Fixing the Union: A few ideas

Photo: Earl Gardner

It may still be April, yet the Union front office/coaching staff have already seen some of the ample supply of goodwill they earned with a positive offseason begin to dwindle. With all the quality acquired for 2014, the Union have only one win from their first eight matches.

Even worse, during the last two games — a road loss against New York Red Bulls and a home draw against a struggling Houston Dynamo side — the Union looked short of attacking ideas and general intent.

With a chance to take down Eastern Conference bottom-dwellers Montreal Impact this Saturday, changes need to be made. But what can be done to ensure that the Union squad that opened the year so brightly begins to put together some victories? Here are a few ideas.

1. Define Nogueira’s role
Vincent Nogueira's completed pass chart vs. Houston

Vincent Nogueira’s completed pass chart vs. Houston

Vincent Nogueira’s positioning is a problem which John Hackworth must address.

It is a problem not because he’s playing poorly, or because he’s not giving effort, but because he is doing so much work and covering so much ground that he is too often not in position to influence the attack from the center of the pitch or even in the attacking third of the field, where the Union need the most help.

It was a similar story against Houston, as Nogueira’s passing chart demonstrates (see right). He was everywhere. Whether he was showing for the ball, controlling possession, or pinging the ball around metrononmically, Nogueira was yet again the focal point for the Union. But that focus was rarely near enough to goal to cause much trouble for the Dynamo backline.

If Nogueira is to become the Union’s leading creator, as the coaching staff expects him to be, he needs to concentrate a more of his efforts in the attacking half. As an example of what can happen when he does get into that space, look no further than the ball he played for Andrew Wenger’s first Union goal. Additionally, taking up a more consistently attacking stance would allow Maurice Edu to better define his own role as he continues to settle into the Union formation. A more advanced Nogueira would mean that Edu could become the primary recipient for passes out of the back, allowing him more touches in space as the Union look to build.

However, if Nogueira is not going to have his role restricted by the coaching staff, then they should look for someone else to assume those duties and allow the fantastic Frenchman to officially drop back into the box-to-box role that he prefers. With Brian Carroll and Edu already entrenched in that deeper level, such a move would necessitate a rethink on how both of those players are deployed.

2. Switch depths, not fields

This one shouldn’t even need to be said: It didn’t work last year; it didn’t work the year before. It doesn’t work.

Flipping wingers and rotating forwards and midfielders at short 5-10 minutes intervals (or sometimes shorter) simply does not confuse defenses. With all that running around, MLS defenders are more than happy to sit back and watch the Union go through their motions.

Against Houston, with so many upfield passes going awry, the Union forwards rotated so frequently that the only players they seemed to confuse were their deeper lying teammates.

This is not to say that the Union should pin their wingers to the touchline and leave them there. Smart movement off the ball is what opens up space for attackers to run into and lanes into which fullbacks can overlap.

So instead of switching fields, Sebastien Le Toux, Leo Fernandes, Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana and whoever else finds themselves out wide need to drop deeper into the field to get touches and get relief from the constant pressure applied by outside fullbacks.

Against New York, both Le Toux and Fernandes were often guilty of laying off a short pass to their respective fullback before turning tail and bolting up field, so leaving the fullback without a simple passing option. As a result,  both Fabinho and Gaddis were forced to turn the ball back in field to the outlet offered to them by Maurice Edu or Nogueira. And just like that, the linkage between the midfield and the forward line was severed.

Taking the time to possess the ball and move it with purpose around the edges of an opponent’s 18-yard box is critical to creating scoring chances. This is no aimless possession around midfield. Not only does it give players like Maidana and Nogueira a chance to pick out the killer pass, but it also allows for the late runs of Edu and the fullbacks, bringing even more bodies into the play.

3. Better control of fullback positioning

A  speedy, overlapping, attacking fullback can be a coach’s best friend and a ready-made cure for a team suffering from a chronic lack of width.

However, you can have too much of a good thing. At the moment, that is where the Union find themselves.

True, the chances Fabinho, Sheanon Williams, and to a lesser extent Ray Gaddis are taking to push play high up the flank often succeed in pinning back opposing fullbacks. However, there is an unforeseen side effect to so much pressure. Despite winning the flanks, the Union are caving in centrally to cover up for their spatial victories out wide.

