Tactics Talk

What does the return of Carlos Valdes* mean for Union’s formation?

Photo: Earl Gardner

The Carlos Valdes saga has my head spinning, and I’m sure you feel the same way.

Digging through Spanish-language tweets and agent-driven propaganda is hard enough, but when the player himself comes out and claims that he’s been waiting five months to be paid, then the situation is officially FUBAR.

Putting all of the speculation aside, let’s assume that Carlos Valdes IS coming back to Philadelphia Union.

How does that affect the Union starting XI? (Because I want to talk about things that happen ON the field, not OFF the field)

You’ve got a team that’s playing better under Jim Curtin, with some pieces falling into place.

Amobi Okugo is back in the midfield. Maurice Edu is deputizing nicely at center back. Vincent Nogueira is healthy again, and Cristian Maidana has emerged as a playmaker at the tip of the triangle midfield.

Valdes himself doesn’t provide any issues in the formation. He’s a center back, and he’ll slot right into the starting XI.

Does that mean Ethan White sits on the bench? Or does Maurice Edu move back into the midfield? Who, then, makes way for Edu?

Let’s go through some scenarios.

Formation 1 – Keeping it simple

formation 1

This is the 4-3-3 shape that Philadelphia has been running for most of the year. (It usually plays more like a 4-2-3-1).

In this case, Valdes comes in for Ethan White, and you keep Maurice Edu at center back. I don’t get the sense that Edu wants to play center back, but he’s been very good in that position since Curtin made the switch.

This is a simple fix that gets your best players on the field without messing around with the midfield setup.

Formation 2 – Swappin’ Amobi and Mo

formation 2

This is the same exact thing as formation 1, but you’re putting Maurice Edu in the midfield and dropping Amobi Okugo back into central defense.

The obvious benefit here is that Amobi and Carlos played together on the backline in 2012, so there would be no chemistry issues to overcome.

In this formation, I’d probably put Valdes on Ray Gaddis’ side, simple because I think Ray’s speed and 1v1 capability pairs well with a bigger ball winner.

Formation 3 – Midfield moves

formation 3

For the sake of switching things up, I decided to put the team in Blackburn kits.

This formation can play like a flat 4-4-2 (think LA Galaxy), or a 4-2-2-2 empty bucket (think Peter Nowak).

In this case, you’ve got Ethan White pairing Valdes, with Okugo and Edu as a central midfield pairing.

To keep Maidana and Nogueira on the field, you put one on the left and one on the right. It’s probably not ideal, but it gets all four players (Chaco, Nogs, Edu, and Amobi) into the midfield.

I’m not sure Maidana and Nogueira will be effective in those wide areas.

Formation 4 – The Christmas Tree

formation 4

Union players are wearing Fenerbahce kits in this 4-3-2-1.

It’s a narrow shape, and you really need your fullbacks to get forward to make it work.

You’ve got a line of three midfielders in Nogueira, Edu, and Okugo. Maidana can stay centrally in this shape, playing next to another forward with Casey as the target up top.

Jurgen Klinsmann experimented with variations of this shape on the USMNT, getting Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Kyle Beckerman all on the field at the same time.

Formation 5 – The “Richard McGovern”

formation 5

My good friend Rick McGovern from the Soccer Desk is a fan of Dutch football and won’t stop talking about the 3-5-2.

Philadelphia experimented with the shape in 2012, with Carlos Valdes anchoring the backline for a few games under Peter Nowak.

It didn’t really work, but I think it was more about the personnel and less about the formation.

The thing with the 3-5-2 is that it’s really predicated on having wingbacks who can run all day long. When you watch Juventus play, they’ve got Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner bombing the flanks like madmen. The line of three defenders shields a deep-lying playmaker (Pirlo), and the midfield triangle is can be inverted if you’d like.

I think the Union could pull off this shape if they had a left footed wingback. Nogueira could probably play in the Pirlo role.

Final thoughts

These are just a few shapes to take a look at.

You could obviously bench a guy and figure it out from there.

