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March 13, 2016

Union 2, Columbus 1: Player grades, analysis and reaction to a remarkable win

In a lot of ways, that game felt like 2013 or 2014 Philadelphia Union.

On the road? – check

Massive underdog? – check

Missing starters? – check

So, backs against the wall, the Union scored on a long-throw and ground out a one-goal win to return home with all three points.

Winning at MAPFRE Stadium was a franchise-first for the team, which had previously lost six out of seven games in Columbus and earned just one out of 21 possible points. Columbus thrashed the Union 4-1 in Ohio last season and later advanced to the MLS Cup final.

Tactically, a late ankle injury to Vince Nogueira changed Jim Curtin’s plans for the starting eleven.

Already down Maurice Edu and Tranquillo Barnetta, the manager opted for a double pivot of Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll in the defensive midfield. Center back Richie Marquez returned from injury to pair Ken Tribbett, while the front four of C.J. Sapong, Ilsinho, Leo Fernandes, and Chris Pontius remained unchanged from the week one loss in Dallas.

Warren Creavalle, ridin’ dirty

It wasn’t always pretty, but Creavalle put in a shift. He was disruptive and assertive, getting into tussles and tackles like a younger version of his defensive midfield partner. Playing a bit higher up the field, he generally clashed with Tony Tchani, who seemed a bit fazed by the constant attention and discomfort he was caused on the ball.

The graphic shows Creavalle’s defensive events from the game. Six blue triangles equal the number of passes he intercepted. The purple triangles are a pair of clearances from inside the penalty area. Six recoveries are marked by the orange triangles, and the red and green corresponds to three tackles won and one tackle lost.


Pontius’ positioning

Chris Pontius won’t win goal of the week, but he gets the nod for veteran savvy and positioning.

Both goals were the product of anticipation.

On the long throw, he easily evades Ethan Finlay for a tap-in from eight yards out. On the second goal, he times a late run to pick up a loose ball and fire home.

In both cases, Pontius didn’t have to take a single touch on the ball before shooting. His positioning and timing were so good that he simply had to pick his spot and fire. There are a lot of players in the league who would try to settle and shoot, but there’s no need to do that if you time your runs the way Pontius did on Saturday night.


Chris Pontius -

“I’m proud of the guys. We put a lot of work into preseason and it’s not easy to start with Dallas away, and then have to come to Columbus. That’s two of the top teams in the league. I’m proud of the way we hung in there, proud of the way that we were more aggressive than in the Dallas game. I thought Warren and Brian had a good game in the midfield.”

Jim Curtin –

“Our group is happy to get our first win here, but at the same time we’re not satisfied. I think we had a chance there to maybe get the third goal, and help us breathe easier on the sidelines, but this is MLS. This is how games go; they get a little crazy at the end of regular time. But we’re happy to get the three points.”


Starting XI: Blake, Fabinho, Marquez, Tribbett, Rosenberry; Carroll, Creavalle; Fernandes, Ilsinho, Pontius; Sapong 

C.J. Sapong: B

Sapong worked hard again in the hold-up game, and tonight he was able to create more for his teammates from back-to-goal positions.

Specifically, there was the first half chance for Ilsinho, then a second half layoff pass that was intercepted by Michael Parkhurst.

On the second goal, Sapong pulled into the channel to receive an outlet pass, which was then picked up by Le Toux and played in for Ilsinho, which popped out for Pontius to drill into the net.

Leo Fernandes: C

Fernandes isn’t seeing enough of the ball, and he’s partly to blame for that.

Leo needs to find the game, get more touches, and take some chances going forward. His game feels a bit too “conservative” right now.

Ilsinho: B-

For the second straight game, I thought he made an effort to get on the ball, but also track back defensively and get involved.

In the 23rd minute, there was the nice block in the corner that Sapong corralled and left for him, which turned into a goofy, chipped type of effort on goal. He had a few other instances where he paused on the ball and maybe could have played a bit faster.

There wasn’t a ton to show for his efforts, and maybe that’s the product of a creative midfielder getting stuck in a game that was more about junking up the midfield and playing defensively on the road.

