Commentary / For Pete's Sake

Time to give Jack McGlynn a run

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Two straight matches where Philadelphia Union have dropped points isn’t cause for a fire sale or firings.

The club still sits three points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference, the only side in the division to have picked up five wins in the first eight games of the still-young season.

And yet the last two games have revealed problems to be solved by Jim Curtin and his men. The Union managed only two shots on goal on Saturday against CF Montreal, which the manager correctly deemed not good enough for a home game.

Part of that problem is no doubt the front three needing to click, as Chris Gibbons ably demonstrated in today’s match analysis piece. Once Mikael Uhre, Julian Carranza, and Daniel Gazdag have fully gelled, the thinking goes, the good positions the attackers have found themselves in will lead to more shots and more goals.

While that’s one part of the solution, another starts in the Union’s midfield.

The midfield pairing of Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach hasn’t offered the kind of control and vision that can create sustained attacking pressure on a deep-lying opponent.

Fortunately, Curtin has options on his bench who can do that — starting with Jack McGlynn.

Where is that shuttle going?

Bedoya and Flach are important pieces in what the Union do tactically. Both cover a huge amount of ground, creating width when the Union have the ball and hassling the heck out of the opposition when they do not.

But neither player is a great passer, or someone with a feel for midfield attacking play. (Bedoya has scored some good goals this year, but he’s best in the attack as a runner into the box.)

And what happens as a result is a Union team that sometimes looks split in two — a back seven and a front three — rather than a cohesive whole. It leads to a little too much Route 1 football — long bombs that bypass the middle entirely — rather than sustained buildup that creates primo scoring chances.

You might say that isn’t a problem. Who needs the ball when you have a defense as good as the Union? That’s a fine approach when you’re protecting a lead, as increasingly frustrated opponents crash like waves onto Fortress Union. But it’s a tougher approach when you need a goal to get a result.

Curtin often said last season that his team isn’t built to play from behind. He’s right, and this is why: the Union aren’t set up to score when the game state isn’t in their favor.

Enter McGlynn

Thankfully, the Union have a tool on their bench that can help solve the problem: 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder Jack McGlynn.

In limited minutes for the Union over the last season-plus, McGlynn has shown himself to be talented and mature. He’s calm on the ball, knows where his teammates are, and isn’t afraid to try audacious passes that few others in the squad would attempt. He’s the kind of player who can unlock a sitting-back defense with his movement, creativity, and ball skills. (And who can forget his ice-cold penalty in last year’s shootout with Nashville?)

In that way, he’s an upgrade over Flach. That’s not to say the German-American deserves to get benched. Flach does a lot of things well defensively; he’s earned minutes for this team. But the offensive deficiencies in his game are glaring — he is essentially a zero going forward — and it’s hard to justify his inclusion as an automatic starter every match at this stage in his career when there are other, capable options available.

Flach has started every game and played 652 minutes; McGlynn has four substitute appearances for 76 minutes. Given Flach’s middling form and the team’s offensive challenges, there’s no reason why that split couldn’t be more balanced. Why not start McGlynn in home games or matches against weaker attacking sides, while using Flach on the road and where more defensive solidity is called for?

(Something similar could be said about the other side, where Quinn Sullivan is pushing for time behind Bedoya. Bedoya is the club captain and at least offers something on offense, so Flach seems like the more obvious target for a platoon approach. As the season drags on, Sullivan should see his opportunities as the 35-year-old Bedoya saves some steam for the playoffs.)

The Union remain in an enviable position. They can beat any team in the league on any weekend. With another 26 matches to go in the season, there’s room for experimentation, for giving guys an opportunity to show what they can add to the team.

At this point, it’s time to give Jack McGlynn that opportunity.

23 Comments

  1. I agree 1 million percent.

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    Flach’s stats from the weekend aren’t great – beyond the eye test – with only 2 combined tackles, interceptions, recoveries, blocks, or clearances. Basically nonexistent on the day.

  3. Excellent. Agree. Most important is that it’s just madness to have Bedoya playing so many minutes. He’s just not up to it. It’s also important to remember that Leon Flach is only 21. He can and likely will still improve. His best role is probably the backup number 6. I’m sure his defensive attributes are why Curtin likes him in the lineup. More technical creativity out of our 8s could really unlock this team’s attack.

