Missing Vincent: a non-recap of NYCFC 3, Union 2

The Union lost 3-2 to NYCFC on Saturday, going down 3-0 before pulling two back and making it interesting before the final whistle blew.

It’s hard to pull things from a game played on field not much bigger than what CONCACAF minnows host their World Cup qualifiers against the US on; it would be like scouting elite NBA prospects while they played half court ball. This loss hurts (all losses do) but the Union’s biggest loss this week happened before Saturday, with the departure of Vincent Nogueira.

The facts are still coming together, but here’s what we know: Vincent played well in the City Islanders FC match of the US Open Cup last Wednesday. On Thursday, the club announced they mutually agreed to terminate his contract so he could go back to his native France and attend to what was labeled “personal health issues”.

Nogueira appeared in 64 games for the Union and started 58, joining the club for the start of the 2014 season. He scored nine goals and added three assists.

“We want to thank Vincent for his contributions to the club over the last two years and we wish him the best, both personally and professionally,” Earnie Stewart said in a press release. “At this time, it was our desire to enable him to be with his family at home in France.”

“I want to thank the Philadelphia Union for their understanding of my situation and wish my teammates well going forward.” Nogueira said in a statement.

According to Kevin Kinkead’s sources, Vincent flew back to France immediately after the last match last year, going so far as to leave everything in his locker. He’s never seemed to want out of Philly; he’s never mentioned it in any conversations, his body language never said it, and he never, ever played like it. He appeared physically fit, but that’s only half the battle. In a phone interview with MLSsoccer.com, Stewart said “(Vincent) couldn’t cope with it anymore” and so the club and player worked together to do what was right for the player.

With Vincent, you always knew what you were getting: a number 8 who worked hard, had a great first touch and vision, and was extremely adept at hitting diagonals to the front line. He meant much more to the team than statistics can quantify; when he was getting touches on the field, everything ran smoothly. The team could effectively move the ball through him. He was the engine, the metronome in their midfield. The Union have won without him earlier this season when he was injured, but they were undoubtedly a better team with him there.

Replacing Nogueira will be difficult. Maurice Edu can play the 8 but is not healthy yet. The tandem of Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle played together while Vincent was recovering from injury, and while they are better defensively together, they lack the ability to run the offense the way Vincent could. The Union could go get someone via trade or in the summer transfer window which is coming soon, or they could switch formation the way they brought Roland Alberg in during halftime of the NYCFC match and go to a 4-1-4-1 look. Jim Curtin has talked about putting another offensive guy out onto the field and this might be his chance to do so.

Health issues, both physical and otherwise, are serious. Kudos to the Union for treating them as such. From us as well, we wish Vincent a full and speedy recovery.

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