Rather than the pushing the center backs forward to either side of Brian Carroll and condensing the play into the opponent’s half, the Union captain is sitting deeper and deeper, inserting himself into Amobi Okugo’s right center back spot and forcing Okugo to essentially slide to right back. Edu is then left to control the void in the actual center of midfield, while Nogueira flies around putting out fires all over the pitch. The end result is a fullback high up the pitch ready to deliver crosses and cutbacks into the box, but with a lack of bodies there to receive them, let alone distribute or create in the center of the park.

Obviously, this has its detriments at the defensive end as well. When Carroll was rested against New York, it was Okugo sprinting out to his right to cover runners who had gotten behind the overly adventurous Gaddis that led to both goals. Yes, had Sebastien Le Toux tracked Roy Miller on the opener, that goal may not have happened, but the fact remains that Gaddis committed to a tackle too high up the pitch rather than sitting off and picking up whichever player ended up making the final run. Had he cooled his heels and communicated with Le Toux to contain the play, the space behind him couldn’t have been exploited.

For the Union to go back to winning ways — and consistently stout defending — getting a handle on when fullbacks commit, both defensively and offensively, will be crucial to insuring that opposing teams don’t feast on the spaces behind them.

4. Don’t automatically funnel towards goal

Funneling defensive play towards goal is one of those cardinal rules dished out by youth coaches. As soon as the opposition wins play and counters, players are drilled to work quickly back towards their own goal. With young players, it not only gets their feet moving in the right direction, it also instills a sense that the play is not over once a turnover is committed. And it is a valuable lesson to keep teaching youngsters.

But it is a rule that has exceptions, especially at the highest levels of the game, and the Union would do well to spend a significant amount of practice time focused on them. The reason to spend extra time on the exceptions is because too many bodies in navy and gold shirts are collapsing into Zac MacMath’s box without having the requisite awareness of where, in fact, the different attacking runners will be coming from.

Partly, it is down to old-fashioned ball-watching, as in Harrison, N.J. on Wednesday. Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam are both elusive runners (Henry more so, obviously), but with their eyes fixed on the ball, Aaron Wheeler and Fabinho’s frantic efforts to ensure they were goal side of their marks led them to run right past the play, leaving New York’s two most dangerous players in 2014 alone for simple finishes.

5. It’s down to communication

It starts with Zac MacMath and goes straight up the spine of the formation, through Okugo, Carroll, Edu, Nogueira and Wenger. So many of the mistakes that have cost the Union in the opening eight matches are down to focus and communication. Late in matches, when players are tired, communication becomes that much more important to keeping shape, tracking required runners, and supporting teammates. The need for extra chatter late in matches is true for all sides, regardless of level. As the Union continue to jell and get to know each other, that element should continue to improve as well, hopefully along with tactical adjustments.

6. Start Austin Berry

Get Austin Berry back in the starting XI, but quick.

There is no doubting that Berry was off of his game against RSL in his first game back from injury. But the 2012 Rookie of the Year is a proven center back in MLS, and is deserving of his place in the starting XI. The Wheeler Experiment has proved a mixed bag. While the converted forward excels in the air and in making the plays in front of him, when he is required to track runners, chase down attackers, or distribute from the back, he’s frequently found wanting. Changing positions is never easy, and Union fans will remember the struggles that Okugo endured. His transition was only one level back from the midfield. While Wheeler’s conversion is an entertaining storyline, the Union have a player in Berry who has already proven himself to be a top quality MLS defender.

Berry showed prior to his injury in the brief run of games alongside Okugo and in the past two MLS seasons that he has all of the skills required to both compliment his center back partner and get the job done.

7. Reach for the scalpel, not the sledge hammer

In other words, leave Cristian Maidana on the field.

Over their short history, the Union seem to have little patience for players who exert all of their efforts trying to make things happen in the final third. Whether it was Roger Torres or Michael Farfan, the low percentage chances that come when a player tries to fit a pass into a tight spot tend to draw groans from around PPL Park. Too often, at least in the past, that player was replaced with a more direct, linear attacker.

But with so few players on the roster that can thrive on life in an opponent’s 18, allowing Maidana to play a full 90 minutes is more critical than ever. His persistent probing and searching for the final ball will inevitably lead to good things as defenses tire late in matches. His guile and passing range can unsettle defenses in a manner that simply throwing more bodies into the box does not.

There is too much talent on the Union roster for anyone to press the panic button. Yet, with the Union struggling, changes must be made to how the team approaches play at both ends of the field, otherwise they will continue to limp through 2014, with poor results following them the whole way.


