The Philadelphia Union opened up their 2017 Major League Soccer season with a scoreless draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place. After a very busy offseason, Philadelphia revealed a brand new lineup featuring Academy standout Derrick Jones, Bosnia and Herzegovina international Haris Medunjanin, and English striker Jay Simpson.
Despite only being one game, Sunday’s draw gave a small glimpse into the tactical questions surrounding the Union this season.
Under Jim Curtin, Philadelphia has mainly employed a double pivot in front of their defensive backline. It was a formulaic combination of a number six, a central defensive midfielder such as Brian Carroll or Warren Creavalle, and a number eight, a box-to-box midfielder like Alejandro Bedoya last season. The number six would play deeper providing cover for the advanced number eight to have free roam.
On Sunday, that pairing changed as Jones and Medunjanin got the start in what became a very fluid double pivot.
As fluid as it was, Jones seemed to be relegated to more of a defensive role as Medjunanin wandered forward.
After the match, Jones’ ability to track back and provide cover for the backline in addition to controlling much of the midfield with decisive outlet passes earned him heaps of praise.
Above are the distribution charts of Medunjanin and Jones, where red represents a failed pass and green a successful pass. Both players were heavily centralized and played both sides of the ball for the most part.
The fluidity of the central midfield gives the Union different look from last season, but it presents a conundrum. Without a true central defensive midfielder, a lot more will be asked of the Union back line to defend without a safety valve in front of them. Keep an eye on how the double pivot evolves throughout the season, as both Jones and Medunjanin are more box-to-box rather than purely defensive.
Returning to the play of Medunjanin in Sunday’s draw, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international looked on a different page than Alejandro Bedoya, playing as the number ten. The two were unable to connect for most of the match and create quality offensive chances.
It is hard to be overly critical of a new player that is still developing chemistry with his teammates. As the season goes on, the two will need to be the ignition to this Union attack. Both Medunjanin and Bedoya are highly skilled players who need to do better to combine in the center of the field, else the offense will look as discombobulated as it did on Sunday night.
Overall, the play of the 20-year-old Jones was very encouraging to witness. However, the real lack of offensive play left much to be desired. The Union have six days now to regroup before their home opener against Toronto FC on Saturday.