We're back with Part 3 of my new Silly Offseason Complaints series, where I tell everyone why they're wrong to be complaining so much about the Philadelphia Union.
If you haven't yet, please check out Part 1, where I talk about The Union's lack of cash, and Part 2, where I talk about the need for a left back.
This time we're going to discuss Maurice Edu's move back into the midfield. The complaint usually goes a little something like this:
"We've already seen what Maurice Edu can do in the midfield. He simply doesn't work well in the #6 role that we need in that midfield triangle. He plays as more of a #8, box-to-box guy, which hinders Vincent Nogueira by forcing him to play more defense. Moreover, Edu has had his best games in a Union jersey as a center back. Even with the additions of Yaro and Conceição, he's probably the best center back on our team. He may want to be a midfielder, but he needs to accept his role as a defender and lead this team from the back."
This one's going to be tough because I actually sort of agree with this complaint. Edu has indeed had his best games playing center back and not in the midfield. That being said, I think Edu has also been oversold as a center back. It's not his natural position, and that becomes clear every time he jaunts upfield with the ball at his feet, or tries to dance around a forward instead of just moving the ball out of the back quickly. He's still the Union's best center back (with the possible exception of Anderson Conceição, who is a complete mystery to me) but that doesn't change the fact that he's being played out of position. Earnie Stewart has made it clear that he doesn't believe in moving guys around a lot. He believes in establishing clear roles for players to fill and finding the best guys available to fill those roles. He also came out and said he sees Edu as a controlling midfielder when he was on ESPN's Soccer Today podcast. Obviously, there is a role in Stewart's new system that Edu is a better fit for.
Honestly, this doesn't seem like that much of a stretch for me. It's certainly true that in the 4-2-3-1, counter-attacking style the team embraced when Jim Curtin took over in 2014, they needed a dedicated #6 who's primary job was to disrupt play in the midfield. It's also true that Edu doesn't fit that role. He likes to have the ball at his feet and push it up field. He isn't positionally disciplined enough to shield the back line. But the Union are not going to be playing Jim Curtin counter-attacking soccer anymore. They're playing Earnie Stewart soccer now. I'm not exactly sure what that's going to be yet, but it's going to be different. Assuming it's a possession-oriented, attacking-minded, Dutch-style 4-3-3 we might not need a dedicated defensive midfielder as much. If the goal is to maintain possession, Maurice Edu is much better suited to the task than Brian Carroll or Michael Lahoud. Sure, they may be better ball hawks in the center of the pitch, but they also turn the ball over a lot. That might prove to be more of a defensive liability in the new system than Edu's tendency to get forward.
Moreover, remember that Cristian Maidana was another major defensive liability. He was so often vacating the center of the pitch and leaving space for the opposition to work in that you needed someone else who was going to stay at home in front of the back line. Tranquillo Barnetta at the central attacking midfielder role is much less of a liability. He has a higher defensive work rate, and he's not going to be constantly floating to the wings looking for space. Barnetta is comfortable working in the tight spaces in the center of the pitch, which will again reduce the need for a dedicated defensive midfielder.
If the Union can maintain possession and have a disciplined back line, Edu might be much more valuable in the midfield than at center back. You have to admit that a central midfield triangle of Barnetta, Nogueira and Edu is at least a strong one on paper, and if they can develop some chemistry it could be a successful one in reality as well.
That's all for today. Be sure to check back in for part four, where I talk about the Union keeping their cards too close to their chest.