CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union know from experience that it sometimes takes foreign players a little bit of time to adjust to playing in Major League Soccer, as it has for first-year winger Cristian Maidana.
Luckily for the Union, Vincent Nogueira has had no such issues.
Through the first 10 games of his MLS career, the Frenchman currently leads the league in total touches (799) and successful passes (519) as the focal point of the Union’s midfield.
“He’s our best player, probably,” Union forward Antoine Hoppenot told MLSsoccer.com. “Game in and game out, he’s the guy who’s most consistent. Now it’s time for the other players to get the goals and get the shutouts because he’s been doing his part.”
Nogueira credited Hoppenot and winger Sébastien Le Toux – both natives of France – for helping him adjust to MLS and for sometimes serving as his translator as he continues to work on his English.
But they aren’t the only ones who have made it a smooth transition for the 26-year-old midfielder, who spent the first eight years of his professional career with French club Sochaux.
“The locker room is a much better locker room than I’ve been in France,” Nogueria said with Hoppenot translating. “The guys are much closer here and are much more helpful than the guys I played with in France.”
Nogueira has tried to reciprocate by setting his teammates up with dangerous chances, although the goals – and the wins – have been hard to come by for the struggling Union (1-4-5).
But while disappointed with the team’s record, Nogueira said he’s pleased with how much he’s been able to contribute in the central midfield, along with fellow newcomer Maurice Edu and captain Brian Carroll.
“I’m not necessarily going to score a lot of goals or get a lot of assists, but I’m going to be in the heart of the game,” said Nogueira, one of five Philly players who's played every minute this season. “I’m going to be the guy you can pass the ball to and know I’ll be able to keep it, move the ball along, and get the ball to dangerous players in dangerous spots.”
After watching him play throughout the preseason and in training, Hoppenot said he isn’t surprised by how well Nogueria has played, noting that “you can tell right away that the guy’s in the middle of everything.”
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And the fellow Frenchman believes that Nogueira isn’t just the best player on the Union but also, perhaps, one of the premier players in MLS.
“I think he’s got to be in the conversation [as one of the league’s best players],” Hoppenot said. “I think if we had more wins right now, people would be talking about him a little bit more. I think in the next couple of games, we’re going to get some wins and people are going to start talking.
“His qualities are going to show the whole season. We know we have to give him the ball because he’s the guy that’s going to make it happen for us.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.