  1. Nice article. In regards to point 7, I think Chaco should be getting into the box more often and staying higher up the field in general. If this means keeping Fabinho or Ray at home, so be it.
    He’s a lot like Marfan in regards to being able to push play to the end line and draw out defenders.
    While Maidana has surprisingly shown to be a decent defender, I’d like to see him more as an offensive specialist.
    And I absolutely agree that he needs to be on the field for 90 minutes. He’s not a burner to begin with so his more calculated approach to the game can still be effective throughout the entire game.

  2. There is absolutely nothing I have to add to this piece of work- until that is I comment on comments. Well written. Thank you.

    • On second thought, I do not mind Carroll falling in deep and pushing OB up the pitch. When properly handled it provides passing options and attack options. My problem, as you succinctly state later in the article is that too often, those outside backs turn and gear up the pitch at the wrong time and need to stay home on the sideline and continue to provide options to build play. If you are going to have Edu and Carroll on the pitch than Carroll dropping deep is a logical outcome to me.

      • This is effective if it becomes a sort of spine with Carroll deep and Edu providing the outlet. But without a true CAM who can stay farther up the field than Nogueira does this could still create the gap that currently exists. What I would prefer to see is Carroll at the point of a triangle and Edu and Nogueira in front of him, allowing Nogueira to roam laterally. The wingers should play on the opposite side of their strong foot so they can push inside looking to shoot, therefore allowing Casey or Wenger to hold up play as more of a deep-lying CF.

  3. Solid article Eli! I can’t disagree with anything you have here. I would just add two things…

    1. Bench Carroll. Just move Edu to Carrolls spot. This whole concept of having Carroll sit back and Edu go forward just doesn’t make sense since Edu is NOT a goal scorer. Seriously, go look up his stats. Not sure why we suddenly think he is brilliant on offense. He needs to sit back and clean up and will be better at that than Carroll and also be able to distribute the ball better from the back.

    2. Fire Hack. I am willing to bet this article was extremely easy for you to write because the problems this team has were easy for you to see. However, from what we have seen from Hack he has no idea these issues even exist. Get Hack off the bench!

    • I do not disagree that Edu should be loan DM. The reality is he is going to share the spot with Carroll which is why I argue for the positioning of having Carroll play so deep and spreading CB wide. If the midfielders properly move, building possession should be routine.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        One thing to consider with Carroll dropping deep though, is that he becomes the primary distributor from deep, rather than Okugo. That is not ideal for the Union. Teams have been adjusting and forcing Carroll to make the long pass. He has been smart to realize his limitations which means he either passes short to Wheeler, which tends to lead to turnovers, or he pushes it wide to Okugo and the Union have to figure out a way out of trouble on the right.

      • I think that is an excellent example of why Carroll can sit. I will admit he had a good game this past week.

      • Fair Point.

    • I agree Jason Carroll should be sitting and Edu should be the DCM without Carroll. I kind of disagree about Edu’s ability to score. He already has two goals so far and has created some nice opportunities to take shots which he as done. He has the knowledge of the game to score. I do feel that he needs to become more available in the attack even if he is in the DCM role. This doesn’t mean he has to push up field like Vincent but just slightly at the right times for support. As of late he has to play much better though.

      • Edu hammers shots like no one else on this team. He gets his body over the ball and lets it rip. He has simply had the misfortune of having a lot of those shots blocked before they reach goal. As far as benching Carrol and starting Berry.I’m all for giving that a second go round. But I did watch Berry concede 2 goals against RSL and I was there in North Jersey when Carrol didn’t play.

  4. I’ve so far only read the bit about Berry (the rest i look forward to reading on my lunch break!). I hope i am wrong in saying that we will never see Berry starting for the U again. Oh, we might see him on the pitch in pre-match warm-ups and then put in as a sub, perhaps but then it’s just a matter of time before the only way to see him is sitting behind my seats in Section 103 (like Roger Torres most of last season). This is just a gut feeling after having watched/followed this team since almost the beginning. It’s just a matter of time until Berry disappears into UNION never-never land like so many before him… like Roger Torres. I REALLY HOPE that i am wrong!

  5. I’ve found in years reading this site that Eli and I usually don’t seem to be watching the same games. There isn’t a PSP analyst that gets me more fired up in disagreement.

    So I’m rather surprised to say that I agree with virtually everything said in this article (well, maybe only partially agree with #7). #1 and #3 in particular I think get to the point of exactly what’s going wrong week after week.

