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Brotherly Game

Union earn second win behind rarely-used formation



Mikey DeAngelis | Philadelphia Soccer Now

Three games into their MLS season, the Philadelphia Union only had three points to their name.

An embarrassing defeat in Mexico to Pachuca to end the team’s Concacaf Champions League run didn’t help to appease fans. After the Union’s game against Seattle at home was rained out, the team took to Portland to try and weasel one point from the Timbers on the road.

The Union got three points, despite having only three players on the bench. With several starters missing to international duty, Jim Curtin moved his team to a flat 4-4-2 formation, as opposed to the diamond 4-4-2 the Union typically used. The same formation that proved so successful in Portland was the same Curtin and his coaches rolled out against Minnesota United on Saturday afternoon as the Union picked up a 2-0 win.

“I give my staff credit because I didn’t want to do it today,” Curtin said of the formation postgame. “I have to admit, I didn’t want to because at home I always think it’s a little conservative to go a little bit deeper. But it wound up working and it gave us a calmness in the middle part of the field.”

The formation allowed the Union more width, which helped young midfielder Quinn Sullivan dominate the right side of the pitch toward the end of the match. Sullivan didn’t finish with any goals or assists to his name, but he was the flashiest player on the field for all 90 minutes of action.

Even when Curtin began to pull his starters out of the game, the Union began to lean on the formation to keep their game plan consistent and allow Sullivan to tear up and down the right side of the pitch.

“When [Alejandro Bedoya] went into the game and Quinny was doing so well at right, I didn’t want to put Ale on the right and just throw Quinn up top at this moment. I just thought it was going well,” Curtin said.

Instead, Curtin told midfielder Daniel Gazdag to play as a second striker when the Union was on the attack and play as a No. 10 when the Union were defending. Bedoya played centrally while Sullivan continued to provide assistance from the right. After Bedoya went into the match, he notched an assist for Julian Carranza’s game-sealing goal.

Even from players who didn’t lead the attack, the decision proved popular as the Union built on momentum earned from the Portland win.

“It’s worked very well for us,” center back Jack Elliott said. “In certain stages of the game, I think it helps to give the one midfielder, Jose, the ability to get around the field a bit more and that helps us a lot. The strikers obviously can recover and pick up a deep-lying midfielder and makes it difficult for teams to break us down.”

Curtin didn’t pledge to use the formation moving forward for each game, but did say it was something good to have in his back pocket moving forward.

“It is something we can go to, and I like it on the road a lot,” Curtin said. “Because if you saw, we can be 20 to 25 yards a lot easier from front to back and guys are in positions to help in the matchups are clear, and we’re good on the counter. We’ll see as the year goes but it’s good to have multiple formations and options to go to and based on the different skill set of personnel that we have.”

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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