I think the most important thing is to get your best players on the field, and put them where they feel comfortable. Jim Curtin has done a good job of this, moving Okugo into the midfield and letting Maidana play centrally.

You saw what happened on Saturday night when Nogueira had to shift and play higher up the field. He’s not an advanced playmaker. He’s a box-to-box ball mover who likes to sink and receive the ball.

In similar fashion, you see Sheanon Williams playing better at right back than at center back.

Of course, if Carlos Valdes doesn’t return, then I’ll have written this article FOR NOTHING!


  1. Great stuff, Kevin.

    How about a diamond with Okugo as DM, Chaco at the point, Edu & Nogueira as shuttlers? Then you keep White in central defense and have LeToux & Casey up top.

    • I like this idea by George. At the very least though they have to play 1 game with their best 11 starting so that means White and Valdes as CB and Amobi and Edu in the midfield. I might lose my mind if they keep Cruz as a starter and bench amobi or Edu.

    • That narrow diamond could work, but we would need the fullbacks to provide the width, and gaddis is not a great crosser, especially from the left. This team’s biggest mistake is having too many of our best players who all play the same position.

    • George, that is my thought as well. Play a 4-4-2 narrow diamond like the USMNT was for the World Cup.

      .——–Le Toux—-Casey——-

      Edu has a very good left foot and likes to play box-to-box. Nogueira likes to play box-to-box too. Maidana looks much better in the center and both Le Toux and Casey seem to play better with a partner up top.

      Only downside is that playing narrow puts more pressure on the outside backs to be more offensive to provide the width in attack. Both Williams and Gaddis have good speed to run the wings. Williams is good in attack as shown by his 8 assists last year and Gaddis’ offensive game is growing so I think it would work.

    • Yes. Either this, or Formation 3, as this gets your best XI on the field. We have to see Ethan White play a little more to be sure, but he’s looked good thus far, and if you surround him with Valdes (senior stud) and Gaddis (junior stud) I think he’ll continue to do well. Basically, the choice comes down to either White or Danny Cruz in your XI, and from what we’ve seen so far I would definitely take White.

      Another reason I am in favor of this kind of lineup us that Le Toux has repeatedly and consistently shown that he can be very productive working off a target/hold-up guy paired with him… and a lot less effective from wide out, the midfield, or by himself. And Casey can go solo up top, but he does even better with a partner too.

      I’m not too worried about the lack of width, because Nogueira is such a “free agent” on the field, he’ll head to wherever there is space to work. Le Toux tends to be like that too. Plus, once the back line is solidified, I predict that you’ll see Sheanon get up into the offense a whole lot more. As for Maidana, he’ll drift centrally. So this won’t look anything like an “empty bucket” — it’ll look like a 4-2-1-2 +1 — with the +1 being Nogueira, flitting everywhere on the pitch.

      Once you decide on this XI, then it just comes down to whether you want Okugo and Edu playing flat, or one behind the other. We can tinker with that as we see the chemistry.

  2. I think the 4-4-2 option gets your best players on the field, but ultimately it will have to be just a straight swap Valdes for White.

  3. I think a person could go crazy trying to figure out which is better between Formation 1 and 2 (short term, I think it’s formation 1).

    Do you think LeToux or Cruz are defensive minded enough to play a 3-5-2?

    • I think Le Toux is definitely defensive minded enough for the 3-5-2 (probably not Cruz though). But for my money, I think a 5-3-2 best fits the players we have. Not only for the near term, but for the long-term as well, because the formation doesn’t have to change if we lose Edu after his loan ends or if we need to ditch him to make room for Valdes. A 5-3-2 would mostly solve our hole at left back. It diminishes the importance of aspects that Fabinho is lacking and emphasizes his strong attributes.
      With the player we have now, I see something like this:
      —–Casey———Le Toux—–

      Alternatively, White could go in at RCB and Okugo/Edu could go in the CB/CDM roles (leaving Lahoud out). If Edu leaves, White goes in at RCB and Okugo to the center (leaving Lahoud in).

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I see a MAJOR problem with that lineup. The absence of Ray Gaddis.