    • JediLos117 says:

      +1..I disagree with everything he writes…mostly.
      And it doesnt stop here, specifically with #1.
      It should read “Define Edu’s role”
      Nog has been our best player. If it aint broke, dont fix it.

      • the thing is it IS broke. Not that he’s playing badly in the least bit, but the ways things are now is not working. You are the same person who said we should keep Keon and Danny and Carroll all year and that everyone needed to relax and trust Hack. How did that work out?

      • JediLos117 says:

        Woah woah woah! Stop the clock!
        I never advocated to keep Keon or Danny Cruz or Mwanga…Carroll yes but not those other three.
        I still support Hack and I’m not on the fire him bandwagon.
        I also think it worked out kinda well as I assume that Hack had a huge hand in bringing Edu, Nog, Chaco and Berry in during the offseason and Wenger recently.
        While I dont agree with all of Hack’s tactic (specifically starting Wenger and Casey together in a 4-3-3 this past weekend), I’m not gonna blame the individual player mistakes which directly led to lost points on him.
        That would be naive.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Los, You make valid points.
        As you know, I very much disagree with you about the need for Brian Carroll.
        Yes, Hackworth may have (and probably did have) a hand in acquiring talented players during the offseason. A manager needs to bring in talent. More importantly, a manager needs to construct a TEAM with that talent.
        Hackworth is into year 3. His club is 1-2-5 and appears to be losing the little cohesion that was showing in the first couple of matches. He appears as lost tactically as he was when he first took over for Nowak.
        In the immortal words of Kenneth Rogers, “…You gotta know when to fold ’em.”
        Off with his head!!

      • I apologize for the attack, just a frustrating season. Also, I agree with you about not firing Hack yet, but on this type of forum it has to be discussed at least, especially if changes aren’t made.

      • It’s funny that you mention Daniel, since I equate his role last year with that of Nogueira’s now, but in terms of opposites. Last year Daniel played a role that at least I thought Hackworth told him to play, and whether he did it well or not is up for debate but it was not what the Union wanted – a true CAM. Enter Nogueira, who plays in the same position in Hackworth’s formation, yet is a far more effective player. But still the Union’s offense lacks mainly because Nogueira is not that true #10 the team needs. It’s not Nogueira’s fault, because he still does far more than anyone else on the team, but I agree that it IS broke. This team still needs a player who can stay central and not only create his own shot but create space for the forward and wingers to go in on goal. Until that happens the offense will sputter.

  6. Eli you make so much sense it’s even more frustrating having John Hackworth as coach. This is the type of thought out decision a competent coach would implement.

  7. I really appreciate the effort here Eli and agree with you fully on all of your points.

    My greatest concern is that Hackworth isn’t looking for ideas, he is in the belief that this situation will sort itself out as the players get accustom to one another. Long story short, his idea of coaching has been purely wishful thinking.

    He’s married to the 4-3-3, the tactics of Gaddis/Williams crossing 5,000,000 prayers into the box continues every week.

    The gap between midfield and the striker is glaring. It’s all because Hack refuses to budge from the 4-3-3.

    PSP has a job to do, but I really think that you have been far, far to easy on Hackworth. By the time you come around to the masses, it’s going to be too late. Hackworth has done nothing from a coaching standpoint that should grant him this type of confidence.

    I’ll credit him for signings, but when it comes to coaching, I think more about Marfan, Garfan, McInerney, Okugo (playing out of position), Wheeler (playing out of position, while ROY defender is on bench), Wenger (quickly converted to RW so Connor Casey can get on the field), Pfeffer (being coached by everyone but Hack).

    • I’d rather have Pfeffer coached by everybody else.

    • When I was thinking about the roster on opening day my first thought was “what a perfect 4-3-3! A true CDM (Carroll), a box-to-box (Edu), a playmaker (Nog), two wingers and a guy who can play centrally with his back to goal (Casey) or find space (Jack). Since then, however, I have watched this team and it’s become clear the 4-2-3-1 he ACTUALLY employs no longer works, but with a few minor changes Hackworth could have an effective formation. If he drops the 2-3-1 in favor of a 1-3-2, the 3 being a flat 3, he would much better utilize the skill set of the players he has while using more bodies in the offense. Put Edu in as the lone CDM. I’m a Carroll fan, but he has run his course as a full-time starter for this team, especially with the other talent they have acquired. Flank Nogueira as the CM (box-to-box instead of CAM) with Le Toux (RM) and Maidana (LM), then Wenger and Casey up top. Two scorers in the box for all those crosses, less pressure on Nogueira to create chances and more space for him to do what he does best, and an extra striker to occupy the CBs and make runs while the other plays with his back to goal. I am confident Hack will NEVER use this formation, but I think at this point in time it’s the best option, as the 4-3-3 is clearly not working.

