Analysis

Clouds over Chester?

Photo by 215pix, the one where Marco Fabian takes a cross in the nose

It was dark on Sunday afternoon at the usually bright Talen Energy Stadium.

The Union spent half an hour doing calisthenics with 50% effort on the field while guests New York City FC were busy building an unassailable 2-0 lead. The stands weren’t full, with plenty of ticket holders choosing standing beers and the Stadium Club to their assigned seats. The Union were missing their captain, lost their top scorer to a foot injury, had to shuffle their lineup last minute, and still chose a 4-2-3-1 formation in the end (or as opponents have come to call it: “The one where they do nothing with possession, get stretched, and give up easily fixable goals”).

The Union host a playoff game in a week and a half, which isn’t a bad thing. So instead of doom in gloom, this author chooses levity today in the form of tweets, GIFs, and memes.

This is the internet after all.

Heavy favorites

Betting odds are not necessarily the same as likelihoods to win a game, they’re more equivalent to “likelihoods to win a game that would entice a bettor to throw money into the bottomless void.” Neither here nor there, the Union opened as big favorites for next Sunday’s match against Red Bulls.

New York has a few nice wins since midsummer, including against the Union and NYCFC, but as Joe Tansey also points out, “…Red Bulls have two wins in last seven with a 5-9-3 road record. Union 10-3-4 at home.”

The Union meanwhile haven’t exactly bullied their way toward the top of the table the last month.

Though this GIF is clipped, Willie Wonka does a tuck-and-roll to finish his limping entrance. The staff here at Philly Soccer Page are expecting one of the Union’s front men to adopt the celebration for their next goal, specifically the Striker Muffin given his history of foot injuries.

In summary, knowing those two things there’s only really one meme that works here… and it’s a classic.

Formations… again

Most fans of this franchise were scratching their heads Sunday when lineups were announced. Not because Andrew Wooten was getting a chance on the wing or because Kacper Pryzbylko went suddenly and inexplicably missing, but because the team came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

This formation has been successful in 2019 almost exclusively when switched to in the second half. The space that exists in the lone striker formation only becomes useful after the team have worn out their opponents in a compact 4-4-2 diamond first. Inexplicably, the Boys in Blue have abandoned what has worked for them in most of the regular season for what has proven to be a losing strategy in many years past.

Why did the Union make the change?

Perhaps because the Boys in Blue are notoriously slow starters, “losing” the aggregate first half in 2019 pretty handily.

Courtesy of SoccerStats.com

The shot chart against NYCFC all but concedes the match early on, with the visitors taking 7 shots and scoring both goals before the hosts even register an attempt.

Courtesy of WhoScored.com

The problem with this line of thinking is that the reason the Union win the second half is because they’ve worn down an opponent in the first. Yes, the kind of chaos that wears an opponent down can also lead to goals for said team. But possession against a tired team is devastating, like the Union did in their run up the table. Possession against a fresh team is pointless, like the Union have proven in recent weeks and for many matches in prior years.

The Union ought to get back to what worked for them early in the year, knowing that chaos might be the only chance they have in the playoffs.

Seeing a pattern

Humans see patterns in everything.

Flipping a coin and getting 5 heads in a row? Not a pattern, just a 3% chance coming to fruition.

Toasting some bread and seeing face of Jesus in the burn marks? Well,…

Losing the first two games of the 2019 season and realizing then that all is lost? The Union managed to climb out of that hole.

Losing the last two games of the 2019 season and confirming then that all is lost? It wasn’t pretty, but that unfortunate outcome was about fifteen times more likely than those five coin flips in a row. The other team is trying to win too.

Union fans, or Negadelphians as they are called, worry the sky is falling at every misstep. Often times they’re right. Sometimes they’re not.

The Union are the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, ahead of much bigger budget teams like DC United and Toronto FC, and in the conversation for best-in-conference with juggernauts like Atlanta United and NYCFC.

No one outside of Chester, PA saw that coming right? Certainly not the sharps in Vegas who had the Boys in Blue +2,000 (with Minnesota United, the 4th seed in the West, at +10,000!). But the brains at MLS HQ certainly did:

  • Ben Baer: 4th in East
  • Calen Carr: 3rd in East
  • Charlie Davies: 3rd in East
  • Matt Doyle: 5th in East
  • Bobby Warshaw: 4th in East
  • Andrew Wiebe: 7th in East

So, if we’re being honest, for better and worse, and frankly one year ahead of schedule, when it comes to this year’s Union…

“…they are who we thought they were.”