      • That’s my only problem with it. I’m assuming though that Williams or Gaddis have got to be trade bait, because one of them is going to go regardless in the upcoming expansion draft.

  4. The last sentence sums up this drama perfectly.

    Nogueira is similar to Luka Modric. Don’t expect the magic in the final 3rd necessarily, but do expect him to own the midfield and make plays to set up the final 3rd.
    Chaco’s vision and technique were greatly missed on Saturday, but that was a tired team. There were many factors at play.

    The Christmas Tree formation does get the best players on the field. The only people potentially out of position are Nogs and Okugo. But having them running the midfield wings provides great outlets for Williams and Gaddis. I have to favor this formation, because it allows the greatest defensive cover, as well as putting our best offensive weapons in the best places to succeed.
    Williams and Gaddis have the speed and skill to play the overlapping positions. Ray’s offensive capabilities have been one of the most underreported improvements in his game this season, as everyone has focused on his great 1-on-1 defending. But he’s put real effort into playing in the final third. I don’t see any issue with counting on those guys in an overlapping situation.

    That said, let me paraphrase:
    Of course, if Carlos Valdes doesn’t return, then I’ll have written this comment FOR NOTHING!

  5. Ok, let’s assume Valdes is coming back.
    1)Currently he’s off cap as a loaned player. If that loan ends, we either own him at his MLS salary(or the half that remains) or we/MLS are re-negotiating at a higher rate. Where does that leave us from a cap perspective?

    2)That’s a very pricey pairing with Edu/Valdes at CB, w/o checking I’d guess top 3 after LA with Omar. Do we think Edu’s loan gets cut short?

    3) If Edu stays, do we deal Berry or White for any kind of forward help within MLS? We’d still have Marquez on the farm for an emergency, or Williams could slide over.

    • I would definitely try to ship White or Berry to Houston, which is desperate for a CB.

      But if Edu is hinting that he won’t be back next year, I think you keep both of those players in preparation for 2015.

  6. I agree that formations 1&2 make the most sense, but your post really highlights the big problem with the Union – we have too many DM’s on the team:
    Assuming that a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 is our best formation, that means we really have one extra DM on the roster. 3 quality guys is enough to fill two positions. None of them thrive in a wide role.
    So, do we look to trade a big name for a proven goal scorer? Perhaps Edu?

    • How do you trade a payer on loan? He’s Stokes.

      • You don’t trade him, I say that you wait for the end of the season, which we all know is coming like a freight train hard and fast, play option 1 or 2,dont fuck around with things too much, and then try to get brek Shea on loan, cause we seem to have a good relationship with stoke and brek is a perfect winger who can play on either wing, has a hell of a left foot, is an underrated United States international who is devout of minutes at stoke. (which I don’t think is much his fault, he doesn’t fit into their system a whole lot especially with the likes of bojan coming in)
        I seriously have no clue why we haven’t looked at this earlier.
        And if your worrying about the salry cap the don’t worry he already makes 15, 000 less than edu.
        No disrespect to the guy but I seriously think that the edu move was really fuckin stupid.
        We all expected an advancing playmaker but nor in fifa (which I’m pretty sure hackworth did a lot of his player research on) nor in real life is there a lot of evidence of him playing roles further up the field than CM/CDM outside of the USMNT which is wacky in its own right, putting Bradley at CAM and such.

        And also if your going to make the argument that brek isn’t as good as Edu, well the only reason MO even got the 30 man call up is because he got playing time with us, while brek wasn’t.

        (and btw unless we strike some weird deal with stoke and they magically have money left over to recall edu – they don’t- were stuck with him until the end of the season)
        (although I’m curious if it’s the end of MLS season or if we have him up until the BPL season ends?)

      • True Scottymac. I guess I meant clear him from the books to make way for more money to go to a striker, but we all know that kind of a move won’t happen until we have a long-term coach in place.

