CHESTER, Pa. -- Just two days after agreeing to mutually terminate Vincent Nogueira’s contract due to personal health issues, the Union made the short trip to take on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
And it was clear from the start the Union will miss the French midfielder, as they struggled to maintain possession, fell behind by three goals and saw a valiant comeback effort fall short.
In this week’s Inside Doop, we’ll take a closer look at Saturday’s 3-2 loss that ended Philly’s club-record eight game winning streak and how they can get back on track without Nogueira.
Three thoughts about this past week
1. For the first time this season, New York City FC was able to field a lineup that included marquee stars David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard — a trio that makes over $17 million per season combined. For context, that’s nearly nine times as much as the Union’s entire starting lineup from Saturday makes. And the disparity showed at times as all three of NYCFC’s Designated Players scored while the Union, with Maurice Edu and C.J. Sapong injured, lacked a little bit of star power. To be absolutely sure, having big-money players isn’t always a key to success; NYCFC is a club with plenty of problems and the Union are still in first place with a relatively small payroll. But with an important playmaker like Nogueira gone and Edu still fighting to make his season debut, it’s still fair to say that the Union could use a talented reinforcement.
2. The player who figures to benefit the most from Nogueira’s absence is Roland Alberg. After the Union struggled to get in gear with Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll in the defensive midfield, head coach Jim Curtin went with a more offensive look to start the second half with Alberg coming in for Creavalle. And the Dutch midfielder responded by scoring the team’s first goal on a penalty kick — after confidently running to the ball to take the attempt before anyone else could — and nearly drawing another penalty on the game’s final play. And this came after he scored two goals in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup win over the Harrisburg City Islanders. Curtin has talked in the past about trying to play the offensive-minded combo of Alberg and Tranquillo Barnetta together in the central midfield — and now appears to be a good time to keep that going.
3. Overall, it was an interesting week for the Union, who blew a two-goal lead in the Open Cup before Alberg bailed them out with a stoppage-time winner and then rallying for two goals after falling behind by three in New York. And the Union could have escaped Yankee Stadium with a point if a penalty was called on NYCFC defender R.J. Allen on the final play as it probably should have been. In both cases, the Union showed some of the guts and grit that have defined this year’s team. But in both cases, they also showed that winning will probably never be easy. Buckle up.
Three questions for the week ahead
1. For the second straight week, the Union will play two games as they welcome the Chicago Fire on Wednesday and the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. Being at home for both certainly makes the stretch less taxing but Curtin will still have to carefully manage his lineup. Will Alberg and Ilsinho find their way into the starting lineup for one of the games? Will Carroll and Creavalle play together again or perhaps alternate games? Will Ray Gaddis and Fabinho be platooned at left back? There are certainly some decisions Curtin will have to make as the Union look to secure six big points at home.
2. Perhaps the biggest question is whether Sapong can return from his sprained ankle — and how the Union might manage without their top striker and leading scorer if he can’t. Fabian Herbers has shown a lot of promise as Sapong’s backup this season and recently logged his first MLS goal and first MLS start. But the Union don’t have any other true strikers on the roster, meaning they’d likely have to utilize Sebastien Le Toux in that spot to spell Herbers. It’s not an ideal situation, and it’s probably not a stretch to say Sapong is the player this team can least afford to lose to injury.
3. Speaking of injuries, the clock continues to tick for Edu, who’s been out all year with a stress fracture. He’s said all along he wanted to take his time with his rehab, especially as the team was winning in his absence. But with Nogueira now gone and a big hole suddenly in the midfield, you have to wonder if he’ll feel more pressure to return sooner. Either way, we know fans are anxious to see the team’s captain and highest-profile player back in the lineup.
Quote of the week
“I would like to apologize to our fans who traveled here — also our fans watching at home in the first half. That was not us. That was not what we are about.”
- Union head coach Jim Curtin, after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to New York City FC
Stat of the week
In the eight games before Wednesday, Roland Alberg played a combined 15 minutes. In the two games since, including the Open Cup, he played 135 minutes and scored three goals.
Player of the week
This has got to go to Alberg, who finally got to show why he was one of the team’s biggest offseason acquisitions. Can he keep it up?