Union

Stock rising/falling: Union 2-3 DC United

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union concluded their preseason with a lackluster 3-2 loss to D.C. United Saturday evening. In a game treated meaningfully by both managers, Jim Curtin will have cause for concern as he prepares the team for the season opener in Vancouver. Certain experiments look like they will pay dividends when it matters. Others should be scrapped (let’s not play Herbers as a no. 10).

Rising

Derrick Jones

There is a beauty in the symmetrical rise of Jones during the Union’s preseason. He started in PSP’s stock falling section. Against the Impact, his performance earned him a “hold” position. Jones will finish with his stock rising. Upon entering the game in the 62nd minute, the homegrown player may have cemented his place in the starting lineup this Sunday. While still prone to inaccurate passing, he is the best option next to Haris Medunjanin. Jones’ ability to read the game stymied a United attack previously controlling the center of the pitch. Until the eventual return of Maurice Edu, the 19-year-old will develop his game in Philly rather than Bethlehem.

Marcus Epps

Philadelphia’s deepest position rests in its abundance of wide players. For a second round draft pick, it was always a long shot to start the season with the Union. Marcus Epps, however, deserves to be with the team in Vancouver. He was never going to earn a starting spot ahead of Chris Pontius, Fabian Herbers, or Ilsinho, but Epps can be a dangerous tool coming off Curtin’s bench. In the 86th minute, the former USF standout used an overlapping Fabinho run to fire a shot into the far corner of goal. It was a finish and movement demonstrating the poise and conviction you wouldn’t expect from a rookie.

Andre Blake

There is one small joy in the Union doing their best to emulate the defending from the NBA’s all-star game: Everyone gets reminded they have the best young goalkeeper in MLS. Blake made a tremendous reactionary save from a DC corner in the 13th minute. More encouraging, the Jamaican international confidently cleared dangerous crosses from his area. Going into the season, there is one position the Union can count on every week.

The luck of the Union

The final score was 3-2. DC United could have claimed six. In the 4th minute, Ilsinho ended an attack in the box with a shoulder from behind. The 43rd minute saw Richie Marquez knock down Luciano Acosta. Both would have been deserving penalties. Finally, a Patrick Mullins goal was disallowed due to an incorrect offside call. The Union can only hope to be this fortunate when the results matter.

Falling

Oguchi Onyewu

There is hope the veteran defender’s strength, positioning, and tenacity will provide stability.

However, D.C.’s attack, through the creative force of Acosta, consistently isolated Onyewu. In these situations, Gooch’s lack of pace can have crippling ramifications.

On the first goal, Patrick Nyarko blew past Onyewu and split Keegan Rosenberry. Time came to a halt as the Ghanaian picked his spot and put United on the board. While not as overt, D.C.’s third goal also took advantage of the center back’s less than stellar agility. Mullins, with the ball at his feet, feinted a run toward goal. Reluctant to be beaten again, Onyewu overcommitted to the dummy. It provided all the space Mullins would need to send a curler into the corner.

Roland Alberg

Jim Curtin treated this contest as if it was the season opener. Three substitutions were used. Roland Alberg was not. The decision to start Herbers as the No. 10 was even more curious. The young German’s work ethic cannot be faulted, but he is too direct to unlock a defense when the key is guile and creativity. Chasing the game, Curtin chose to bring in Jones after Herbers failed to make an impact. Alejandro Bedoya moved farther up the field.

Two different attacking options were preferred to Roland Alberg. The Dutch attacking mid will need to make his impact as a substitute. Even then, he does not appear to be the first name off the bench.

4-2-3-1

The preseason, in a general sense, serves two purposes.

  1. To perfect. A manager wants to fine tune his tactics. When opening day comes, a cohesive unit will take the field.
  2. To experiment. Jim Curtin decided to forgo experimentation on his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

It seems unlikely, however, that a finely tuned machine will take the field in Vancouver. Neither Jay Simpson nor C.J. Sapong have instilled confidence they can thrive as the lone forward. While Medunjanin is serving as Vincent Nogueira’s replacement, the Union are still seeking a stand-in for Tranquillo Barnetta. There does not appear to be a like-for-like answer. Alejandro Bedoya brings a lot to the table, but most of that is through sheer force of will and determination. He isn’t one to patiently pick apart a defense.

