Although they made it difficult at times, although there style of play is not exactly gorgeous, and although their struggles while possessing a man advantage continued, the Union scored a late goal yesterday to defeat the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0, sending the Pacific Northwest club to their first home defeat of the season. Union supporters will be concerned that the Boys in Blue could only muster 1 goal even though they played up a man after Jun Marques Davidson blatantly headbutted Keon Daniel, earning himself a straight red card from referee Baldomero Toledo.
Red cards for Union opponents are not uncommon. The excellent Philly Soccer Page covered it extensively here, how the Union seem to instigate red cards as easily as Ryan Howard strikes out. But the Union haven’t been able to capitalize on their opponents hot-headedness. In fact, have only mustered 4 wins out of the 9 total games in which their opponents have went down a man.
So, the obvious question becomes, why?
And the answer, sadly, seems just as obvious: the Union do not play well when they are in possession of the ball. That is not to say that there is no one on the team who is capable enough technically to really hold on to the rock. However, those players are either miscast in their roles in the current system (Michael Farfan), only selected as a substitute (Kleberson), or left off of the gameday roster entirely (Roger Torres). In the case of Torres, the most talented passer by a mile on the squad and the only player really capable of operating as the central creative fulcrum week in and week out, the Union should either play him as soon as possible in a meaningful league fixture, or sell him. There is no room in MLS for expensive players who can’t even make the gameday substitutes, either for his lack of skill or his coach’s maladroitness managing his club.
However, even though they are one of the least stylish teams in the league, the Union summoning up their inner Stoke City has generated some decent results. Through 22 games the Union have collected 34 points, positioning themselves as a playoff team after many people (myself included) projected them to finish near the bottom of the conference during the preseason.
So the big question becomes, should the Union sacrifice their brutish, direct style, one that has seen them in the playoff places throughout the season, for a prettier, possession-based game? I think, with a home game against Chicago coming up, the Union should transition to a more attractive game. Even though Chicago have seen an uptick in their fortunes after a dreadful start to the season, they still are significantly behind the upper class of the league in Portland, Salt Lake, Kansas City, and LA (and basically every other team in a playoff spot). The Union should start Torres so that he can find the holes in the Chicago defense. Moving Michael Farfan onto the left wing will enable him to cut onto his stronger right foot while retaining possession and playing long switches to Sebastian Le Toux playing high on the right wing, enabling the U to retain some traces of their direct style. And by playing the left-footed Fabinho at left back instead of the right-footed Raymon Gaddis, someone can exploit the space being created by Farfan when he comes inside. If John Hackworth uses that lineup, he won’t even need an opponent’s red card to barely win 1-0.
Sugested roster next week vs. Chicago:
Macmath; Williams, Okugo, Parke, Fabinho; Le Toux, Carroll, Torres, Farfan; Casey, McInerney