Photo: Paul Rudderow
Vincent Nogueira’s shock departure from Philadelphia Union affected the entire squad, but no player was more disrupted than Tranquillo Barnetta.
The team’s veteran international, a lifelong attacking midfielder from either the center of the pitch or operating out on the wings, enjoyed nearly a year’s worth of stellar play from Nogueira behind him. Now, after Vince’s departure, positional needs dictated that Barnetta fill the No. 8 role, a position which required more defensive work — and limited forays into the final third.
Though early returns were promising, with each passing performance Barnetta’s influence on the game seemed to lessen. Not able to torture defenders with his movement or ball control, not drawing the bevy of fouls he usually earns as opponents clip at his heels, and putting in defensive work that was useful at the 10 but not adequate at the 8, Barnetta struggled in his new role, and so did the team.
With Alejandro Bedoya’s introduction into the side, however, Barnetta has been restored to his preferred role. And last week he reminded everyone why he’s the most dangerous, influential player on the Union roster.
The numbers themselves are impressive. Seven shots, one goal, and one assist in the two games. Both the goal and assist came from excellent combinations with Roland Alberg — the assist finding the streaking run of Keegan Rosenberry into the box, the goal a sumptuous one-time finish to secure the win against Sporting.
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. They don’t, for example, include the spectacular flick that unleashed Chris Pontius into space, a run that eventually led to Fabian Herbers’s goal against Columbus.
They can’t quite describe the quality of his free kick delivery, causing danger from any foul conceded around the box, nor the quality of his curling strikes on goal cutting in from the left side of the pitch.
And they don’t quite capture the simple truth that the Union appear much more dangerous with Barnetta roaming from the 10 role. This past week, he was all over the field: playing defense, completing passes, sparking attacks, and scoring goals. (And wearing the captain’s armband, too. I think he should wear it on his man-bun myself, but that’s a personal style choice.)
Tranquillo Barnetta is a player of rare quality and experience, and he’s a joy to watch. Now that the Union have him back in his best position, Barnetta showed us this week what havoc he can wreak on the rest of Major League Soccer. And that’s why he’s PSP’s Player of the Week.
Honorable mention: Roland Alberg played barely an hour this week, notching one spectacular goal to go with two assists. The Dutchman seems to have finally embraced a role on the team that involves tracking back, even in the more limited playing time of a “super-sub.” Barnetta, however, played every minute of both games, and his influence was immense. In a close vote, PSP’s panel of experts voted to give the award to Barnetta.
PSP Player of the Week Awards, 2016 Season
Tranquillo Barnetta (4/11, 8/30)
Ryan Richter (8/9)
Murphy Agnew (8/2)
Nathan Regis (7/26)
Chris Pontius (3/15, 7/19)
Chevaughn Walsh (7/6)
Roland Alberg (6/21, 6/28)
Brian Carroll (4/26, 6/1)
Richie Marquez (5/24)
Keegan Rosenberry (5/17)
Sebastien Le Toux (4/19)
C.J. Sapong (3/22)
Andre Blake (3/8)