While counterintuitive, perhaps the best way to get the most out of the Nos. 9 and 10 is some variation of the 4-4-2. It would be interesting to see how Simpson and Sapong (not to mention a healthy Fafà Picault) could play off of each other. Both have the strength to play with their back toward goal and neither would list pace as a weakness.  When an attack is struggling to find bite, like Saturday evening, sometimes experimentation is the answer. Alas, it is not to be. Jim Curtin, and the Union, are committed to a formation that has yet to get the most from his players.

12 Comments

  1. I don’t see how a 4-4-2 benefits us that much. Bedoya and Medunjanin can’t play in the middle together, this game made that abundantly clear. It would be even worse if you put them at a numerical disadvantage in the central midfield.
    .
    You need a defensive center mid beside Medunjanin. All a 4-4-2 does IMO is force you to put Bedoya out right and that means losing Pontius, Herbers, or Ilson Jr. You could move Pontius up as a second striker, but I don’t think that provides enough speed to keep teams back lines honest without pushing the wings really, really high.

  2. Curtin needs to think about CDM defensively for now. We don’t have our best back line, won’t for a while. I say you play double pivot, Jones and Medunjanin. Play Herbers and Pontius outside for defensive work rate. Bedoya at the ten for the same reason. Striker? Sapong/Simpson offer about as much.

  3. Going into the opener, the Union look frighteningly inconsistent. The Yaro injury really could cost us badly to start the year.
    .
    We either don’t have the players to fit the system and succeed or we don’t have the manager to roll it out correctly. Both are equally disconerning.
    .
    I’m not quite sure how much we’ve improved from last year. Our depth seems to have really increased, which is excellent. I think Haris and Bedoya will end up okay and Jones will certainly grow. The problem is we still have huge glaring weaknesses at forward and CB. You can’t win that way.

  4. Nit — Marcus Epps played for the University of South Florida (USF, in Tampa) not the University of Central Florida (UCF, in Orlando).

  5. In your 4-2-3-1 paragraph you say one purpose of the preaseaon is to experiment and that’s exactly what the Union did. No they didn’t experiment with formation but they did experiment with players in different formations. Really the idea of formations is overblown unless you make drastic changes. Player styles matter much more. I’m fine with whatever, we just need to have an actual 6 out there, especially on the road. I fully expect either Creavalle or Jones to be starting this game with Bedoya at the 10.

  6. Every time that I think about how Curtin claims that he want the Union to play, I struggle to understand how Alberg fits in. He’s not really a 10 and just doesn’t perform the defensive responsibilities that is required from the outside attacking players. He can’t hold up the ball like a lone striker does. Aside from being a sub who is brought on when the team is pressing for a late goal, I don’t forsee a use for him.

    As an aside, if Alberg had a little more playmaking ability, he would be similar to Gilles Barnes who is primarily focused on creating scoring opportunities for himself while ocassionally setting up others.

  7. Next press conference, someone needs to ask Jim about Alberg. Union is investing a lot of money (and a #10 jersey) in a guy who can’t seem to find his way onto the pitch. He’s not going to have any value if they can’t get him into games. Maybe trade him/sell him within the league. I’m really surprised to see him getting passed over by Herbers in midfield.

    • Herbers is going to be Curtins downfall. He is nowhere near as good as Curtin thinks he is.

    • I think Alberg is on the way out, and I don’t think Curtin is going to say a thing about that.

      As for Herbers … he produced last year. That counts for something, no?

      • They were shopping Alberg around after the season ended but didn’t get a suitable deal.

        I don’t think Curtin has ever been able to get the most out of Roland, which is a shame because you can see he has potential.

    • Alberg simply doesn’t fit our system. He should be gone.

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