What is going on with the Union? Things seemed to be going so well but now it seems they are losing or falling behind every week.  Before the Copa América break the Union were in first place with a game in hand on its competition and now they are tied for 3rd with Toronto and Montreal who both have a game in hand on the U. What changed? First, let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • Before the Copa America break, the Union played 14 games and earned 23 points putting them in 1st place in the Eastern Conference while also having the most points per game at 1.64.
  • They had a record of 6 wins 3 losses and 2 ties
  • he Union averaged 1.5 goals per game and only allowed 1.14 goals per game.
  • 0 goals were scored from the penalty spot
  • Number of goals scored pre Copa America:

                        5: Pontius, Sapong

                        2:  Le Toux, Barnetta, Nogueria

                        1: Rosenberry, Marquez, Tribbett, Carroll, Herbers

 

  • Assists recorded pre Copa America:

                         4: Le Toux

                         2: Barnetta, Pontius

                         1: Sapong, Fabinho, Creavalle, Herbers, Ilsinho

 

The pre-break Union were a very strong team, winning battles on the defensive end but also being creative and getting everyone involved on offense.

  • After Copa América, the Union have played 8 games earning 7 points. At 0.88 points per game, that puts the Union among the league’s worst.
  • During the last 8 games, the Union have a record of 2 wins 5 losses and 1 tie
  • During those 8 games the Union scored 15 goals with 1.88 goals per game but allowed 19, 2.38 goals per game. That also includes 2 own goals by NYCFC and Chicago so the Union themselves only scored 1.63 goals per game.
  • 6 out of the 13 goals scored were from the penalty spot, meaning the Union only scored 0.88 goals per game from open play
  • Number of goals scored post Copa America :

                        7: Alberg (4 PK)

                        3: Pontius

                        2: Ilsinho (1 PK)

                        1: Sapong(1 PK)

  • Assists recorded post Copa America

                        2: Herbers

                        1: Le Toux, Restrepo

 

Key takeaways:

  • The defense has essentially collapsed allowing double the average amount of goals from the first 14 games. Allowing more than 2 goals a game for an extended period of time is the quickest way to a losing record.
  • The Union’s offense has sputtered to a stop as well. The Union are having to rely on penalty kicks for more than half their goals. In addition, the creativity seen during the first 14 games has all but disappeared. 10 players scored in the first 14 games and only 4 have scored since.
  • CJ Sapong got hurt before the Copa America break which may contribute to him being invisible in the last 8 games, only scoring on 1 penalty. He has not scored a goal from open play since May 14th. Barnetta has also failed to contribute.
  • Pontius still continues to be a strong presence for the team by adding another 3 goals to the 5 he scored previously.

So now it can be clearly seen that the Union’s decline is the result of poor defense and lack of creativity on offense. So what on the field has contributed to this?

  • Vincent Nogueria’s departure– It is always hard to lose a starter, but Nogueira had established himself as one of the best two-way midfielders in Major League Soccer. Creavalle and Barnetta have both tried to fill the void but have not done so effectively. Creavalle tends to be more defensive and Barnetta offensive and each’s tendency causes issues on the other side of the ball.
    • Solution: Start Barnetta until new player can fill the void. Barnetta adds more creativity while on the field which is what the offense needs right now and Creavalle has done little to solidify the defense
  • Andre Blake’s confidence– Blake did make the All-Star team this year and has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in MLS and the most athletic one with a nomination for Save of the Week every other week. But since Copa América he hasn’t looked quite the same. Playing for Jamaica during the tournament, Blake was scored on 6 times in 3 games while his offense produced nothing. Since coming back, his instincts are a little off and seems less willing to take the risks he had previously to make saves. He has been returning to his old self in recent weeks but the defense cannot continue to rely on Blake to bail them out.
    • Solution: Defense needs to step it up so Blake can relax and get back into form. Many times they allow the opposition room to shoot, relying too much on Blake to make the save.
  • Rotation of Tribbett and Yaro– The defense in general is very young. Fabinho is the veteran at 31 but Marquez is only in his third season, and Tribbett, Yaro and Rosenberry are all rookies so a few mistakes are understandable. But one thing that seems to have hurt the Union is the rotation of Marquez’s partner in the center of the defense. Most games, Tribbett starts but when he makes mistakes, Curtin typically benches him for Yaro. Yaro is a very different kind of centerback and this causes confusion on defense.
    • Solution: The back line performs well when they play together consistently. Consistency allows them to build chemistry so Curtin must pick a guy as his starter and ride with him. Tribbett is probably the better fit right now as Yaro doesn’t have the strength or the height to compete with most strikers at this point.
  • Alberg plays hero ball– Since breaking into the starting lineup after Copa America, Alberg has basked in the light of being a new born star of Major League Soccer. He desperately wants to be the one to score that game winning goal and put the team on his back. He has recorded more shots that Barnetta in 500 less minutes of play and is only 10 behind both Pontius and Sapong in half the number of minutes. He is slotted to play attacking midfielder and should be the creator on the team but he only had 1 assist compared to 7 goals. His 0.09 goals to shot ratio is third worst among offensive players on the team.
    • Solution: Alberg must discipline himself to try to create chances for his teammates instead of for himself. If he does, the whole offense will improve.
  • Big kicks and long crosses– The biggest problem on offense recently is the change in the style of play. In the first 14 games, the Union tended to be more creative, play off each other and find ways through the defense. The last 8 games, the Union have fallen into a pattern of run up the sideline and cross praying for someone to be there. There are two problems with that. One, crosses are not as effective as other opportunities as shown by the Union’s play style over the last several years.  Two, most of the team fail to follow the ball and trail their opponents. In the game against Real Salt Lake, Sapong had a great cross into the center of that box that bounced with no defender touching it. The problem? There was no Union player within 15 yards of it as no one thought it was worth it to try to give Sapong an option in the box. Giving up and not supporting your teammates can create problems not only on the field (as it has been) and off the field.
    • Solution: Re-emphasize creativity on offense, try a pass up the middle, try dribbling the ball through yourself, release a shot from a wide angle, change it up from the constant crossing.

A big point of emphasis this year for the Union was making the playoffs and winning the U.S. Open Cup. Their poor form already cost them a chance at the Open Cup Final and now they are only two losses away from being out of a playoff spot. On the last day of the transfer window, August 2nd, the Union have little time left to bring in reinforcements and so must look to making in-house changes if this year is not to become a total waste.

Connor Cummings

General Manager of Philadelphia Sports Nation. Die hard supporters of Philadelphia sports. Previously Union Nation Manager. Sons of Ben member since 2013. Founder of the A More Perfect Philadelphia Union blog. Admin of the Philadelphia Union Discussion Group. Been at Philadelphia Sports Nation and Union Nation since Summer of 2015.

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