The Union defense failed to hold a late lead against the San Jose Earthquakes despite a one-man advantage but the blame should not rest on the young unit. Certainly the one-on-one defending of Warren Creavalle and Josh Yaro left a lot to be desired as did Keegan Rosenberry's statue-esque reaction on the goal, but the Union offense was even more anemic throughout the match and needs a good look in the mirror, or at least a shot chart.
Here's a look at the Union shot chart in the second half, 30 minutes of which they played a man up.
Against San Jose
Two of the shots were prayers and the shot in the box was Sapong's desperate attempt to get his hip on a Pontius header and not nearly as dangerous as it looks on the chart. At home against a weakened side, this is not enough.
The reality is the defense has been carrying the Union so far this year. They've allowed just eight goals in eight games, good enough to be tied for third in the league in goals against average. That rate is remarkably 40% better than last year's rate despite playing three rookies along the back line and having just one player over the age of 26. You have to expect mistakes like the ones we saw against the Earthquakes, but overall they've exceeded expectations.
The Union offense meanwhile mustered just two shots on goal despite an advantage and you could argue this was their healthiest and best starting lineup offensively. It could also be argued that this was not the players' doing, that they were directed to play more conservatively by Jim Curtin after the goal. They performed the same disappearing act in the second half against NYCFC. If that were the case, it would be a horrible tactical mistake, especially with the advantage. The Union had roughly 60% of the second-half possession and they should have done more with that opportunity.
Much has been made of the renaissance of Chris Pontius and the continued success of CJ Sapong, and the duo has combined for eight of the Union's eleven goals, but only two more players have scored so far this season for a total of four. Only Toronto FC has fewer goal scorers with three and the rest of the league averages more than six goal scorers per team. The Union might have more depth on offense than year's past but they don't have more goal scorers.
And that might be the flaw that ultimately can't be addressed with this team. The Union has great depth in the attacking midfield but, outside of Pontius, they don't have attackers with a knack for the goal. With Curtin sticking religiously to his 4-2-3-1 system there is no place to put a scoring upgrade up top without removing their most potent goal scorer in CJ Sapong. With Barnetta the clear choice at the #10, the only place to upgrade the scoring becomes the right wing position. There you have Ilshino and Le Toux, who have been solid this year but not particularly dangerous in front of goal. Outside of that upgrade, which seems unlikely with Alberg and Fernandes getting minutes up top as well, the only solution might be a shift to a two-striker system, and of course adding a second striker. That might be too much change for a club that's hanging in the playoff picture. But will the defense continue to hold as they are? Can the Union afford to stand pat?
The worried glance might currently be directed at the defense for a collapse that was all too reminiscent of last year's folly, but the truth is the Union can only hope the defense continues its current form. It's the offense that needs to be more dangerous especially when at home and up a man. Hopefully the Union can maintain their pace until the summer transfer window opens in July and the Union can make a move to add a legitimate goal-scoring threat or two.