The Philadelphia Union conducted the biggest of its 2013-14 off-season business in mid- to late-January. Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana, and Vincent Nogueira were all signed in a two-week flurry of action which saw the Union use a large chunk of its cap. Edu, who appeared in the 2010 World Cup, was a certainty. A superb athlete, Mo would do well wherever he played. Though Maidana was a journeyman, the arrival of an Argentinian play-maker still left fans salivating. Nogueira's arrival came with a number of questions: Where would he play? Is he box-to-box, or more of a No. 10? Why would Sochaux let their captain leave so freely? Since his signing on the 30th of January, Nogueira has proven to be one of the best players to pull on a Union jersey.
Under former manager John Hackworth, Nogueira slotted in as a central attacking midfielder. Maidana played out on the left wing, and Edu and Brian Carroll formed the double pivot. While Nogueira and Edu would have been a much better pairing, Hack was neither willing to shift Maidana or start Leo Fernandes.
Early on, it became evident that Nogueira was a talented passer of the ball, but he was not the advanced play-maker that the Union hoped he would be. Nogueira liked to drop deep to receive the ball, leaving the Union shorthanded in attack.
When Jim Curtin took over, he made it clear that Maidana would be the No. 10 during his tenure. Curtin intended on playing Nogueira under the attacking midfield trio, but injuries got in the way. Chaco came down with an injury in mid-July, just as Nogueira was returning from an ailment of his own. The Frenchman was thrust into the creator role once again, and he'd stay there until September. On September 6th, Nogueira and Maidana played together for only the second time under Curtin, who took over three months prior. For the rest of the season, Nogueira served as the more possession-oriented half of the double pivot.
Nogueira completed 48 passes per 90 minutes this season, good enough for 13th among players who have appeared in at least half of their teams' games. His passing accuracy (85%) ranks 27th, while his key passes per 90 (1.23) puts him at 65th, below even Conor Casey. It's pretty clear from these stats that Nogueira is a talented passer of the ball, but for whatever reason, he cannot put it together in the final third.
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Usage rate shows what percentage of attempted team passes were attempted by a single player. While it is not a perfect metric, usage rate fairly accurately tells how important a player is to his team. The problem with usage rate, as pointed out in this excellent article by Devin Pleuler, is that it treats every pass the same. Also mentioned in that piece is centrality, which tries to determine how influential a player's passes are. At the publication of that article, Vincent Nogueira had the second highest centrality in the league, and with a sample size that large, it's reasonable to believe that he finished the season in a similar position.
It's obvious that Nogueira's passing has been vital to what success the Union had this past season. Though he may not deliver that final ball, he is still a key cog in the Union's build-up.
I wrote a long feature on Nogueira's shooting back in August. It was terrible then, and it didn't get any better as the season progressed. Of the 62 players who took at least 40 shots this season, he finished 60th in shots on target (23.7%) and 60th in goal conversion (3.4%). That is absolutely atrocious, and it becomes apparent why when you look at his shot locations. 75% of his shots came from outside of the box. Only Juninho, who failed to score this season despite his 55 shots, had a higher share of shots from outside of the box (93%). His long-range shooting should be the primary objective during his off-season training.
Vincent Nogueira is a consummate professional. He's a quiet guy who gets work done - you could call him Philly Tough (I wouldn't). He's easily the best midfielder to ever pull on a Union jersey, and he's not even getting a Designated Player salary. Nogueira provides some of the best value in the league, and hopefully he'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. His distribution is key to the team, but he does have one glaring deficiency. Imperfect he may be, but Vincent Nogueira was the best Union player in 2014.