Carlos Ruiz sat on Saturday versus FC Dallas, to the excitement of a portion of the Philadelphia Union’s fanbase, and the Union’s offense still sputtered. Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux started up top for the Union for the first time since 2010 and after about 20 minutes of sustained pressure and some exciting attack, their partnership fizzled. Much like ever other game that the Union have played in, the offense has neither been consistent nor fully the problem.
Besides starting Jack McInerney or Chris Agorsor at forward positions, the Union have to recognize that the true foundation of the problems with the entire team come out of the center of the field. It is the midfield that is holding the team back.
At home in PPL Park against the San Jose Earthquakes was the one time that the midfield could be applauded, as a full unit. Individual parts have had excellent games throughout this short season, but overall the components haven’t put in a consistent 90 minutes yet.
Strikers cannot be blamed for not making something out of nothing. The linking play this season has been dismal, even when head coach Piotr Nowak has employed Roger Torres in a central attacking role in the midfield.
Second year defensive midfield Amobi Okugo has both excited and confused, with spectacular displays of athleticism, marking and offensive grit, but also discouragingly invisible stretches of play. Brian Carroll, brought in for a second round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, gave excellent distribution through the first couple of games, before falling off the face of the earth and coming under criticism from fans for his lack of form.
Keon Daniel added a spark to the Union’s midfield during his first appearance for the team, then turned it into a string of starts. His time in the starting XI is much deserved, but for some reason Nowak has gone to the increasingly frustrating Justin Mapp for the outside of the left side of the field.
The biggest question in the midfield is the right side, despite the other problems with it all. Against Dallas the Union lacked any attack up the right side of the midfield because there was no finite right sided midfielder. Last season Fred and Shea Salinas gave the Union two players to plug into the right side of the midfield for decent distribution and attack. Levi Houapeu is currently the only true midfielder on the roster that fits the role that either Fred or Salinas had last year, unless Nowak decides that either Michael Farfan or Gabriel Farfan should return to their midfield positions of yesteryear.
If the midfield does not show up, defensively or offensively, then the offense won't either. All the changes that Nowak made during this past offseason appear to have hampered the midfield, not improved it. Heading into the season, a statement like that would have been deemed insane, today it is the fairest of criticisms.
The meme this season has been "_____ has to give." First it was the defense, which finally gave versus FC Dallas (though only two goals), and next it was the offense – which has still not shown up. Now that meme should switch to the midfield.