Commentary / Union

The Overlap: Thoughts from the interstitial period

Photo: Stephen Speer

We are in the between times. The season is over, but yet to begin. For, it is only in the playoffs that the Union can be judged. The regular season has been conquered. The postseason is an undiscovered country.

Looking back on 2021, my thoughts on the team and what it has done are not fully formed—much like the team itself. While the season began with uncertainty, the assumption was that by now, we would know what we have. And, while it may be settled for now, this Union team still feels like a transitional thing. The organization has done an admirable job holding serve after losing foundational pieces in the offseason, but it’s clear the team requires further change to reach its next phase, whatever that might be.

As such, I feel strangely unconcerned about what may come in the playoffs. I want two wins, but if they don’t come, I know it won’t be from lack of effort. The Union are very hard to beat, and they work hard. If they fail to win it will be because another team earned it. I’m okay with that.

What we mean when we talk about strikers

I do have some things on my mind, though, as we look ahead to the postseason and beyond. Foremost among them is the question of the strikers. This has been a point of debate among we fans for much of the season. Many of us feel the team needs a serious upgrade. Some of us, like my esteemed colleague Chris Gibbons, believe that the strikers we have are better than we give them credit for, and that replacing them will be difficult, and may not get us the results we hope for, anyway.

I find myself of two minds. On the one hand, I agree with Chris. Kacper Przybyłko, especially, probably does not deserve to be maligned as he has been. At the same time, I can’t help but think that there’s room for improvement up top, and getting that improvement could be the difference between being one of the many chasers and winning the race.

So it got me thinking: What are we really talking about when we kvetch about the strikers?

We’re talking about goals. The Union are where they are this season because they are stingy defensively. They don’t, however, score enough goals of their own. And, it’s the strikers’ job to score the goals. If the team isn’t scoring, it stands to reason, ipso facto, the strikers need replacing.

But we all know that a lot more goes into scoring goals than having good strikers. Having a system that supports what the strikers do well matters, too, and having midfielders and fullbacks that can get the ball to the strikers’ feet in dangerous positions. It’s a team effort, in other words, so if goals aren’t happening, it’s necessary to take a holistic view of the team’s offensive production.

Sadly, that’s going to be a job for the offseason. The team is pretty set in its ways, at this point, and we’ll have to hope the creative players, who have shown signs of improvement of late, are able to provide enough chances for the strikers and others to take.

Prognostications

No, I will not be making any predictions about the playoffs. But let’s throw our minds a bit further ahead. What’s the offseason likely to bring?

There’s a good deal of uncertainty. Several players are likely to draw some interest, including Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner. Both are under team control, though, so won’t leave unless the offers are good, and replacements are available. Losing Wagner would be a blow, and he signed a new contract recently, so I hope he will stay. Mbaizo splits opinion, but Nathan Harriel isn’t ready to start every game, so I wouldn’t want him to go without a good replacement, either. José Martínez is another name to watch. With Leon Flach on the roster, losing El Brujo might sting somewhat less than it would have a year ago, but he still brings a great deal to this team.

The big question mark is Jamiro Monteiro. He nearly left in the summer but, since bedding back into the team, has been a rock. Yes, he often slows play down, but he also puts the opposition under more pressure than any other player on the roster. Were he to go, the Union would look very different, and surely would need some DP-level replacement, whether in his position or elsewhere. And elsewhere might be the best bet, as the homegrowns and Flach seem more than ready to inherit the midfield.

Waiting is hard

I’m excited for the playoffs to begin. And I’m excited for what comes after. I hate these waiting times, when all we have is our theories and theorems to keep us warm. Like a child anticipating summer break, I hope 11/20 will be here fast, and we can get started.

5 Comments

  1. el Pachyderm says:

    They need some (more) playoff success. It’s been a long haul in the micro and macro. If they play well however and are beaten I can always be okay with that.
    .
    It’s the times when they play god awful and disjointed (of their own doing often) or come out tight/flat or bottle it when they realize the other team is playing too -which have all happened that I get testy… and then cannot relax into the match.
    .
    I’ve argued 100x here the aesthetic matters as much if not more than the results for my taste. I seek harmony and theta waves from the game to be intuitive, calmed. The game is as much if not more—art then sport.
    .
    I always hope they win as winning matters and understand others who are hyper focused on the results but a well played game that ends in defeat tends to never really bother me.
    .
    I need them to play well. I hope they win.
    .
    I’ve come to accept despite the style they employ (short short long cross cross cross) and near shunning of calm possession of the ball at times… Philadelphia Union are really doing ‘‘this whole thing’ the right way as evidenced previously in my comments by Wynalda and Hercules’ conversation on For the Win recently. They are doing this whole thing the right way: VISION, Philosophy, Plan within the US Soccer policy structure (which is a different argument altogether) which ultimately hamstrings the development & game on multiple levels.
    .
    1. Spend very wisely.
    2. High potential players / minimally budgeted.
    3. Don’t pin everything on lucrative DP signings that tend not to play out in best interest of team.
    4. American coach.
    5. Academy producing talent.
    6. Decent stadium experience (despite location protestations).
    .
    Let’s go. I’ll be ready. Just Play Well.

    • I really feel all of this comment. And part of the reason I’m looking forward to what happens in the offseason is that it always holds out the hope that the aesthetic stuff will improve as the roster changes and evolves. It lets us hope we can have winning _and_ style, too. We already know what we’re getting from the 2021 crew, but 2022? Hope springs eternal.

  2. FWIW, Pryzbylko finished 11th in the league in expected goals (xG), with 11.88 xG and 12 actual goals (so neither over performing nor underperforming):
    https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/expected-goals-leaders-from-the-mls-2021-season

  3. In Tanner We Trust says:

    I love Martinez, but if they get a really good offer for him they gotta take it. Flach deserves more of a look at the 6 and the midfield is overrun with very young and raw talent for the future. And with Bedoya hopefully taking a bench role next year there needs to be opportunity to go around.
    .
    As for Monteiro, same as after 2019, the #1 priority is keeping him. In 3 years here, what have we accomplished at any time he’s not on the field? Blake and Bedoya were probably 2 and 3 on the “most valuable” list in that stretch. Without Bedoya in 2019, we managed to come back against Atlanta and grasp first place for the time. And months prior, even Coronel went 4-0-0 starting for Blake after Freese got hurt. Blake may be the best GK in league history, but in my opinion, Miro has been the most irreplaceable player since he’s arrived.

  4. The striker situation would be a lot better if Santos could stay healthy. He shows how valuable speed is for the counterattack. But his unreliability means he should be replaced with a similar speedy striker.

    Yes Martinez does lots of good things, but his sloppy and untimely giveaways (and fouls) are a huge negative. Flach would be just fine as his replacement.

    And I just don’t see the love for Monteiro. He is not a good 10 and he makes too much money for a wing midfielder without goal scoring ability. Moneyball says to sell him to a European team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

%d bloggers like this: