We're back everyone, and hope that you are all enjoying the fantastic spectacle that is the World Cup. Since the last Game Changers post, the Union fired John Hackworth, announced Jim Curtin as interim manager, and won two extra time games in the U.S. Open Cup, and are continuing their "new coach high".
So let's jump right into it. Here are this past Saturday's game changing moments.
1) A re-arrangement in the defensive midfield
All through Hackworth's career as the Union manager, Amobi Okugo was seen as a central defender first and foremost. He had done well there alongside Jeff Parke and prior to that Colombian World Cup defender Carlos Valdes. This year, without a stable central defensive partner, it's not been the usual Amobi on display. Maurice Edu came along, and with Brain Carroll the captain in Hackworth's eyes, Okugo was even further away from playing in midfield. However, Curtin seems to like Okugo in midfield. Edu has now played central defense alongside Sheanon Williams, and Okugo's been bumped up to midfield, playing alongside Michael Lahoud against the New England Revolution
This change seems to have worked as well as when Hackworth brought Okugo and Jack McInerney in from the cold when he took over from Piotr Nowak in 2012. Unlike the 5-3 loss at PPL in May, Okugo and Lahoud didn't give Lee Nguyen the room to pick the Union defense apart. The whole team stayed narrow, organised, and after the first 20 minutes or so didn't really give the Revs much of a look at MacMath's goal.
2) Zac MacMath makes another big save (and the Union get a bit lucky)
However, in the first 20 minutes of the game, New England seemed to have plenty of space, particularly down the Union right hand side, where Ray Gaddis was tucked in. For one of these chances, Patrick Mullins was sent through, but his low shot was well saved by Zac MacMath down to his left hand side. The Union then got very lucky, as Teal Bunbury could only hit the rebound into Fabinho, who was sitting on the ground at the time, and Diego Fagundez missed the ball entirely. From then, the Union seemed to grow in confidence, playing stronger and giving the Revolution little space to work in.
3) Sebastien Le Toux going back up top
It is obvious that Sebastien Le Toux is not a winger. He doesn't have the dribbling ability, and his passing is generally poor for a midfielder. However, recently Hackworth has only really ever used him as a winger. Curtin, on the other hand, has deployed Le Toux, far more central, playing as a striker off Conor Casey. That is where Le Toux found himself when Jack Mac went on his scoring run last season. It's not surprising that when you put two strikers around the box, they can work well off each other and score goals as Le Toux did on Saturday. If the Union are to do well without making any signings, they will need to use Le Toux up front with Casey.
4) The Revs made a gigantic defensive blunder
When we think back to the LA Galaxy game, these types of blunders were leading to goals against the Union. This time, however, the shoe was on the other foot as Le Toux took advantage of what really was a terrible decision by Jose Goncalves.
There really isn't much more to say about the goal that can't be said by looking at the video. It was a long punt by Zac MacMath which Conor Casey knocked on. Then, with the Union putting a lot of pressure on the Revs defense, Goncalves decided to head it back to Brad Knighton in goal. Big mistake, as Le Toux was already running that way. If Goncalves heads it out to the right - there's no Union goal. But instead, Le Toux latched onto the ball and scored what will probably go down as one of the easiest goals of his career. Defensive blunders are a lot more fun when the other team makes them.
5) The Union going to a counter-attack style instead of trying to control the game
John Hackworth had a plan. He was going to play beautiful, possession soccer and dominate the game for his wins. However, the Union players did not have the quality to win with that plan. The creativity hasn't been there for the last two years, and all of the big results in his reign as manager were from playing a different, more counter-attacking style. The Union are a counter-attacking team, and Jim Curtin seems to understand that. The tactics were simple; sit back with seven men behind the ball, and release Danny Cruz, Le Toux and Cristian Maidana to make runs off of Conor Casey. It worked to perfection for all three Union goals. Point three above talked about goal one, goal two came from a solo run from Danny Cruz showing what he is capable of before letting loose an electric strike, and goal three came from a break where Andrew Wenger doing well to pick out an open Seba for the Frenchman's second of the game.
Playing this way requires two things: First of all is speed and someone who can hold the ball up in the opposing half. With Casey being a good hold up forward, and Le Toux and Cruz providing the speed, the Union have that that. Secondly, teams need a very well organised defense. It was only one game, but despite giving Chris Tierney a lot of space to get crosses in, the Union they looked far more organised than they have been in the past under Hackworth. Lahoud and Amobi played well in the middle of the midfield, and the defense remained compact, rarely getting caught out of position.
If the Union continue to play as well as they did on Saturday, things should continue to look up. A chance to win silverware in the U.S. Open Cup, and a prolonged playoff run will provide all the reasons in the world for Curtin to keep the job permanently. It's amazing what a change in management can bring, and according to Lahoud, the players also feel a different team.
Lets see what happens on July 4th when the Union travel to Dallas as there were plenty of good signs providing optimism on Saturday. And to think the Union did not even have their season MVP to date, Vincent Nogueira, available for selection.