Will we see Philadelphia Union play multiple formations in 2019?


The Philadelphia Union have entered their final stage of preseason preparations. Since we are nearing the beginning of the first season of the Ernst Tanner rebuild, there are questions popping up left and right. How will the Union line up, will we see players playing different positions, will the core of young players take leading roles? Let’s address that first question?

The Union have played their first few preseason scrimmages, and have not lost yet. What is more important than the results of these matches is how the team has lined up. Philadelphia has been playing a 4-4-2 diamond formation. This formation is very different from the past 4-2-3-1, and gives us a look at how Ernst Tanner has wanted the team to play. This glimpse into on-field tactics has us thinking will this be the only formation the Union play in 2019?

4-4-2 Diamond:

As we’ve now seen, the Union have lined up in 4-4-2 diamond. This is a formation that would help the team live into the changes that Ernst Tanner has talked about. Pressing the opposition to make mistakes is the key. Capitalizing on the moment by moving forward, looking to turn the opposition’s mistake into a number opportunity and hopefully a goal. For more on how this formation fits the Union’s plans, check out Philly Soccer Page’s Steven Whisler’s article on the subject.

This seems to be the formation the team will default to. With the addition of Fabián, the Union have a number 10 to sit below which ever of the seven forwards make the two starting spots. The Union then will use shuttler’s in the center of the midfield ahead of their number six, Medunjanin. These shuttlers could be Bedoya, Creavalle, Jones or even Fontana and Aaronson. The back line is a normal back four like in years past. However the width in attack will come from the full backs, since there are no wingers.

This is plan A, but like Ernst Tanner said many times this offseason, Philadelphia will need a plan B or plan C. This may mean just changing personnel on the field in a set system/formation, but could we see the Union utilize other formations with the players they have?

4-4-2 Flat:

In a formation not all that different from the 4-4-2 diamond, a flat 4-4-2 is a formation the Union have the personnel for right now. The flat bank of four would change the type of midfielders being played on the field. The Union still wouldn’t use wingers.

This formation could the same two striker system with a target forward and a second striker making runs off of the first. Haris Medunjanin and Marco Fabián could be in the middle of the pitch with Bedoya and Fontana or Aaronson on the outside. While there would be wider midfielders, they still wouldn’t be wingers. The full backs will bomb forward to provide the width in this 4-4-2.

This 4-4-2 is a good alternative to the system they play right now, but if the Union want to change their formation to strengthen themselves against certain opponents, then they may try to utilize the next two formations.


Should the Union want to play to their overwhelming attacking strength, then maybe they play some games in a 4-3-3 formation. This style has been utilized by many of the top clubs in the world who look to press their opposition into submission. Think Liverpool, Manchester City and Barcelona.

This would allow the Union to play one target forward to play in the middle of the pitch, with two wide forwards who could run off of the center forward. Think of a formation with Burke, Picault and Accam, or Przybylko, Sapong and Santos, or any other combination of three forwards you’d want on the pitch. The midfield would look similar to either of the 4-4-2’s with Medunjanin at the center and shuttlers on either side; I’d be partial to Fabián and Bedoya in those roles. The back line would continue to stay the same, with full backs pushing forward in attack.

This formation would rely on an attack heavy team pressing effectively enough to make up for the lack of defensive players. This formation would make sense against a struggling who struggles to defend, as would the next formation.


Finally the formation you’ve all been waiting for; the 3-5-2. While this formation could work, it would be a huge step for the Union to change things this drastically. That being said, it is a formation that could be utilized in situations when the Union want to fluster teams in the middle of the pitch.

The three five two goes back to the two striker system the Union want to use. This formation creates a triangle of midfielders similar to the Union’s past formation the 4-2-3-1.  A number 10 to slots in under the strikers, while a number eight is behind the 10 to the right and the number six is behind on the left. A midfield triangle of Fabián, Bedoya and Medunjanin would fit nicely in this formation. Behind the midfielders and in front of a back three the wing backs would operate. These wings backs provide the width like the fullbacks would in the other formations for Philly. The back three would be three center backs; who wouldn’t love a back line of Trusty, Elliot and McKenzie?

This formation helps put the press on, but could leave the Union very exposed down the flanks. A 3-5-2 would help the team in the middle of the pitch, but get caught out of possession and the team could be in serious trouble that has fans flashing back to the problems the team had in 2018. Which makes this formation unlikely.

What can we expect?

Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Union only play the 4-4-2 diamond in 2019. They have enough players to play differently in that formation just by changing personnel. However should the Union need a shake up this season, any one of these other formations could help them keep their same high pressing style but just tweak the way they go about doing so.

Tomorrow Philly Sports Network will have more on how the Union are preparing for their 2019 season by taking a look at the players and what their specific positions will be in 2019.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union