in front of me. Marquez was excellent on Kaka and Molino in the first half, but he became less sure of himself once Orlando City spread the field and started sending runners in from wide angles. Still, another solid performance from a guy who has absolutely solidified his spot in front of Anderson.

Fabinho – 6

Calmness in his own half and patience in the final third? NOPE! But Fabinho gotta Fabinho. That means aggressive defense, pushing play forward, and living on the edge. Marquez’s athleticism papers over some of the Brazilian’s weak spots, but this was one of those matches where the left back definitely contributed more than he cost.

Brian Carroll – 8

The unsung hero in the middle, Carroll produced another one of those excellent performances that knocks back the haters. As long as he is not isolated on a playmaker, Carroll can provide the support necessary to free up the rest of the midfield to chase and attack.

Vincent Nogueira – 7

A fine return to the lineup for Nogueira, who, particularly in the first half, provided the link that allowed Philly to move the ball with speed and avoid Orlando’s aggressive midfield.

Roland Alberg – 6

A solid first half of distribution, but the Dutch distributor faded in the second half and was the right man to exit when Barnetta came on.

Sebastien Le Toux – 5

Nothing spectacular from the Frenchman, but a reminder that he can still be a solid contributor. Le Toux pinned Luke Boden deep, meaning Orlando City could not exploit wide spaces in the first half.

Chris Pontius – 5

Like Le Toux, Pontius did a lot of dirty work but was surprisingly muted in the final third. His ability to pop up late looks like it will be more of a feature when Philly plays a more counterattacking game during road matches.

CJ Sapong – 8

It is fair to say Sapong seemed a changed player after missing a few matches following an off-the-field incident last season. But this season he has turned it up another gear. To gauge where Sapong’s confidence is now, look no further than the final 30 minutes of Friday’s match. Moved to the wing to make room for Fabian Herbers, Sapong relentlessly attacked when he got the ball, driving directly at Orlando City’s defense. It was direct, powerful, and exactly what Jim Curtin would have wanted when he took a chance putting Sapong in a wide position.

Substitutes

Tranquillo Barnetta – 9

An effortful if somewhat fruitless showing before The Goal. But then… The Goal. Not just a brilliant hit, but one that infused belief into a Union support that has been desperate for something special to nurture as they become more confident that this hot start is more than a mirage.

Fabian Herbers – 6

Get used to the ratings for Herbers being a point higher than expected. Even though he had a nervous touch and flubbed a good chance off a rebound, Herbers was a positive influence on the match because his movement is so disruptive. Without the strength to post up like Sapong, Herbers flows between the lines and cuts into corners to pull defenders around. It may take a while before he adapts to the pace of the MLS game, but he is already trying backheeled passes in the box, and he’s doing it because he’s in the right position when the ball comes in. Big hopes for him.

Leo Fernandes – n/a

Geiger counter – 5

A solid performance from Jair Marrufo, though one has to wonder how many more fouls Nocerino would have to commit before he qualified for persistent infringement.

54 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    The only one I’d quibble with is Nogueira. Yes, it was his first game back, but several times in the first half the Union were pushing forward with pace yet when he received the ball rather than continuing to press, he held up and allowed Orlando’s defense to get back.
    .
    One other thing I’d like to see differently (and I noticed the same thing with Colombia yesterday) is that the Union should always keep one player high near midfield on opposing set pieces. This keeps the opponents from pushing too far forward with their defense and makes it harder for them to keep the ball in deep when the set piece doesn’t produce immediate results. I noticed on several Philly corner kicks that Kaka was hanging at midfield. Seems like the Union can do that with CJ or Seba or Pontius.

    • MikeRSoccer says:

      I would disagree with you there. Unless it is going to lead to a clear goal scoring chance, the philosophy of this team is to maintain possession and create chances through the short passing game. As we are familiar with from past years, counterattacks can blow up in your face and lead to an opposition goal. Possession play is not only an offensive strategy for the Union, it is also part of their defensive game. Nogs is out there to do exactly what he did yesterday: unless it is a near certain chance, hold the ball, slow down, and initiate the possession game.

