Jim Curtin Has Union’s Young Core Ready to Take MLS by Storm

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In my last piece, I highlighted and took a deep tactical look at the Union’s new formation that they have been experimenting with in pre-season, the 4-1-2-1-2 formation. Now I thought I’d go into a more focussed look and explain how I see this formation working in the short term and long term, specifically looking at midfield.

Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH

The Midfield to start the 2022 season

I think everyone can agree on the starting four of the midfield for the Union this season, and I’d imagine it looks a lot like this: 

With a 4-1-2-1-2 midfield, you already have your designated defensive and attacking midfielders, Martinez and Gazdag in the image above, so the other 2 normal center midfielders can be whoever the manager wants in there, depending on the role the manager wants them to fill. 

Usually, in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, you’d want 2 workhorses to fill those 2 central midfielders, so they can help out with the heavy press a usual 4-1-2-1-2 team deploys. However, you also have to think about when the team is going forward, and when they are too far back defensively to deploy that heavy press. 

This means you’ll want to have one of the two midfielders be a little better defensively and the other one be better going forward. Flach offers that defensive assurance and will help out covering for Wagner down the Union’s left-wing when Wagner needs to go forward to create width. Whilst Bedoya will offer more going forward, giving an outlet to Mbaizo down the right-wing to link with centrally. Both players have the freedom to do what they like, but that’s the roles they’d be expected to carry out for the majority of games. 

It’s an interesting concept to think about and honestly, I really think Jim Curtin and the backroom staff are thinking more of the future with this system than they are about the current. Sure, the system still suits the Union right now, it helps Uhre and Carranza to both play, the midfield roles suit the players the Union currently start, and the fullbacks are still allowed to bomb up and down the wings.  

The midfield of the future

However, in my opinion, the system is set up for the young core to come through, progress quickly, and get comfortable playing at the senior level:

Bueno fits the defensive midfield role perfectly, as I mentioned in my last piece, he has the ball skills and passing range to succeed there. But he can also fill in the role that both Flach and Bedoya will operate in. 

Paxten Aaronson has the backup number 10 role locked down since the departure of Jamiro Monteiro and will learn from Gazdag who’s the perfect player to learn from but the main star of this system will be Jack McGlynn. 

Jack McGlynn has really impressed me in the minutes he played last year and the film I’ve watched of him as a youth player, a true box-to-box midfielder who will thrive playing as a central midfielder in this formation and system. Jim Curtin has given the youngster some very high praise in pre-season, saying he’s taken the biggest leap he’s ever seen, especially in the soccer IQ part of the game. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he ended up taking Bedoya’s starting role by the end of the season. 

Bedoya is 33 years old now and whilst he’s still creating a lot of chances for the Union and still playing at a high level, it just seems to me that the Union has to consider who will replace him in the next year or two. For me, that player has to be Jack McGlynn and I think this season will be used a lot for McGlynn’s development as a player, his minutes will go up and his contribution with the team should go up too.  

The Union should definitely be challenging to win it all this season, just like they did last, and changing formation and system shouldn’t hinder that from happening. There may be some growing pains to begin with, but I truly think Jim Curtin is taking the right step with this change. This system suits the young core coming through in Philadelphia and it’ll allow them to really reap the rewards. Flach, Aaronson, McGlynn, Bueno, Carranza could be an incredible core to move forward with for years and years.

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Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH

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