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Union Should Use 4-2-3-1

20 games into this, the inaugural season of the Philadelphia Union, there are several things for supporters to be proud of.  The manager has a vision, the front office laid the foundation with young talent, and the soccer-specific PPL Park is a wonderful venue.  There are, however, things that need to be tweaked with this team.  I understand they are only 20 MLS matches into their existence, but this lineup needs to reflect the personnel running it.  The 4-4-2 that Nowak employs does not work for this collection of players.  It has been noted by several other supporters that the formation becomes a 4-2-2-2, which is devoid of width.  That leaves attacking players too linear to each other, and without support.

            My proposal is this:  Nowak should make this into a 4-2-3-1.

The striker:  Danny Mwanga.

            He’s shown in his first professional season that he knows how to find the back of the net.  He is someone I want nearest to the opposition’s keeper.  Alejandro Moreno, for all of his grit, effort, and nuance lacks the pace and conviction to be a number one striker for a team.  He can’t face up a defender and beat him off the dribble.  His lack of speed also forces him to pass instead of shoot because he doesn’t create shooting lanes for himself, though he can create them for himself (more on this later).  Sebastien Le Toux has been the most valuable player for Union, and possibly Major League Soccer.  He leads the team in goals and assists, so why not place him up top?  Seba is also defensively responsible.  He hustles at all times, so I want him covering one side of the field.  The squad is a few seasons away, possibly, from having more than two candidates for this position, so it’s worth monitoring in the future.

The attacking midfield:  Justin Mapp, Fred/Alejandro Moreno, Sebastien Le Toux

            The aforementioned Le Toux belongs on the right side, as he is in Nowak’s 4-man midfield.  The point of me saying that they should be formed this way is so that Le Toux and his left side counterpart are pushed out wider to stretch the defense.  I have Mapp as the initial player to go in the left wing side as he is left-footed, offensively imaginative, and decently fast.  Ideally, Shea Salinas would occupy this place, but he’s still injured, and may be better suited as a right wing player, or outside defense for that matter.  The center of this trio is where I am less sure.  Both Fred and Alejandro Moreno are veteran pros who have been in this league for years and are now on the downsides of their respective careers.  Both lack the foot speed to be individually dangerous, but they are nimble, creative players whose passing ability makes them dangerous.  Roger Torres is too young and fragile at this point to assume the full-time role, but would be utilized as a reserve.  Fred would be the starter if Nowak made me choose for the New England match.

The defensive midfield:  Stefani Miglioranzi, Eduardo Coudet

            These two are confident on the ball, and will serve as great liaisons between the backline and the attack.  Coudet slides more than any footballer I have ever seen.  His effort and commitment to defense and possession is strong.  It also helps that neither seems inclined to threaten the net much, so we may as well leave them back to help the back four.  Kyle Nakazawa could see his way into the starting XI if he was good for more than just dead-ball set pieces.  Amobi Okugo is also in line for time at this spot, and should Union have more negative results, should be a starter in preparation for next season.

The backline:  Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Juan Diego Gozalez, Michael Orozco Fiscal

            Oh, the backline.  Hmm, where to begin…  I would love to run Union as a 4-1-3-2, but this group of defenders needs all the help they can get.  The issue may be chemistry, as Orozco Fiscal has played centrally and outside, and in midfield, Christian Arrieta has been in outside and central, Salinas played outside before getting hurt, David Myrie got cut after one game, etc., etc.  A little defensive command of communication from their keeper, Chris Seitz, wouldn’t hurt either.  This group, though, gives Union the ability to push forward with overlapping runs.  Both Harvey and Orozco Fiscal have scored for Union, though just a goal apiece through 20 games.

Strategy:  How this all works in my mind

            It’s easy for me to get on a soapbox (milk crate, step stool, whatever floats your boat) and say this is the lineup, but I probably should justify my logic (or lack thereof).  Width is the main benefit.  Having Mapp/Salinas/McInerney on the left side opposite Le Toux is imminently threatening.  Playing the wings will force defenders out to them, thus availing the center of the pitch for plays into Mwanga or the central attacking midfielder, be it Moreno or Fred.  Both Mapp and Seba are apt to drift towards the center, which is fine as long as either Harvey or Orozco Fiscal reads that and makes the overlap along the sideline to keep the defense from collapsing.  My dependence on overlapping defenders is okay because Coudet and Miglioranzi can be responsible for cutting off counterattacks.  The missing piece may be an attacker who is capable in the air.  First things first, allow Coach Nowak to utilize this strategy and dangerous crosses to heads of attackers may very well be the byproduct.  Or, it may be an unequivocal disaster where Mwanga gets hounded and is rendered ineffective by brooding center backs thus negating the offense and leaving Union to perpetually defend which we know their not great at because they give up 2goals per game to D.C. United.  Whatever Union do to sort things out and further develop the team, they need to play faster.  Decisions need to be made, players must move in concert with each other, and defenses need to be kept moving, not allowed to settle in.  That accomplishment will give us, the Union supporters, much great soccer to watch for years to come.

 -Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union

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