    • I thought the same thing about Nogs, thought he played a little to slowly at times. Im a big fan of his though

      • I agree he was a little slow at times, but again he’s missed time recently so I’m not too worried. The fact that he was farther up the field and went the full 90 is encouraging. Would still like to seem him push up a little more though.

  2. Kingkowboys says:

    “Saveasaurus”!!! Brilliant. Can this nickname stick? SOB start the tifo!!! Out of all this great commentary I cannot stop thinking about that name.
    .
    I think blake’s nickname needs to be an article and poll. He needs one. You have to when you make highlight saves each X and every week.

  3. Lucky Striker says:

    Never can follow the ratings, but bonus points for :

    * Seba the bar-hopper

    * Klinsy’s bare cupboard.

  4. Apologies to Andy Muenz, but until Barnetta’s golazo, I had Nogueira as Man of the Match (with Brian Carroll running a close second). The difference with him in a lineup is so palpable as he turns up everywhere to provide outlets and make passing triangles. With the improved ball-handling talent around him this season (Ilsinho, Alberg, Pontius, Rosenberry, even Tribbett), Nogueira is going to be a force to be reckoned with on this squad.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      At least we agree BC was playing well 🙂 During the game I commented to my wife how well he was playing.
      .
      I would also send out a nod to CJ. In addition to the early goal, he had already set the tone with the quick block of the Bendik’s early kick. Even though it went wide, it made for an exciting start and got the fans into things very quickly.

  5. Also, we should all enjoy Andre Blake while we can. I suspect the man may be tending a goal in England within a year or two.

    • old soccer coach says:

      My wife has begun worrying about that also.

      • der Fussballzuschauer says:

        Probably well founded fears. I have to believe the Jamaican national team trainer Winfried Schaefer wants his first choice goalkeeper playing at the highest professional level possible. Far be it from ME to go around promoting the English top flight – but it simply is better than Major League Soccer.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      It’s a scary thought. But how cool would it be as a fan to say yeah they bought his services from the UNION! One of our very own being sought out by a Euro team. Just a few months ago we would have all laughed at that idea.

  6. Great analysis as always. I wouldn’t have explained it nearly as well, but did notice and wonder about the adjustment for Orlando to send their front three storming into our defensive end whenever the ball reached Tribbett. Definitely effective in slowing our build up, even if we did typically handle it cleanly.

    Completely agree with Carroll’s rating. I still can’t figure out the people who moan insistently about Carroll being in the lineup (not that often here…more in Union related Facebook and Twitter comments it seems). The guy seems like the consumate professional, and every time we collectively think he’s done contributing, he proves us wrong. Highly effective game out of him, and he clearly has something to offer still, playing within his means alongside the right midfield mix. Keep on making it happen BC.

  7. pragmatist says:

    I love Brian Carroll. He knows people are talking trash about him being too old and too slow and a product of MLS 1.0. Yet there he is…again…anchoring a midfield, confidently and anonymously.
    .
    When the day comes that he has to hang ’em up, I pray that he finally gets the respect that he has earned.

    • I don’t know of anyone “talking trash” but rather simply being critical. Every thing I have seen on these boards, even critical comments, are very respectful to him.
      .
      I think he would admit himself that he can not cover the ground he once did. He had a terrible season in 2014 but bounced back well last season and has been pretty good so far this season.

      • pragmatist says:

        “talking trash” was an overstatement. Everything you say is correct. But there is a general idea that the longer we have to start him, the worse off we will be. And I find myself fighting that thought, but he comes out almost every game and proves himself continually capable of holding down that position.
        .
        I was one of the people looking forward to him coaching more than playing this season. But he just goes out and does his job, and does it well and without much recognition.
        .
        In a subtle way, he is the prototypical Philly athlete, for better and worse.

