Fans' View

Fans’ View: Style talk…again

Bottom-line up front: I’m optimistic about the direction the Union is taking, but I’m not expecting too much too soon.

I appreciate Ernie Stewart’s seemingly methodical approach to rebuilding the team. This is a critical time for the club as it searches to find an identity. I thoroughly enjoyed Adam Cann’s recent series here from his discussions with Jim Curtin about the plan for this year. While overall I am encouraged that there has obviously been some real thought put into its development, I am a bit concerned about one value that is getting a lot of attention…defense.

Jim Curtin’s comments about the importance of getting shutouts is worth thinking about beyond its obvious value. His assumption is that if you focus on getting shutouts you will do well in the league because “In games where teams kept a clean sheet last year, they averaged 2.5 points.”

As a physician, (much like anyone who deals with research and data in their career), I’m trained to beware of the difference between correlation and causation. For instance, “The rooster crows, then the sun rises,” is an example of correlation. The rooster is not causing the sun to rise. Curtin’s quote is similar; clean sheets are associated with higher than average points per game, but they are not necessarily the cause.

That is to say, just because a team didn’t concede a goal, it doesn’t mean that was their main objective from the outset. It may have been the team’s gameplan was to dominate possession and attack relentlessly. That team may very well also keep a clean sheet. You might consider this “the best defense is a good offense” argument. I’m worried that Curtin’s message may come across to the players solely as “defend first.”

How many times with the Union have we seen “defend first” turn into “sit back first?” These are two very different actions. Teams that sit back are averse to risk-taking and end up enduring chance after chance as the opposition grows in confidence. That is not only my least favorite soccer to watch, but also frequently results in the gut-punch late loss.

It certainly sounds like there is a more intelligent plan in place, but I cringe when I hear the dogma that a solid defense is the only way to do well in MLS. What does that mean for the style of play? I realize that the “style vs. results” argument can (and will) go on indefinitely, but the fact remains that I want to be entertained.

You can achieve clean sheets in a Borussia-Dortmund-under-Jurgen-Klopp system of gegenpressing and direct play, or you can do it in a Chelsea-under-Jose-Mourinho-bus-park system–which for me is only slightly more interesting than doing taxes.

While I am definitely in the camp that would prefer to see us win 4-3 rather than 1-0, I realize that style of play may not always give the Union the results we desire. Yet, an entire organizational structure designed around the main objective of not conceding goals runs the risk of being timid and…boring.

As for this fan…I want my team to be fearless.


  1. Good thoughts, Scott, but I think that the comments from Earnie and Jim give us greater insight. They are not intending to play the Chelsea Park-the-Bus style. They are bringing in athletes with speed and passing abilities so that they can play a high line out of the back. This implies a desire to continually press and keep the opposition on their heels.
    Whether they can pull it off is another story. But their soundbites make it sound as if they are going with “offense if the best defense.” (And as a fan of PAC-12 football, I love that!)

    • Agreed. Last year the team HAD to sit back and “park” because it’s the only way poor defending players have a chance of defending effectively.
      This year, at least the way I’m reading it, it sounds like the team will have more freedom to attack because the quality of the defenders’ speed (Thank GOD we’ll have a little SPEED on this team!) and ball handling will mean they can be more effective without having to resort playing SO “safe” all the time.
      Not worried. Very excited to see how this begins to form and develop.

  2. Lucky Striker says:

    yes-clearly as constructed they can’t sit back unless Blake stands on his head.

    DM & L-side defending concern me more than striker at the moment…….

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    Sometimes the best defense is not allowing the other team to have the ball which historically the Union has been glad to do… you know what disgusts me… ceeding possession to a team at home…chasing a game as default.
    Sometimes you have to bunker but Chelsea also played beautifully when the manager suspected superiority.
    By virtue of more technical precision I suspect we are going to shorten the distance in possession percentage which will result in fewer gols allowed.
    I also think Anderson and Fabinho will make strong compliments this season and suspect generally our actual defending will improve as well. I’m hopeful of the Anderson, Marquez, Edu triangle.
    Good stuff SP.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    I have a strong inkling… and I am sure I am not alone in this, that Curtain is a place holder. I like him, he’s a good, nice, local guy… but I truly believe Stewart will be getting HIS guy in here sooner than later. I don’t think Curtain can adapt, and do the things the way Stewart wants them done. My point is that Curtain prefers the 1-0, defend, defend, defend style, and will have trouble managing a team to not try and do that.
    Prove me wrong. I am not a Curtain hater. I don’t want to see him fail. I just don’t think he is Stewart’s guy, and it was easier for Stewart to just keep him a year (or less), do some work to the roster, and then change the manager.

    • This is my fear as well. He seems to prefer big and strong over fast and technical. I’m willing to give him plenty of time. Like I said, we shouldn’t get our expectations too high…this is a “rebuilding year.”

      • Do we know what types of players Jim prefers? He has said the time of big/strong defenders has past. So maybe he can change. I think they thought Vittoria was going to be a technical player.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      To finish my thought above… and that is when we will see a more true attacking style.
      Agreed spugger… this year is all about progress. I look at it like the Flyers this year. Show well. Grow as a team. Get an identity. Spend wisely. Will prolly sniff the playoffs, but ultimately miss them. If all that happens… I am a happy man.

      • All well and good building a team for the future, develop a style, build a coaching staff, etc. How is this done though when a lot of players and talent are sitting on 2 year or less contracts or loans. I could be wrong but I think Barnetta, Nogs, CJ, Alberg (if signed, heard inklings of a 2 year contract) Conceicao, Marquez, Pontius all have contracts up within a 2 years. I mean I am all for waiting and seeing what people can do and not throwing money at them. But there has to be some stability whether players coaches etc to build a team. Now typically if you think a guy has talent and is a long term solution I would say sign them for a 3 to 4 year contract at a lower salary gives space to build a team in the future. 2 years throws all sorts of contract problems in the mix as the player starts to get comfortable to allow them to request more money or leave. Just a thought.

      • Most of these 2 year deals also come with club options so they actually better for the club than the player.
        I also think the idea that Curtin wants big and strong over fast and technical is completely false. Yeah he said he wanted to get bigger, stronger, faster last year but he also said you obviously need to make sure you have the technical side taken care of first. It just annoys me that this also gets brought up when basically none of our additions under him have been pure athletes who are crappy technical players.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      This is a good discussion gentlemen and it helps me breath deeply knowing many folks think in similar terms regarding this whole new phase of the club’s existence.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly OMW. This year is for ES to get acclimated to the league’s rules and dynamic as well as getting to know existing players and nuances inside the organization. The rookie coach can help him do that. It also feels like he’s giving JC some rope in terms of personnel and tactics. If it works out, great, if not he’s set the stage to bring in a guy he trusts next season (or earlier).
      I agree with the article in terms of short term expectations: they shouldn’t be very high. With that said this season will show us if the team is moving in the right direction or if it is the same Union with different actors.

  5. I’m really looking forward to seeing them play. All this season needs to be about is the road forward… El P’s V.P.P. ! It will not always be pretty,but that’s OK. It just needs to be positive.

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