Always look on the bright side of life

For one final silver lining, here’s something worth remembering.

14 Comments

  1. el Pachyderm says:

    The apathy and lack of “Jam”… as a Flyers head coach once called it… is concerning.
    .
    More or less its what I was talking about in my post regarding Montiero the last couple of games. Maybe he’s exhausted. Maybe he’s not 100%. I’m unsure but something is off with him and the whole group of them to be honest…. a lack of urgency.
    .
    I have seen this team yelling at one another, bickering, hands up, annoyed… They are uncrisp – unsharp after 8 months of playing together.
    .
    This is not a one time thing for Union fans or “Negadelphians,” as the article says we are alluded to as.
    .
    NYCFC played them off the field- like disturbingly off the field… and while people will argue Union ‘figured it out’ in the second half and clawed their way back…… I’ll argue New York were in cruise control for the final 45 minutes like a cat being done with its toy— I mean CLEARLY— dominant at that point and just trying to get out of Chester in 1 piece. You want to give up possesion of the ball AT HOME as a philosohy, fine…. better you better be sharp as fuck on the counter and clinical at finishing otherwise you look like what you look like the last 4 weeks…. utter shiite.
    .
    Better figure it out… becasue if they lose to NYRB at home in 12 days…. Holy Shit.
    .
    I have argued and stood by this team for 6 months. I believe they have the talent to make a run to MLS Cup…. but you gotta play like you think its possoible too and right now… they don’t think it is possible.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Finally someone sees the issues with Montiero. He has not been the same for a while now. Since his injury, really. I think he has been played out of position too often, at the 10, and needs to go back to being opposite Bedoya in the midfield of the 4-4-2.
      .
      If Curtin doesn’t come out in the 4-4-2 vs Red Bull and go directly at them with everything they have in the first half, to build a lead… this team will get countered right out of the playoffs. They need a lead at half. If not, Red Bull will park it and wait it out. That will not go well for the Union, who have shown they can’t break down a bunkered team

    • I keep starting comments and quitting midway because I’m worn out by my own sense of certain and impending doom brought on by watching this team fail to connect and to play with belief. I subscribe to your comments, el p. Especially, and succinctly: “It they lose to NYRB at home in 12 days…. Holy Shit.” In-fucking-deed. It would be a calamitous collapse invalidating any point total or season win records they can collect. All participation trophies as far as I’m concerned. Not good enough at all.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        Agree 100% on Monteiro. It’s almost like he forgot what made him such a spark plug and is trying to win every game with every touch.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Monteiro being played at the 10 is the problem. I don’t recall him ever playing at the 10 in the 4-4-2. When he first arrived, we were told he was a 6 or 8. I think he was at his best at the 8 in the 4-4-2 opposite Bedoya and combining with Wagner. He’s the same player he was before, albeit maybe not 100% healthy right now.

  2. Fantastic article; one of the best ever here. Thanks for spending the time to put it all together. I think that we have the best chance against the pink cows and potentially could win in Atlanta, as we have done before.

  3. He with the broken ribs says:

    Nice one Chris

  4. Going into September the Union were flying high. They had just decimated DC twice to almost guarantee home field advantage (which we got), and toasted Atlanta to make us really see that this was the best Union team ever.
    .
    Since then, they tied LAFC (not too shabby), then pattered away points in the usual September swoon.
    .
    I wanted to give Tanner and Jim credit for an amazing season, but we only have one more win than last year.
    For as well as we did on the road this year, we ended with the same away record as last year.
    We let in just as many goals as last year (though we did put in 9 more).
    And we let the pigeons beat us in the final game of the year again.
    .
    After a season of sitting in 1st for so long this year felt different, but I am not nearly as confident as I was when September started.
    .
    .
    .
    But, the Red Bulls are beatable this year. And we have gotten results in MercBend before (1pt counts as results right?). I want to see a resurgence of the Kacper shhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

  5. I am perplexed at all the people arguing that the team should play a 4-4-2, and I must dissent. I think the team is much better suited for the 4-2-3-1 that Jim is currently playing. There are 2 reasons:

    1. Playing the 4-4-2 means having Medunjanin at the rear of the midfield by himself. This is defensively dubious, to say the least. The Union give up lots of goals from late runners in the box, and a big part of that is Haris’ defensive limitations. He needs somebody next to him for that reason.

