Analysis

Spotlight: Leo Fernandes

Photo: Paul Rudderow

There was a slim chance that Brian Carroll’s sickness would throw off the delicate balance of the Union midfield. After all, the roster had no like-for-like replacements for the captain.

But on Saturday, after finding out he would start only moments before warm-ups, Leo Fernandes made sure the league knew the 2014 Philadelphia Union is for real, and has depth.

Same as the old boss?

Just because the Union retained a triangle in the middle of the pitch doesn’t mean it at all resembled the midfield against Portland. Against the Timbers, Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu bracketed Diego Valeri defensively. Edu would step forward to join the attack and Vincent Nogueira, pushed high defensively, would drift wide to connect play.

Fernandes drops deep to create the Union's defensive shape.

Fernandes drops deep to create the Union’s defensive shape.

The positioning of the three central midfielders was much more stable against New England. As Edu said after the game, “Normally BC, he’s our rock. He’s the guy that protects the back four, he starts the attack for us by breaking up plays. I play alongside him, but it allows me to get forward more. Today, with him out, I kind of assumed his role and had to be a little bit more disciplined and really just hold back and defend the back four so that Vincent (Nogueira) and Leo could get forward and get into the attack. And they did well.”

The tip of the spear

Fernandes, in particular, played the offensive midfield role in a much different way than Nogueira did a week ago. Unlike the Frenchman, Fernandes stayed high and central offensively, essentially playing in the hole. On defense, he dropped deeper to break the link between the Revolution backline and midfield.

Early on, Fernandes established himself between the New England lines. Scott Caldwell and Andy Dorman were occupied with Nogueira and Edu, and Lee Nguyen was pushed too high to help defensively in the midfield.

Fernandes’ run to set up the goal is a perfect example of the type of positioning he used to exploit the space in front of the Revolution defense.

29Goalsetup

Fernandes drags Andrew Farrell wide.

Farrell, a right back by trade, sees the angled run and moves with it. Even if Fabinho hadn’t chosen to play the ball wide, Fernandes has created a huge lane of space for McInerney.

29goalsetupRun

McInerney is eyeing the space created by Fernandes’ run.

Fernandes complemented this off-the-ball movement with a simple passing game that allowed the Union to generate sustained offensive pressure on New England. Unlike Nogueira, who consistently moved wide to find the ball, Fernandes pushed up to the back four then checked back into space behind the midfield.

In the first half, Fernandes had time to pick his passes. In the second, the Revs forced him to play faster and more negative.

In the first half, Fernandes had time to pick his passes. In the second, the Revs forced him to play faster and more negative.

New England adjustments

The key to the second year man’s extremely effective first half was that the Revolution had no answer for these checking runs. In failing to track the check backs, they allowed Fernandes time to turn and facilitate play. Thus, the first half was able to move wide and encourage the rest of the midfield forward by creating central space and getting wide players involved.

In the second half, Lee Nguyen dropped deep to sit on Mo Edu. This allowed Andy Dorman and Scott Caldwell to follow Fernandes more closely and keep him from being influential in the final third. The clearest thing Fernandes’ passing chart shows in the second half is that he was rarely afforded space to turn and create in the opponent’s half.

What does the future hold?

While Leo Fernandes’ performance was in focus here, the real highlight of the Union’s win over the Revs was how the midfield adjusted without Brian Carroll. A lot of credit clearly goes to Edu and Noguiera, who adjusted their roles on short notice and allowed the new member of the midfield freedom to make deep runs.

To top it all off, the Union earned a shutout without Carroll protecting the back four. Going forward, Hackworth can consider using Carroll on the road and switching to a more attacking lineup at home. The major question to consider is whether this change minimizes Edu’s ability to impact the game.

No matter how they come out in the future, it’s clear this Union team can deviate from the Carroll-Edu-Noguiera formula and still control games. That alone goes a long way toward answering any questions about their ability to succeed over the course of the season.

3 Comments

  1. can Leo play right midfield?

    • Considering the way Fernandes seems to most comfortable centrally, he’d probably cut in too much if played on the right (like LeToux).

    • He might be worse than LeToux defensively, which is saying something…
      You know who might have been a perfect fit for RM with our mids? Marfan. And I never was a Marfan…fan

      Anyway, Leo’s perfect position is where he played Saturday. He just needs to learn how to adjust to the other teams adjustments.
      But I bet he jumped Hoppenots spot for #1 off the bench. He should be able to come in and help kill games and pull the CBs out for Mac to get behind.

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