Featured / Local

More inspiration, less perspiration (Piotr, we have gas in the tank)

My grandfather once gave me invaluable advice regarding car care. He told me to treat the fuel gauge as if the ¼ mark was actually the empty mark. The logic behind this, of course, was that I would never run out of gas. Yet my youthful improvidence would have none of this. I was invincible. I could not be depleted. Unfortunately, my gas tank could, and would, and I spent a couple of lazy summer afternoons on the side of the road waiting for a parent, or triple-A, or both to arrive and save me from myself.

In the months leading up to the 2011 Major League Soccer season, the Los Angeles Galaxy acquired the rights to veterans Juan Pablo Angel and Frankie Hejduk, 35 and 36, respectively. The pair would join Greg Berhalter, 37, David Beckham, 35 (and soon to be 36), Jovan Kirovski, 35 as Galaxy players in the twilight of their careers. Donovan Ricketts, John Saunders and Todd Dunivant round out the players over 30.  Team captain Landon Donovan is a mere 11 months from his 30th birthday.

The Galaxy is clearly in win-now mode. With the specter of a Beckham return to Europe looming large over the Home Depot Center, Bruce Arena and the LA front office saw the window of opportunity to add to the trophy case closing. Former U.S. international Hejduk is obviously playing out the last notes of his swan song. Juan Pablo Angel, scorer of 59 MLS goals in just 105 appearances, while not running on empty, has little left in the tank. David Beckham, with his world famous work ethic failing him, has been shifted to the center of midfield, his only contribution being long and dead balls.

The dude is there to win it NOW.

The 2011 Los Angeles Galaxy might, collectively, have a metaphoric 1/8 of a tank left. Will it be enough to round that final bend and stutter across the finish line? Only time (and maybe Real Salt Lake) will tell. Either way, the Galaxy is set up with only the next seven to eight months in mind—no need to fill up when you’re so close to home.

The 2011 Philadelphia Union, on the other hand, in their sophomore season, is quite far from title town.  Even in the weakened East, the Union realistically doesn’t have the talent or experience to win either the Supporter’s Shield or the MLS Cup this season. They lack depth, quality midfielders, wingers, and a true finisher up top. They’re not as good as New York in the East (particularly now that they’ve added DeRosario to an already dangerous attack) and nowhere near as good as Colorado, LA, and Salt Lake in the West.

That’s why the signing of former All-Star Carlos Ruiz is so strange and completely out of sync with the previous modus operandi of the Union front office—the youth revolution. Ruiz is an old 31—all creaky knees and no pace. The days of pumping in goals for LA and FC Dallas seem like ages ago. Sure, he’ll end up with 9 goals for the season and we’ll back our way into the playoffs before being dispatched by Sporting KC. But at what expense? McInerney and Mwanaga need to play to develop their abundant potential.

Migs keeping it...

And then there’s Stefani Miglioranzi. Thrown to the scrap heap by LA, Migs is one of the first names on any Nowak team sheet. He does well breaking up play and keeping the ball with tidy passes. However, with the signing of Brian Carroll, his presence is now redundant.  Sure, he looks great passing the ball backwards and sideways (and looks great in general if you ask my mom), but he lacks the dynamism required to advance the attack and the incisiveness to split apart opposing defenses.

The employment of two holding midfielders means the Union are set up not to lose rather than win. Ruiz is toothless without proper service. The narrow, defensive-minded midfield is incapable of linking up with the forward line, regardless of whether that line contains one, two or three forwards. The truth is, the Union midfield is full if perspiration in Carroll and Miglioranzi but lack the inspiration of Mapp and Torres. All perspiration and no inspiration make it difficult to be scored upon but nearly impossible to score. Losing 1-0 might win moral victories but not points.

The solution might be a tactical shift as well as a change in personnel. One organizational idea to try might be a 4-1-4-1, not unlike the formation used by Spain at the 2008 European Championship. In the role of Marcos Senna would be Brian Carroll, protecting a vastly improved back four. In the role of Fernando Torres would be Danny Mwanga, using his pace to get in behind defenses. On the flanks would be Mapp and Le Toux. This 4-1-4-1 would be asymmetrical with Harvey and Mapp deeper than Williams and Le Toux. In the center of midfield would be Kyle Nakazawa and Roger Torres. Yes, the latter gives the ball away more than Miglioranzi but you have to look at where he is attempting his passes. It’s one thing to have a pass percentage of 80% when you’re passing back to the goalkeeper and centerbacks, it’s quite another considering passes that seek targets in the final third.

The focal point of an asymmetrical 4-1-4-1.

Pass completion percentage, like most statistics, can be misleading. While it’s generally seen as a positive to have a higher percentage, you must analyze the depth at which those passes are being attempted and completed.  By definition, passing backwards and sideways isn’t positive, it’s negative. And while keeping the ball is important, scoring must be considered more so.

We are not title contenders like Los Angeles. We’re probably more than a season or two away from being a truly dangerous team. But the only way to get there is by developing our young talent.

So my plea to Mr. Nowak is to take off the handbrake and put the foot to the pedal. There’s a lot of gas in the tank.


  1. It doesn’t matter what has been written on PSP or any of the other soccer blogs.

    Nowak won’t listen – Migs will start again against NY – fuck up 100 times – and will be in there the next week against Seattle. Makes me wonder what type of deal he has.

    Migs barely even participated in the meet n greet. There has to be a better FA out there we can snag before 4/15.

    • Ryan Pine says:

      I don’t want to slag off Miggsie all day. It’s not so much that he’s bad, it’s just that he’s unnecessary. He’s surplus to requirements. He’s definitely a good professional, just one we don’t need. LA figured this out. We should too.

  2. If Nowak insists on starting Migs and Carroll, he should go with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Maybe:
    ……..Striker (NOT Ruiz)………
    At this point starting 3 strikers should be viewed as a failed experiment and Nowak and Co. should move forward onto something new or the old Mwanga/Le Toux partnership up top

  3. Thank you. What Nakazawa does needs to be considered in the context of what he attempts. He’s a positive player on a team that doesn’t exactly park the bus, but keeps it idling all game. The degree of difficulty in trying to feed balls to our offense must be a factor in how he’s seen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *