Fans' View

Fans’ View: Can it all come together?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Heading into the home stretch, there still seem to be as many open questions surrounding what this team is truly capable of becoming as there were on opening day.

Early this season, I asked if the reshaped Union roster could quickly develop some chemistry and put all of the pieces together. A lot has changed since that day. Our up and coming star No. 9 is now plying his trade north of the border as No. 99. Our incumbent captain has become a sub and occasional spot starter. A former captain has returned. We’ve changed managers. Cristian Maidana went from being the answer at left wing to being the answer at CAM. Ethan White was removed from storage and has shown to be a solid option on the backline. Possession has given way to more organized defending and counterattacking. And the Union continue to hoard goalkeeping talent in what may be a devious plot to lock up all MLS caliber goalies and force opponents to utilize 11 field players.

With 10 league games, plus a US Open Cup final(!) ahead, what can we expect now? Here are a few thoughts and predictions:

The evolving Union roster

Players like Leo Fernandes and Antoine Hoppenot seem to have fallen out of favor since Jim Curtin took over, and players like Ethan White, and perhaps Pedro Ribeiro, seem to have new life now. Sliding Maidana into the center of the field, when healthy, has allowed him and Vincent Nogueira to play in their most natural positions. With a rejuvenated Sebastian Le Toux and an in-form Conor Casey, the Union’s 36 goals scored puts them tied for the Eastern Conference lead.

Defensively, it is not stretch to argue that MacMath (with all due respect to Nogueira) has been the MVP of the first two-thirds of the season. Errors that plagued him in earlier seasons have been dramatically reduced, and he has on occasion, delivered the spectacular this season. How does he get used the rest of the way now that Rais Mbolhi is arriving? The team has wisely moved on to having Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis manning the outside back positions, choosing defense over forcing a natural left footer (Fabinho) into the lineup. The return of Carlos Valdes adds tremendous experience, stability, and leadership to the backline, though there still remains a pesky question of who plays alongside him.

My forecast: Get the best 11 players on the field, in the most suitable positions for each. That means a platoon of Mbolhi and MacMath based on the former’s availability. Williams, Edu, Valdes, and Gaddis play across the back. Edu gives the backline size and a calming influence. Let those four players stay together from here on out. Assuming Maidana is healthy, the midfield solidifies as an Okugo/Nogueira pairing behind our CAM, with Le Toux and Cruz outside as usual. Casey starts up top whenever fit and rested enough to go. The top options on the bench should be Wenger, Ribeiro (CAM or forward), and Brian Brown. Lahoud or Carroll fill the late game defensive sub slot.

US Open Cup final

Go for it. Recognizing that this creates another stretch of 3 games in 8 days, the good news is that all of those games are at PPL Park. Rotate Wenger, Brown, Ribeiro, White, Fabinho, and others through in the NYRB and Houston games surrounding this one, but go all in for the cup. What could top winning our first trophy, at home, in a season that looked lost just a month or two ago?

My forecast: Our first 11 play. I think it’s safe to expect a highly organized and conservative game plan to contain a dangerous Sounders offense. It likely won’t be pretty, but with a home crowd cheering them on (pack PPL, please!) , I expect the Union to gut out a 2-1 victory here.

Playoff Push

We’re sitting in 7th currently, though we’re in a conference where only Kansas City and DC have really stood out. Factoring in current point totals and games in hand, there’s very little separating the teams sitting in 4th through 9th place. The Union have serious work to do here, reeling in teams just ahead (NYRB, Columbus, New England), and fending off teams behind with games in hand (Houston, Chicago). The good news? We have 7 home games and just 3 road games. This includes many games head-to-head against Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls (NYRB, Houston, Toronto twice, and Columbus twice).

My forecast: The Union continue to stabilize the defense and continue scoring. The back end of our schedule is light on travel, and offers plenty of opportunities to directly damage the playoff chances of key competitors. I believe the Union will slip into the playoffs as the 5th seed, at the expense of New York.

How do you feel about the remainder of the season? Can the Union put it all together and make a meaningful run?


  1. If Curtin stops playing a conservative ineffective midfield and stops forcing Nogueira out of position I think that we will make the playoffs. If not we won’t

  2. agree with your lineup “in the most suitable positions for each”. Need to give Ribeiro some time. Brown can replace Casey during busy stretches but since he is a loan, Pedro needs the minutes. I think Wenger offers more offensively than Cruz, but understand the defense first view – especially if Chaco returns at CAM.

    • Anyone know if we are planning to buy Brown permanently? Hoping so…

      • If we do, it’ll probably be after the expansion draft. I’m not sure what the rules are about newly signed players, but we wouldn’t want him getting taken by NYCFC or Orlando.

    • Scott Ellis says:

      I see Wenger and Cruz as somewhat interchangeable at this point. Both are good hustle guys, and I’m comfortable rotating them. Wenger’s a nice option off the bench, as I feel like he could play serviceably just about anywhere on the field.

  3. I think the most important thing is that the Union now has a defined style. Cede possession, defend patiently and counter attack fast. Everyone knows what the plan is. That’s more of a factor in answering the question in the title than the number of minutes this guy or that guy plays.

  4. Hopefully have Maidana and Noguiera in best roles and the steady rhythm if Okugo to steer play we can begin to assert ourselves offensively again. Good teams don’t role over and defend for 68% of a game particularly at home. Watching Montreal game was really depressing for me. That team is bad.

  5. Any lineup that has Danny Cruz in it is not our best XI.

    I would replace him with Ethan White, pushing Edu next to Okugo, and having both Nogueira and Maidana ahead of them, and Casey and and Le Toux up top in a 4-2-2-2. Both Maidana and Nogueira get license to roam where they please, which they do very effectively.

    • A year ago I would have agreed on Cruz, but like him much more this year for some reason. The 4-2-2-2 with the players you mention would play very narrow, and I’m not convinced that White is in the best 11. I’d prefer to include wingers and felt that Le Toux and Cruz (narrowly over Wenger) are the best available options on the wing right now. Also, with the glut of CMs we have on the roster, Edu at CB simultaneously strengthens our defense and allows two talented CMs (Nogs and Okugo) to do their thing in the midfield.

  6. All comes down to whether or not our A-1 midfield can play. That being the Okugo/Noggy pairing with Chaco in front of them. Those three have the ability to drive this team. Any other variations around them will have less of an impact. When those three dudes click it’s magic. Barring injuries and tactical rests, there is no other logical trio to anchor our midfield. Curtin needs to realize this and the fact Noggy isn’t a suitable #10 replacement. He shouldn’t ever leave that deep lying role. Let someone else [RIBEIRO] take that responsibility on.

  7. Bought a carton of milk that had a picture of Leo Fernandes on one side & Austin Berry the other. Noguiera is tired & Maidana nursing a hamstring. Reliable backups for Casey & LeToux down the stretch will also be important. Curtin has to have them instead of playing Noguiera out of position & starting Carroll or Lahoud. Wenger starts & Cruz subs. Mbolhi is a wild card & his reaction to our breakdowns is untested.

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