Improvement is needed from the Philadelphia Union midfield
The Philadelphia Union season has gotten off to a sputtering start as they sit at 0-1-2 through three games.
The results have been a bit harsh for the Philadelphia Union as they could have won each of the games that they’ve tied this season but it’s early, so points are points. After three games, the Philadelphia Union have used the same lineup each time with the only change being C.J. Sapong starting against Orlando City due to Jay Simpson being out with a bruised lung. What this means is that there are now 270 minutes of soccer to look at to see how the team is shaping up.
The initial concerns before the season began were that the defense wouldn’t be able to hold up and that there would be a lack of a goal scoring threat on the team. After three games against high-powered offenses, the Philadelphia Union have only allowed four goals on the season which is a number that is middle of the road, around MLS. After having one of the worst defenses in the league last season, this is a marked improvement for the team.
Looking at the striking situation, Sapong and Simpson have combined to score three goals on the season (Sapong 2, Simpson 1) and look like they could form a fruitful striking partnership for the team. The issue is that no one on the team outside of them has scored a goal and three goals scored for the team is near the bottom of MLS. While it’s okay to rely on the strikers for the majority of goals, some of the scoring threat has to come from the midfield.
Chris Pontius had a career year last year scoring 12 goals but he can continuously flit in and out of action so a repeat cannot be expected from him. Fabian Herbers is growing into his own on the right wing and is becoming a creator out there. Given the playing time that he is getting combined with Jim Curtin’s confidence in him, the numbers will come for the young German. Ilson Jr came so close to netting a goal against Orlando City and with regular game time, he’ll be effective in rotation and from the bench.
This brings us to Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin, and Alejandro Bedoya. Jones has been a revelation in the defensive midfield bringing a steel that hasn’t been seen since the team fielded a fully healthy Maurice Edu. That plus Jones’ energy has allowed him to provide much needed defensive cover both to the backline and his midfield partner Medujanin. As of now, Jones is the only member of this midfield core who is pulling their weight.
Unusual Designated Players:
When Alejandro Bedoya joined the Philadelphia Union, he was a questionable DP choice due to not being much of a goal scorer. He was shoehorned into the number eight role because the team was lacking a box to box midfielder but with the addition of Medujanin and promotion of Jones, Bedoya is now able to move into a role in the attacking third this year.
With the departure of Tranquillo Barnetta, Bedoya has now taken over as the number 10 for the team which adds more attacking responsibility to his game. So far this season, he doesn’t have much to show for it and while Bedoya does everything right off the field as the face of the Philadelphia Union, at some point his product on the field needs to matter. If Bedoya doesn’t pick it up soon, he’ll go down as a big money failure for the club and it will be the ghost of Barnetta, not Vincent Nogueria that will be felt around the club this season.
Additions additions additions:
The club’s biggest signing was that of Haris Medujanin who joined the team from Maccabi Tel Aviv on a TAM contract. When he joined, there were questions about his defensive work rate but he was expected to hit the ground running on the offensive end of the pitch. In action, the defense has been worse than expected with there being points that he looks disinterested in the defensive side of the game. For a guy who admits that defense isn’t his strong suit this is worrisome moving forward.
Medujanin should be able to work on his chemistry with teammates during the international break which will allow him to showcase his progressive passing style. He has the eye for a killer pass but it isn’t there right now due to Medujanin not having enough familiarity with his teammates. While this should improve, if the defensive side doesn’t turn around soon, Jim Curtin should consider sitting Medujanin so that Jones doesn’t have to overcompensate for his teammates.
The Philadelphia Union are so close to being a solid all around unit. They’re just a few tweaks away from being able to compete with anyone in MLS but they’re in need of midfield improvement and fast.