This is the first time during my time as a fan of the Union that I can remember there being more than 11 players I wanted to see in the starting line up. Through the past few seasons there seemed to always be a clear starting XI, or if there wasn't it was because there weren't eleven players good enough to start.
But now everything is different. Suddenly the Philadelphia Union seem to have depth at almost every position, and a lot of that depth is good enough to start. One can only assume that we have Earnie Stewart to thank for this wonderful turn of events... but honestly, I'm not even going to over-analyze. There's a saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I don't really know what a gift horse is, but I'm pretty sure it means not to look too closely at something good. Just appreciate it.
So let's not ask too many questions about our current depth. Let's just enjoy this lovely state of affairs. I know! We can have some fun toying with the many different line ups that the Union could try out!
That sounds lovely, doesn't it? I think it does.
1) The presumed Starting XI against Chicago.
Let's just get the boring one out of the way first. This is the starting XI I think that the Union should (and will) use against Chicago on April 2nd.
I think we see Vincent Nogueira back in the starting line up in lieu of Brian Carroll. Nogueira's injury seemed to be a minor one, and he's been held out for two weeks. Against an opponent like Chicago who seemed to struggled to find offense the last two weeks, sacrificing the safety net that Carroll provides for some more offensive punch won't be a bad thing. Tranquillo Barnetta, on the other hand, I think remains on the bench. He'll probably be healthy enough to play by then, but I wonder about his match fitness. Expect to see him as the first sub on for either Ilsinho or Roland Alberg at around the 60th minute. Moreover, Warren Creavalle has done enough the past two weeks to earn a spot in the starting line up for the time being.
2) The "Best" XI
Okay, now onto the more fun and more speculative line ups. For this one, I want to take a look at the best possible starting XI the Union could field, disregarding any injuries.
This line up features the midfield trio that we all expected to see during the off season, before Maurice Edu's injury, anyway. I know there are some concerns about Edu tracking back to break up plays on defense, but I think think that the benefits of having him help in possession will outweigh any defensive liability he poses. We just have to hope that he and Nogueira can learn to play together. I also stuck with the back line we've seen the last two weeks, though it's worth noting that I doubt we've seen the last of Anderson Conceicao this season. Keegan Rosenberry has proved that he's a starting caliber right back. Fabinho had a little bit of a shaky start, but played incredibly against the New England Revolution. I kept Chris Pontius on the field over Alberg simply because Pontius is in form right now.
3) The B Squad
For this next line up I want to look at the "B" squad. Or basically the guys who would start in a friendly or in an Open Cup game against a lower division team to spell the usual starters.
I started Matt Jones in net, but I'd be equally okay seeing John McCarthy back there. It pains me to see Ray Gaddis in this kind of line up, but Rosenberry just provides so much more going forward. I started Walter Restrepo on the right over Eric Ayuk, but honestly either one would be just fine with me. Leo Fernandes gets the start at the central attacking midfield position in front of Creavalle and Carroll, though I think we will continue to see a good amount of all three of those players off the bench depending the the game scenario.
4) The "Play It Safe" Option
I put together this line up with defense in mind. There is going to a point during the season where the Union are playing a very talented team in the road and it will suit them to absorb pressure and try to strike on the counter.
I decided to go with the double-pivot tandem of Carroll and Creavalle in the midfield. They proved against Columbus and New England that they can do an excellent job at stifling some of the best offensive groups in the league. I also started Gaddis on the right over Rosenberry. Say what you want about Gaddis's offensive game, but he was the Union's best defender for a long, long time and I'd be willing to bet he can still shut down the most talented wingers in MLS. I went with Barnetta at the CAM position, because I think he's willing to do the dirty defensive running up there more than Alberg is.
5) Throwing Caution to the Wind
Alright, we did a line up with defense in mind. Let's take a look at one that throws defense out the window in an attempt to score as many goals as possible.
The first thing you'll notice is that I inverted the central midfield triangle and stuck two attackers in there. I also went with Nogueira as the "defensive" midfielder in this line up. Practically speaking, someone like Edu or Creavalle would probably be better in this kind of role, but the point here is to attack so screw practicality. I'll be honest, this is probably my favorite line up of the bunch. The idea of getting all of those dangerous attackers on the field at the same time is tantalizing. Imagining defense trying to deal with Pontius, Alberg, Ilsinho and Barnetta all running at them and playing off each other is enough to get me salivating. Sapong would probably agree. Those four would make his job a cakewalk.
6) Let's Change It Up
So far I have mostly stuck with Jim Curtin's standard 4-2-3-1 (with the exception of the previous entry), but isn't the point of this whole exercise to have some fun? Let's see what some different formations would look like.
As you can see, I went with a standard 4-4-2 here. I decided to go with Barnetta and Ilsinho out on the wings as wide options who could play high and pinch in, but also get back on defense. I went with Edu and Nogueira in the middle instead of a more prototypical diamond midfield with one attacking central midfielder and one defensive central midfielder. The idea being that most of the creativity can come from the wings with Barnetta and Ilsinho and it creates that "empty bucket" that Sapong can drop into for hold up play. I went with Pontius as the second striker here, but you can certainly make a strong case for Sebastian Le Toux as the guy to make runs off of Sapong when he's holding things up.
7) The 3-5-2
At his most recent press conference Jim Curtin talked about the Union playing a 3-5-2 late in the game when down a goal. My version of the 3-5-2 is a little different in the sense that I'm not taking a defender off the field for another striker, but rather adding another defender in an attempt to let Fabinho and Rosenberry "off the leash."
As you can see, I threw Josh Yaro out there on the field as a third center back so that Fabinho and Rosenberry could play the wing back position with more freedom to stay wide and get forward.There's also the benefit of having two strikers on the field. This time I did start Le Toux over Pontius, but again, either way works. In the central midfield I had Nogueira and Barnetta in the middle instead of a more defensive player. Both are willing to do the dirty running, but neither is an out and out destroyer either. I figured with three central defenders you could free one up to step a little higher and act almost like a stopper to disrupt play. Either Yaro or Marquez could do this because both have the recovery speed to track back.
8) Let's Get Silly
I like to call this line up the MLSsoccer.com "Best XI" style 3-4-3. It doesn't even bother trying to resemble something a real team would put on the field. It just throws out whoever has the most goals and/or assists and calls it a day.
As you can see, I abandoned even bothering to play two center backs yet still stuck with two offensive minded fullbacks. I also didn't bother to play a defensive midfielder. This is MLS, who needs defense? This line up is some how more attacking minded that my version of an "all out attack" line up. This line up is about as impractical as it gets. The one benefit is that with 4 offensive minded midfielders and three forwards on the field, the Union would almost certainly score a buttload of goals.
Are there any line ups I didn't think of? Any line up you would really like to see? Tell us in the comments!