The Union have revamped their midfield this season, and shown Philadelphia a style of soccer we spent the previous four seasons dreaming we would see. This is what it looks like to dominate a midfield. This is what it looks like to force your will on the opponent. Until you get to the 18 yard box that is.
The Union have fallen prey to a disease that all Philadelphia teams fall prey to. Penn State has had a stellar defense and offense between the 20 yard lines for years. How many yards have the Eagles racked up in the last decade without a Super Bowl? The Flyers have made multiple Stanley Cups only to fall short. What is the common thread amongst these teams? A lack of a finisher at the offensive end. But we have McIrnerney and Casey! I can hear the cries now. Other teams have had great finishers without the cast to support them. But this Union team has the support. Allow me to explain.
This off season for the Union has been the most active in the clubs history, and arguably one of the best in Philadelphia sports history. The additions of Cristian Maidaina and Vincent Nogueira alone would have excited Union fans. But the splashy signing of men's national team member and former starter Maurice Edu made this offseason second only to Toronto FC in headlines. But those are offseason headlines. And only one team is riding their offseason headlines to first place in the Eastern Conference. On the field, the midfield has been spectacular on paper. They have controlled the run and pace of play. Even a biased observer would say one of the goals conceded in the 2-1 loss to the Crew came against the run of play. In the middle third, the union have imposed their will. But what happens in the attacking third?
I wish I could blame Jack for his lack of finishing. Or Casey for not being healthy. This isn't the case. Watching the Columbus game, Jack would pick his head up, ready for the easy pass to lead to a goal. And no one would be there. Let me repeat, no one would be there. Until the second half that is, and Fernandes continued his push to unseat Carroll as a player in the starting 11, and a scoring threat for the Union.
But the song has been the same in all three matches thus far. Has any other team had a midfield perform so well, and scored so few goals? Against the Timbers, one of the top teams in the West, I wasn't expecting a multi goal performance. A draw actually exceeded my expectations. But against a New England team that looked out of sorts and exposed at home, and only one goal to win the match? Almost unacceptable. But still it was only the second match of the season. The third match against the Crew showed the same dominance in the middle third. And the same lack of finishing shown against New England.
Now I know what you're saying. It's only their 3rd match together, they need time to gel. But these are pros. Nogueira came over to the Union in mid season form, and Edu, though not a starter, should have been in shape. And for a team that wants to compete for the playoffs, and even the East against a new look Toronto FC, this is not the start I was expecting. A team with a killer instinct would have finished one of the double digit chances against the Crew in the 2nd half to at least salvage a point. And a dominant team would have imposed their will on the Revs.
A dominant team would also blow through old standards for completed passes in a match. Wait, the Union have done that this season. They would worry about generating chances in a starting 11 that featured Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz. But they aren't starting. The Union are doing everything they need to do, except showing a killer instinct around the net. Championship teams don't miss the net by inches, their feet aren't one size too short. They make plays on the field, all season long.
Am I being pessimistic? Or simply observing a trend in the Union that could come to bite around playoff time. Technically, this is the prettiest soccer I have seen in Philadelphia. The names are the biggest draws. But do they have the guts to finish a tough game when they need to? If you asked me right now my answer would be one word.