A look back at the first Union game of 2016 and what needs to change ahead of Columbus showdown

at Toyota Stadium on March 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

It’s been four days since the opening match for the Union. The Eagles news has quieted down a bit, and I have finally come to terms with the result, so now is a good time to evaluate what happened in the loss against Dallas. It was a dreadful game. The U lost 2-0 to in a match that could’ve easily been three, or four, to nothing. The Union did what many expected, they came up short.

Not only did they come up short but it seemed like they did not want to be competitive at all in the contest. It started with the lineup. Four players made their professional debuts (Ilshino, Anderson, Tribbett, and Rosenberry); three of these rookies were on the Union’s backline. The Starting lineup looked like this:

Pontius, Sapong, Fernandes, Nogueira, Ilshino, Carroll, Fabinho, Anderson, Tribbett, Rosenberry, Blake.  

Blake was the best Union player on the day; making eight saves and bailing out the Union many times. The rest of the players seemed ill prepared for a game against one of the best teams in the League. In this article we will look at the strange lineup, position by position, and how the players did last Sunday.   

Let’s start by looking at the defense. The defensive moves made were a bit of a shock. Fabi and Anderson were the projected starters on the left side of the defense, But Tribbett over last years stand out player Marquez, and rookie Rosenberry over long term veteran Gaddis? This was an interesting turn of events to say the least. After the game, coach Curtin said that the reason he chose this defensive pairing was because the left side of the defense was in good form, and the right side of the defense was a matter of player fitness/ injuries. The defense was the weak link for the Philly.

Dallas has a strong Defense, fast paced wingers, skilled passing midfielders, and the technical attackers. Whenever Dallas had the ball they looked to play through balls, or balls over the top to their elusive midfielders. Michael Barrios made Fabinho look like a lost child whenever he ran past him, and MVP candidate Fabian Castillo made Rosenberry look like the rookie he is; he was caught out of position many times in transition.

Rosenberry did have a few glimpses of brilliance going forward, and showed he has a monster of a throw in; almost Sheanon Williams esc. Fabinho was a hot mess; he had a terrible game. He would get caught too far up the field, and did not recover well in transition..a very out of character performance to say the least. When he was on the ball he sat on it..and it was this that was the reason Dallas were able to double their lead. He sat on the ball just outside of the eighteen yard box, took on a Dallas player, lost the ball, and did not recover as the Dallas players stormed the box and scored. The outside backs were bad, but the the center backs weren’t much better.

The two first timers in the middle of the defense seemed lost on the field. They were caught flatfooted many times, and when they were on the ball their clearances found the opposition more than their teammates. They seemed slow, but many defenders seem slow compared to the fast Dallas players. The weakness seemed to come in the form of not being able to replicate the style of play both Curtin and Stewart want as efficiently as they did in preseason.

Tribbett had a great preseason and earned his start on Sunday; however, the change preseason speed and regular season play seemed to catch the rookie off guard . He was lulled to sleep by the Dallas attack, and was out of position many times. Anderson was not what he was portrayed to be. A big, strong, Center back, who can distribute the ball not just clear it. He did not play well against Dallas and after this first game people are starting to compare him to last years loanee bust Steven Vitoria. The defenders were a group thrown together to try and stop one of the best attacks in MLS, and they did not receive much help from the midfield either.       

The Midfield was also made of odd combinations. Instead of putting newcomer Alberg at the 6, Curtin went with and ageing and slow Brian Carroll. The reason for this  was because of BC’s successes playing next to Nogueira in the holding midfield spot, which allows Nog’s to move forward with the attack. Carroll and Nogueira had bad games. Carroll left a huge space between the midfield and the defense, for Dallas’ attacker Diaz to get the ball and distribute forward. He seemed even slower than normal, and doesn’t seem like he can really keep up anymore.

Nogueira had an uncharacteristic day. When he went forward his passing was falling short. Usually he would be a maestro and work the ball around to the open Union players while moving forward. On Sunday he did not do this well, and was caught out of position many times when he did turn the ball over.  Ilshino was the midfielder in the attacking spot, filling in for the recently injured Barnetta. His creativeness was almost non existent as he was swarmed by Dallas defenders whenever he touched the ball. He was a very frustrated player on the day, which ended in the 60th minute, probably because of his fitness level and getting beat up by the Dallas defense. The midfield trio had a tough time doing anything productive for the U last weekend, and the wingers and attackers did not help the problem.   

Out wide left was Chris Pontius, which was expected, but in right midfield was Leo Fernandes. This choice made little sense to me. Yes, Leo is a solid young player, but putting him in front of Rosenberry, a rookie in his debut, made it look like the Union were playing to lose. Pontius did a decent Job on the left, but his lack of pace made it hard for him to get passed Dallas’ defense and also hindered his Defensive efforts which led to his departure in the 72nd minute of the game.

Leo was a different story he started wide right and when he got the ball he did little with it. He sat and danced on it as he did in preseason and couldn’t get any good service going from the right side. To go along with the rest of the Union squad on the day, he also had trouble getting back on defense to help out.

The lone striker CJ Sapong had a struggle against Dallas’ defense and a lack of service from the wingers. The ball would be played to him with his back to the defense and he seemed to get outmuscled every time, either that or he was flopping trying to get a call from the refs. He did for the most part nothing, getting only one shot on target in the game which led to him getting subbed off in the dying embers of the game. The attackers did not do their part, and looked uninspired in a game where if they could pressure the Dallas defense then maybe the game could’ve opened up a bit.

The subs, Alberg, Le Toux, and Herbers, gave some relief and creative spark to the Union, but it was not enough to change the pace of the game. Alberg took to the middle of the field and had a few good free kick chances that went just over or wide of the net. Le Toux looked like he should’ve started on the right the whole game as he put some pressure on Dallas’ left side. Herbers came in late in the game and had one shot on target, but was not given much time to actually make an impact on the game. Overall the whole squad was out of sorts, and uninspired. So what needs to be changed before their next game on Saturday against Columbus?  

Obviously there needs to be some big adjustments. For me I think you stick with Sapong up top, Ilshino at the attacking midfield spot, Nog’s as one of the holding midfielders, Pontius on the left,  Anderson and Rosenberry on defense, and Blake in goal. That leaves four spots that need to be filled; a winger, a holding midfielder, and two defenders.

I think the Union should put Le Toux out wide right. He seems to be the best choice in that position, even with the other players brought into the Union squad this offseason. I think he’s a little bit better than Fernandes against Columbus. I’d put Alberg next to Nogueira. They are similar players, but I think you need your best players on the field to be successful against a strong team like the Crew. As for the defenders you have to go back to the ones remaining from last year.

Gaddis and Marquez need to play to solidify the back Line, their presence could settle the other two rookies down, and create a good wall in front of Blake. Obviously these new players should only play if they are game fit and 100% healthy. So my projected lineup for the Union’s next match would be:

Pontius, Sapong, Le Toux, Ilshino Nogueira, Alberg, Gaddis, Anderson, Marquez, Rosenberry, Blake.

Hopefully with these proposed additions the Union can bring some points home from the Columbus game.   

Last Sundays debacle was one that characterizes a team that was not prepared. The amount of time players were out of position was ridiculous, and the passion was not there. Against the league runner ups Columbus Crew, you need passion, as well as, experience. With the proposed changes I’ve made the team would get both, and with it a chance at gaining some points for the team. Only time, and Jim Curtin will tell if these changes will be made on Saturday. I hope for the sake of all the fans, he changes some things up to create a team that plays with passions, and not like last weeks chickens with their heads cut off.


Mandatory Photo credit:
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images