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May 13, 2016

Union 2, Galaxy 2: Player grades and analysis for a midweek thriller

Soccer Union
051316_galaxy_PSP Paul Rudderow/Philly Soccer Page

Chris Pontius takes on Steven Gerrard during the Union's 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy.

On a night that featured a blown lead and two Galaxy golazos, a resilient Philadelphia Union still found a way to earn something tangible for their efforts.

In fact, the team seemed genuinely disappointed to come away with one point instead of three.

It’s a fair assessment when you consider that the Union played well for large swaths of the game and besieged the visitors for a significant portion of the second half. The Union managed 22 (!) shots in this game and held the Galaxy to just 4 (!), which is borderline absurd when you consider just how lopsided this series has been over the past five seasons.

It’s that kind of performance, especially after falling behind, that makes you scratch your head and say, ‘this isn’t your grandmother’s Philadelphia Union’.

Shoot to thrill

Do the Union have a finishing problem?

It’s hard to say.

The 22 shots was a season high, but only six found the target. Take away the two goals, which both came from short distances, and the Union only managed to put four of the remaining 20 efforts on frame.

That’s a pair of ratios that land in the 20- to 27-percent range, which is generally below average in a typical MLS game.

If you extrapolate over the course of the season, the Union has put on frame 41 out of 119 total shots. On the year then, 34 percent of Union shots have been on target.

Here’s how Philly stacks up against some other teams in this category:

     • Colorado – 62 SOG/150 shots = 41%
     • Toronto – 32 SOG/110 shots = 29%
     • Montreal – 49 SOG/127 shots = 38.5%
     • FC Dallas – 63 SOG/178 shots =35%
     • Vancouver – 75 SOG/149 shots = 50%

Toronto isn’t putting a lot of stuff on frame, but they are certainly making those shots count. Their defense is so much improved, that they are getting less than 30 percent of shots on target and still riding out great results with excellent shape and discipline.

On the flip side, Vancouver leads the league in SOG percentage, but only has 16 goals this season, so they’re scoring on only 21 percent of their shots on goal. Toronto has 10 goals on 32 shots, which results in a much better 32 percent.

For the Union, it’s 13 goals on 41 shot attempts, which rounds out to a 32 percent scoring chance on SOGs. They have 119 total shots over 9 games, which averages out to about 13 shots per game.

So, if it seems like Philly is struggling to score, the stats don’t necessarily back it up. The Union are hitting league averages in most of these admittedly arbitrary categories.

The eye test, however, might be another thing. The Union does have a pair of deflected goals, a couple of set piece tallies, and some other high-percentage strikes that make you wonder about offensive sustainability.

That’s a story for another time.

Awareness in defensive transition

The Galaxy’s first goal was a beautiful bit of build-up play, but the Union were also disappointing in defensive transition.

Watch the replay, and note how LA begins in their defensive half, but cycles the ball to the opposite side of the field where they create a simple overload.

It really begins with Mike Magee evading Tranquillo Barnetta and Brian Carroll in a failed corner press. Magee is able to push upfield and square for Steven Gerrard, who makes a really nifty touch to get around Chris Pontius. Robbie Rogers takes notice and begins a driving run to set up a 3v2 attack on the Union’s left flank.

As Richie Marquez moves to close down Robbie Keane, Fabinho is almost beaten by a backdoor pass to Giovani Dos Santos. Fabi actually recovers on the play, but Rogers continues his run with nobody left to rotate and pick him up. Fabinho is hung out to dry and Rogers finishes with a really nice first-time effort.

Carroll and Vince Nogueira spend most of play trailing from behind, and can’t get in any kind of position to influence either Keane or Rogers.

In essence, you’re looking at failed upfield battles that really crippled transitional assignments.

The second goal is a little bit different, but some of the same themes do pop up here as well.

To begin the play, Vince Nogueira slides with Baggio Husidic to cover the left flank when Fabinho steps up on Gyasi Zardes. LA cycles the ball from right to left with some really deft passing, and they end up with numbers on Keegan Rosenberry’s side of the field. With Sebastien Le Toux inexplicably pushed upfield, Mike Magee is already inside the box when he fires home on another first time hit.


Starting XI: Blake, Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry; Carroll, Nogueira; Le Toux, Barnetta, Pontius; Sapong

C.J. Sapong: B

C.J. should really get an assist on the first Union goal because it’s his diagonal run that drags away Jelle Van Damme and gives room for Nogueira to get forward.

There were at least three occasions where Sapong made that near-post run, but Van Damme did well to cover. C.J. did yeoman’s work in the hold-up game but was unable to find the net for a second straight match.

Sebastien Le Toux: C+

Seba’s best contribution was to pounce on Dan Kennedy and poke the ball loose for Rosenberry to finish.