  8. Holy cow that picture is the snapshot summary of the season.
    Also nice work on the article. Really enjoyed the portion discussing how the swapping sides may be one of the major limiting factors in the linkage to the final third.

  9. I couldn’t have said it better myself Eli. I’ve been stressing the same problem of Nogueira being in too many places on the field. He should be stationed in the middle of the field doing what he does best, seeing the entire field, running on and off the ball, finding space and opportunities to attack. The team should be focused and playing around him and anticipating. You’re also spot on about the funneling towards goal, the fullback positioning and the communication. You make a lot of sense here and I think these are key issues that Hackworth needs to address to get this team on winning ways. Lastly, the 4-4-3 formation is horrible for this team. I believe Edu and Vincent should be central and playing off each other. I think if they can establish a good and comfortable relationship in the midfield this will do wonders for the U.

    • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

      The whole premise of what Hackworth is trying to establish with this team (and I’m on record as a Hackworth hater) is manifested in nogueira. If we are going to play a possesion based 4-3-3 then Nogueira MUST move around like he does.

      The problem is not that Nogueira moves to much, it is that the rest of the team moves to LITTLE. Nogueira is constantly checking back and providing OPTIONS. Save for Maidana, no one else on this team is mentally at this level.

      Everyone needs to understand that the only time you are actually aligned in a formation is at the start of each half and when a goal is scored. Soccer is FLUID. Players do not play in specific spots like FIFA 14. How many times does NOG or Maidana have the ball by the box and no one makes that killer, diagonal run to receive the pass?

      Nogueira is not Messi and this is not a video game. Everyone needs to stop wanting to make him a “CAM” and plop him at a stationary position in the center of the field. The only Striker that could make these runs and compliment Nogueira and Maidana’s style of play was Mac and he is gone. So now we have Noguieria SHOWING everyone the proper way to play possesion based soccer and the internet wants to put a leash on him.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        If you are referring to what I wrote as “The Internet” please understand that my premise is based on the Union choosing to deploy Edu, Nogueira and Carroll in the same midfield.
        From the beginning of the season I have been outspoken about allowing Nogueira to play as the box-to-box midfielder that he has been his entire career. Something like a more technical Will Johnson. I love his game and want him to play that way every match.
        If the Union want all three of those guys on the field at the same time, something has got to give. That is where my point came in.
        Remember Kyle Beckerman’s late run for RSL’s second goal? That guy is one of, if not the best defensive midfielders in MLS. There is NO reason Edu cannot occupy the DM slot and get forward on late runs.
        For me, Edu and Nogueira playing their natural positions, likely with Maidana as the third midfielder makes the most sense for this team. It puts all three players in the position at which they are most comfortable, and gets the most out of their individual skill sets.
        This does not appear as if it will happen, so I kept my comments within the realm of what the Union are willing to do. And yes, the suggestion that the Union’s best player change his game is silly, but I think that is more of a commentary on the state of play than on what I wrote about it.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        My reference to the “internet” was an all-encompassing reference to the original post and the ensuing agreement from multiple posters. I respect your work and would not intentionly insult you. I think the term bob-to box gets confused by people. Box-to box also refers to sideline to sideline and people need to recognize and appreciate that.

        Your point about Edu emulating the late runs of Beckerman is spot on. However we know (like you stated) that Hackworth refuses to give up his back 4 shield, Carroll.
        You state that you make your comments in regards to what the U is willing to do. That is the problem and is not addressed enough by the writers on this site (which I love).