    • From a money standpoint, the player to move is probably Brian Carroll. He’s a *very* expensive depth option. That should be move #1. And the Union need to do right by Brian, too; that means not sending him to Chivas. Find him a place that wants him and has a shot at the playoffs. NE or Columbus maybe. (Of course, the Union are fighting both those teams for a playoff spot.)
      Move #2 should be trying to move Danny Cruz. At $125K, he’s also overpriced for this team.
      In both cases, the Union shouldn’t look for a player in return – the idea is to make cap space. Draft picks, allocation money, a bag of balls, whatever. But combined, that would be $310,000 of salary moved off the books. That should be enough to fit Valdes in this year. (The player’s union numbers list him at $295K for this year.)
      Longer term, it sounds like the Union would be negotiating to pay Valdes more. To accommodate that, they should not extend Edu’s loan (or purchase, since they have that option). Take Edu’s DP slot and use it for Valdes. That’s move #3.
      For this year, you pair Valdes and Edu at CB. I like Ethan White, but he’s not better than either of those two. Next year, your pairing is either Valdes – White or Valdes – Berry; the other is your backup to both positions. Given I’m pairing Valdes and Edu at CB, I like Formation 1 above; it keeps Nog where he’s comfortable and doing well; it keeps Maidana where he’s thriving; it keeps Le Toux in a more forward role, where he’s thriving. And it strengthens our defense. However, since I traded Cruz in this scenario, I need somebody on the left. Congrats, Brian Brown. Your left foot and speed – plus potential – have earned you a starting spot.

      • + 1

      • John O'Donnell says:

        Sounds like a nice dream scenario. Although you would still have to deal with the expansion draft. I would think Berry and White would be the idea players that could get picked. Although that might be a good thing. Both players have experience in the league and a relatively low salary. The good news is it opens up a spot for Richie Marquez and he has been playing well in Harrisburg.

        The only thing I would change is sending Carroll to Chivas. They are only four points out of making the playoffs now and I wouldn’t want to help two teams that we’re battling right now in anyway. Besides who knows what their situation might be next year in terms of ownership?

      • John Ling says:

        They can probably expose Edu in the expansion draft, if he’s still officially around. Otherwise, yes, good point that it’s something to keep in mind.
        And good point on Chivas not being the soccer Siberia that it used to be as well.

      • one thing that i am curious about as far as ethan white goes. is he protected in the expansion draft because he is a homegrown player? its not like dc waived him and we signed him to a new contract. we traded with dc and he is still on the same contract with mls

      • My hunch would be that he loses “homegrown” status once he’s traded. But MLS certainly would have stranger rules on their books if he didn’t…

    • We actually have five defensive midfielders. You forgot Lahoud. Both Okugo and Edu are better at CB than CDM, so the problem is really that we have too many players between the two positions. We have Marquez, White, Berry, Valdes (soon), Okugo, Edu, Nogueira, Carroll, and Lahoud. We have 9 guys for 4 positions, when 7 will do (which is why I think a 5-3-2 will be best for the players currently on our roster, but that’s a different story). I think we should drop two of the following: Carroll, Edu, Berry, and/or Marquez. Like John says above, Carroll is overpriced to be sitting in reserve, so I would drop him. And for me it’s a coin toss between Berry and Marquez. If I were Curtin I would be looking to negotiate Edu down to a non-DP contract, because that’s the only way to justify keeping him given his less-than-stellar season.

  7. Bob the Used Car Salesman. says:

    I’d consider it one of those good problems to have.

  8. old soccer coach says:

    None of the speculation above has mentioned that Okugo is in the final year of his contract, and that he has never been tried on the flank. With the many DCMs available, evaluating who could play on the flank is appropriate.

  9. Or just let the XI pick themselves each week by how hard they train regardless of experience at position. Then we’re all doing everything for nothing. And we’d all be John Hackworth. Aren’t Amobi & Mo the same natural CDM? Amobi is the future. Mo not so much.

  10. As of right now we might be jumping the gun with valdes. I think we still have to evaluate and see if he will fit our formation and also if he is in good form. If he is playing great and comfortable, to me Edu is the man out. Although playing pretty well in the back,he is still making critical mistakes with passing and touch. He’s just not playing up to the expectation we all had for him. From left to right your back line would be
    Gaddis, white, valdes, Williams. Or if we want to keep edu then
    Gaddis, white, valdes, edu.