      • I did see one that was downright disrespectful and 100% over the line, but that voice was silenced rather quickly.
        .
        With BC at this stage in his career, you just need to be able to accept that there are things he can’t do. Once you’ve done that, you appreciate the efficiency he operates with. Silently anticipating opponents movements so he’s not chasing the play down, calmly playing easy passes and leaving the creative work to Nogs, being in just the right space when the offense need to turn back and reset, its quite excellent. He’s compensating very intelligently for what his body can no longer do for 90 minutes.

  8. The defense is still a mess (it’s weird that when you play two midfielders at outside back, you get two outside backs who play like midfielders, for better and for worse) and the offense is still primarily reliant on lucky bounces (read: terrible defensive play) in the box, but man, I never in a million years expected Blake to be this good at keeping the ball out of the net. Yeah, the distribution is bad, but his primary job is to keep the ball out of the net, and he does that spectacularly. I didn’t give him nearly enough credit coming in to the season, but I think it wouldn’t be crazy to say that he has been the league MVP to date. I’m dreading the games he’s missing due to international duty.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Hopefully Jamaica will have a quick exit from Copa America (which is somewhat likely given Mexico and Uruguay in the same group), so he can get back where he belongs here in Philly.

    • old soccer coach says:

      If you look at the link above to the T. Rex with a soccer ball in his teeth (thank you, Steve), the image makes an important point. Not only is Andre Blake a shot stopper, he also ingests many crosses into the box. He definitely commands the six yard box and is a major force out to the spot.

  9. I would have Pontius higher and LeToux lower. There were large stretches of the game where Pontius was the only player getting anything going for the Union.

    Conversely, LeToux’ touch is just brutal. He killed so many opportunities. He’s purely an off-the-bench change of pace player now.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      On the other hand, wasn’t it LeToux’s feed that sprung Rosenberry for the cross that led to the first goal? If memory serves, in the NHL he would have had a secondary assist on that play.

  10. old soccer coach says:

    Alberg’s stamina intrigues and concerns me. He dies after a half. Has he never been in truly top condition? he’s a beast in the central midfield for about half an hour, I recall images of him fighting through triple teams, not just double. But he’s not close to going ninety minutes.

    • This may not apply really as much since this was a home game, but I always feel like the hardest thing for a new MLS player to get used to is the travel and timing of everything here. That effects how much energy and stamina you have a ton.

      • It’s a new league thing I think. The EPL has a feeling out period for newcomers as well, getting used to the physicality and shift in style of play from what they’re accustomed to. Some don’t find that rhythm till year 2, although the truly world class don’t have that issue.
        .
        MLS examples: Drogba and Giovinco are really more the exceptions than the rule. Summer window transfers get particularly dicey. Barnetta took several games last year before he was up to match speed, and even then it was hard to tell what we had since everything around him was… just awful.

  11. old soccer coach says:

    Is it that Orlando lacked a true striker on the field, or that Orlando lacked the speed up top to get in behind the Union’s high defensive line? I thought Kaka did a more than decent job imitating a striker. Molino stretched Rosenberry’s defending skills several times.
    .
    I still fail to understand what Orlando did to make the game so much more fluid and dangerous in the second portion of the first half.
    .
    the points made about the paucity of Orlando shots are revealing. Barnetta coming on as the #10 once he reaches full match fitness is a development to be anticipated.
    .
    Finally, why consider the moves of Barnetta for Alberg and Herbers for Le Toux with Sapong shifting to the flank and Herbers up top ‘daring?” If that configuration has played together in practice, it makes a great deal of sense. Sapong has played on the flank both with the Union and with SKC.
    .
    Oh, PS, we played well against a good team without Ilsinho.

    • @osc – great questions/points here. I think one thing Kaka doesn’t do very well is run into channels like a striker would. To compound that, nobody on OC checked into the hole whenever Kaka did stay high. Orlando has some speed in Molino, but he’s still finding his feet in MLS and prefers to take people on over running in behind, which isn’t a huge issue when Larin is there as a target, but it showed how much growing he has to do with Larin out.