    2. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, our striker pool ain’t exactly lighting up the world. Obviously Kacper has had a fantastic year, but after him, you got Wooten (who clearly hasn’t adjusted to things yet), Santos (who’s had a couple of good games but otherwise has been mostly anonymous), and Picault (who has the unfortunate problem, when pushed into the striker’s role, of being unable to finish). OTOH, we have a whole bunch of quality midfielders — so many that our lauded DP signing, who has a nice shot from distance, can’t even crack the XI. So it only makes sense to use the stronger players in a formation that best suits them instead of trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes.

    No, the problem against NYCFC wasn’t the formation; the problem, in addition to having 2 key players out, was that he stated Ilsinho. Ilsinho should NEVER start unless there are desperate circumstances, as he simply never has the same impact on the match that he does as a sub. He should’ve started Fabián at the 10 instead, with Aaronson and Picault on the wings, and Ilsinho left to provide the second-half energy boost that he often does.

    P.S. I definitely agree that Monteiro hasn’t looked the same. I keep wondering if the issue that he’s been shuffled around to so many different midfield positions that it’s hard for him to know where he should be. He should be playing at CDM, next to Medunjanin. (And next season, if we can re-sign him, and Jim wants to play a 4-4-2 diamond, he should be at the base of the diamond by himself.) I suppose it could also be that he still is nagged by pain and we’re not hearing about it (as was apparently the case with David Accam last year).

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      To speak to some of your points:
      .
      1. With Montiero and Bedoya on the field, they both had a good understanding of when to support Haris and when to get forward. I feel like Haris had the help he needed when Bedoya and Montiero were opposite each other in the 4-4-2
      .
      2. I won’t argue Kacper has really been the only consistent guy up top. I will say that while we don’t have a true second striker, I was a fan of the Fafa / Kacper combo. Or the Santos / Kacper combo – but with that said – Santos wasn’t healthy long enough to prove this to be successful… ANYWAY, my point is, playing one of those two with Kacper – allows you to switch formation and bring Ilsinho on in the 4-2-3-1, where I think he can do the most damage. If Fabian hasn’t gotten it done – and he hasn’t – then Aaronson can start at the 10 in the 4-4-2. To me, Fabian can (and should be) most successful when he isn’t asked to do much except stay up-field and drive the attack. With Bedoya and Montiero covering Haris, he should be able to do this.
      .
      I do totally agree that Ilsinho cannot and should not start.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        I have to agree with most of what OMW said. Monteiro, Bedoya, and Wagner tracking back after an unsuccessful attack saved Haris. I made this point after the Montreal game that Wagner missed. Haris had no one to bail him out in the 4-4-2 and we lost 4-0 to a counterattacking team.
        .
        As for Ilsinho, I 100% agree. Wooten and Ilsinho pressing together is a nightmare. Fafa and Aaronson looked exhausted because they were essentially by themselves pressing up top.

  6. I have the same reaction when I read Negadelphian as I do when Joe Buck would say “you know this town once threw sno….”.
    .
    Enough already. You know what cures negativity? Winning. Just win baby. That’s all we want. The U played themselves into this game. They crapped themselves out of a CCL spot over the last two weeks, Negadelphians didn’t.
    .
    Calling out the fans because, excuse us if we have seen this one before, a Curtin led Union team have crumpled like a cheap suit in the heat of a Sept/Oct finish. 0-3 in Cup finals. 0-2 in playoffs. A stunning 1.04PPG in Sep/Oct matches, bringing new meaning to “fall”. I applaud your effort to spin gold from their inability to stick the landing, just stop laying it at the feet of fans.

    Shit, I didn’t start Ray Gaddis 150 freaking times in this league.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      So your preference is the years when they crap themselves in March – August so the games in September and October don’t matter?
      .
      I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again. The last couple of weeks in May hurt the Union’s CCL/1st place hopes as much as the post Labor Day part of the season.

      • Absolutely agree with this. When you play early in the season with the attitude that any particular game is “a throw-away” because it’s an away game (or whatever reason you can come up with), then you set yourself up for this end-of-season scenario that we find ourselves in again. I’ve said before that if you win the “easy” games instead of blowing them 4-0, we wouldn’t even be talking about this because we would have finished in front of NYFC with a margin.

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