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Looking at the Union’s starting midfield lineups

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

After the Philadelphia Union gave away the lead to draw with Houston at PPL Park on August 6, we posted an article that, among other topics, looking at the consistency question. The question wasn’t so much consistency on the field—little did we know that the Union were in the beginnings of an eight game winless streak. Rather, the question was how the Union’s performance may have been affected by the numerous starting lineup combinations in the midfield and forward positions. With the Union’s season now over, we look again at the starting midfield lineups, what they were, which ones were repeated, and how they did.

In the earlier article, we created charts by going through the starting lineups listed in the recap of each game to identify the midfield and forward starters. The chart below showing starting midfield lineups was created by going through the official roster statistics on the season as presented in the MLS Matchday game guide for the final regular season game against New York and the game guide for the second playoff game. As is usually the case when it comes to talking about formations in soccer, you may disagree with the inclusion of this or that particular player as a midfielder in the lineup of a given game. After all, when is Sebastien Le Toux (or Paunovic, or Adu), for example, a midfielder and not a forward? Hence our use of the starting positions as contained in the official league statistics to create the chart: for the purposes of the chart, a player was a starting midfielder when the official roster statistics say he was.

The totals in the discussion below were all hand tallied so let us know if you spot an error.

Many lineups

Over the 34 regular season games and two playoff games played by the Union in 2011, 26 different starting midfield lineups were used, 24 in the regular season and two in the postseason.

Midfield starts

Brian Carroll had the most starts as a midfielder (32), followed by Justin Mapp (22), Le Toux, Kyle Nakazawa (13) and Amobi Okugo. Freddy Adu (3) and Gabriel Farfan and Zach Pfeffer (2) had the fewest starts.

32 – Carroll
22 – Mapp
13 – Le Toux, Nakazawa
10 – Okugo
9 – Daniel, Miglioranzi, Torres
8 – M. Farfan
7 – Paunovic
3 – Adu
2 – G. Farfan, Pfeffer

Midfield formations

The Union used a four-man starting midfield 29 times in 2011 (14 home, 15 away). A three-man midfield was used twice (1 home, 1 way) in the second and third games of the season. According to the official season roster statistics, the playoff match against Houston was not the first time a five-man starting midfield was used with that number of midfielders starting five times (3 home, 2 away) over the 36 games played in the 2011 season. But in each of the other four times a five-man midfield was started, the Union retained a four-man backline with a lone striker rather than the three-man backline and two forwards seen against Houston..

In terms of percentages:

  • a four-man starting midfield was used 81 percent of the time for a 8–7–14 record
  • a five-man starting midfield was used 14 percent of the time for a 2–2–1 record
  • a three-man starting midfield was used 5 percent of the time for a 1–1–0 record
Repeated lineups

Of the 36 games played in 2011, a starting lineup was repeated 16 times. In those 16 games, six different midfield lineups made consecutive starts a minimum of two times. Of those six consecutively repeated lineups, four were repeated two times and two were repeated three times. Of the six lineups that saw a minimum of two consecutive starts, two of those lineups also made a nonconsecutive start. In both of those instances, at least one month separated the nonconsecutive start from the consecutive starts.

Breaking those numbers down into percentages:

  • of the 26 starting midfield lineups, 23 percent (6) were repeated
  • the 16 games that featured a repeating midfield starting lineup account for 47 percent of regular season games (34) and 44 percent of all games (36) played by the Union in 2011
  • the two games featuring a nonconsecutive repeated lineup account for 13 percent of the 16 games that featured a repeating lineup

The 25 different starting midfield lineups tallied 16 assists and 16 goals. Midfielders entering a game as a sub accounted for one assist (Nakazawa) and one goal (Torres). Starting midfield lineups had two multiple assist games, with two in the 3–0 win at New England and three in the 3–2 win against Chivas USA. The starting midfield lineup scored multiple goals four times. Three of the starting midfield’s goals came from Sebastien Le Toux penalty kicks.

In percentages:

  • midfield starting lineups accounted for 42 percent (16) of the Union’s regular season assists (38)
  • midfield starting lineups accounted for 36 percent (16) of the Union’s goals (44)
  • including the post-season assist, staring midfield lineups accounted for 44 percent of the Union’s combined regular season and post season assists (39)


  1. The Union used 26 different starting midfield lineups in 36 games played in 2011.

    That …. doesn’t happen for any other soccer team right?

  2. Matthew Ross says:

    I look at 2011, the Union’s 2nd season, as “the year of experiments”. Now that all of the lineups have been tried, Nowak needs to pick a starting lineup and stick with it (of course their will be adjustments for particular matchups, injuries, cards and resting players).


    ….So you are saying the coach gave a lot of chances to a lot of people to play and perform to see who would be best? Uh?? Second year team with a lot of players with potential? How are you going to keep young talent if they don’t play?

    • That’s a valid point. There is a general consensus around here that Nowak’s lineup experimentations and inconsistency led to many lost points throughout the season….and a lack of understanding on the field among the players. I kinda think any quality team should have depth and mid field players that are inter changeable…and that a coach should produce a lineup that utilizes player strengths against upcoming opponents.

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