      The big change I saw in the latter stages of the first half was OC’s willingness to hold the ball and play it around. That made the Union run a bit and opened up some holes. I also think the Union just got tired! Most teams adopting the type of press they do don’t seem to have the stamina to pull it off for a while, probably because in-game running is just a different beast than anything else? Though I really have no idea.

      I think it was daring because yes, Sapong has played on the wing before, but no, he has not been nearly as effective there as he has been as a striker for the Union for the past 3/4 of a season. Even though he occasionally showed flashes of potential, there were few matches in which Sapong was somebody who occupied defenses from the wing. Plus, regardless of how he has played in practice, giving Herbers extended minutes when you’re chasing 3 points at home is a big risk. Herbers is leading the line alone, and there are a lot of very expensive players in MLS who don’t do that very well. So that’s sort of where I was coming from there.

      All that said, I’m giddy about Herbers, so it was less of a risk to me than it might be to more objective observers.

  12. I’m still not convinced this team is good. I don’t know if they are OK or just consistent enough to let other MLS East teams self destruct around them

    • pragmatist says:

      They are not as good as their record at this point, but they are taking advantage of other teams that don’t have their act together yet. They have potential to be an above-average team, but our preseason expectations should remain: a playoff team, but not a championship team.
      .
      Next year is still the target. This year is just shaping up to be a fun ride.
      .
      But then again…Leicester. 😉

      • You cannot in a million tries put Philadelphia Union and Leicester City into the same narrative.
        .
        Please, Pragmatist to this you must acquiesce.
        .
        Someone did it three weeks ago – I didn’t let it slide then and I’m not letting it slide now… it is wrong and a fallacy.
        .
        To suggest as much is concerning….

      • pragmatist says:

        Please notice the 😉 at the end. Tongue was planted firmly in cheek.

      • I stipulate.
        .
        I think it is coming time for me to take a sabbatical.

      • pragmatist says:

        You seem to be losing the joy this game should bring us.
        .
        It’s ok to find some fun, even if we are not up to par with the higher leagues of this world.
        .
        I pass no judgement, just a suggestion to smell the occasional flower.

    • I hear you. I think we are OK(which means playoff bound) with a chance to win it all if ES makes a couple more good moves.

      Blake is a difference maker that I still can’t believe we have. The problem is we have had too many “Lucky” goals. Hey, you always need some of those trash/lucky goals, but we need more quality finishing from the striker IMO. At least we got an awesome goal from Barnetta, and nice finishing from Pontius in that other game.

      I still feel with upgrades in Fabi and CJ’s positions, as well as Carroll back to Edu’s back-up, we can go for the title.

      One tweak I would make is Anderson over Tribett though. Yes, Tribett has been playing well, but I have more confidence in Anderson the veteran next to Rosenberry the rookie. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s a gut feeling.

      Again, we are pretty close to being a top team gunning for the championship. At least closer than ever before.

      • Do we really have too many lucky goals. Most of the “lucky” goals have come because we are getting numbers into dangerous areas. I agree there have been too many crosses and also some weak finishing attempts, but I don’t think the “lucky” goals are too unsustainable. It’s not like most goals scored throughout the sport come from beautiful build up play followed by a perfect finish.

      • According to the ASA Expected Goals model (data only through the Chicago game), Philly is actually below where the model expects them to be in terms of scoring, and they’ve allowed fewer goals than the model would expect. In other words, this team seems to be generating some good chances (Trib’s shot off Bendik’s face, for example), but giving up some good opportunities that require dinosaur-level defense from the man with the gloves.

        http://www.americansocceranalysis.com/2016-mls-tables/

      • And that feels about right to me watching the games too. Thanks for the reply.

