CHESTER, Pa. – Jim Curtin has played in a few finals and has watched even more.
But the Philadelphia Union interim manager has never seen anything quite like the performance Vincent Nogueira put in Tuesday in Philly’s 3-1 extra time loss to the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup title game.
“He was excellent,” Curtin said following Thursday’s practice. “He played a great game – one of the best games I’ve ever seen anyone play in a final.”
Deployed as a central holding midfielder alongside Maurice Edu and behind Cristian Maidana, Nogueira was indeed all over the field Tuesday, breaking up Seattle attacks, starting Union ones and making some pristine passes.
Although disappointed by the final result – Nogueira immediately took off his second-place medal after he was presented with it during the postgame award ceremony – the Frenchman was pleased with his performance. And after starting a few straight games as an attacking midfielder, he’s also pleased that he’s now getting the chance to play in more of a holding role – his natural position.
“I’m pretty happy right now the way I’m playing, especially right now that I am playing my favored position as a holding midfielder,” Nogueira said in French with teammate Sebastien Le Toux translating. “It’s where I want to play, so that makes me happy to be on the field there. … Right now I feel great, and I’m pretty confident about what I can do on the field.”
Unfortunately for the Union, the play most fans will remember from Tuesday’s final is the one where Nogueira created a turnover, played a nifty give-and-go with Maidana and then struck the crossbar with the game tied at 1-1 in stoppage time of regulation.
Nogueira admitted he’s been thinking about that play too but is trying “not to get too crazy about it,” especially as the Union gear up for an important league game against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday at PPL Park (7 pm ET; MLS Live). Curtin said the miss was upsetting because Nogueira “deserved the goal and was good enough to get the goal at the end.”
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But for the Union manager, that didn’t take anything away from another memorable performance from Philly’s first-year midfielder.
“I couldn’t be happier with him,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy I still don’t think enough people are talking about in this league. If you ask the people that play against him, they walk off going, ‘Holy cow, who was that?’ They know.
“Maybe he’s still kind of a secret in our league.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.