Tag Archive | "Tactics"

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Comments (7)

Tags: , , ,

Three Games In, A Tactical Look Back

Posted on 04 April 2011 by Breton Bonnette

This is the first entry of new ASN Philly contributor Matt Acciani. He’ll be posting throughout the season on the tactical side of all things Union although his scope may not be limited to just tactics. We’d love for this to start a dialogue so please share your thoughts, criticisms, and compliments freely, and welcome Matt aboard.

Two wins and a loss after three games is a deal I would have willingly taken prior to the start of the season. Tack on two shutouts and the realistic chance for a result in a loss at L.A. and I would have been ecstatic. After these results, there is a great deal to celebrate. However, as is often the case, winning tends to whitewash the cracks in the foundation.

This team possesses a number of flaws that could prove disastrous as the season unfolds. There are serious chinks in the defensive armor, specifically in the ability to track marks and individually defend. Each of the back four took turns being undressed by Galaxy attackers and Leonardo’s goal came on an inability to maintain marking throughout the attackers run. However, the team’s commitment to defending by committee, which saw plenty of defensive cover when the one v. one defending collapsed, and only allowing one goal in three matches, means that, for now, the defense is holding. The hope that defense would be the team’s strength that proved false last year seems to be a reality. The pressing issue is the offense. Despite six points from nine, the offense has not looked particularly dangerous. Despite having, on paper, a plethora of offensive talent, the ability to sustain pressure and create multiple quality opportunities is lacking. In my mind, the main problem is the disappearing act the midfield has pulled, which results from running formations that don’t seem suited to the strengths of the players. There are a myriad of ways to play and formations to choose from, but it seems obvious that the 4-4-2 that has been trotted out to start the past two games is not working.

The key to choosing a formation is playing to the team’s strengths. On paper, that would be putting out the three talented attackers, Le Toux, Ruiz, and Mwanga. While there is little argument that all three players are capable of starting in the league, the Union does not benefit from all three together. Perhaps time will create more chemistry, but other problems exist. The foremost issue is that the midfield seems incapable of both providing possession to the strikers, as well as support when they receive the ball. The result is an inability to maintain control of the ball and develop repeat goal scoring opportunities, which then creates more pressure on the defense. As of now, the starting midfield has Le Toux nominally deployed on the left flank, Nakazawa on the right, with Carroll and Miglioranzi in the center. In reality, Le Toux pushes inside and forward, and Nakazawa moves centrally as well. The result is essentially a scattered 4-3-3. Le Toux is without argument the most dangerous player the Union have. He needs to be moved forward towards goal. My main problem with Nakazawa is that he seems to primarily be present for providing service on set pieces. He has contributed little else in his minutes thus far. Carroll and Miglioranzi are both quality players, but both are more destructive than constructive. Combined with Le Toux’s ranging forward and Nakazawa’s ineffectiveness means that there is almost no connection between the midfield and the strikers and the Union resort to hoofing the ball up from the back for much of the game. The seeds for success are there, and every once in a while glimpses of quality play shine forth, but they are discouragingly few and far between. Plainly said, the Union must generate more chances to compete with the top teams in the league.

There are several formations that could benefit the Union more than the 4-4-2 has thus far. Either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 plays more to the players’ strengths. Le Toux should be put in the center of the park where he can be more directly involved in the play than he has been thus far. Remember that he was employed as a wide player in Seattle where he was unremarkable enough to be left unprotected in the expansion draft. More should be done to maximize his ability to affect a game. A 4-2-3-1 seems to play most to the players the Union have. Without touching the back four, Miglioranzi and Carroll can sit as holding midfielders which maximizes their strengths of winning possession, while both providing extra midfield options in possession and placing less pressure on them to create offensive opportunities. Le Toux should then play at the head of the three attacking midfielders, providing the creative link between defense and offense and allowing him to have more touches on the ball. To me Ruiz is the best option as the target. This formation allows him to hold the ball, release to an attacking midfielder, then turn and run. After watching his first three games, I think this would suit his playing style. Mwangathen provides a quality option off the bench as the game moves on. For those who hold a different view, I would not argue too strenuously against playing Mwanga over Ruiz as the starter, though I think Ruiz has more polish. This leaves the question of who to play on the wings, which has been the biggest weakness of the team so far. I have little confidence in Nakazawa, but this formation would allow him to start more withdrawn into the midfield, which may help his performance. Torres could be a great option on the left, adding some creativity and vision to a midfield that is sorely lacking right now. Keon Daniel looks to have the tools but was reticent about going at defenders on Saturday. Sheanon Williams looks like a born winger, but messing with the defense right now is unnecessary at best and destructive at worst. The sooner Mapp returns the better.

The other formation option is a 4-3-3. This could allow for all three strikers to be played together, and would draw Nakazawa into the center of the park, where he is obviously more comfortable, but comes with serious concerns. While the three holding midfielders would provide solid defensive cover in the center of the park the flanks would be exposed, which has already shown to be problematic against Houston, where Brad Davis tormented Williams all night as he had plenty of space and freedom to drive forward at him. Additionally, one of the central midfielders would be called on to be the playmaker and combine with the strikers. This brings us back to the problems we’ve already seen, where the nominal 4-4-2 has devolved into a poor man’s 4-3-3. Of course, another option could be to maintain a classic 4-4-2 and employ Le Toux back at forward. He, Mwanga, and Ruiz may be the best attackers the team has, but playing all three together from the start may not create the best 11. Additionally, a set with three in the back could be considered, but that would mean less cover for the defenders individually, and the weakness in one on one situations concerns me if this formation were to be used outside of having a man advantage.

The bottom line is that what we have seen thus far has worked narrowly twice, and failed to provide any spark in Los Angeles. There is a great deal of promise in this squad and with a few tactical tweaks to play to the strengths of the squad the Union could be a force to be reckoned with. Nowak would do well to bear in mind that the most talented 11 players on the squad may not make the strongest team.

Comments (1)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here