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March 21, 2016

Union 3, New England 0: Grades and analysis for a blowout victory

Soccer Union
32116_union_KK Kevin Kinkead/for PhillyVoice

Union fans celebrate during 3-0 home-opening victory over New England Saturday in Chester.

Three goals, two penalties, one red card, and a Union win: this game had a little bit of everything.

Not much went wrong in the home opener, which saw C.J. Sapong score a first-half brace on two deflected shots, before New England’s Je-Vaughn Watson was sent off for a two-footed tackle just before the break.

There seemed to be some kind of serendipity and/or karma floating around Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Union took two penalty kicks and missed both of them. The Revs hit both posts on one free kick and even out-possessed the Union, despite playing with 10-men for more than half of the game.

The breaks and the bounces went to Philadelphia, which, combined with a solid overall performance, resulted in a comprehensive thrashing of a pretty good Revolution team. Jim Curtin felt like his club could have killed off the game much earlier, but he’ll just have to settle for three points and a first-place tie in the eastern conference.

As right as rain


Curtin shuffled his lineup a bit, dropping Leo Fernandes to the bench with the still-injured Vincent Nogueira. The result was a rehash of last weekend’s Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll double-pivot, with Ilsinho sliding to right midfield and Roland Alberg in the #10 role.

That relocation of Ilsinho created some really fun interchange with rookie right back Keegan Rosenberry. The pair ran the flank all day long, linking up nicely on some one-touch passing while also limiting Chris Tierney’s ability to get forward and whip crosses into the box.

In their combined passing chart, there’s very little red to be seen. You can see how they stayed together and seemed to be on the same page going forward. Combined, they finished the game with 65 completed passes out of 84 attempts.

Roland out the red carpet

Roland Alberg got his first Union start in the position he played most at ADO Den Haag.

He was on the field for 57 minutes, but only managed 33 touches, which really isn’t enough from the CAM position. Of the ten starting field players, only Chris Pontius averaged fewer touches per minute than Alberg.

The graphic below illustrates Alberg’s heatmap on the left, compared with Lee Nguyen on the right. Obviously, there’s more activity for Nguyen, who lead all field players with 86 touches across 93 minutes. You see Alberg did trend left and right a bit to pick up the ball, which isn’t dissimilar to the way Nguyen kept pulling left to find space.

When you do the math, Alberg averaged one touch per 1.72 minutes, while Nguyen averaged a touch every 1.08 minutes, even while playing half the game at a disadvantage.


For comparison, Ilsinho lead the Union’s front four with 54 touches. He did a nice job of pulling inside to look for the ball when he wasn’t working with Rosenberry on the right flank.

Alberg managed just one blocked shot and one key pass and went 15 for 19 in his pass attempts. He put in a decent shift in his first start, so let’s see if the Union can get him more of the ball in the next few games.


C.J. Sapong:

“It feels great (to score), feels great to open the account. I’m always extra critical. I could have had four (goals) today. It’s all good. It’s a good statement at home. We feel like we can do better, but we showed a lot of team camaraderie on the field.”

Jim Curtin:

“We thought it was critical to have a good start (to the season). I think Earnie Stewart came in and laid a good foundation with the group, setting a higher standard with training harder. Our attention to detail is better, so all those little things I think you are seeing on the field. Seeing it in training sessions is one thing, but it matters most on Saturdays and Sundays… We are better now than last year, but that’s not saying much because last year we were bad.”

Jay Heaps:

“The red card (took place) right in front of us. I don’t think there was much in the challenge, but at this point the studs were up and I’ve got to look at it on film again. But I didn’t fault the referee on that, I faulted him on the two penalty kicks quite frankly. Tthe one that was right in front of us, the breeze was blowing harder than (how Ilsinho) got touched. The one in the second half was textbook, you just don’t (call) it.”


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

C.J. Sapong: A+

In game one, C.J. did a lot of work that didn’t amount to much.

In game two, his effort and holdup play had more of an impact on the game.

In game three, he was the man of the match with a first-half brace.

You see the effort start to pay off in a somewhat cumulative way. Sapong really worked his butt off in this game. The goals he scored were not stunners, but they don’t have to be. He just needs to be in the right place and put shots on frame.

