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Tactical Overlook: Is there a magic bullet to solving the Philadelphia Union’s woes?

Is there a formation change that could get the Union back on track?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

With the Philadelphia Union winless since a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on August 27th, 2016, it is clear that some sort of change is needed. Instead of breaking down the tactical play of the Blue and Gold against D.C. United, this week’s tactical analysis will search for the magic answer in regards to formation before their crucial three-game home stand that starts this Saturday.

When Jim Curtin took over for John Hackworth halfway through the 2014 season, he kept Hackworth’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Philadelphia Union’s starting eleven against Toronto F.C on March 11th 2017

Overall, the 4-2-3-1 is a system that works well at times, with the key to this system being the double pivot.

The two players provide a stopgap in front of the defensive back line. In addition to the defensive responsibilities, it is necessary to have a player who can start the offense by connecting the defense with the wingers or the number ten.

There’s a reason fans still wistfully remember Vincent Nogueira. He was very adept at connecting a clearance by the defense to the foot of a streaking winger.

In the usual lineup from Curtin this season, Derrick Jones and Haris Medunjanin have played together almost all possible minutes in the double pivot. Medunjanin has been so far relatively solid, despite lacking some of the defensive tracking back. However, those defensive liabilities have been mopped up well by Jones, who has been arguably the team’s best outfield player.

In spite of both Medunjanin and Jones playing well, this team has started the season 0-2-2. So where is the problem? It is not solely defensive, as the defense has only conceded six goals so far, which is comparable to other middle of the pack teams in MLS.

The problem lies with the connection of the double pivot to number ten/wingers to the forward. Alejandro Bedoya in the middle has not looked like the Designated Player slam-dunk signing many fans thought he would be.

It may be harsh to lay the majority of the poor play at the United States International, but as a DP and the captain for the squad, the buck has to stop somewhere.

The offense for long stretches of matches does not look dangerous. Whether it is Jay Simpson or CJ Sapong at the lone striker position, this season the striker has become isolated on top with little service.

So is there a fix in the formation? One possible scenario is to switch to a 4-4-2. The thought behind two strikers is that either one of the strikers will be able to track slightly back to receive the ball, which may remove some of the isolation barrier.

A possible 4-4-2 lineup for the Union

There are a couple notable changes with this lineup. Chris Pontius can come off the bench as a supersub as Bedoya moves to the wing. Bedoya has had better play out wide and he could regain form as a player coming from outside to inside as seen in his play for the USMNT’s win over Honduras a little over a week ago.

Medunjanin and Jones take over central midfield with Jones playing more defensively, which frees up Medunjanin to play more offensively.

Fabian Herbers should be the starter on the wing, whether on not Ilsinho is healthy. The former Creighton University standout has earned that right with excellent play on the wing. Herbers could move to the left wing to make room for Bedoya on the right, where he has played for the USMNT.

Is this the end all, be all to solving the Union recent woes? No, but it could certainly provide a boost to a team that needs a kickstart.