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Union’s lack of a defensive midfielder exposed by Impact

The Union struggled against Montreal’s lethal counter attack in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Talen Energy Stadium

MLS: Montreal Impact at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A night that began with plenty of promise for the Philadelphia Union ended in shocking fashion as the Montreal Impact rattled off four unanswered goals in route to a 4-1 road victory on Saturday night.

Montreal entered the match-up as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with 36 points, four points behind the fifth place Union. With the Union dropping all three points at home, they now sit just one point ahead of Montreal with a game in hand. D.C. United and New England currently sit on the outside looking in with 35 and 34 points respectively.

Philadelphia still remain as favorites to hold on to one of the final two playoff spots in the East, but with the latest unconvincing display at Talen Energy Stadium, there are still questions to be answered.

Montreal’s performance shined a light on one area of the field in particular that still remains unsolved. Despite the ability in midfield with Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, and Borek Dockal, the lack of protection that they provide for a young back four is a major concern.

One of the big steps that Jim Curtin’s side has made in 2018 is their quality in possession. The Union have displayed patience and the ability to build out of the back consistently, something that previous teams have struggled with. A lot of that has to do with the passing range and vision of Medunjanin, the Union’s deep-lying playmaker. On the other hand, the lack of protection from the deepest of the three midfielders is noticeable to even the untrained eye. Time and time again, Montreal conceded possession to the Union, daring them to commit numbers forward. Nearly every time that they did, the Impact looked dangerous the other way immediately after winning possession.

After Auston Trusty headed home his first goal as a professional, the likes of Ignacio Piatti and Alejandro Silva could be found isolated against Union defenders. Silva’s 28th minute equalizer serves as a perfect example. With the Union committing numbers to the attack, Montreal took advantage of a bad Ray Gaddis pass. Piatti, with all of his quality, found Silva running in behind who calmly slotted it past Andre Blake.

In the 76th minute, Piatti and Silva teamed up again to expose the major flaw in the Union’s tactics. The two Impact playmakers were allowed to get out in open space far too easily, this time against Gaddis by his lonesome. Despite Gaddis’s best effort, the duo were far too much for one man to handle as Silva chipped in the second goal of his brace.

While it would be easy to say that Piatti was simply playing on a different level than any other player on the field, dismissing the void in the Union midfield would be naïve. Medunjanin, Bedoya, and Dockal form what is easily one of the best ball-playing midfields in the league. In no way should any of their spots in this team be in jeopardy. However, something needs to be done about the lack of a disruptive force in midfield. With all three of them often joining the attack, Trusty and Jack Elliott are often left with difficult decisions on whether to step into midfield to break up plays or sit deeper to delay.

The Union travel to take on Seattle on Wednesday, another team comfortable with sitting deep and waiting to hit on the counter. With the ability of guys like Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz in open space, Jim Curtin may be stuck between a rock and a hard place. The emphasis on possession has been much more pleasing on the eyes than in years past, but with relatively inexperienced players along the back four, a more pragmatic approach may be necessary against teams that are willing to concede possession down the final stretch of the season.