Know Your Enemy: Philadelphia Union #2

Double Doop! (photo: mlssoccer.com)

Double Doop! (photo: mlssoccer.com)

Join OTF’s Stephen Mangat or Die as he brings Common Sense on the Philadelphia Union…

Line dancing sucks. It lacks the elegance of ballet, the athleticism of modern/jazz, and the spontaneity of whatever we were doing in high school/college (when we weren’t grinding). Grapevine right, grapevine left, back three steps, step-touch and clap or, if you prefer, grapevine right, touch left foot next to the right, clap, grapevine left, clap*.

Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Union don’t agree because their whole season has been nonsense (read: one step forward, one step back, two steps sideways, one step forward and fans clap). Beat DC away, lose away to New England, draw with Seattle at home, win in Chicago, get hammered by LA in Philly. It’s all very frustrating because Philly’s a team with potential, yet they are mediocre.

So pound your drinks, Fire fans, hit the dance floor, turn up your speakers, and join the MLS mosh pit as we look at the Fire’s opponents, the Philadelphia Union!

* beginning of Achy Break Heart and Electric Slide, respectively

PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!

Tactics

Last week’s performance was typical Union. Manager John Hackworth kept the game tight with his conservative 4-3-3 and kept his fingers crossed that the defense would hold and the Union would convert a random chance off an opposition mistake. And it worked perfectly!

While that doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy, it’s the one that Hackworth has made his own, so expect a little more of it. At the same time, Kleberson got his first start on Wednesday and introduced some drive and vision to the midfield. If he plays on Saturday night, expect a bit more attacking thrust.

Goalie

On Wednesday morning, reporter/writer Ives Galarcep wrote of Zac MacMath:

“I know some Union fans swear he’s terrible, but the fact is he’s young and developing, and better than he gets credit for being. When it’s all said and done, he’ll go down as one of the better players to come out of that draft.” 

This was a bold statement begging to be backed up on Wednesday vs. LA following MacMath’s great game against Chicago last weekend. It was also begging to be thrown in Galarcep’s face – just like a Landon Donovan corner kick.

Click here, loyal reader, and you’ll see the outcome. That said, a MacMath throw did launch a counterattack that resulted in a goal. Unfortunately, it was an LA counterattack and an LA goal. So in one week, we’ve seen the complete MacMath: Very solid at stopping shots, very poor at balls in the air and distribution.

Defense

Bakary Soumare has played well for Philly. What he lacks with the ball at his feet, he makes up for in physical presence. Amobi Okugo is playing well and continuing to improve. He needs a bit more polish and confidence, as he should have the foot skills to carry the ball out of the back and jumpstart the attack.

Sheanon Williams will be back on the right and he’s quite good. In fact, he’d probably be in the conversation for the USMNT second-string if the US wasn’t relatively deep there. In particular, watch out for his long throw-ins as Conor Casey, Soumare, and Okugo have proven good at getting on the other end of them.

Midfield

Ex-Brazil national teamer and ex-Manchester United man Kleberson got his first start of the season on Wednesday and added some much-needed dynamism to the Philly midfield. He lacked sharpness (a few wayward passes and off-target headers), but he played better than Michael Farfan has this season and hopefully won the starting job. Hackworth persists with Keon Daniel, whose mediocrity can’t be overstated.

Finally, it was surprising to hear Kyle Martino and Alexi Lalas say last weekend that Chicago can’t let Brian Carroll have too much space, as he can run a game from the midfield. In fact, the opposite is true. Carroll’s passing range is so limited that I doubt he could run a 4-on-4 game played in the penalty box, so Chicago can afford to give him a little space so long as the other players are well-marked.

Fire away, Brian.

Fire away, Brian.

Attack

The Fire found out the hard way that even though Jack McInerney doesn’t do much well, the timing of his runs and finishing have been among the league’s best this season. With Kleberson playing on Wednesday, McInerney’s well-timed runs were rewarded, but he didn’t have the speed or dribbling ability to truly create a great chance for himself.

Danny Cruz continues to start and Danny Cruz continues to suck, yet coaches and TV people sing his praises. He’s like the soccer David Eckstein: a guy who isn’t good, but one who is always straining himself and putting in a truly honest effort. So instead of shooting straight and saying, “Danny Cruz is really working hard, but he’s not quite good enough at this level,” coaches and TV people say nonsense about how Cruz is so selfless and he does all the little things. They might as well just say he’s gritty, scrappy, gets his uniform dirty, and knows how to bunt well.

How can Chicago win?

Create traffic on corners and crosses

Zach MacMath is hopeless when he has to deal with high balls in traffic. Plop Jalil Anibaba (or another big guy) in front of him and have whoever takes corners take aim at MacMath. Same thing for crosses. Don’t bother with the early service. Get bodies in the box, have the midfielder drive to the end line, pass back to the supporting defender and let them bomb away. If Thompson, Segares, and whoever takes corners is mildly competent, Chicago should have some great chances.

Make a mid-game tactical change

On Wednesday, Philly vs. LA looked good for the first hour: Robbie Keane wasn’t getting good service, Landon Donovan was in-and-out of the game on the right side, and Philly’s central midfield looked strong. Then Donovan started coming inside and setting up between the Philly defense and midfield and took the Union apart.

Even before the second LA goal was scored (by Keane off a Donovan assist), Donovan received the ball a few times in front of the defense with way too much time and space. So both the Philly players and coaches are either clueless, inflexible, or a combination of the two. Frank Klopas should try the same. After 30 minutes in each half, Klopas should initiate a small tactical change and see if Philly reacts.

Give 'em the old switcheroo.

Give ’em the old switcheroo.

Nothing silly in the back, take two

I warned about this last week but obviously the message didn’t get across, so I will repeat it. Philly’s goals come from opposition mistakes and broken plays. If defenses stay focused, Philly won’t score. The Union’s goal against LA was scored by Okugo, who was completely unmarked on a long throw. Last weekend, the Chicago back line fell asleep and Le Toux made a nice pass for McInerney to finish. So stay awake, Chicago!

After being a poor sportsman last weekend, I wish to offer all Fire fans good luck in this weekend’s match. Trust me, I truly do send my best.

Believe...

Believe…

OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a Philthy, Philthy man. Follow him @smangat12

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