Photo: Earl Gardner
It’s never too early to panic or find a scapegoat in Philadelphia.
With Philadelphia Union collecting just two points from their first four matches — and a winless streak dating all the way back to August 2016 — the blame has largely landed on the shoulders of Jim Curtin.
Some fans see Curtin as an incompetent manager, not fit for this new and dynamic era of MLS, and cite poor in-game adjustments, predictable tactics, a lack of creativity, defensive ineptitude, and a handful of other complaints to bolster their case.
While Curtin has been far from perfect, he must work with a roster that, with every passing week, appears to have more questions than answers.
For that, some serious questions land at the feet of Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose player acquisitions have been absurdly disjointed from on-field plans.
A year and a half is not enough time to cure the mess left behind by ousted Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz, but to place blame solely on Curtin or even the players is to ignore the real issues plaguing the 2017 Union.
The Union employ a rigid 4-2-3-1, a defined system in which each player has a specific role and contribution on each side of the ball.
Regardless of whether it’s a collective or executive decision by Stewart or Curtin and his staff, the club has made it known that this is the system they will implement, top to bottom, across the organization. Whether you like it or not, it is what it is, and it’s laudable to instill consistency in an organization that has long lacked a plan.
This year’s Union team definitely appeared on paper to be the most talented in the history of the club, but the team hardly looks effective. Talent alone doesn’t yield on-field results.
There’s been a lot of “In Earnie We Trust” from people since the former U.S. international arrived in Chester, and rightly so. Stewart’s accomplishments for previously middling clubs in the Eredevisie were impressive, and the hope has always been that he could bring the same chutzpah and results to the Union.
But the roster he assembled, no matter how talented it may be, does not fit the system the Union deploy.
Across the midfield, players acquired over Stewart’s tenure are incomprehensibly ill-suited for a 4-2-3-1.
- Roland Alberg is neither a No. 10 nor a standalone striker.
- Haris Medunjanin is a No. 6, but only if he has a ball-winning midfielder beside him.
- Alejandro Bedoya is not a No. 10, nor is he the sort of ball-winning No. 8 that Medunjanin requires.
- Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers are not traditional wingers.
Meanwhile, Jay Simpson does not appear to fit a single-striker system (though the sample size is small). On defense, the Union’s soon-to-be-well-tested center back depth depends on a rusty veteran and an extremely green rookie.
Whether it’s tweeners who don’t fit a definite position or players deployed out of position, the Union’s roster doesn’t fit the system.
Many fans and commentators have called for Curtin to switch to a two-striker setup, either a traditional 4-4-2 or aggressive 3-5-2. While the Union may very well have the personnel for either formation, that’s besides the point.
The plan is, and has been, for the Union to deploy the 4-2-3-1.
The onus is not on Jim Curtin to detour from an organization-wide principle because Stewart has failed to acquire the proper players to fit the scheme.
Could in-game adjustments be better? Absolutely.
Should player decision-making improve? No doubt.
Is this clumsy roster Jim Curtin’s fault? Hardly.
While Earnie Stewart’s record in the Netherlands is impressive, it’s time to start holding him accountable, just like everyone else.