    • A very good point. Giving some time to McGlynn doesn’t mean that Flach is a failure, that his development has stalled, or anything like that. If Flach makes 25 starts this season and McGlynn makes 10, that’s probably a good campaign for both of them.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I assume you’re anticipating that both McGlynn and Flach will start in the game Martinez inevitably misses due to yellow card accumulation?

  4. Martinez only has 2 yellow cards on the season thus far, which means he has controlled himself much better than last year. That said, I fear that he will at some point accumulate too many.

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    agree here. need to get Paxten on the field a bit more and remember Quinn Sullivan?
    .
    9 non americans from 9 different countries started the game I think this past weekend. It’s cool and all, but yeah.
    .
    Bedoya and Flach are the CLEAR spots for the minutes.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Technically 8 non-Americans from 9 total countries including the US. Bedoya, Harriel, and Flach are all Americans (even if Flach is mainly German, he was still born here).

    • It’s worth remembering, this is in part because the Union let young American players leave for opportunities that suit them better. If the Union tried to hold on to all their young players as long as possible, we’d have a backline of Trusty and McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson in Gazdag’s spot, and possibly even Jack DeVries starting at forward. However selling these players has generally been to both the players and to the Union’s benefit.

      By the nature of the league, the players who are most likely going to attract European interests are going to be young players with potential. And for the most part that’s going to be our homegrown players.

      Could the Union be better in making moves in the domestic market? Probably. But in general, the kinds of players the Union want aren’t going to be as cheaply available in the domestic market. When the right kind of player has been available, Tanner has went for them (hence the club’s bid for Frankie Amaya). But ultimately, I guess it just is what it is.

  6. I agree with Pachy…Quinn Sullivan…is he in the dog house? Or just hidden behind the Curtin? Not knowing what the coaches see during practice, and the U-2 games its tough to imagine the youth not getting minutes. I’m hoping that they will at some point. McGlynn has shown some very good things with his time in the first team. Hope he gets a longer look soon. Flach will need to do the hard work of adding to his game. He has time on his side. Bedoya’s time is coming to a close. That will be a sad day. If he can see some rest,maybe that day will be much later.

  7. Ron Mahlab says:

    The Union are a defensive team and it is for that very reason that Curtin should continue to stick to the plan that has kept the opposition from scoring.
    That includes Flach who by every measure is a way more important defensive player that can cover way more ground than McGlynn.
    The offensive problems will continue until the Gazdag-Uhre mess is resolved.
    At this point it’s really an Uhre mess as he has missed 3 breakaway chances and has made some rather inexplicably poor runs.
    Of course he hasn’t had the chance to play much with the team and he’s just completed a 27 game season at Brondby FC.
    Given the lack of depth at the 10 spot and Carranzas’ recent remarkable form, it seems likely that Uhre should be sitting once Santos returns at the very least in order to get some reasonable rest as he attempts to play another 30 game season plus open cup games.
    One other weekend observation.
    The PK was taken by Carranza who argued with Gazdag over the assignment. Gazdag was clearly frustrated and I was immediately reminded of the Alberg-Sapong situation a few years back.
    Carranza scored, but wouldn’t it have been a wiser decision for Curtin to insist that Uhre or Gazdag take all the PKs given their greater importance to the club at this time.

  8. With all due respect to everyone, I would caution that maybe we should all just calm down a bit. Flach is rock solid on defense and terrific on the press. Let’s not bite off our nose to spite our face. The offense will sort itself out. Uhre is new, and we know it takes time to adjust to the league. We are in first place with the offense as is, and it’s only going to get better. No need to panic here in the slightest.

    • Amen. Lots of Philly ‘sportscasters’ again commenting negatively, knowing more about this squad than even Herr Tanner. Silly…… just silly.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Appreciate this post.
        .
        My commentary on the subject is mostly central to the notion of selling homegrwon players as a business move../.clearly rooted in the business plan and ENORMOUS investment in the academy. These kids need more minutes. I am hoping the Open Cup is offered almost solely to the young Acadmeny kids as a means to showcase. there is no reason Quinn, Paxten et al shouldb’t be getting the bulk of thsoe minutes and if it ultimately costs them the competition but the kids play well and show well… I think it is a good thing.
        .
        Personally- I have argued the shit is working but I also think Jim is between a rock and hard place a bit relative to the many foreign players in the starting roster.

