Victory over New York stirs Frenzy and Foreboding

Posted on 11 April 2011 by Breton Bonnette

A second post from new ASN Philly contributor Matt Acciani. Let him know what you think in the Comments section below.

The Celebration, Contributed by ASN Philly's Lee Pease

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am no chicken little. I have no wish to create a perception of watching a clear sky then screaming that the heavens are crashing down. Saturday night was phenomenal and there is little to match the rush of beating a favored New York team, but once the high subsided the crash was a bit harder for me than I would like. I would like to classify myself a pragmatist. Staying honest with myself, I feel as though this match was not won by the Union so much as it was lost by Tim Ream (thanks, by the way!). A dearth of true scoring chances left the coach in me wrestling with the fan. One part of me is ready to charge through the streets, while another is preaching caution. The season is young, and Philly fans know heartbreak too well.

If I’m Piotr Nowak, here are my positive takeaways:

  • Mwanga and Torres are super-subs.*
    • *Mwanga seems, on this team, at this point in time, to be best suited coming off the bench. He thrived in a similar role at the beginning of last season. Coming in against a tired defense that has been tormented by Ruiz and Seba should bring a number of opportunities. The operative word is SHOULD. Torres also seems best suited to his current role. I would love to see his spark on the field over the course of a full game, but I think there are two things holding him back – his physical strength and that he avoids his right foot like many American kids avoid vegetables. He actually might like his right foot even less than that. If he can improve I think he will be one of the top midfielders in the league.
  • Okugo showed he is more than capable in the center of the park.
  • Four games in, the team has more shutouts than through the entire inaugural season.

Here are my concerns: 

  • There is still no connection between the defense and the attack, which means there is little to no possession over the course of a game.*
    • *The asterisk here is that the last ten minutes of the game, in which the Union actually held the ball well, are not indicative of the game’s efforts. It’s far more difficult to maintain possession against a team at 0-0 or down a goal than it is against a team that is desperately chasing a game they had controlled.
  • The commitment to defend is great from the players, but the concern for defense may be preventing the offense from developing.
  • The strikers are not operating as a unit, and typically find themselves isolated when possession is finally created.

When Adrian Healey compares the Union to Stoke City, Philly fans should grimace. Stoke is a solid mid-table team that is capable of competing with any team in the Premiership on any given day, mainly through a grinding physical defense and attacking through long balls, but is not a team that is capable of maintaining excellence over the course of a full campaign. For the Union, three wins in four games is phenomenal, but four games do not a season make.

The 4-4-2 obviously worked better Saturday than it has been, largely due to the fact that Mapp and Daniel actually manned the flanks. I still stand by my assertion last week that the 4-5-1 is the best lineup for this team.

Over the course of the game there was very little movement off the ball. As the ball moved up the field and past players, the Union men were generally content to watch and hold defensively. This typically left Ruiz and Seba to try and work through the Red Bull defense with support from only one to two midfielders. Hence the inability to maintain any real possession. A standard 4-4-2 requires the outside mids to shuttle forward and back throughout the game, thereby leaving the flanks open to counters. A 4-5-1 provides added midfield cover by encouraging the attack to build gradually by playing up to a forward, having them release the ball to a midfielder, then playing an overlapping runner, allowing the team to drive forward together in numbers. Ideally (see Spain’s national team, or Barcelona) a 4-5-1 turns into seven or eight men attacking. The width comes from the outside backs and the extra holding midfielder provides additional cover for the defense.

Compliments of Roger Torres, Contributed by ASN Philly's Lee Pease

Since the Union are so committed to defending as a unit, I see this as the only true option to play with any type of sustained attack while still, if implemented correctly, providing the necessary defensive strength to maintain what the Union have developed so well so far. This also addresses the issue that the defense is unable to connect well with the attackers. I am unwilling to believe the lack of control in the midfield is due to a lack of talent. Instead, too much responsibility is being placed on the center mids. While Okugo acquitted himself well, in my eyes he is a step up from Miglioranzi but not the attacking answer needed. Coupling him with Carroll behind Le Toux would, in my mind, create a devastatingly effective midfield adept at winning AND maintaining possession.