I think Ilsinho is the best starting option at right midfield, with Le Toux playing 30 to 35 minutes off the bench. Seba has been great as a second-half sub this season.

Tranquillo Barnetta: B

He was active throughout the game and did well to find the ball in various positions of the field.

The theme for Tranquillo on the night was “almost.” He almost picked out Chris Pontius with a beautiful first half cross. He almost beat Dan Kennedy on a well-taken free kick. He almost stayed onside for that disallowed goal.

Everything Barnetta did was very good; it was just “off” by the slightest of margins.

Chris Pontius: B+

Similar to Sapong, he won’t get an assist on Rosenberry’s goal, but deserved one.

Again Pontius was able to rise and connect on a Barnetta restart, this time driving the ball downward and at the feet of Dan Kennedy, who couldn’t collect with two players on top of him.

Pontius lead the team with five shots on goal, but couldn’t find the game-winner after a really nice stepover sequence to get by Rogers on the left flank.

Otherwise, he probably could have done better defensively on the first Galaxy goal.

Vince Nogueira: A-

I wrote last week about the idea of Nogueira getting forward from his #8 spot, specifically about how he should do it more often, and that’s how he got the goal in this game. Nogueira essentially bookended the play when he beat two players, sprayed the ball wide, and kept pushing towards the penalty spot.

With Steven Gerrard sitting in front of the back four, and the other two Galaxy midfielders split wide, it made a lot of sense for the Union to get another body in the box to support Sapong.

Nogueira seemed AWOL on the first Galaxy goal, but he correctly rotated on the second.

Brian Carroll: B-

For the most part, he played a typically solid game, breaking up plays and dropping in to junk up the box. That's part of the reason why the Galaxy only finished with four shot attempts.

The LA goals leave something be desired though, as he we caught out of position on the first, and taken out of the play on the second.

Fabinho: C+

The low and early crosses to Sapong were good to see, and you could make a case for Fabi earning an honorary secondary assist on the first goal.

You really can't fault him for the first Galaxy goal, because he's asked to mark two players and basically hung out to dry.

Richie Marquez: B+

Similar to Fabinho, I can really fault him on the first goal, because a number of other players got caught up the field after whiffing on tackles.

On the second goal, he's stepping up to close down Zardes after the defensive midfield line becomes easily bypassed.

Marquez had a pretty good night.

Josh Yaro: A-

He began the game with a shanked touch that forced a quick recovery and some laughs in the press box. It was the perfect juxtaposition of rookie nerves with raw talent, and you saw how Yaro was able to snuff out the danger with an athletic, Ray Gaddis-like correction.

From then on, he won basically every battle and every header that came in his direction.

I don't think he gets much blame for the second Galaxy goal, though he might have been able to anticipate and step to Gerrard a bit sooner.

Keegan Rosenberry: A-

Rosenberry equalized on his first professional goal and earned a lot of praise for his performance.

His first half was relatively quiet, with Fabinho doing more of the attacking from the opposite fullback position. Rosenberry started to influence the game just before the half, when he played a nice through ball for Le Toux, resulting in a throw. The resulting heave into the box was flicked on by Sapong and Pontius just headed over the bar.

Rosenberry really started to shine in the second half, especially when Ilsinho came on and the Galaxy started to sit in a bit deeper. The interchange between those two in wide, 2v2 situations, is really fun to watch.

Defensively, he got beat once in the first half on a clever backheel, but wasn't responsible for the first goal. On the second goal, there isn't much he can do with Mike Magee hitting that shot first time into the upper 90. There was also a really smart interception later on that sparked a counterattack and bombing flank run.

Also, check out the marking on Keegan's goal:


Andre Blake: B

He watched two great shots go whizzing by him, and didn't have much to do otherwise. We all thought Blake would be busy against the Galaxy.


69' Ilsinho: B+

86' Fabian Herbers: N/A

Let's see him start on Saturday.

88' Roland Alberg: N/A

(see above)

Referee: Sorin Stoica: C

He didn't make any game-changing mistakes, but the decision to stop play while Steven Gerrard changed his shinguards was ridiculous. Likewise, Dan Kennedy probably deserved a yellow card for time wasting well before it actually came.

Both teams seemed to be unhappy with the ref, which is generally par for the course in MLS.

Union crowd: A+

The place was rocking.

Galaxy shape/tactics: D

With little rest and a cross-country trip, Bruce Arena deployed some sort of pseudo 4-3-3/Christmas tree hybrid.

Mike Magee and Baggio Husidic stayed wide in a three-man midfield, which really wore on Gerrard in the second half. It would have make a lot more sense to just narrow the shape, leave Zardes up top, and ask Keane and Dos Santos to sink in just a bit more.