Photo: Paul Rudderow
Sometimes you run out of things to write about a topic. Maybe you’ve said them already. Maybe you lack creative inspiration. Maybe you don’t have time to write the more detailed, big picture pieces that will come later.
So if any of this seems like you’ve read it before, that might be because you have, and nothing changed.
A tired team
Philadelphia Union looked tired Saturday, and they should. It was their third game in eight days, and their sixth game in 22. That’s one game every 3.7 days. (They’ll get another game Wednesday against Columbus.) And it was a road game.
With minimal squad rotation, there should be little surprise this team played listlessly. Nobody was outright horrible. It’s just that nobody was particularly good. This was a team that ran out of steam and was content to get a road draw, even against a team as bad as Toronto.
Any time you hear the Union talk about having a deep squad, you should be skeptical, as PSP’s Adam Cann explained last week.
They may be deep in quantity, but not in terms of who Union manager John Hackworth trusts to be on the field. On the back line, there’s basically nobody, now that Gabriel Farfan and Bakary Soumare have been traded. They’re fine at forward, with four solid options (McInerney, Le Toux, Casey, Hoppenot). In midfield, Hackworth looks to just a handful of players, which sometimes forces the forwards to play midfield. Even at goalkeeper, backup Chris Konopka surprisingly didn’t get a shot to play in the Union’s U.S. Open Cup match against semipro Ocean City. Hackworth has made a good choice to fully commit to winning the U.S. Open Cup, because trophies change team cultures (Seattle, Kansas City), but is Konopka really that much of a drop-off from Zac MacMath?
Hackworth is still remaking the roster into the squad he wants, and he clearly doesn’t have it yet. Given the mess he inherited last year, that’s not surprising, but that (valid) excuse won’t last forever.
The Union midfield: A chemistry experiment gone wrong
The Union’s most common midfield foursome is a classic case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts.
Individually, all four Union regular midfielders are quality players. Collectively, they are one of the league’s most ineffective midfields. Whatever John Hackworth thinks of their individual talents, everyone has seen a large enough body of work by now to recognize these pieces don’t fit well together, particularly without a good target forward (i.e. Conor Casey). They have no chemistry. They operate in a fashion disconnected from each other.
I’ve detailed this before, so click the link and scroll down to “A disconnected attack — midfield” for passing charts, heated maps and detailed explanations of the group dynamic. Nothing has changed.
Separately, here’s a summary on what’s happening individually with each of the four.
- Michael Farfan
When deployed on the right side, Farfan is a dangerous one-on-one attacker who uses the end line like a tight rope. On the left, he becomes invisible, as his one-on-one dribble breakdowns take him into defensive traffic in the center of the field with no viable left-footed overlap threat out wide to keep right backs honest.
- Keon Daniel
Individually, Daniel is an agile ball-handler with a left foot good for crosses, long-distance shots, free kicks and corners. But he does not attack. He stabilizes and keeps possession. He may be a center midfielder, but he’s not a center attacking midfielder (CAM).
- Danny Cruz
Cruz is fast and fearless and can pressure weak defenders (Wells Thompson, Doneil Henry) into mistakes with good runs and relentlessly physical play. But he lacks technical proficiency in the final third and sometimes makes so many runs that he takes himself out of defensive position and the midfield passing game, putting pressure on others to do more.
- Brian Carroll
When partnered with a creative central attacker and flank players who uphold their defensive responsibilities, Carroll sweeps up midfield as well as anyone in MLS. But his limitations are obvious. He needs the right partner.
As for Kleberson, whatever skill he brings to midfield may be counteracted by his apparent softness.
The Union may not have the league’s worst midfield, not while Chivas USA exists, but they’re probably close. The shame is these guys are individually talented players. But they fit together like oil and water.
The easiest fix is Farfan. Flip him back to the right side, and he’s a different player. Start there. The rest can follow.
Ocean City steps up
The Ocean City Nor’easters stepped up big time on the field last week at PPL Park. In their 2-1 U.S. Open Cup loss to the Union, their young players did their team proud.
Often, the Nor’easters are overlooked in the region because, unlike the Harrisburg City Islanders and Reading United of USL, they haven’t affiliated with the Union. After qualifying for U.S. Open Cup five times from 2002-2009, they hadn’t qualified during the era of Major League Soccer in the Philadelphia region until last year.
But Ocean City regained its good form in 2012 after Rutgers-Camden coach Tim Oswald took over as coach. Ocean City won its division in the PDL – finishing ahead of rival Reading United – and a spot in the U.S. Open Cup.
They may be out of the cup, but they’re definitely a team worth watching.