He also should have bagged an assist on this sequence, which started with a headed knockdown and direction change, before a loopy darted pass found Chris Pontius:

Ilsinho: B

Even in a “different” position, he made an effort to get on the ball. I use quotation marks because Ilsinho has played a lot of wide midfield in his career. He looked just as effective out there as he has centrally, and even did a good job tracking back defensively, which is going to be more of a requirement when he plays wide, versus taking up the CAM spot.

Roland Alberg: C

He took the red card tackle, which was a direct response to a challenge he put it on Gershon Koffie.

The work rate was good, and his movement and positioning seemed solid. He just needs to get more touches on the ball.

Chris Pontius: C

Pontius had three great scoring chances in the second half.

In the first instance, he took his first touch wide and narrowed the angle on his shot. The second was a difficult chest trap inside the six-yard-box that Bobby Shuttleworth was able to smother. The third was the attempt on Sapong’s pass, which ended up deflecting out of play.

The winger seemed sharper last week, and probably should have bagged at least one in this game.

Warren Creavalle: B+

For the second straight game, his range and motor contributed on both ends of the field.

His assist on the second Union goal was something you would not see from Vince Nogueira, as Nogs would probably hang back instead of making that diagonal run into the corner.

More importantly, Creavalle provides another protective layer that removes a lot of the defensive burden from Brian Carroll.

Brian Carroll: B

I once heard someone say this about the captain:

“When nobody talks about Brian Carroll, that means he had a good game.”

Sure enough, nobody talked about Carroll on Sunday.

Fabinho: B

After a nightmare start in Dallas, Fabinho is getting much closer to his 2015 form.

Offensively, he was credited with the assist on Sapong’s first goal. It was a good cross into the box that Andrew Farrell whiffed on.

Defensively, he made a nice 21st-minute tackle on Kelyn Rowe before taking a smart tactical yellow a few minutes later. From there, he played a mostly quiet game on the left as play seemed to trend towards the other side of the field.

Richie Marquez: A-

Marquez read the game well and won mostly everything that came his way. It’s not a coincidence that the Union has won two straight games since he re-entered the starting XI.

Ken Tribbett: B+

I like the way that Tribbett tries to keep the ball on the ground and play high-percentage passes out of the back. It’s still a work in progress, but he’s very intuitive when it comes to pushing beyond the striker(s) and getting the ball to the next line.

Similar to Marquez, he won most of his individual battles. The 30th minute, backwards diving header was probably his defensive pinnacle in the game.

Keegan Rosenberry: B+

The interchange with Ilsinho on the right flank was a joy to watch.

Defensively, he and the veteran Brazilian worked together to limit opportunities for Diego Fagundez and Chris Tierney down that side of the field.

Andre Blake: A

Here’s a real quote from Jim Curtin after the game:


57' Sebastien Le Toux: B+

I’m really liking this “super sub” role for Le Toux. He’s always been a stamina guy that runs up and down the field, so his skill-set is a good fit for this new system.

77' Leo Fernandes: B+

Leo was dropped to the bench in this game, but his first touch in the second half was a downward header that needed to be cleared off the line. He got the assist on Le Toux’s goal and really put in a nice 15-minute shift.

89' Fabian Herbers: N/A

Herbers had a chance to get off the mark, but hit a tight-angled shot right at Bobby Shuttleworth. I’m interested to see what he can do with a proper start or as a 60th-minute sub. The rookie seems to have a nose for the goal.

Referee - Nima Saghafi: C

This was his first MLS game in the middle of the park. Saghafi had done a couple of prior games as a 4th official, but the bulk of his experience was at the USL and NASL level.

I thought the red card was obviously the correct call. New England coach Jay Heaps agreed with that.

With the benefit of seeing a few replays, I think the penalties could have gone either way. The first call was a goofy hip-check by Farrell, but there did seem to be embellishment from Ilsinho. The second was a battle between Sapong and Jose Goncalves, and the center back did have both arms wrapped around the shoulders. That scenario usually gets a whistle.

National anthem singer: A

The Sons of Ben usually sing over a taped recording, but this was a nice change to the gameday experience. Plus, the SOBs are usually out of sync because the stadium speakers can’t be heard clearly in the River End.