CHESTER, Pa. – One of the big questions for the Philadelphia Union heading into Friday night's Fourth of July road clash against FC Dallas was the health of Vincent Nogueira, who’s just returning from the first groin injury of his career.
What’s not a question is how the Frenchman will be utilized in interim manager Jim Curtin’s changing midfield.
“In this league, in our group, I would say he’s more of an attacking guy,” Curtin said. “That’s probably where I think he’s best. When he plays in France, because they have so many attacking options and special players that can make a final pass, he is able to drop back a little deeper. But within our league, he’s instantly a couple of notches above the best passers in the league. He’s special that way.”
In Curtin’s first league match in charge – a 3-1 win over the New England Revolution this past Saturday – the Union had a new look in the center of the midfield with Amobi Okugo and Michael Lahoud playing as holding midfielders behind Cristian Maidana (and captain Brian Carroll coming off the bench).
If Curtin opts to keep two holding midfielders when Nogueira returns, the Frenchman will likely play in front of them centrally with Maidana being pushed to the left wing.
“Vincent is actually accustomed to [being a holding midfielder],” Curtin said. “But he’s not as big of a presence as, say, an Amobi is. So there’s that balance. Vincent’s a guy for me that can impact the game in a lot of different ways. He can get forward, he can score a goal, he breaks up plays and he certainly helps us in possession.”
Curtin added that Nogueira is a “best XI player for me in this league” and this his reputation will only grow if the Union can continue to string some wins together in the second half of the season.
But the biggest key now is how he recovers from his injury after returning to training this week. Nogueira, who had played all but one minute this season under former manager John Hackworth, has missed all three of Philly’s games with Curtin at the helm – two US Open Cup games and last week’s win in New England.
“Vincent’s obviously one of the best midfielders in this league, so any time you can add him into the group, that’s a good thing,” Curtin said. “The tricky thing with him is this is his first groin injury. It’s the first time he’s ever had an issue with his groin, so having no frame of reference what the process is to come back, he’s not 100 percent positive and stable on it just yet.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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