The Union have had an interesting start to their 2018 campaign. Beating a short-handed New England side, drawing a scary Columbus team, and losing to Colorado out west doesn’t give much of a basis to go off of. However, there are some major parts to the Union’s play that have stood out. These things could define the Union’s 2018 season; rocketing Philadelphia either to success or to bitter failures. We’ll look at those, and all that’s happened to the Union this past week, and the weekend to come, in our latest edition of Doop Roundup.
A glance back at Colorado:
Let’s first look at the 3-0 thrashing the Union received last weekend at Colorado. Before the tough result the Union were stranded at the Denver Colorado airport, thanks to a snow storm. After a long day of travel and not getting settled in until after midnight, the Union were finally able to prepare for their matchup with the Rapids. Their preparation seemed to be going well, as the team trained for two days in the higher altitude. Then game day came.
The Union started the youngest back line in MLS history, whilst their attack had a good opportunity to show their worth against a suspect Colorado back four. The first half came and went, the Union showed well defensively, and in their build up play. Their product lacked in the final third which has been the case for most of this young season! As the second half came The Union broke down.
On the three goals given up. The Union were late to react to a set piece on the first, allowed Badji too much space (the defense sat back and the midfield didn’t help out) on the second and the third was a case of tired legs. Allowing those types of goals is bad, and part of the growing pains this young defense and disjointed midfield will endure over the course of this season. It’s something that needs to be fixed, but that will only come with time on the field together.
With this bad result now in the past let’s focus on how the Union look. Starting with their crazy young back line!
The Young Back Line:
The average age is 21 years, 115 days.
— MLS Communications (@MLS_PR) April 1, 2018
The Union’s young defenders made history in the Union’s 3-0 loss to Colorado. Their age and inexperience played a bit of a factor on the last two goals allowed, but let’s focus on the positives of what this group achieved and what they can do moving forward.
The youngest starting back line in MLS history all show qualities of MLS mainstays, and could be the foundation of this team for years to come. For now their will be growing pains, which could mean that the Union won’t do too well this season. However, the intangibles that this young group shows are promising.
Breaking Down the Four:
Keegan Rosenberry is the oldest of the four on this back line. He development has been rocky over the past two seasons; playing at an all-star level his first year, and like a bench warmer his second season. Now he seems to have the right back spot locked up, and his play making abilities, and leadership tendencies, make him the leader of this back line. His ability to be an excellent 1v1 defender, as well as, his great nose for creating attacks on the wing make him a perfect outside back.
Next to Rosenberry is second year center back Jack Elliott. The young Brit has exceeded expectations. Being one of the few positives from a bad 2017 season, he has shown great qualities. He has been a steadfast defender, while also showing great distribution ability. The fourth round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft has been solid as a rock on the Union’s back line.
The Union’s left side of their young defense both hail from southern Delaware County just outside Philadelphia. Homegrown’s Auston Trusty and Matt Real are new to MLS, but have shown qualities that could make them stars. Media native Auston Trusty, has shown the strength, and recovery speed to be a great center back. His ability to also move forward on the ball when pushed out wide makes him a great threat starting attacks as well. Drexel Hill native Matt Real, has what you want from a left back. He can shut attackers down, and has the wits to move forward and get into the attack. While he may still be Fabinho’s understudy, Real shows real promise.
A New Era:
This young back line is a testament to the Union’s commitment to building their team through their academy system, as well as through the MLS SuperDraft. While we are at the beginning of this groups tenure, don’t be surprised to see these four for years to come!
Now we have to turn our attention to the other end of the team…
The Problems in the Attack:
Spells of outright dominance from the Union, but not great central penetration through midfield. pic.twitter.com/RLI0Qb4Ph4
— Adam Cann (@adamtcann) April 1, 2018
As Adam points out in this tweet above the Union have a problem with their attack, specifically when they move into the final third (If you haven’t read any of Adam’s work for Philly Soccer Page, please do so! His stuff is great!). When it comes time for the final pass to be made, or for someone to pull the trigger and shoot, things are going wrong. It’s either a square pass, when a through ball is needed, or an unnecessary extra pass when a shot is needed. This could be due to the newly put together attack not gelling yet, or it could be a bigger problem.
If the style of play is dictating the way the Union’s attackers attack, then there could be a huge problem in the way the attack moves forward. The majority of the Union’s attack has gone has been playing the ball on the wings and having outside backs overlap to create crosses into CJ Sapong. The Problem with this type of attack is that it take the Union’s new attacking pieces out of the equation. If the attack continues to move that way, the speed of David Accam is wasted while he waits for the left back to make an overlapping run. This type of attack also takes the ball away from Borek Dockal. If Dockal isn’t able to create plays in the middle of the pitch, his game is completely wasted. So why is this problem occurring?
The Root of, and Solution to, the Problem:
The Union have been without a worthy number 10 since Tranquillo Barnetta left the team 2 years ago. Since the team has had to make up for not having a playmaker in the middle of the field, they found ways to attack on the wing. This has led to the Union’s current play style. Now with Borek Dockal, a player who is better on the ball then off it, the Union once again have that playmaking number 10. The problem is they are not running the offense through him.