At the very least, the latest version of the 4-4-2 used Saturday could be re-shaped slightly to provide a similar effect. Le Toux and Ruiz spent a great deal of the early part of the game playing side by side with very little success. Without changing the lineup, if Le Toux drops underneath Ruiz slightly you essentially get a 4-5-1 lite. Le Toux will see more of the ball, and Ruiz should have more support when he receives the ball. This would have the added benefit of opening the corners more to release Mapp and Daniel into runs I would love to see more of. If Nowak is not in favor of these types of changes, let’s hope we can carry the fortune we saw Saturday (where the woodwork was given save of the game . . . twice). My heart wants to surrender to the Union, but I can’t quite shake the warning bells from my head.

6 Comments For This Post

  1. Luke Says:

    your right all the way on this. These were the games that we lost last year in stead of getting a tie. we’ve been lucky with a spritz of skill sprinkled in here and there. We need to get the midfield to connect more passes and to feed ruiz and letoux. I’d like to see a okugo / migs swap on the line up this week! DOOP

  2. Matt Acciani Says:

    Thanks for the feedback! I agree with you entirely — it shows a great deal of improvement that we’re getting results this year instead of finding ways to lose games, but the team needs to keep growing. The talent is there, and Nowak showed he’s willing to toy with the lineup. Let’s hope Le Toux drops a bit deeper and the team brings its possession game against Seattle!

  3. Guest Says:

    Thank you for pointing out that Mwanga started last year as a Super Sub, not as the offensive stud he later became. I best remember him for his wild equalizer against Dallas May 15th, then his stoppage-time dramatics at Houston 2 weeks later. I think he thrives the best when he can watch the game develop, then come in and run circles around the defense. I also think Torres is best suited as a sub as well (although that may not gain me many friends) for similar reasons. When he comes in, he goes right after the ball and tries to create scoring chances, and when the defense is tired it only heightens his speed and skill.

  4. Matt Acciani Says:

    Thanks for the response! I think you’re right. In time, I believe both players will develop into great starters, but for now their skill set seems best suited for coming off the bench. Mwanga reminds me of the NY/NJ Metrostars’ supersub Giovanni Savarese — a true offensive lightning rod off the bench. The Union’s success is going to come from playing to the strengths of the players on the roster — they’ve shown they can compete with and beat the big boys without, in my mind, playing the best soccer they’re capable of. Coming in fresh later in the game, Torres and Mwanga both create nightmares for defenders who have been dealing with Le Toux’s work rate and Ruiz’s antics (I’m in favor of adapting the little fish moniker to the little mosquito) for 60-70 minutes.

  5. Tom Says:

    Great analysis. Matt, this is one of this rare times I am actually in complete agreement with an author. I hope Nowak realizes that his current personnel would operate best in the 4-5-1, rather than decide to fight it and try to make the Union be something they’re not.

  6. Eli Says:

    I agree with the majority of your post, but cannot agree with you on Danny Mwanga coming off the bench. Not just because I think he deserves to start, but also because of how truly poor Carlos Ruiz at supporting his midfield, moving off the ball and holding or distributing it. Watching the match this weekend I was yet again shocked at how little Ruiz ever moved, leaving Le Toux to do all the chasing and when Ruiz finally did decide to get involved with the team, his runs were weak and slow and his touch was heavy and uncultured. Ruiz seems the definition of a late game sniper to come in and bang in the final scrappy goal, not a player to start the match, allowing the team to spend 60+ in a total funk.

    While Mwanga is certainly not yet the finished product, I cannot begin to understand why the chemistry he developed with Le Toux would be discarded so needlessly. Yes, he began the year off the bench and had great success but he developed into a strong starter and were it not for a nagging shoulder injury, might have finished the season with equally strong momentum. If he starts alongside Sebastien I think they will help each other and the midfield in a way that we haven’t seen yet and some of last years cohesion will return. Mwanga needs to do his growing up on the field and a bad Mwanga day is still better than Ruiz 90% of the time.

    And Danny isn’t an embarrassment to his team and the sport like Ruiz, diving and carrying on like a child. I’d rather see the Union play with dignity and self-respect, even if that means the opposition is assessed 1 or 2 fewer yellow cards each week. We cannot, at the same time, complain about the atrocious refereeing while supporting Ruiz’s style of play.

1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. The Philly Soccer Page » We’re number 2! I mean 3. Uh, make that 4. Says:

    […] ASN Philly has some tactical musings about the Union. My favorite line: “When Adrian Healey compares the Union to Stoke City, Philly fans should grimace.” […]

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