Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A most appropriate marriage

Raul was actually born in 1947. True story.
In the sort of fixture that makes you rub your eyes in the confused half-light of early season-meets season's end, Schalke is visiting PPL Park today to rub elbows (and hopefully not ankles) with the Union. It is a bizarre scheduling quirk that adds the burden of a midweek game to the clogged schedule of a Union team which has had little luck this season. Of course if you were to ask me, I'd tell you that you make your own luck, and Peter Nowak essentially deciding on Danny Mwanga over Sebastian Le Toux was a case of handcuffed sanity, but I digress.

Until you read between the lines. Rumors of a grab for Raul have already fired the imagination of the Philly press, which has until now been more or less ambivalent on the Union's first two seasons. Now that the attack has shown a toothless streak that has no equal in the league, there are cries for action. Philly has just five goals from eight matches, a run that even winless TFC can better. If it is a luckless bunch, it is also one without a striker of any class at all.

Philly's trouble, which should be quite obvious, is forward play. Here's a telling (and generous) quote from Sigi Schmid last week.

"They're a very conservative team in the sense that they look to defend really well," Schmid said. "They drop back into their own end of the field. You have to try and break down 10 players when you're attacking, so it puts a premium on your ability to possess the ball and move the ball in the attacking part of the field. They look for their counterattacks and opportunities to get forward at the right time."

That's all well and good until you realize that this is a team that can't counterattack. So with 10 players backed off the ball and no avenues on the break, what do you have?

Without the luxury of forwards, Nowak has mostly rolled with Lionard Pajoy as a soloist up top. Other than Pajoy, no other forward on the roster has more than 218 of a possible 720 minutes, and that's The Great Disappointer Danny Mwanga. Nowak is so strapped for forwards that he started Kai Herdling next to Pajoy up top in a 4-4-2 in a 1-0 loss to Seattle on the weekend. Herdling is a recent loanee and a relative unknown who won the starting job over four incumbents who have yet to barely lift a finger. The search party is out for Chandler Hoffman, Jack McInerney, Josue Martinez and Danny Mwanga. If you see them, break out the pink semaphores, because they are lost in the high weeds somewhere.

All four of those strikers are 22 or younger. As the youth movement sputters, it seems as tough Philly is turning its gaze toward the golden shores of the retirement home. Should Raul chose Philly in much the same manner as Faryd Mondragon did, he will unearth many of aged DP barbs, but he will also make Philly good again. Statistically the defense is the third-best unit in the East. Adding an attack will make this team very good, very fast.

This is an all-or-nothing proposition for Philly. Even in a league of parity, you need goals to survive, and there are none in the boots already on the ground. So should Raul choose the Union - and, mind you, he may not even choose MLS - this is a side to watch for. If not, expect Nowak's humorless bunch to continue to spin in circles like a rudderless ship.

- Will Parchman


Phil McCracken said...

Your point on Philly not being able to counter attack is a good one. Whenever they break out, they look to play possession rather than get forward into the attack. It's almost like they're stuck between two minds and after a few nice short triangle combinations, they typically lose possession and have to defend again.

Also, they just can't get any shots on goal which if you can't do that, you're just not going to be any good.

I have disagree with you that Nowak chose Mwanga over LeToux as Nowak never plays Mwanga (or any of the other promising young players). I think that most Union fans would be happy with these results if we were bleeding more of our young core and they were gaining valuable match experience, but it's still a lot of veterans playing in key roles.

The video that I've seen of Pajoy, I would have thought that he could play on his own up front and be able to shrug off defenders. However, he seems to be struggling with the physicality of the league as well as being essentially stranded with 2-3 defenders around him at all times. I think if Nowak gave him a strike partner to work with, we would see better production out of him.

fscat said...

I'd love to see Raul in MLS, if he actually applied himself, but I don't like the idea of him playing with the Union. I'm not a Nowak fan, I think he constantly plays guys out of position, and tinkers too much with his lineup.
So thumbs up to Raul at MLS, thumbs down to Raul at the Union.