Tactical Analysis

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 2-0 Chicago Fire

Photo: 215pix

At the top, briefly: it’s an honor to be named PSP’s new managing editor. I am indebted to the irreplaceable Ed Farnsworth for his many years of work as managing editor, and I hope to be able to fill a fraction of his shoes. Thanks, too, to Dan Walsh for the trust he’s placed in me. And PSP exists because of our tremendous staff and our community of readers, commenters, and Patreon supporters. Thank you for making this a publication unlike any other in Philadelphia.

Okay, enough self-congratulatory waffle. The Union!

Saturday’s victory over Chicago Fire, while not as overwhelmingly dominant as you’d like against a team that hasn’t won on the road yet this year, was a professional performance by the Union, and a welcome return to form after an ugly outing in Salt Lake City.

Here are three things that stood out to me during the match.

Midfield depth a sudden strength

How long has it been since all three substitutes in a Union match were midfielders?

Saturday night saw Anthony Fontana, Ilsinho, and Warren Creavalle all come off the bench for Philadelphia.

It highlighted the Union’s newfound depth in midfield, where you could argue that they have eight competent players for four spots — adding Jamiro Monteiro to Saturday starters Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Marco Fabian, and Brenden Aaronson, plus the three subs.

That depth has been tested in recent weeks, with Monteiro, Ilsinho, Fabian, and Creavalle all out or struggling with injury.

Most promising from Saturday are Fontana’s emergence and Creavalle’s return. Fontana looked well on the outskirts of the first team for most of the season, appearing in just one game before July, and some wondered whether the Union would cut bait with the 19-year-old Homegrown. But Fontana has fought his way into the conversation, producing his first MLS goal since March 2018 with a tidy finish on Saturday to put the nail in the Fire’s coffin — and earning praise from manager Jim Curtin post-match. Creavalle, a cagey veteran, only got on the pitch for a handful of minutes, but his skillset — that of a competent ball-winning, ground-covering destroyer — has been absent from the Union bench for much of the season.

With Monteiro expected to return to action this week or next, the Union find themselves with a lot of options in the midfield. That’s undoubtedly a good thing heading down the stretch, especially given the workloads that three of midfielders have already shouldered this season. At age 32 and 34, Bedoya and Medunjanin have played every minute of every match — two of a minuscule group of field players who’ve done that in MLS. They may need their minutes managed in the run-in to the playoffs. Aaronson, at just 18, is the flip side of the coin. He’s already made 18 starts for 1260 minutes in his first full professional season, and may not be able to keep up his performance as the season comes to a close.

With Fontana and Creavalle emergent on the bench, Curtin will feel confident he can manage that group for the rest of the season.

Marco Fabian

First thing’s first: that was a hell of a goal.

The Union’s set piece routines have been hit or miss for a while now. With a setup like this, you really need someone who can reliably hit that howitzer from the top of the box. (Memory fails, but I think one time Ray Gaddis found himself in that role…) In Fabian, the Union have a player who has that shot in his toolbox — it won’t go in every time, but the possibility is there.

Fabian, working his way back from nagging injury, has now started three games in a row, and has two goals to show for it. It’s clear that Fabian is unlikely to be the kind of No. 10 that puts up double-digit assists on a regular basis — his zero assists on the season are a far cry from Borek Dockal’s league-leading 18 last year. But if he can put himself in dangerous situations and get on the scoreboard himself, the Union will probably take that, considering the passing range of Monteiro (seven assists) and Medunjanin (six assists) behind Fabian.

Ball on frame

For all the praise I just put on Fabian’s shot, he’s not the most efficient shooter in the world. The goal was the only one of his five shots that was actually on target.

This is somewhat of a team-wide problem for the Union recently. Over the last three games, Philadelphia has taken 40 shots. Only ten have been on target, or 25 percent. That’s down from the Union’s season-long number, which sits at 36 percent.

(For what it’s worth, the league as a whole has put 2,341 of 6,827 shots on target in 2019, a 34.3 percent mark. Yeah, I know math.)

It’s a small sample, and it may be more of a blip than anything. Maybe it’s just a function of Fabian’s propensity to open fire from anywhere on the pitch — he’s put 12 of 40 shots on goal this season, so the Fire match is exactly in line with his 20 percent number on the year.

Maybe, too, having a clinical striker like Andrew Wooten on the pitch will help, assuming he can crack the starting lineup soon.

6 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Dumb question. Do Fabian’s 5 shots include the one that was so far off target that it went out for a throw in?

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    I was thinking to myself that a midfield acquisition over the summer might be useful. It turns out that Anthony Fontana was that mid-summer acquisition: he’s looked poised and assertive and might be the second best “utility knife” midfielder on the team, after Monteiro. Quite a feat.

    • I think I agree. It’s so important for Fontana and Aaronson to improve and at the very least become high quality MLS talent for simple proof of concept that the model Tanner is trying to bring to this club, and to MLS for that matter, is viable. Success at the Union for players who develop an actual value for Europe is key. Feels like we’re tantalizingly close. I sure hope we are.

  3. Not sure if this is the best place to post this, but what do you think about starting Bedoya as our right fullback?

    This could give him somewhat of a rest and allow us to have more of the midfielders on at once. Also, his one on one defending is great, imo, and he would probably do better than Gaddis back there. In my head it solves multiple problems, but I haven’t heard it floated anywhere else so I’m doubting myself.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      He’s moved into that role (sort of) a few times this season, with Ray playing as a kind of defensive midfielder when he stays on and when the formation changes and Ray comes off to chase a goal.

    • Not sure that the nonstop overlapping runs and hustling back to defend that are required of fullbacks in the modern game would be much of a rest compared to the wide midfield role he’s primarily used in.

      He does have the work rate for the job, and it would allow us to get players with more attacking instincts on the field than with Ray at RB. DeMarcus Beasley extended his career at fullback, so maybe.

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