2-1 loss at Orlando shows the Philadelphia Union’s fatal flaws

The Union lost their first match of 2017 in Orlando 2-1. As I pointed out in the preview for this match, there was a blueprint for success against Orlando. One, put bodies around Cyle Larin to take him out of the game; two, attack Orlando in the pocket of space between their D-mids and back line. The Union failed to do both of these things, and showed that they have major problems that need fixing in their upcoming off week. The Union’s fatal flaws were on display in week three; let’s take a look at them, and see if there’s any solutions.

The Union’s defense was broken down two times, by the one player they needed to keep in check. Cyle Larin is a superstar, and will be in Europe scoring goals soon, but until then he is who you game plan for. I’m sure the Union’s game plane was to limit his chances by putting bodies around him. The Union did a good job of limiting Larin, the only time they couldn’t control him was when the entire defense broke down.

As you can see from the clip above the Union’s back line was totally out of sync. Rosenberry, Onyewu and Marquez pushed high, seemingly to work the offside trap on Orlando’s attackers. Fabinho lagged behind his defensive teammates, resulting in keeping Rivas onside. Rivas received the ball and had space to work. Rosenberry did his best to get back to challenge, and Onyewu tried to get into the passing lane.

Unfortunately, both couldn’t stop Rivas from crossing. Marquez started the break marking Larin’s run forward, but as Rivas beat his teammates he shifted into the passing lane. This left Fabinho to cover Larin’s run. Fabi let Larin have way too much space, and couldn’t get to the ball before Larin did.Rivas crossed the ball to Larin who put the ball in the net giving Orlando the lead in the first half. This bad defensive sequence needs to be fixed!

The timing, and togetherness, of the back line on a offside trap needs to be worked on during this off week. There’s no reason for Fabinho to not be up with his other defenders to draw Rivas offside. As for the defensive shape to stop a break, the Union need to communicate better. there’s not need for two defenders to close down Rivas; Rosenberry should close him down and Onyewu should get tot the passing lane. If this happens then Marquez doesn’t need to shift into the passing lane, and he could keep close to Larin. Fabinho needs to work on staying with the line, and also getting back and contesting the opposition on the break. If Fabinho stays with Larin on his run, he could potentially make Larin’s attempt more difficult. Unfortunately the defensive woes were not over in this one.

The eventual game winning goal for Orlando showed how easily this back line can get disjointed. A failed press from the Union’s midfield resulted in a giant space ahead of the back line. A ball was played into the space by Orlando. To try to stop the attack, Marquez stepped up. This left space behind him for Larin to run to. Some good one touch soccer from Orlando found space to play Larin in on goal. The quick passing sequence drew Marquez and Fabinho forward. The ball was played behind them, leaving Onyewu on Larin. Larin burned Onyewu, and calmly slotted the ball past the onrushing Blake. The Union’s defense will need to work on positioning when their d-mids are pressing high.

The Union want to be a team that presses. This means there will be times where the back four will need to step up, to make a play, when the press is beaten. On the second goal, Marquez stepped up, as he should have, to pressure the ball. The rest of the defense should then get compact; Fabi should have shifted inside to fill the hole Marquez left, and Rosenberry should move closer to Onyewu to help if the striker runs off his back shoulder. If this happens there’s no space for Larin to run towards. When defending these breaks The Union need to have this shape.

One center back steps up to contest the break, while the others create a back three that is able to stifle the chances through the middle. The midfielders should be able to get back to help cover the wings, and recreate their normal shape in the time that the defense stops the break. The Union have a lot to work on, and time to do it. There’s almost two weeks till their next game. Which should be enough time to correct the mistakes.

As for the defensive personnel, I don’t think there will be any change on the back line in the next game. I think Curtin trust’s Fabinho, Marquez, Onyewu and Rosenberry, and while there are hungry players behind each of them on the depth chart, there doesn’t seem to be anyone that will take the starting spot from this established back four. Now let’s look at the Union’s offense, or lack of it.

Above is the one sequence that is the type of offense the Union are capable of pulling off. A cross from Herbers finds the foot of Bedoya, who flicks it on to Sapong, who heads home the opportunity. The Union are great at build up offense, the problem is that they have spurts when they can’t move forward as a cohesive unit. The Union’s attacking midfield was absent for the majority of the game.

The starters, Pontius, Bedoya and Herbers, rarely found the ball and when they did the not there was not much attack. Pontius found some success being the target winger he is; he had a few headed chances that missed for the Union. Other than those he was absent out on the left-wing. Herbers did his best to work back and get involved in the Union’s build up, he played the ball into the box that lead to the goal, but other than that he really didn’t do much for the Union going forward. The Most surprising absent member of the Union’s attack was Alejandro Bedoya. Aside form his lovely flick to Sapong, he was not able to get on the ball much. The absence of these three for the majority of the game, caused the Union to miss a huge opportunity.

There was a gap in between Orlando’s defensive midfield, and their back four the majority of the time when Orlando lost possession. Had the Union been able to attack that gap, they would have been able to find more/better chances to score. This happened a few times at the end of the game. When Fafa, Alberg and Ilsinho were the three attacking midfield players.

As you can see above, The additions of Ilsinho and Fafa on the wings helped the Union generate last-minute attacks. If it weren’t for the post, or Joe Bendik, the Union would have equalized thanks to the substitutes efforts. While Ilsinho and Fafa pushed the game, Alberg did little to make an impact in the middle. This was because the gap that had been between the defense and the d-mids was full; Orlando city sat back, bunkering down agaisnt the Union’s last chance efforts. So how will the Union be able to fix these issues?

Practice! Yes, I’m talkin’ bout practice. The Union need it, and will benefit from having over ten days to train as a group. Alejandro Bedoya will be with the US Mens National team competing in world cup qualifiers, but the rest of the squad will be in Philly training. The defense will get a lot of work, and the offensive players will be able to gain some confidence with the extra practice time. The hunger for the first win will drive them to give their all in practice and the next time they step on the field at DC United on April 1st.

Here’s the team stats and highlights from the loss in Orlando:

Stats:

Highlights:

Be sure to check Philly Sports Network for a recap of all the week four action around MLS, a look at the Hex and the US Men’s national team’s route to Russia 2018 and a preview of the US Mens National team’s World Cup qualifier vs Honduras this coming week. Until then, peace out Union fans.

 

Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

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