        Hacktics are keeping this team back!!!. It all boils down to his contradictory choices limiting this team.
        He wants to press high, but wants to keep Carroll back to shield the defensive 4? Then when there is a turnover, we have a huge gap of space for opponents to run into. Little details like this are just the cherry on top of a poop sundae we’re force fed every Saturday. Hack needs to be challenged more. If the site as a whole is afraid of losing their access then at least 1 writer has to draw the short straw and be the bad cop.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        No worries. I just wanted to make sure that if you were referring to what I wrote that I could clarify. I really like your point about the vast spaces created when the ball is turned over. This can become compounded because the Union as a team tend to defend by running to a man rather than finding their shape.
        One way to potentially correct this is to walk the centerbacks higher up the field, compressing the team shape into the opposition half. The pitfall though, is that with the fullbacks so high, there is no speedster stationed near enough to the line of defense to chase down play if Okugo, Berry, Wheeler, White or whoever gets into a footrace.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        Agreed, but with Okugo, Williams, and Gaddis in the back, I feel we have the speed to neuter counters. It was brough up before, but Carroll is actually collapsing so deep that he is pushing okugo wide. At times it seems like we are playing a 4-1-1-1-3. I don’t know if this is Hactics response to cover Wheeler, or just his vision of the way the game should be played, or Carroll’s natural proclivity since Edu and Nog were added, but it results in a really, really poor transition game that is a MUST for a succesful possesion based 4-3-3 system to be effective.

      • Totally agree with Dan C. Spot on commentary. The 4-1-1-1-3 leaves little to no room for anything other than crosses from Williams/Gaddis. Carroll would be more helpful if he were moving to cover the advancing fullback. Instead, he stays central while Okugo or Wheeler covers. Cherry on the poop sundae. Nailed it.

      • Dan C – I agree with most of your points, and agree that Nogueira can keep running around like he does picking up the ball and distributing. I just think it’s on Edu to do more of that in our own half of the field, which would have the effect of pushing Nogueira farther upfield. Shouldn’t it be Edu that’s checking in to pick up the ball from the fullbacks and CBs in most instances? With Carroll behind him, he should be free to roam a bit more and be that pivot point to transition forward on offense.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        I agree, but I don’t think that is his game as much as we want it to be. Style wise, he is very similar to Carroll and unfortunately we have alot of duplicity on the team at that position (Carroll, Edu, Lahoud). For an example, we need more of a Jermaine Jones type to add to the midfield to compliment Nog and Edu, not a Beckerman type as that style is similar to Edu.

      • You’ve left out the ultimate duplicity which is Amobi Okugo. He is the same type of player as Carroll, Edu, and Lahoud. Just younger and better. He has the makings to be the ultimate DM in MLS… He can pass forward and doesn’t make dumb giveaways. Okugo could out-Beckerman Beckerman given the chance. But he’s stuck as one of Hack’s CBs now and now finds himself behind 3 guys for DM. When we picked up Edu I saw this coming. Might want to savor these moments with Okugo because they could be his last with the Union. Dump Hack!

      • YES!!!!!! This is the problem. Noguiera shouldn’t have to be so deep. If he wants to roam laterally by all means roam laterally but dropping back to our defensive 20m to collect the ball is wrong and absurd. But then you lost me with Jermaine Jones. Can’t buy in there. He is the prototype, in my mind for all that is wrong with the American player at least on the USMNT.

      • I don’t particularly see the internet wanting to put a leash on him.
        I see the internet recognizing the quality he has by comparison to his teammates and the difficulties arising related to movement and understanding.

        The Playmaker, or trequarista or 10 typically has license to roam but finds himself in possession one or two passes before the final pass.
        It seems Noguiera is quite capable of that as witnessed on the very few occasions we actually build play to the other box. Noguiera is obviously comfortable weaving in and out receiving and passing in those tight spots.
        What seems to be the problem is he has taken to dropping quite deep to begin the buildup and his teamantes are unable or unaware of maintaining possession so he can cycle back into the play up field. We just don’t hold on to the ball long enough and certainly are not patient enough (whether again by IQ or plan/philosophy/tactics) to do it.
        The Union quite infrequently actually build play. He is trying to build play and finish play but is unable to be in two spots at once, damned as he is trying.
        This is a futbol IQ problem. Personally I really don’t want him to be a box to box midfielder but the 4-3-3 is forcing him to do that IMO.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        But he has never been a 10. He is an 8 and has been his whole career. He is a linking player, with unfortunately noone to link with…. And I would agree with you that he has the ability to be a 10 in this league, and would be quite good. But can a player change who they are after 20 years? I know in Hackworth’s world you can, but can you in reality?

      • In Ligue 1 I think it would be a stretch probably but in MLS, I certainly think that is fair to ask of him. The level of play is so different. Hell at the league I play in I can bounce between the 2 when needed and that is hack football. I imagine with his IQ and this league he can handle it.
        With nothing changing at all, so much of this comes to Edu in my mind. I just don’t see him consistently getting involved enough, particularly with Noguiera. Those two players alone should be able to find 3v2 chances all over the midfield with whatever random Union player happens to be standing pat.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        Your are 100% correct sir.

