Columbus Crew-Philadelphia Union Tactical Analysis

Jim Curtin and company will be kicking themselves following a game that can only be described as one in which the Union repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.

Individual errors aside, some glaring errors were made from a tactical and team selection stand point on Curtin's part.

Content to concede possession (38.5% to Columbus' 61.5%) and let Columbus attack to their heart's content, the Union invited pressure on themselves with the intention of absorbing it and counter attacking, but ultimately cracked under said pressure.  

Failure to win aerial duels continues to be a problem for the Union this season and it cost them on the night and in previous matches. Of the defenders fielded for Philadelphia on the night, only Ray Gaddis won an aerial duel-compared to Columbus striker Kei Kamara's 5. But with Steven Vitoria in the team at 6ft 5in and with 6ft 2in Richie Marquez awaiting his opportunity on the bench, it seems like a problem with an obvious solution that wasn't being implimented.   

On to some selection problems. While an improvement on Rais M'Bohli, John McCarthy has shown a similar indeciseveness to the Algerian, and when a defense is as poor as Philadelphia's has been, the goalkeeper is expected to step up and bail them out on occasion. This seemingly hasn't been the case.  Putting a man on the post is advisable on set pieces, but having one on each, and not leaving proper coverage or players to mark opponents runs is unforgivable. Furthermore, the Philadelphia native's 47.4% passing percentage, compared to Columbus Crew's Steve Clark's 74.3% is plain poor for a team that expects its goalkeeper to be able to play out of the back in tight situations.     

Further up the pitch in defense, the switch of Ray Gaddis to right back was done as the result of poor form from Sheanon Williams and to allow Gaddis to be in a more natural position going forward, but it too ultimately failed. Both he and Fabinho were poor on the night, and Andrew Wenger looked more confident defending in one on one situations than the Brazillian did. If Curtin is set on Gaddis remaining at right back, he may want to consider playing Wenger-who was a defender in college-on the left.  Wenger, who came off at half time, made more tackles in 45 minutes, (3), than Fabinho did in 90 minutes (2). Furthermore, attempting to have the fullbacks overlap and the wingers tuck in proved rather fruitless, with both Fabinho and Gaddis combining for a total of 5 crosses, just one of which they completed.

The move of Maurice Edu to central midfield following the introduction of Ethan White was made in an effort to gain control of the midfield following the Crew's domination, but it only served to remind everyone why White was dropped and Edu inserted as center back in the first place: the failure to beat Kamara for the header in no man's land before making a minimal effort to get back into position once Ethan Finaly "turned on the jets". In his 30 minutes on the pitch, White failed to make a single tackle, interception, clearance or blocked shot. Furthermore, the man who was brought off for White, Brian Carroll, whose team high 3 interceptions was one of the only things keeping the Crew from completely dominating the midfield, added 3 tackles, 1 clearance, and a solid 84.6% passing rate.  

Examining the midfield, conventional wisdom says Chaco Maidana plays best for Philadelphia when central, pulling the strings and running the game. However, his best games this season/where he's seemingly found the most success is when he finds himself out wide with Sebastian Le Toux tucked in, sending in crosses to the big men up top. Whether it's Fernando, Le Toux, Sapong, or oddly enough on this occassion, Eric Ayuk Mbu. But the Union can't always lean on Maidana, whose sub par play on the night, completing not a single dribble and just 4 of 13 crosses (still better than Ayuk, Wenger, and Le Toux who all didn't have an accurate cross between them) failed to inspire the Union to a comeback. That being said, he was still the Union's most influential player, completing 3 key passes and with an 85.3% passing rate overall. 

As it has in past games, the introduction of Ayuk did provide a spark to the Union attack, with the youngster claiming his first MLS goal. However, his youthful mistakes: shooting when he should have passed, as well as dribbling for hours on end, with just one of three shots on target and having been dispossessed twice, show he's not yet a player the Union can count on in critical situations. 

Overall on the night, the Columbus Crew were ruthless, doing well to capitalize on individual errors. The Union did not play entirely poorly but continued to witness a failure of other players to cover following the errors of their teammates. If they're going to take anything away from this early season that seems already to be slipping away from them, efforts must be made to cut out errors, and Coach Curtin may have to make some tough decisions regarding team selection for a team already short on depth, an issue he's sure to beg the ownership to help resolve in the summer.