Vincent Nogueira is one of the Philadelphia Union's best midfielders, and he continued to prove himself to be the engine that drives the team over the course of the past season. The Frenchman was used as a pivot, with the task of linking the defense and the attack together. He looked to be at his most dangerous when starting next to the ultra-defensive Brian Carroll, as Carroll's willingness to stay behind on defense allowed Nogueira the freedom to get forward in the attack. His importance to the team becomes obvious when comparing the Union's record in games that he did not start (1-4-2) and games that he did start (9-9-3), this team was not very good in 2015 but when he's out of the starting lineup they are even worse.
What did he do right?
Nogueira was much more lethal in front of goal this year, scoring five times in MLS play, which is up from three from his first year at the club. His improved goal scoring was a huge positive, but the part of his game that makes him so vital to the team is his technical ability. Nogueira is able to maintain possession better than any other player on the team, and his crisp passing spreads the ball out to everyone in the midfield. The Bensaçon, France native averaged 48.3 passes per game and boasts a completion rate of 85.6%, good enough for 14th in MLS.
His dedication to staying in the center of the park allowed Cristian Maidana to look for gaps in the defense out on the wings, spreading defenders out and giving Chaco the space that he needs to feed CJ Sapong dangerous ball through balls between the opposing fullbacks and center backs. Nogueira's stable presence behind Maidana gives the players around him a release valve when they come under pressure, making it easier for the Union to keep possession of the ball when necessary.
What did he do wrong?
Nogueira had a very good season, the only criticism that can reasonably be put on him is his shortage of assists this season. By shortage of assists, I mean that he had zero assists in MLS this year, which is extremely surprising considering his pass-first attitude in the midfield. His dearth of assists can be contributed to his style of play - while he passes the ball almost 50 times a game, most of them are very safe plays that don't create any real scoring chances. Elite playmakers in MLS average anywhere from 2.5 to 3.2 key passes per game, while Nogueira created a mere 0.5 key passes per match. His possession-oriented approach does not lend itself to high assist numbers, which fortunately didn't cause any problems this season because he was playing behind one of the most creative passers in the league in Cristian Maidana. As long as there are other playmakers in the midfield with him his lack of assists shouldn't be an issue moving forward.
Most Memorable Moment
Nogueira's most memorable moment was his extra time game winner against New York City FC to give the Union its first win of the season. His 91st minute tally gave the team some hope for the rest of the season and saved the club the embarrassment of going through its first six games without a win. It was an important victory over another Eastern Conference bottom-dweller and prevented the bad start to the season from becoming even worse.
It's unclear whether or not Vincent Nogueira will be back next year, but if he returns it will be a big positive for the Union. The diminutive Frenchman is the glue that holds the midfield together and without his technical ability the attack often looks disjointed and sloppy. At 27 years old he is a player that Earnie Stewart should look to build around for the future, he has proven himself to be the the most consistent player on the team and has become a fixture in the midfield. Vincent Nogueira is one of the most underrated players in MLS, and he is fully capable of helping this team for years to come.