Photo: courtesy of Philadelphia Union
Note: Due to the compressed nature of Philadelphia Union’s current three-game stretch before the Copa America Centenario break, this will be an abbreviated, gif-heavy ratings post.
The Union got points from some ugly matches when Vincent Nogueira was hurt earlier this season. Then they got a bit classier when he returned. With the Frenchman on the shelf again, it’s back to ugly. But as Jim Curtin said after the match when he was “giving credit” to just about every person, place, and thing in Orlando on Wednesday: It’s all about getting those points. And the Union keep doing it.
The Union were comprehensively outplayed in the first half. They were slow to close down the ball, slow to transition (knowing you’re playing at altitude 1,550 miles away again in only two days can have that effect), and extremely impatient going forward. Below, Sebastien Le Toux forces a cross into the box when the Union are outnumbered instead of waiting for Rosenberry’s late run. Overlooking that run once or twice is fine, but at this point it’s pretty clear: Rosenberry is always going to be making that late run. Look for it.
This is simply not a team that can succeed if they lose the midfield battle and, to be frank, they lost it on Wednesday for 45 minutes. Below, you can see how easily Orlando City picked through Philly’s defense when pressure on the ball was slow to arrive.
Additionally, Orlando gave future opponents a blueprint for attacking the Union by spreading out the midfield and moving forward one zone at a time, pulling Philly’s midfield forward then slotting the ball behind it to Kaka.
That said, Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle did an excellent job protecting the back four and the defense acquitted itself fairly well. Philly ended up playing a relatively strong road game but did very little going forward. How come?
Barnetta is so close to making the Union a great attacking team
After the match, Jim Curtin talked about Tranquillo Barnetta being a “modern day No. 10” that needed to see a lot of the ball. This is odd because that is more of the classic No. 10. The modern 10 should be far more efficient, feeling out spaces and making the most of the opportunities he gets in what is often a very crowded middle third. Barnetta is modern in that he puts forth a huge defensive effort each time out, but he’s not so much a modern No. 10 as he is a winger in his on-the-ball decision-making.
Barnetta is at his best when he comes deep and then rolls off midfielders into space in front of the opposition defense. From these positions, he advances the ball quickly and either looks for a wide option or flares an aerial ball through the box. There is, it should be emphasized, nothing wrong with this approach. But for a player who carries the ball into good positions so often, Barnetta is very willing to then put the ball into less dangerous positions. This is a bit like coming to Philly for the first time, going to Pat’s or Geno’s, and asking for a turkey melt. That’s still a good sandwich, but there was a better option.
The important variable for Barnetta is how close he gets to the box before spraying the ball wide. The Swiss man makes such excellent runs that he often finds enough space to drive right up to the edge of the box. At this point, playing the ball wide is less effective because there is less space to whip in a cross behind the retreating defense; they’ve already retreated.
If Barnetta turns, sees the defense retreating, and plays the ball wide, then he can join the rush into the box and the cross can come in behind a chaotically backpedalling defensive line. Alternatively, Barnetta can draw a defender and look to slot C.J. Sapong in behind the defense. Last, he could slap a shot on frame and the team can look for rebounds. All three options are more likely to result in high percentage shooting chances than a cross coming in when defenders already have established positions on the six-yard box.
On Wednesday, Sebastien Le Toux got into a classic Barnetta position and picked out a wonderful pass to Sapong after drawing defensive attentions to himself. Only Joe Bendik’s quick thinking kept the Union’s striker off the scoresheet.
Movement and patience
It can be hard to pick apart whether a team is impatient or just tired and lacking movement. So let’s just say there looked to be a bit of both on Wednesday.
One persistent issue Philly runs up against without Nogueira on the pitch is the inability to twist a midfield out of shape. Those little passes Nogueira connects with almost everybody force a defensive shape to collapse toward the ball, and that is when gaps open up and a good pass or two can set you on your way to goal. Sans Nogueira, Philly settles for long balls far more often, and this costs possession and control of the center. Below, you can see Pontius make a checking run, pull up short, get covered up, and remain still. Meanwhile, Brian Carroll doesn’t roll off his defender and get close to Richie Marquez to offer a short option. Marquez could have found Pontius quickly, but he missed him (which is both on Marquez and on Pontius for not getting in closer).
