Earnie Stewart on Nogueira departure: "He couldn't cope with it anymore''

Vincent Nogueira and Sacha Kljestan do battle (May 24, 2015)

CHESTER, Pa. -- On Wednesday night, Vincent Nogueira played 73 minutes in the Philadelphia Union’s 3-2 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders in a fourth-round US Open Cup game.

It was a typically efficient game for Nogueira, who has quietly been one of the team’s most important players as a string-pulling, deep-lying midfielder.

But something was not right.

And after long conversations with members of the Union technical staff following the game, the club and midfielder mutually agreed to part ways Thursday because of an undisclosed personal health issue.

“We had some long conversations yesterday after the game -- well actually, a week ago already,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “But he let us know yesterday that it came to a point where he couldn’t cope with it anymore and we had to take action.”

Stewart said that Nogueira was scheduled to return to France Thursday night, marking an abrupt end to his two-and-a-half year tenure in Philly. But the team’s first-year sporting director gave an assurance that Nogueira’s health issue will not end his soccer career and that he’ll be OK away from the field.

“This is something he’s dealt with before,” Stewart said. “He definitely will play soccer. That’s not so much the problem. It’s not in that area.”

Nogueira’s absence will immediately present a big void for the Union as the Frenchman started 58 games since arriving in 2014, scoring nine goals and adding three assists. Although he dealt with some injuries during his time in Philly, Nogueira was arguably one of the league’s top midfielders when at his best -- as he was, for example, in the 2014 US Open Cup final.

So far this season, Nogueira has started in the No. 8 role in head coach Jim Curtin’s 4-2-3-1 formation, playing in front of defensive midfielders Brian Carroll or Warren Creavalle and behind Tranquillo Barnetta in the midfield.

Without him, Curtin may opt to play Carroll or Creavalle together in the defensive midfield -- as he has at times this season -- or go with a more offensive look with Roland Alberg, who enjoyed a two-goal breakout game in Wednesday’s Open Cup win.

Either way, the Union will have more options once defensive midfielder Maurice Edu returns from his long-term stress fracture injury -- the team has not given a timetable on his return recently but initial reports said he could be ready in June or July -- and may also look to acquire a replacement.

“This is very fresh,” Stewart said. “We didn’t expect this. We weren’t looking in this direction. We have enough depth so we can find a solution -- that’s not going to be a problem. But we’re going to look further, yes.”

For now, Stewart mostly wanted to reflect on Nogueira’s successful MLS stint and wish the Frenchman well moving forward.

“He actually felt very guilty because he’s happy with the team and the way things were going,” Stewart said. “He had a great time in Philadelphia. It was hard for him.

“The same goes for the team and the staff that worked with him. We’ve gotten to know him as a very good soccer player and a good individual. So for the whole organization, it’s a blow. You never wish that for anyone you know.”