Finding a 10: What took so long?

Photo by Paul Rudderow

The Union have, at last, found a workable number 10.

Ilsinho is not a natural at the position. He leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t have the passing game that a player really needs to excel at the position. But he does have the ability to hold possession, giving the players around him time to move into positions that challenge defenses. It may be a bit of a stretch, but there’s reason to draw comparisons with Carlos Valderrama; they’re both non-traditional number 10s who have a phenomenal ability to hold the ball under pressure. Neither is a defensive powerhouse, but simply giving teammates time to adapt and recover is a form of defense in its own way.

This leaves the question: What took so long? Apparently Roland Alberg was the first choice at the 10, but he was sidelined for fitness concerns. Trying Alejandro Bedoya at the position wasn’t necessarily a mistake. He’s a versatile player, but it didn’t take long to see it wasn’t going to work. Bedoya’s time at the 10 showcased perfectly how poorly he was suited for the role while simultaneously denying the team his skills in other areas. He was essentially invisible at the beginning of the year, failing to make an impression. That’s not something this team could afford. Bedoya knew it wasn’t his best position, Jim Curtin acknowledged it wasn’t his best position, and still Bedoya continued to play at the 10. All while Ilsinho traded minutes with Fabian Herbers out on the wing.

Time and time again, particularly last season, Jim Curtin has proven slow to adapt to obvious issues on the field, and the delay in trying Ilsinho at the 10 is just one example of that flaw. C.J. Sapong has played 841 consecutive (not to mention physical) minutes, and he was noticeably fatigued in the elevated game against Salt Lake.The Ray Gaddis – Keegan Rosenberry debate continues among fans, while Curtin has seemingly affirmed Ray’s position in the starting XI.

Going forward, Curtin’s hesitancy will become a liability if he doesn’t fix it. Teams will study the film. Opponents will figure out how to exploit Ilsinho’s weaknesses. Based on what we saw in Salt Lake City, it’s possible that they already have. If Jim Curtin fails to adapt to that quickly enough, we will likely see a return to the struggles that defined the start of this season.

Still, Ilsinho has performed well since taking the 10 spot. Putting players out of position is rarely a good idea, and it’s hardly a stretch to say that Ilsinho’s game has holes. But a solution has been found that not only allows the offense to function but also helps free up some of the congestion on the wings. It works for now, even if we know it won’t work forever.

The question is, will Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtin make the right change again when they need to?


  1. The answer to the question is that Ilsinho was hurt/sick to start the year, Alberg was insanely out of shape, and Fafa was hurt at the beginning too. We literally had no option but to play Bedoya there (unless you wanted Sapong there). Then Alberg got more fit so as was the original plan he played. Now it’s Ilsinho’s turn because we are finally getting decent wing play, but honestly he’s only had 1 really good game there. He was terrible last game.

  2. pragmatist says:

    I don’t think we have a large enough sample size to determine if Ilsinho is the answer. He has had one very good game and one very bad game. Although I think he’s the kind of player that thrives when we are on the front foot, which is why his first game went so well. If Fafa scores that RSL goal, I think it would have set up well for Ilsinho to be more aggressive and confident. As it was, he was unable to affect the game while chasing.
    It’s hard to imagine that Earnie is just going to roll with Ilsinho and not look to improve the spot when he can. The issue is how much they will be willing to spend on possibly the most important position on the field, behind keeper. (Likely answer? “Not Much.”)
    But let’s give him 4-8 games at the spot before judging the success or failure of the experiment.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I agree 100%.
      The pass by Ilsinho on that Fafa near miss was excellent. The idea he can’t pass is silly.
      I has sprung at least 4-6 vertical defense gutting balls this year that if they were turned into goals we would likely be thinking and saying”damn that man is a natural 10.”


  3. Really concerned with the way right back is managed: I think that if Ray and Keegan are close in the manager’s mind, it should not be the starters spot until he plays terrible. Both should play periodically. To me, there is nothing like watching the game to grow a player’s desire to improve and perform- and so both players should have that opportunity.

    THis narrative borders on ridiculous. Keegan plays every min last season, looks dumpy this, Ray plays well and is now the starter for every remaining min?

    • pragmatist says:

      I saw someone (can’t remember where) that Ray was put in for his 1-on-1 defense, since KR was having trouble to start the year and we were leaking goals. It’s a valid thought, but once things have stabilized, you need to find the time to switch it up and bring in the more dynamic player.
      KR will be starting again, it’s just a matter of time. His performances to start the year were not great. But hopefully the fire was lit under him again.

    • I think they’re managing the right back position with an eye toward selling either Gaddis or Rosenberry during the transfer window. Keep playing Gaddis, and some club is bound to say either, “That guy is a solid veteran, can we buy him off you?” or “That ROTY runner up you’re not using, can we buy him off you?”

  4. Section 114 (Former) says:

    Curtin clearly still thinks like a player — no one wants to lose their spot and sit without fault. “If I’m playing well and am not hurt, I am the best choice for this game.”
    While typical, and maybe even accurate over the immediate turn, that kind of tactical short-term decision making fails when you are responsible not for one player’s performance but for a squad, and for that squad’s performance over a seven month season. Think Donald Trump firing Jim Comey — short term release of pressure, but quickly replaced by long-term, more significant pressure.
    Curtin’s perspective is even more warped because he is/was a physical beast and played the position on the field, other than keeper, where a player is least likely to melt down from fatigue and overuse. As a beast of a center back, he was not expected to sprint at high pace all game, suffering the twangs that come with that kind of action. And while he would occasionally have bruising battles, he would often get a game that was easier, when the other side used smaller or single-forward setups. Those kinds of “down” games never happen for Sapong, who is up there, alone, getting kicked in the calf and leaned on for 90 minutes every game.
    If the team fails this year, and we will unless this changes, it will be because key pieces wear out and break and they don’t have the depth to recover.
    I am not calling for the team to rest everyone in New York — they have two weeks off coming up right afterwards. But it sure woulda been nice to see Simpson and Rosenberry get a start last week, and it will be essential in July and August, particularly as the squad deals with the likely absences for international duty.

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