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Counterattack vs. Possession: What is the Union's identity?

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The Union have only played two games this season, but both of those games featured vastly different tactics. The game against Dallas featured a team that tried to hold onto the ball, and managed to keep almost 50% possession. The game against Columbus featured the Union of the last two seasons, abandoning possession and striking on the counter. Which team should we expect to see more of this season?

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Let me start off with a bit of a disclaimer: I am not a soccer tactician. 

I played some in high school. I am a fan who has followed this team pretty closely for the last few years. They even let me write for this blog (though I suspect mostly as a result of nepotism), but the truth is that I am an amateur in every sense of the word. Everything I know about soccer tactics I get from reading game analysis from people who are smarter and know the sport better than me. 

So... ya know... take this with a grain of salt. 

But even as a self-identified amateur, I can't help but come out of the first two weeks into the season asking myself serious questions about this team's tactics. Specifically, what is this team's identity? Are they still the same old defense first, hit them on the counter Union that we've seen since Jim Curtin took over? Or are they going to embrace this new, high press, possession-oriented style that Curtin has been preaching all offseason? 

That's nearly impossible to answer right now, mostly because it's only the second week of the season which is far too small a sample size to jump to any kind of conclusions about anything. But it's also because we've already seen both styles implemented in the two games we have seen. 

In the game against FC Dallas, the Union seemed to want to try to control the game, to slow it down and stop Dallas's counter attacks by maintaining possession and pushing the back line high. They failed miserably, as Dallas created chance after chance beating the Union with their speed and skill. If not for Andre Blake that game could have easily been four or five to zip. That being said, the Union did managed to hold onto nearly 50% of the possession, and you could see the beginning of some proactive soccer that builds from the back. It also didn't help that the team was missing as many three presumed starters in Maurice Edu, Tranquillo Barnetta and Richie Marquez (possibly a fourth if Roland Alberg was benched because he's not yet match fit). It also doesn't help that Dallas is really, really good (unless they play against Andrew Wenger, apparently). 

In the Columbus Crew SC game, we saw the return of the 2014/2015 Union. They played a double pivot with two central defensive midfielders. They sat back and absorbed pressure, and they looked to strike quickly on the counter. They also allowed Columbus to control the ball for 60% of the game. For all of that, the Union managed to bag a pretty convincing victory on the road. One could certainly argue that the Crew didn't look too great this game, but for all that, the Union still did well to win in a place they never have before. The last few seasons have certainly been a disappointment, but we've been shown time and time again that a counter attacking system can work in the right setting against the right opponent. If your team implements the strategy well enough, it can actually work extremely well. Just look at what Leicester City is doing in the Premier League.

But which strategy should we expect the Union to employ this season?  Which strategy works better? Which is the right fit for the personnel they have on the roster? 

This may seem like a cheap answer, but I'm rooting for both. I think with players like Nogueira, Barnetta, Edu, Ilsinho, and Alberg, the Union have a strong midfield that can press high and maintain possession in tight spaces. I think this is a team that absolutely can play progressive, attack-minded soccer. At least when all of the projected starters are on the pitch at the same time. I also think this team should know when to recognize it's limitations. Jim Curtin knew that he wasn't going to waltz into MAPFRE Stadium and out-possess the Crew. He was definitely not going to with Nogueira out with an ankle injury. He made a smart decision, and he changed his tactics to suit the players he did have. Changing tactics is something that many fans have criticized Curtin for, claiming he doesn't know when or how to do it properly. But on Saturday he proved his haters wrong when he rolled out a double-pivot with Warren Crevalle and Brian Carroll. It worked like a charm against a Columbus team who thought it was going to have an easy game. 

I could be wrong, but I think a strict adherence to one playing style is a bad way to run a soccer team. I want to see flexibility from a coach, and the ability to change tactics depending on your opponent and the personnel available to you. It seems that (at least on paper) the Union actually have the depth and the talent to employ more than one style of play this season. If they use it sparingly, I think that the counter-attacking system can be a great way for an underdog team to steal points on the road. At home, when they're favored, I'd much prefer to see the team go after the game with a high press. 

I hope Jim Curtin can make it happen. What do you think the Union should do? Take the poll and let us know in the comments section below!