With the season still young, I thought it might be worth predicting how the Union will fare this year. This is the first part of a two-part article where I predict what could go wrong for this team and what could go right. If we crash and burn this season, I listed a few factors that may play a big role in our demise.
1. The dreaded 4-4-2
Jim Curtin toyed with the formation during the preseason, and he ended up employing it during Week One. Frankly speaking, we are not set up to play a 4-4-2.
Who goes in the central midfield? Vincent and Mo? Alright then, but where is your creativity? Vince isn’t a #10 as the Rapids game proved. Do you go with Chaco and Mo? Where does Vince play then? Chaco and Vince? Who is supposed to do the defensive duties then? The 5’7″ and 134 pound Vince?
Where does Chaco fit in this formation? Playing him centrally forces out either Vincent or Mo. He doesn’t have the speed to play wide nor the disciple to stay wide and not drift centrally. You have to choose to either sit one of your best players or give up having a true defensive midfielder and risk being overrun in midfield.
Speaking of being overrun in midfield, the 4-4-2 fell out of fashion for a reason. It simply can’t compete with a 5 man midfield found in formations like a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1/4-3-3. Many MLS teams have made the switch to the 5 man midfield, the Union included. Returning to a 4-4-2 would see us give up even more of the possession in favor of praying for a counter goal. Honestly, it’s just too risky of a formation, and we don’t have the personnel for it.
2. Jim Curtin doesn’t develop quickly enough as a manager
It’s no secret that Jim is the youngest and least experienced manager in the league. How badly will this lack of experience affect the team? What’s been worrying two weeks into the season is his hesitancy to use subs. Why did it take him so long to bring players on against Colorado? I personally hate only giving a player 10-15 minutes to make an impact in the game. It gives them very little time to fit themselves into the tempo of the match.
Another issue will be squad rotation. Last year, he ran this team into the ground by the end of the season by relying on a small group of players. It’s too early to truly assess his squad rotation skills, but I am still worried. Why hasn’t someone like Jimmy McLaughlin made the bench over someone like Fred? We can’t rely on playing two wingers all year. We need to use what depth we have while giving the youngsters crucial minutes to develop.
3. Age catches up to Le Toux
While Seba may no longer be the star of this team, he is still a very important player. He has notched at least seven assists in each of his Union seasons and at least 11 goals in three of his four seasons here. He is still expected to be a big contributor for this team.
Now, what if age catches up to Seba? Who will pick up the slack and generate those assists and goals? Outside of Wenger, we only have Danny Cruz, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Eric Ayuk Mbi out wide. We all know Cruz is a hustle player who won’t set the world on fire. As for Jimmy, I am a big fan of his, but the coaching staff has done a poor job working him into the team. He is very unlikely to make an immediate impact. Finally, we have Eric. I doubt that we can expect a young player coming from Thailand to be an instant impact player. Harrisburg seems more likely for him.
So if Seba can’t replicate his form, who do we replace him with?
4. The Defense
It’s no secret that the defense ships away goals in the dying minutes of games. We have seen many collapses over the past few years, with the Columbus game at the end of last year being the best example. Can the defense turn this around?
What could be a worry is that we have a new member of the back line which requires us to once again develop chemistry. However, Vitoria may not be the only issue. Ethan White is still an unknown quantity. I do like him, but there is still a risk that he may not be the starter we need.
The fullbacks raise issues as well. Ray is still not a left back. Playing him on the left continues to stunt his game. On the opposite side, Sheanon has truly regressed from the form of his first two seasons that had some of us mentioning national team potential. For me, the biggest issue is a poor work ethic. He often gets caught out of position and lightly jogs back. This puts unnecessary pressure on Ethan to cover for Sheanon’s lapses. This leaves us with a player who doesn’t put in the defensive effort and who can’t cross well consistently. All that leaves him with is a long throw-in which never works anyway. Plus, the way he slowly saunters to the ball slows down any counter opportunities.
Until we get a left back and the center back proven definitely proves itself, the defense will continue to be one big question mark for this team.
Here we have it Union fans. If we crash and burn again this season, here are what I consider to be the likely reasons. Did I miss anything? What do you think could be an issue this season?