Before the Union’s season started, questions already loomed about whether Haris Medunjanin fits into the team’s new setup as the anchor of the midfield diamond. Those questions grew louder in Saturday’s season-opening clunker against Toronto FC, and they are likely to need answers soon.
Medunjanin’s strengths are unquestioned, especially his terrific passing vision and veteran savvy. But he is not well-suited to a fast-paced game. He’s the kind of midfielder who can control tempo by slowing it down and forcing other teams to chase his side’s possession of the ball.
And while Union manager Jim Curtin lauded Medunjanin’s contribution to the team’s possession and attack, the midfield anchor needs to be just as influential when the team doesn’t have the ball.
The Union’s work off the ball was a major point of emphasis for the team in the offseason, as Curtin and sporting director Ernst Tanner said repeatedly. That raises the importance of Medunjanin’s role even more.
This isn’t to say Medunjanin shouldn’t play. He can, as long as he’s accompanied by a teammate with hustle and bite — Warren Creavalle or Derrick Jones, for example. On Saturday, that didn’t happen, as Curtin went for a quartet that proved too attack-oriented.
Medunjanin’s deficiencies were especially glaring on Michael Bradley’s goals. You don’t have to be a tactical savant to see that on both occasions, Medunjanin stood still while Bradley ran right by him.
On the first goal, Medunjanin tracked Bradley for a brief time, then slowed up and started watching the ball go elsewhere on the field. Bradley kept going, and Medunjanin kept not paying attention until it was too late.
On the second goal, Medunjanin watched the rebound of an Andre Blake save bounce right in front of him, then stood still near the top of the 18-yard box as Bradley ran into space that no Union players took.
Creavalle surely would have made a difference. And if you’re worried about aesthetics, don’t be. The Union have enough firepower to be able to play a defensive disruptor at the bottom of the midfield diamond while delivering plenty of attacking thrust. Indeed, Creavalle would likely have freed up Ilsinho to contribute more going forward.
You might ask: Why Creavalle and not Jones? Arguably the biggest news in the Union’s lineup Saturday was Jones’ absence from it — and he wasn’t even on the bench.
The answer is that Jones simply hasn’t earned the right to be there yet. For all his skill, athleticism and potential, the 22-year-old came up short in significant ways during the preseason. Creavalle earned his way on to the bench — and from the look of things, should have been on the field.