Connect with us

Brotherly Game

Leon Flach is back: Can he help the Union’s middling defense?



Photo by Jack Verdeur

In 2022 the Union boasted one of the greatest defenses the league has ever seen. 26 goals allowed. 0.76 goals per contest. 2nd best goals allowed per game of all time. 15 clean sheets. The defense anchored their run to the MLS Cup.

Fast forward two seasons and while the players are nearly identical the defense has been average and disappointing. Through the first nine games the Union have allowed eight more goals than they did in 2022 (14 vs 6). When looking through the lens of expected goals the record is slightly better, but still five goals off the pace (12.5 vs 7.5).

Here’s a look at the cumulative opponent xG for the Union over the last 3 seasons.

source: American Soccer Analysis @analysisevolved

The slip even started last year. Something has changed, but it can’t be attributed to a lot of new faces. Blake is still the primary goalkeeper, although he’s missed a handful of games this season. The defensive trio of Glesnes, Elliott and Wagner still man the vast majority of minutes at their positions. In 2022, Mbaizo and Harriell both split time at right back. This year Harriell is the favorite, but he’s also considered the better defender of the two. It’s essentially the same back five.

Moving to the midfield there’s been more change. Jose Martinez still manages the 6, but the central midfield, key anchors of the defense in the 4-4-2 diamond formation, has turned over. In 2022, the central midfield belonged to Leon Flach and Ale Bedoya. In 2023, Jack McGlynn started to earn more time in the midfield. Flach and McGlynn had roughly the same minutes and Jesus Bueno also earned more than a thousand minutes.

The current midfield is McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan. McGlynn and Sullivan are obviously terrific young offensive players, but they are not the defenders that Flach and Bedoya have shown they can be. While Flach is also young at 23, defense is his specialty. Bedoya may have lost a step but getting to the right position relative to the ball and gaps in the defense is still a strength.

The reason Flach has been out so far this season is due to injury, but he made the bench for the game against Seattle. Given the upside of McGlynn and Sullivan, Flach figures to work into Curtin’s lineup slowly, and may just be a bench option when the Union hold a lead. But if the Union’s defense continues to underperform the level of talent they have, Flach might find himself trying to plug this leaky formation.

Defensive quality goes beyond the players though. The coach clearly has an impact that is harder to gauge from the naked eye. Curtin may well have implemented some tactical shifts that favor offense over defense. If there’s more pressure applied up top to force turnovers there could be more exposure for the defense. Or if Curtin is asking the defense to push higher in the attack, there is more space behind the defense to cover. These changes are more subtle and harder to analyze, but may be a contributing factor.

So is it tactics? Are the players just not playing as well as they once did? Is it the new young duo in the midfield? Can Flach help? While the Union sit 7th in the Eastern Conference, there is still plenty of time to improve the defense and their position in the standings. With Flach back and healthy, Curtin has one more option to get the team on the right track.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

Be the First to Know When Philadelphia Soccer News Happens!

Sign-up now to get all of our stories sent directly to your inbox, as soon as they're published.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.