Set pieces continue to pay off
Both of the Union’s goals came off of set pieces. Free kicks and corners are great equalizers in matches when a team can’t control the back and forth flow very well. Why? Because their outcomes are essentially random. So enjoy Philly’s fine run of set piece form right now because they, like everyone else, will regress to the mean before too long.
That said, it sure was fun to watch this impressive variation on the typical Union free kick on Wednesday.
Exploding the Geiger Counter
Someone mentioned in a recently ratings post comments section that the Geiger Counter should operate like a real Geiger Counter. Great point, and I’m working on it.
But let’s just say that no matter how it works this week, it’s going to be very, very low. Because Sorin Stoica and his crew were like a sexy teen in a cheap horror flick: They made a lot of predictably bad decisions that let things spiral out of control to a horrific extent.
Let’s start with the thing Stoica got right. Blake fouled Kaka in the box. It was a penalty. Good call.
Well done, Mr. Referee. But can you go two for two?
Ooh, swing and a miss. Just one follow up question, and I’ll let Jim Curtin handle it.
Alright, now how do we handle a striker charging into an exposed goalie who gets his hands on the ball?
Well how about a blatant push in the back?
Right. Um, that was a blatant push in the back. If somebody did that to me in line at the movies, I’d be like, “Hey man, why’d you blatantly push me in the back?” If the response was, “So I could send a cross in to Cyle Larin,” I’d probably be pissed (unless I came to the movies with Andre Blake, in which case I know he would protect the goal… wait, how is that a goal??).
All right, let’s finish up with a countdown of Orlando City players that should be suspended. First up: Servando Carrasco. His crime? How about slicing the legs out from under CJ Sapong long, long, long, long after the ball is gone.
You’ll have to do pretty well to beat that, Cristian Higuita. Luckily, you have a lot of practice. Let’s mix it up, though. How about something to the face region?
That’s going to be tough to beat. David Mateos, you’ve already gotten away with a two-footed lunge in the box. What else you got?
Ooh, a karate kick outside of the box! A huge surprise finish! And that’s good enough for the win!
Andre Blake – 5
A five because apparently he wasn’t fouled on the first goal… apparently. The foul on Kaka was a poor decision, but the save was huge.
Keegan Rosenberry – 5
Strong defense but not enough going forward from the rookie. How do you grade him for getting fouled by Kaka in the buildup to the second goal?
Joshua Yaro – 7
Very strong until the shoulder injury.
Richie Marquez – 6
A solid showing, but slow to move the ball around the back. Marquez is simplifying his game, though, and that’s a good thing.
Fabinho – 4
The Union needed more out of Fabi going forward, and they need him to stop sending low clearances into the center of midfield.
Brian Carroll – 5
Not a bad performance, but didn’t manage to control the center of the pitch with his usual vigor. He was a liability going forward because he could not both protect the back and get into good positions to work the ball up the pitch. I mean, he’s pretty old for a midfielder, and he’s running a lot. Hard to blame him.
Warren Creavalle – 5
Not one of Creavalle’s strongest showings at of the year. He had the same great defensive numbers he’s been accumulating all year, but he loses a point for his struggles passing the ball. When Philly plays with Carroll and Creavalle together, it’s the latter who has to get forward and be effective. He spent the first half passing backward and the second half passing wayward.
Tranquillo Barnetta – 7
A slow start was paired with a strong finish as the playmaker became more influential over time. Scored one and set up the second.
Sebastien Le Toux – 6
Great defensive work from Le Toux but he needs to use Rosenberry more in the buildups. Le Toux seems to grow in confidence as Pontius’ energy wanes.
Chris Pontius – 5
A wonderful header to set up Barnetta’s goal, but Pontius failed to assert himself on Kevin Alston, who is not very good.
CJ Sapong – 4
Sapong was absolutely beat up in this match and saw multiple strange calls go against him. He kept fighting but looked slightly off pace and didn’t get into positions to collect the ball with his feet.
Ken Tribbett – 8
Just like Rosenberry’s first career goal: Charge the net and the ball will find you. Strong, tough play coming off the bench.
Fabian Herbers – 6
Had two chances to influence the match. One was a blistering shot that he did well to put on frame. The second was a great run toward goal that he inexplicably cut back when he should have shot. That goal is coming.
Leo Fernandes – n/a
Geiger counter – 1
See above. That was one of those performances that lead coaches to create new and better euphemisms to describe a referee.