    • John Hackworth-Nowak says:

      Yeah, because he stunk up the joint with his last team in Podunk competition. Wait, he played for Colombia? At the World Cup? For real? But is he fit? I think he would make a great left wing. Or maybe a keeper.

  11. Cruz and Carroll are easy. If you can’t trade them put them up in the expansion draft. I like formation #2. I don’t think Edu is an issue. Hackworth’s lineup was the issue. He had a off game in Chicago.

    I would also cut Fabinho, Hoppenot, and bring up Pfeffer and McLaughlin. Put them in the 18 and use them as subs. They are good and need the minutes.

    • The Black Hand says:

      An argument could be made that Cruz heavily factored in to our offense opening up and scoring more goals. He is not the most talented, but the Union have benefited from his efforts on the pitch. Ditching him could prove costly.
      I think that we should look to trade Carroll, Sheanon and a keeper. In return, try to find a LB and F.

      • I see your point with Cruz but he was lucky to be on the field. You could also say Fabinho factored into our offense opening up. Wenger does more than Cruz with the ball.
        I think we have better options for starters than Cruz. If Valdes comes back Cruz is an easy cut from the starting 11 or even gameday 18.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Wenger is better than Cruz in all aspects…except on the flank. Wenger doesn’t have the speed and directness that Cruz brings to the XI. He pins his fullback deep.
        Cruz’ salary is the only thing that would bring me to get rid of him. I think we can get the same production for $50K less.

  12. …and Kevin do you get payments from Cruz to be mentioned in the starting 11???

    • Kevin Kinkead / philadelphia union says:

      Nah, I mean the point of the article was to talk about the midfield and defense anyway. You could plug anybody in at the Casey/Le Toux/Cruz positions.

  13. #3!!

  14. I’d really like to see Valdes and Edu anchor the D. That is a damn fine pairing if you ask me. Worry about next year later. Edu bosses the back line much better than Okugo. Those two would be badass!

    • Agree with Crunch! Although Edu is a better CDM than Okugo. That was his traditional role for club and country and event though he is solid at CB, I still think a Valdes/Okugo or Valdes/White is the best option.

      One more point on Gaddis playing LFB. He can develop well as an “outside-in” player who cuts inside to cross/shoot on his right foot. Think Robben on the right wing. I think we are too 1 dimensional when we think a wing back’s only option is to gun up the field and cross with his outside foot.

  15. I think it has to be 4-3-1-2. Casey le toux up top, maidana underneath, edu okugo nogs 3 cm. let fabihno play lb and Gaddis rb, white and valdes cb. Fullbacks can push foward more and provide width because okugo and edu should both provide good defensive cover. Basically a 4-3-3 with maidana given license to come inside from the left and fabihno getting foward.

  16. Thank you Carroll, Cruz, Fabinho & Hoppenot. Good luck!

    • The Black Hand says:

      $300K tied up in Cruz and Carroll. Neither of them are giving us a fair return. I am not a Cruz hater, but $125K is far too much to have invested in him. $168K for Carroll is just mad.
      I would keep Fabinho and Hoppenot as depth players.
      Williams pulls in two and a half times the wages of Raymon Gaddis…jus’ sayin’. Ray makes $52K to leave it on the pitch…every week.

  17. For me I do formation 1 and put Ethan white out wide instead of sheanon Williams. In my mind Williams just seems to only help with his long throws.

  18. The Chopper says:

    You put Amobi back next to Valdes. This is where he has shown best as a Union and MLS player. Everyone has visions of him as a stellar midfielder, but we really have seen little to indicate that he has that in him.

    While Edu has disappointed at times, he is a proven midfield presence. Put him in the back with Nogs (no Brian Carroll to get in the way) and leave Chaco up front with Cruz/Wenger/Brown/. And LeToux. That’s the best 11 and best shot of making a playoff run.

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