Monday, January 26, 2015

What do we know about the Union?

As the countdown continues to the Union's MLS debut Thursday night, I've been thinking a fair amount about exactly what we'll see when the team takes the field.

What do we know about the Union?

As the countdown continues to the Union’s MLS debut Thursday night, I’ve been thinking a fair amount about exactly what we’ll see when the team takes the field.

To be completely honest with you, I still have no idea.

Part of that is because I’ve been swamped with basketball lately. But I’ve talked to a number of fans and writers over the last few days, and none of them have figured much out either.

So far, we know that the Union have trained in four places: a little bit in Delaware County and mostly in North Carolina, Mexico and Tampa. They beat UNC in Greensboro, then tied a Chivas ‘B’ team and beat Universidad de Guadalajara in Guadalajara. But they were shut out by FC Dallas and the second-division Tampa Bay Rowdies in Tampa.

The loss to FC Dallas was especially discouraging, as three of the Union’s potential starters – Danny Califf, Alejandro Moreno and Michael Orozco – were sent off for various offenses.

The Union leave for Seattle today, and they held a training session in Delaware County yesterday morning. I wasn’t there, but Marc Narducci of the Inquirer was, and he put together a video with my Philly.com colleague Litty Samuel. You can see it in the player at right.

Peter Nowak has said a number of times this season that he likes what he’s seen, especially as regards the all-for-one mentality he wants to instill. Otherwise, though, he's played his cards pretty close to the vest.

Union assistant coach John Hackworth told reporters yesterday that “we know with some good certainty who will be in our starting 11," and Marc reports in this morning's Inquirer that Chris Seitz will be the starting goalkeeper on Thursday. But the outfield is a different story.

That is in part because Fred will be on the bench because of a red card he was given at the end of last season. The Brazilian midfielder would almost certainly be a starter otherwise.

As Kerith Gabriel notes in this morning’s Daily News, Fred was ejected from D.C. United’s 2009 finale against Kansas City in the 92nd minute. Red cards transfer from one season to the next, so Fred will serve his suspension on Thursday.

It’s hard to tell what the Union's starting XI will be in Seattle, but I’m going to give you a lineup that I think we could see. Then, I want you all to post your predictions in the comments. I don’t have any prizes for guessing right, but it should be a fun conversation.

Let’s assume a 3-5-2 formation for now, because that’s what Nowak has used in the past.

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz
Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Shavar Thomas
Midfielders: Andrew Jacobson (outside), Stefani Miglioranzi (defensive), Roger Torres (attacking), Michael Orozco (defensive), Shea Salinas (outside)
Forwards: Alejandro Moreno, Sebastien Le Toux

A few word about Orozco, since commenter B-Mac was first on board with his lineup. I know Orozco is usually a defender, but given the relative lack of depth at wing back on this roster I wanted to get Harvey on the field. If I do that, I can't get Orozco out there unless he goes forward a bit.

If Nowak goes 4-4-2, then Orozco definitely drops back. But if it's 3-5-2, someone gets bumped somewhere.

I am favoring experience up front, especially with the pick of Le Toux over a younger guy such as Nick Zimmerman or Danny Mwanga. Kerith writes that Zimmerman and Le Toux could get the nod, but I have a really hard time believing that Moreno won’t be on the field.

(Then again, my NCAA Tournament bracket is a complete shambles. That should tell you whether my prediction skills are any good.)

One way to solve the problem would be to drop Moreno or Le Toux into the spot where I have Torres playing. Moreno can create a bit, and Le Toux played in a withdrawn position when Seattle was in the A-League.

Regardless of who plays the attacking midfield position, the important thing is that someone does it. Call it the playmaker, the trequartista, whatever. Heck, you could call it the quarterback and be less guilty of mixing metaphors than you might initially think.

The position matters for two reasons. First, it symbolizes a commitment to attacking soccer. Second, it’s the position Nowak occupied as a player. He was one of the best playmaking midfielders in MLS history. 

I don’t think I’m sticking my neck too far out when I say I hope whoever plays that role with the Union is capable of inheriting Nowak’s legacy. If that player emerges, the Union will be in very good shape.

So now it’s your turn. Which players do you think will be on the field for the Union’s MLS debut?

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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