        Just watch the highlights williams, gaddis (just off the top of my head) they give it to nog or maidana and just stay put. Niether one of them move to the open space which is right where Nog and Maidana try to pass the ball into that space.

        So now instead of keeping the flow of possession and making into the final third. Nog or Miadana have to tackle the ball back and try to find somebody else.

      • On your point about FIFA 14, in the tactics page there is an option to stay organized or play free form in the build-up and creating chances portion of possession. Obviously real life is not a video game, but I think in comparison to that this team has the ability to play the “free form” style with Nogueira moving around at will, and the wingers swapping to find space, and so on and so forth. But the issue comes with defending, as Eli mentioned – their shape. When they defend it also seems that the play “free form” and don’t maintain any type of shape. With Carroll “the shield” and Edu both playing at the same time, how is it possible for teams to find all that space? The answer is all around them the rest of the midfield is either so far up or out of position that defenders are left scrambling. So I agree that everything should ebb and flow in the attack, it also makes it harder to make when they move around, but defensively they have to maintain their shape better.

  10. The Black Hand says:

    Eli, I agree with your ideas for fixing the U. Unfortunately, John Hackworth doesn’t appear to be sharing in our sentiment.

  11. Nova 66-64 says:

    Great article Eli. If it is this obvious to an educated fan like yourself then why is Hack so oblivious. He is stubborn and it is impacting a more talented Union team. Hackworth may not be right but he is never in doubt.

  12. Yea I am all about this article. The need for creativity is a must the Hackball tactics might work to maximize points inferior talent do to its somewhat imprecise nature but it has a very definite ceiling. Kicking balls into the box and hoping for something good to happen doesn’t yield better results with better players. It plateaus right around the 4-6 range in the MLS standings and is largely dependent on luck and the quality of your opponent.
    You need room for creativity on the team. To develop play and make things happen and to try and make things happen. Not just run fast, play hard and hope to get fouled in the box. But with Hack’s reluctance to have Maidana play the full 90 and his willingness to trot out Hoppenot and Fernandes despite diminishing returns, I am not confident in the future of this team. But that being said we need some creative options off the bench and not just the run fast play hard players. Ribero might work and Fernandes might work also but neither are ideal.

    • My fear is what type of player will Ribeiro be when and if he moves up to the Union? I’m really getting sick of Hackworth and company’s make overs. Just another strike against his remaining at the helm IMO.

      • Ribero is a guess btw. I only had a couple of looks at him in preseason. But what I do know he isn’t in the Hoppenot/Cruz mold so that is good enough for me at the moment.

      • I think LCB was probably referring to the fact that Pedro is currently playing CB for Harrisburg.

      • True.
        But it was a good time to put an asterisk next to my Ribero proclamation.

      • Exactly! This team goes on and on about depth but they think teaching someone a new position is providing depth at a given position. That is so ass backwards! What about those who were actually drafted at the CB and LB positions? This is why the organization is a dog and pony show!

  13. I like your #7. Let him play. Our Riquelme. Riquelmino? Riquelmito? Whatevs. More please.

  14. This coach is not getting production from some very talented individuals.

    Here comes the Ruperant, hold me back Mick.

    They are confused both on the attacking side and defensively. Maurice Edu should be protecting the back 4 and playing box to box in the central area of the field. Connor Casey is a patented target striker he should be showing for the ball from center of field (back to the goal) back toward the ball when it is available and stretching the field vertically when not. Andrew Wenger should be playing off Casey and tied to him. When Connor comes to ball he should occupy space Casey leaves. Noggy should be available to Casey for layoffs whenever this targeting happens in the middle 1/3 of the field. Mauice Edu should be available at a deeper level. RUN STRAIght at Casey while the ball is being played into him With Wenger occupying space that a flick would fall to. When the defense collapses to defend this tactic the outside opens up and we have noggy slotting balls to them in behind defenses or Maurice making long passes to wide players (Madiera and Seba). IF OUTSIDE mids creep inside outside backs must then occupy outside space, they are NOT the main option for wide play! Anyone can play target ball to Casey from back.

    Defensively what happened to the concept all midfielders work to get between ball and our goal? Get Compact. If we intercept ball facing upfield counterattacking is easy.

    What happened to the concept no one runs past you toward OUR GOAL!