      • I have 2 thoughts on this. 1. Thank god we’re in the east. I would hate to have to play most of those western teams on a regular basis. I’d still be sitting here predicting 7th even with this great start were it not for that. But since FC Dallas and SKC aren’t on the schedule 3 times this year, and since you can’t convince me that NYRB, Columbus, and DC are ALL going to rebound (1 or 2 of the 3 maybe), we can look at playoffs as a very reasonable goal from here on in.
        .
        2. Stat for you: 5 teams managed 9 or more points from their first 5 games last year. 4 of those teams made the playoffs. (Dallas, DC, NYRB, Vancouver). The miss was RSL. Here’s this year’s list of 5 with 9 or more: Union, Dallas again, Montreal, SKC, RSL again. The lesson here? Even teams that were as bad as RSL was last year can get 9 points in 5 games when you have a home field advantage like they have. And hopefully if one of those teams misses the playoffs, it can be them again.

      • You lost me with the home field advantage line. The Union have player 3 of the first 5 games away.

  13. what’s at hand here is the FACT that the team since the off-season aquisitions from the Sports Director down thru our bench players has turned a complete 180 degree turn around… so what if our keeper is making game saving saves each game, HELLO, WE HAVE A KEEPER MAKING GAME SAVING SAVES ‘EVERY GAME’!!! Each part of the team has elevated their play to a level not even hoped for by previous squads. In 5 weeks we are tied for first, tied for 4th overall, with 9 points. It took the team 2+ months last season to achieve the same 9 points. It’s a pleasure to watch the flow of play with genuine purpose instead of kick and chase and cross and kick and chase-high school shit, and how about that set piece, PRICELESS, so let’s enjoy the progress and watch it grow and expand to every play/player. Great effort & attaboys to all, UNION- UNION – UNION – UNION – UNION !!!

  14. This year’s player ratings are about 25 times more enjoyable to read, mostly because we’re actually winning and it isn’t just Adam re-telling us how bad we are in complex terms. The dissection of obvious failure isn’t exactly interesting.

    • Not in my top 5 to write about either!

    • Hey watched the game on Sun. again and dont think everyone should get too excited. OC was very lazy in its play and covering thruout, The data sample used for expected scoring is surely not large enough to be interesting. Both Union fullbacks are not very good ,and the attack is inefficient,as per statistics when trying to generate chances. All one must do is cheat out toward the wing when Fabinio does a mindless run, and counter by cheating with speed like Leicester forcing a central defender out of position wide . You dont need data to see the defense is vulnerable. Just watch the game. The union pressure is so broad, involving so much useless running, that you cant blame anybody for getting tired. Get ready for some poor results soon. Just pray they stop with the fullbacks crossing the ball in nonsense already.

      • @K – The expected goals data is based on a model that incorporates a ton of shooting data to help describe the chance that a shot from a particular location will become a goal. So the overall number per game, or across a few games, should say a bit about the quality (or volume) of shots the Union have taken. So either they are taking an incredibly high volume of low percentage shots or the chances they are generating are actually pretty good.

        That said, I think it also indicates that they’re giving up some doggone good chances too.

        Also, it’s potentially interesting that two of Philly’s wins have come against teams that allow a very high number of shots from inside the box. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily from good angles, but it does suggest Philly may be benefiting from facing some squads that haven’t exactly figured out their defensive systems yet.

  15. Only rating I have a problem with is Alberg. Should have been a 4 at the most. He looked like his head was elsewhere Friday night.

  16. Fat Uncle Phil from Urkel says:

    Is there a more underrated player in the league than Vincent Nogueira?

  17. Aaron Widman says:

    You are right about rosenberry but a good example of that kind of player is baines… If you discount baines’ crossing and free kick ability

  18. John P O'Donnell says:

    Surprisingly nobody has mentioned the team has accomplished this start with a lineup that isn’t the idea starting eleven. Players that are new to the team have also made contributions like Tribbet, Ilsinho & Rosenberry that don’t usually happen this quickly. The team might actually get better as players get healthy and roles become more well defined.

    • Good point.
      .
      Barnetta has yet to start. Edu still out. Nogs and now Ilsinho have both missed time due to injury. Tribbet came out of nowhere to steal Anderson’s presumed spot.

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