I’m interested to see what he can do at home, maybe with Nogueira and Alberg on the field with him.

Chris Pontius: A+

The dangerous cross in the first minute set the tone for his man of the match performance.

Pontius was involved early, pinching to look for the ball, and staying wide when he needed to. He tracked back nicely to win a defensive tackle in the eighth minute, then setup two scoring chances in the 14th minute with a knock down on a set piece and a square ball for Fernandes to fire on goal.

More importantly, the production from a wide midfield position was something the Union really missed last season.

Warren Creavalle: B+

His range and stamina really helped beef things up in the middle of the park. I’d like to see him start next to Nogueira next weekend.

Brian Carroll: C+

The captain sat deeper than Creavalle, so he was tasked with chasing Federicio Higuain around the field for much of the game.

That’s a thankless job, and Carroll has been doing thankless work for the better part of twelve years now. His 40th-minute tackle on Higuain was the product of a Ken Tribbett hospital ball, and it might have changed the game if he had taken a yellow card before halftime.

BC did get that caution in the 65th minute, then rode out the final 25 minutes and ended up with a pretty good shift for a 34-year-old holder.

Fabinho: C

Fabinho had a better game after his howler in Dallas.

There were still a bunch of shaky moments, one right off the bat when he got caught upfield in the fifth minute and had to be bailed out by Marquez and Blake.

In the 21st minute, he made a full-sprint recovery run and tackle that seemed to suggest that he really watched the game tape from last week and learned from the way that Dallas attacked the channels on the counterattack.

Fabi facilitated a scoring chance with a nice press and trap in the 35th minute, and played a mostly disciplined game after taking a yellow card early in the center half. He didn’t do much going forward, but you’d hope he’s on his way to rediscovering his 2015 form.

Richie Marquez: B

His presence really solidified things in the back.

Marquez isn’t a speed burner, but definitely added some pace that we didn’t see from Anderson in week one. Richie is a smart tackler and generally goes to ground with good timing and precision.

The only blemish was his marking on the Columbus goal. It’s hard to pinpoint on tape, because the broadcast was caught in a replay, but it looks like Marquez gets ‘picked’ while marking Kamara, which allowed a free header in the box. It almost looked like the team had some sort of zonal marking scheme on that play, but again, it’s tough to tell.

Ken Tribbett: B

Tribbett quietly had himself a nice game.

Watch the set piece win against Gaston Sauro in the 37th minute, when he’s moving towards the ball, then stopping and jumping vertically after killing his momentum. Those are really difficult challenges to win.

He also made the critical block on Cedric in the 88th minute to preserve the Union lead.

Keegan Rosenberry: B+

He didn’t get assists on the goals, but played a part in both.

On the first, his long-throw into the box is flicked on by a Columbus player into the path of Pontius. On the second goal, he denies an entry pass to Higuain and plays a quick outlet to Sapong, which winds up on the foot of Le Toux for a pass into the box.

Defensively, he had an easier assignment against Hector Jimenez. The Crew winger turned Rosenberry around in the 41st minute, but Blake was there to prevent a goal. He had a bit of trouble with Cedric later in the game but generally held up better than he did in Dallas.

The rookie seems to have offensive intuition and will only improve on the defensive side.

Andre Blake: A

Blake was mad at himself after the Kamara goal, but he’ll have to settle for six saves and another nasty performance in net.


60' Sebastien Le Toux: B+

Le Toux’s energy off the bench really put Columbus under some immediate pressure.

Seba played the nice ball that started the second goal, and probably should have made it 3-0 with a close range effort in the 78th minute.

74' Roland Alberg: C+

Let’s see him in the starting eleven.

86' Fabian Herbers: N/A

Felt like he could have come in a little bit earlier to help spell Sapong.

Referee - Hilario Grajeda: B+

Kept the match under control for the most part. He maybe could have handed out a yellow card or two earlier in the game, but generally kept things simple.

Columbus Crew Uniforms: F-

They are 0-2 while wearing them.