    What happened to looking back to see if we are outnumbered or a player is being overloaded and needs you to pick up a player in the box? (Henry wide open for headers) (Cahill and Sako fighting for same ball and no Blue shirt remotely close)? These are clearly the most dangerous players on the field that we game planned to defend i’m sure.

    These are all individual concepts being ignored, players and coach not instituting consequence for these actions need to answer for this and correct them.

    Coach, Do your job now please. If I can see all this from section 119 why can’t you identify this from sidelines and film, to train appropriately?

    Go Union


  15. the prior commentors’ vast playing and coaching experience aside, a change to almost the entire midfield and most of the attack will not mesh overnight. blaming the players’ poor performances on the coach seems misdirected. williams looked awful against NYRBs and not so strong against Houston. casey had his worst game i’ve seen vs houston. i am as impatient as anyone for a win or 2. calling for carroll’s benching or hackworth’s firing is reactionary and ridiculous. carroll’s last 2 performances indicate why he should be on the field. he has picked up his play (as you would expect from a captain). nogueira has been great. maidana needs to play more and berry needs to get on the field. we have no idea how injured these guys still are, but it seems safe to assume they are still somewhat injured. its a long season. As to the coach, he deserves time to get the team together. letting him go now gets us the same thing as 2 years ago.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Is this team much better than the one of two years ago? We have players with more talent, but the results are about the same. How much time should a manager get, to prove that he is capable?

      • The next 3 games should do it. However there’s Sakiewicz. He sat by and watched Nowak almost ruin the organization(still not sure if he acted alone).

      • Still not sure it was the on field results but the Hearts job application becoming public.

      • By May 30, after this run of 6 tough games, we are going to have a good feel for what this team is capable of I bet.

      • Rest of the season. And it is a much better group of players overall.

  16. With Keon gone we have an international roster spot open, and another DP slot for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we went shopping this summer for another winger/striker. On another note, and I will probably catch hell for saying this, I can’t wait to see what a healthy Danny Cruz can do as a sub. After our off season acquisitions we were all talking about what Le Toux and Cruz could do as subs and not starters. Le Toux might have played his best game of the season coming off the bench last week. In my opinion, its a lot harder for an opposing team to game plan for Cruz coming off the bench. With a better supporting cast he might be more dangerous . . . and maybe I just want to see a Union man take on a defender one v. one.

  17. Philly Cheese says:

    The fact that Eli so easily found seven points is really discouraging. Probably didn’t want the article to be too depressing so didn’t add points 8-15. Hopefully, a followup article in June will point to how Assistant coaches have convinced Hack that these were all his ideas in the first place…….or Eli might not get any more locker room interviews.

  18. My opinion on Brian Carroll’s skillset makes him a Defensive Mid. Maurice Edu must occupy that position on this team and we have more creative midfielders to attack so he should be traded. As for Maidana he should be playing outside mid, either side is fine and facing the goal. Vision and a willingness to attempt a final pass are what he brings to the table as I see it. So I would put him outside where he can see the field when in possession. He must concentrate on defensive responsibilities and stay focused to play 90 minutes. I see many players ignoring simple individual and small group responsibilities on the field that tells me they seem to want to play THEIR way. Coach needs to inject consequence to get their attention to these details. I see John Hackworth as a smart man that has to see these obvious flaws. I am willing to give him this season to see what progress can be made in deficient areas of team and individual play. I see this has John Hackworth’s team now so he deserves the year.

    Go union

    • Spot on. I like Chaco receiving ball on outside with choice to beat his defender 1v1 (hold up play for a second for an overlapping defender) or cut inside. From this position he can shoot or thread a pass to a moving striker or lay off to the corner for again a late arriving defender.
      This is part of the tactical plan all over the world. I am yet to see it deployed once. Neymar, Messi, Vidal, Pogba, ad infinitum do this on a regular basis. It is part of the orchestrated offensive idea.

  19. How bout #8? Sack Hack

  20. Penetrating with the ball is all about patterns you instill in players in training. They see visual cue and all players react to it. Having the pattern instilled in a team will increase their tactical speed thus react faster than defense can get its shape back. That is how you get to goal, I don’t see this in U attack. Too many of our players are spotting open space, occupying it, and either verbally or relying on teammates to visually see what they are thinking, thus slow tactical speed and loss of ball results. This wont work, it’s too slow.

    Go Union


  21. On The Right Track says:

    What kind of f*cked up starting lineup was that? Petr Nowak couldn’t have made a wackier starting eleven. WTF is wrong with Hackworth? I’m really, really pissed right now…!!!

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