Philadelphia Union Can’t Stand Pat in Eastern Conference Dog Fight

Jul 23, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Montreal Impact midfielder Harry Shipp (14) takes the ball away from Philadelphia Union defender Keegan Rosenberry (12) in the first half of game at the Saputo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 23, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Montreal Impact midfielder Harry Shipp (14) takes the ball away from Philadelphia Union defender Keegan Rosenberry (12) in the first half of game at the Saputo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Union were humiliated this weekend at the hands of  a fellow contending team, the Montreal Impact on a 5-1 loss.

There, I said it. Now that we can accept that it’s time to work on stopping this from happening again. Sure playing three games in a week due to Open Cup play (thank goodness it’s over) isn’t an optimal situation for the Philadelphia Union but it still highlights the teams biggest weakness, squad depth and the defensive abilities of their back line.

With the transfer window open, the Philadelphia Union need to do something to strengthen those weaknesses and beat a technically adept team like the Impact in the playoffs. We’re at the point where Earnie Stewart needs to ask himself, “Are we trying to make a serious playoff run, or are we content with seeing progress this season?” For most of the season, the team looked poised to mount a challenge for the MLS Cup but the team that we saw on Saturday was utterly defeated.

We’ve already written about some of the problems that are currently plaguing the team like Tranquillo Barnetta not being a good fit for the number eight spot in the midfield but there are a few new wrinkles on that. Part of the reason why the team defense was so good earlier in the season is that Tranquillo Barnetta is one of the best counter-pressers on the team.

“some guys showed some heart and continued to push in the second half, but not a lot of positives” – Jim Curtin on the Montreal performance

That combined with CJ Sapong’s work rate created fits in the attacking third because most defenders aren’t accustomed to that type of pressure and they’d routinely cough up the ball. Because of his vision when he got the ball in those situations Barnetta was usually able to find an option to get an attack rolling. While most of the goals that were scored in those situations didn’t end up as assists for Barnetta, he was still instrumental in them.

Moving him into a deeper role also exposes his biggest weakness which is tracking runners. There are many times when Barnetta can be seen losing a runner and leaving the back line  (usually Josh Yaro) exposed leading to a goal. The trade-off between him and Roland Alberg didn’t look like much at first but now that the goals have dried up for Alberg his deficiencies are showing.

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Roland Alberg is the type of player that when he isn’t scoring goals he doesn’t really offer much to the team. Now that there is more tape on him he’s put in a string of bad performances while not helping the team defense. On that defense, Jim Curtin said, “It’s team defense – it’s not the back four, it’s not individuals,” Curtin said. “We didn’t give up a ton of great looks to them when they would run a play … It’s a lot [of goals] – I’m pissed about that, don’t get me wrong. And we’ll get it fixed. But it’s a lot of silly goals, I would say.”

This quote is after the 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps but it rings true now more than ever. Continuing on the defensive theme the back line of the Philadelphia Union has been especially poor as of late. They already were made to look better than they already are by the standout performances of Andre Blake but the defense as a whole is regressing to the mean.

Fabinho while serviceable has begun to show his age, Richie Marquez doesn’t look like the standout performer that we’re used to seeing and rookies Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett are having growing pains. This is what was expected but the team raised our expectations to a point where it’s disappointing nonetheless.

It also shows how important Vincent Nogueira’s link up play and tempo control was to the team. While he is a replaceable player it’s clear that a replacement for him is not within the Philadelphia Union organization. The team will need to make a move in the next few weeks to boost the squad or risk falling out of contention.

Honestly, the Philadelphia Union have been lucky to this point because the gauntlet of the Eastern Conference has chewed up each contender while the season has progressed. The Union are only in third place three points off of first with a game in hand so they are far from being out of the race. The issue is that with a few decent performances they could have widened the gap between them and some of the other contenders.

Next: Philadelphia Union Continue Bad Form

The Philadelphia Union team is in need of a shakeup but they don’t have the personnel to really do it. The only position with true depth are the wings but they really haven’t been the problem. While it isn’t time to worry yet, with each loss the doubts begin to creep in. No one want’s to see the team regress to last season’s performance levels but that’s the risk that’s currently being run.

Hopefully Earnie Stewart can bring in a transfer target to turn around this season before it’s too late.