If Philadelphia can do this, like they did with Barnetta, the offense will be efficient and have consistent chances to score. Getting Borek on the ball in the final third will take pressure away from Sapong, will give Accam more open space on the wing to get in behind defenses, and will allow the Union to push more men forward to overwhelm the opposition. The solution to the attacking problems is simple, unlearn the habit of over-complicating things in the final third.
This Union attack is talented and when at full strength can be very dangerous in very different ways. The key to unlocking the offensive success is having their number 10 on the ball in the final third, and taking advantage of the chances that come from that. Once this new attack gets used to each other, they will figure this out. Whether they figure out their spacing and movement sooner rather than later has yet to be seen.
One player who could help unlock the Union’s offensive power will be on the pitch for the first time in 2018 this coming weekend!
The Return of Fafa:
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) April 4, 2018
Winger Fafa Picault will be available for the first time in 2018. He was suspended for the first three match of the 2018 season by MLS for saying some naughty words in a scrimmage against Orlando City SC back in February. His three game, five-week suspension due to the bye week and international break have hurt the Union so far this season. His speed and attacking quality has been missed. With Fabian Herbers in the starting 11 for the first three games, he has been more a cut inside, and try to create. Picault is more about blowing by defenders and creating mismatches.
Head coach Jim Curtin wouldn’t mention if Fafa would be a part of the starting 11, or come off the bench this weekend vs San Jose. However he will play a part in a game where the Union have to bounce back.
Before we take a look at the Union’s upcoming match with San Jose, lets take a look at some other stories on the Union that have come out recently.
Other Stories of Significance:
News: Sources tell me that Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart and former New York Red Bulls exec Ali Curtis both interviewed for the USMNT GM job: https://t.co/NYLErjTe6R
— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) April 5, 2018
This story came out of nowhere, and will no doubt be met with mixed emotions. It’s been reported that Earnie Stewart interviewed for the US Soccer GM job. While this doesn’t mean that Earnie is leaving Philadelphia, but it is surprising to see so early in the season. The Red Bulls executive Ali Curtis also interviewed for the position.
Who knows where this will go…
Excited to announce our new U-Ride Bus Program! We are looking for Bus Captains, who will receive a free ride to and from the game! Reach out to your Fan Service Rep if you are interested & want more info on becoming one! 🚌https://t.co/x4reXSiRBA
— Union Fan Services (@UnionFanService) April 6, 2018
For those who have ever wanted to go to Union games but getting to Chester from Philly, now there’s something for you. The Union announced a new shuttle service that can bring fans to Talen Energy Stadium for $15. This is a huge moment for the Union who are looking to bring more fans to Chester to pack the fortress that is Talen Energy Stadium.
Check out the new service and let us know how it is!
Snowy Showdown with San Jose:
*a wild orange ball appeared* pic.twitter.com/NCJDOFHMJh
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) April 5, 2018
The Union have a chance to right their wrongs from last weekend against a San Jose team coming across the country. The California team will be met with some harsh weather. 1-3 inches of snow is in the forecast for saturday. As you can see the Union are preparing for it by practicing with Orange balls.
As for how San Jose stack up. They have played the same starting 11 in their three matches this season. The Earthquakes started the year hot with a 3-2 win over Minnesota united but have cooled off in their last two games losing 3-2 to Sporting KC and 2-1 to NYCFC. San Jose look to hold off Union attacks and break forward utilizing the skills of Danny Hoesen, Vako and of course Chris Wondolowski.
The Union will have to be ready for the Quakes breaks, and control the possession to be successful. With Anibal Godoy and Florian Jungwirth clogging up the middle of the pitch it may be hard for Dockal to find a lot of space to operate. This match will rely heavily on the ability of Dockal to make the most of his opportunities when on the ball in the middle of the field, and will hing on the ability of the winger to get in behind san Jose’s defense.
Speed kills, and that is what the Union will have on both wings for the first time in 2018.
Projected Starting 11:
The addition of Fafa Picault from the jump makes the Union’s offense more dynamic, as I stated earlier it will help free up space down the middle for Dockal and Sapong to find the danger areas. Look for his addition to provide a spark offensively. Accam will need to step up his game as well. He has underperformed in his first three games, and is likely itching to get his first goal for the Union.
On the defensive side of the ball look for Keegan Rosenberry to have another huge impact shutting down attacks on the right. Auston Trusty and Jack Elliot will have to be solid to stop Chris Wondolowski who continues to score goals. As for Matt Real, jim Curtin asked him to be more intentional moving forward, maybe we’ll see him find a way to slip Accam in on goal.
In terms of subs, I’d expect this group of players to be on the bench:
McCarthy; McKenzie, Gaddis; Jones, Ilsinho, Fontana; Burke.
I’d expect to see Burke come on for Picault at some point in the second half, and for Derrick Jones and Anthony Fontana to feature as well later on in the match.
The Union need to bounce back after a tough first loss of the season. In cold winter-like conditions against a team traveling across the country makes for a great opportunity. I see the Union getting back in the win column winning a thriller 3-2.
The Season is Still Young:
For anyone who may feel a little perturbed of the start to the Union’s 2018 season ,remember that it’s still early, and this time last year the Union had no wins. The time to panic and write this team off is not now. If they lose in another blowout this time at home, then some of your concerns will be justified, but for now, have some faith that these guys will find a way to play some great soccer!
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports