|The Union bid farewell to Vincent Nogueira, right, Thursday. |
How do they compensate for his departure?
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
Shock was the order of the day at Talen Energy Stadium Thursday with the stunning news that Vincent Nogueira
and the Philadelphia Union parted ways by mutual consent
. The move leaves more questions than answers, many of which will likely remain mysteries with the Frenchman returning to his native country immediately.
First and foremost, the primary concern in this matter should be Nogueira and his personal health issue. Nogueira was a fan favorite in Philadelphia since his arrival in January 2014 and a serially underrated player. To have a situation that is so dire as to require you to put your vocation on hold at the age of 28 and seek a remedy is an awful predicament, and anyone who interacted with Nogueira in his time with the Union should be unanimous in passing on their well wishes.
But soccer life, in its diminished importance, goes on, just as the Union must without Nogueira when they line up against New York City FC this week. So, how do they go about it?
First, let’s look at the numbers. The Union have been a better team with Nogueira. He’s played 64 of 82 games in the last two-plus seasons. With him, the Union are 21-24-19, a points per game average of 1.28. Without Nogueira, the club is 5-8-5, 1.11 ppg. There’s so much noise in the club’s bumpy path over the last three seasons that it can skew those numbers as the Union ran hot and cold, but the point of Nogueira’s value persists nonetheless.
Tactically, there’s no doubting how important Nogueira is. He’s a vital link between offense and defense, a conduit for turning turnovers into quick offense. He’s can hit diagonal balls like no one else on the Union, and he mixes tackling ability with passing vision like few in MLS. He added a goalscoring touch in recent months, growing more adept at picking out the final run in the box.
And yeah, he can do this
That leaves the question of how the Union replace him, and there’s really no easy answer. But there are some half-measures that could compensate.
- Nogueira was the only pure No. 8 on the roster. Warren Creavalle
provides some of that of movement, but the six is more natural for him. Tranquillo Barnetta
or Roland Alberg
could conceivably slide back, but they lack the defensive instincts that are second-nature to Nogueira. Maybe it’s time to look at a formation change, and here’s one that’s suggested:
- The Union just began a stretch of six games in 17 days.
The effectiveness of a Brian Carroll
and Creavalle double pivot would seem to be negatively impacted when they have to play every game, instead of enjoying the previous platoon that offered plenty of rest.
- Maurice Edu’s path back to the field just became more intensive.
The Union are avowing caution with Edu, who isn’t back to full contact yet. It was declared March 9 that he would miss three to four months. He’s on the far end of that timetable, and while the club hasn’t declared any setbacks, they’re also taking it slow enough to avoid setbacks. Before Nogueira’s departure, you wondered how Edu would fit in this system. Sans Nogueira, it’s very clear the void that awaits.
- It’s time to look at the Union’s strengths.
As Wednesday night indicated, they have a glut at one particular position: The wing. Ilsinho, Chris Pontius, Sebastien Le Toux, Leo Fernandes
and Walter Restrepo
are all pushing for minutes. And let’s not forget that Eric Ayuk
played 28 games last season and scored some notable goals. One of those wingers will have to help Fabian Herbers
spell CJ Sapong
for however long his ankle injury is (Le Toux, likely). But if pushing Ilsinho centrally, for instance, helps relieve the pressure there, the Union have the depth out wide to do it.
- The Union are in good financial shape.
Thursday was a sad day for many people who’d grown attached to Nogueira, and the nature of his departure only raised the concern. But the Union are in a rare position to adapt, and this isn’t a death knell for their progress early this season. They have just 25 guys on the roster, 17 senior roster players. Dropping Nogueira’s salary offers cap space. The transfer of Michael Lahoud,
if the amount is to be believed
, plus $50k from Chicago
for Michael De Leeuw,
gives them money to spend. They have new openings on their discovery list
, which is minus de Leeuw, John Terry
and Zlatan Ibrahimovic
(provided his deal to Manchester United continues as reported). The only central midfielder
on that list was Guatemalan Jorge Aparicio
, a name that might bear watching. There are options within MLS – the Union previously had interest
in Kwadwo Poku,
who is being pushed further to the periphery at NYC
, and my colleague Jonathan Tannenwald
made an intriguing suggestion
with out-of-favor Montreal midfielder Eric Alexander
– though those will have to wait until the window opens July 4. (FWIW, Alexander has the added bonus of not being cup tied in the Open Cup.)
Dispiriting as losing a key cog like Nogueira is, at a juncture where the Union are playing so well and die-hard fans are waiting for the other shoe to drop, the loss isn’t insurmountable. I’d highly doubt Earnie Stewart
would build a team where any player was quite so indispensable, and while it may take some time for the Union to find their feet in the post-Nogueira era (no, they won’t go undefeated in the next eight games), it’s not the end of the line for the Union’s aspirations this season.
Labels: Brian Carroll, Eric Alexander, Jorge Aparicio, Kwadwo Poku, Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union, Roland Alberg, Vincent Nogueira, Warren Creavalle