April 11, 2016
Vince Nogueira might have had the best view of Tranquillo Barnetta's game-winning free kick.
The Union midfielder stood about five yards to the right of his teammate, lined up almost directly with goalkeeper Joe Bendik's left post. He watched the ball beat the wall, dive downward, and kiss the crossbar en route to the back of the net.
"Mmm.. it was just perfect," said Nogueira of the setpiece strike. "I mean, I didn't expect that. I saw the ball, and it was so high, and I was like, 'wow, ok, that's a goal kick'. And then it came down, it came down, and it just went perfectly into the corner. It was a perfect free kick."
Nogueira played his first minutes since the March 6th season opener in Dallas. He picked up an ankle injury 24 hours before the Columbus game, and returned to the bench in the last two matches, but didn't see the field.
This was a 90-minute shift for the Frenchman, filling in for the suspended Warren Creavalle.
"Fitness, it was very good," Nogueira said. "I was pretty surprised that I could put in the same performance in the second half as the first half, so I felt pretty fit. My ankle feels pretty good. I was unlucky (before) Columbus. I just sprained it the day before the game. Then it felt better, but I was on the bench and didn't play. That's it. Now I feel good."
Nogueira didn't look hampered at all by the ankle.
In typical fashion, he shuttled the ball around the field with high percentage passes. The midfielder sprayed long diagonals from left to right, and conservatively kept his game between the boxes. He finished the game 62 for 74 on passing, good enough for an 84 percent rating.
"It's really important for confidence," he explained. "We didn't start well in the last two seasons. It's important for us to start well. Two games at home, and two wins - I think it's going to be important for us to win at home this season. Playing away in our league, we know it's difficult to win. But yea, this year, it's completely different. I can see the difference from last year and two years ago. We've played much, much better. We're more confident. I think we grew up a lot. And with a field like that, it's a perfect field. As a player, we're really happy we can keep it on the ground on a perfect field."
The former Sochaux captain has been in Philly for a little more than two years, which doesn't seem like a long time. But there aren't many other players on this overturned Union roster who played for the 2013 or 2012 squads.
Nogueira has seen the struggle first-hand, as the last two Union teams felt short in the U.S. Open Cup final, while simultaneously plodding through the MLS regular season.
He says everybody needs to be dialed in for the long haul.
"It's really early," Nogueira added. "We've put in four good performances. It wasn't enough against Dallas in the very first game. We worked really hard (after that) and we've been much, much better. We're more confident with the ball. We have more of the ball. As a player, that's always better, because you're running less defensively. It's much better than last season, so we're happy. It's easy to be good for one or two games, but doing this for the rest of the season is much harder. So we have to stay focused on it and play every game like this one, where you can't worry about the past. We have to put a good performance into every game."