      • The Union will rotate for the USOC game, but will obviously play to win. Curtin and the organization value and respect the USOC too much to just trot out a Union 2 squad.
        .
        Curtin isn’t between a rock and a hard place either. It’s his job to put the best players on the field to win games. If the youngsters are showing enough in training and in the minutes that they get in games to earn more playing time, they will get more playing time. Tanner is providing him with better players, plus better young players in order to help win championships.

  9. everyone seems to be missing that the union is the worst passing team in the league. Al the energy spend to recuperate all the lost passes doesn’t help the team’s offense

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      That’s on purpose though. They could pass the ball to good spots, or kick it there and try and win the resulting 50/50.

  10. Major transfers virtually always take a half to a full season to adjust to MLS. That’s why Gazdag’s relative struggles last year didn’t faze me, and it’s why Uhre’s lack of production so far doesn’t faze me now.

    Young Jack is excellent, and I can definitely see him starting some matches for Flach, Bedoya, or both. But that’s not the real answer to the offense. The true solution to our offense is… time.

    And if you really want a *quick* solution to our offense, while the front 3 (plus Burke & Santos) take the time to gel, I think the answer is Paxten, not Jack.

  11. I think we have to approach this situation from a perspective where we keep in mind what this team is about. Flach gives the Union what they want out of a CM in a gegenpressing system, he has an incredible workrate, generally does a good job of keeping the ball moving forward, and doesn’t really give up a ton of bad turnovers.

    Yes he doesn’t really move the ball forward, and he gets bypassed a lot, but that’s as much by offensive design as it is Flach’s flaws.

    Of course this leads to a system where the Union struggle when they’re down a goal, but the team is built to make this a rare occurrence and that’s the situation where it makes the most sense to bring in a McGlynn and Sullivan (basically, the old Ilsinho role).

    I’m all for McGlynn and Sullivan getting occasional starts when the situation calls for it and to rest Bedoya, but I also think the Union’s best lineup has Flach and Bedoya.

  12. I agree 100% but I get why Jim hasnt made this move. Its completely antithetical to how curtin and tanner built this team. There success in years past have come from defending first and scoring late which will get them in the playoffs but this is a team that can afford to move a defensive shuttler for a wide playmaker.

  13. I believe it may have been Jim Curtin that recently said the Union are a defense -first team. (Not a direct quote, I’m afraid, my memory doesn’t do that too well any more.)
    .
    Again subject to the memory caveat, Flach played every minute of every game most of last season. He has already been subbed off a few times with substantial minutes left in matches.
    .
    I suspect Curtin is waiting for McGlynn to further increase his fitness, range and endurance. He is not quite 19 years old. In the Union’s version of the 4-4-2 narrow diamond counter-pressing flank channel middies have to really cover ground and do it for 90 minutes.
    .
    AS scottSo said in another context about another matter, Time.

  14. Gary Fredericks says:

    When we put the kids in, the game pace changes. I’m tired of seeing us just kick the ball far over the heads. We are not connecting passes. I like Flach, but he had a bad game Saturday. I would like to see us play out of the back more get up to midfield, then send the ball over. Uhre and Carranza have shown they can get behind the defenders but we are not giving them good service.

    I know Bedoya is aging but I have never seen a captain in any sport take the job as serious as he does. If you watch Brenden Aaronson play, he looks like a younger Bedoya. He’s all over the field playing defense, he just doesn’t stop. Bedoya has embraced the young players and works with them all the time.

    I agree that he is aging but he needs to be on the field. Play him for 60-70 minutes and put Sullivan in, give Sullivan the occasional start. McGlyn also should get more time. I think the front 3 with Uhre, Carranza and Gazdag will be fine when they start to gel. For crying out loud we cannot afford to play Corey Burke. Paxten should get those minutes. Santos can get a start once in a while and be a supersub.

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