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Midfield leads the way for new-look, attack-minded Union

Brian Carroll, Gabriel Farfan and Justin Mapp

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

READING, Pa. — Through the first 10 games of the season, the Philadelphia Union midfield accounted for a mere two goals.

This past Saturday in Toronto, the club’s midfielders tripled that total – in the game’s first 62 minutes alone.

Justin Mapp led the midfield’s scoring barrage with a brace, while Gabriel Farfan and Kyle Nakazawa each netted their first career MLS goals. Brian Carroll was the only member of the starting midfield not to score, but the veteran anchored the unit with strong defense and smart distribution.

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The same foursome started the club’s friendly vs. Reading United AC on Tuesday, and with other midfielders nursing injuries, it would appear likely the unit will get the call once again for Saturday’s game vs. the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (9 pm ET; watch LIVE online).

“It’s an attack-oriented group for sure,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s also a group that moves the ball very well and tries to keep it on the ground and bring a lot of players into it, specifically [fullbacks] Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams. I think you’re seeing more runs out of our midfielders, so it’s a good mix right now.”

For much of the season, Union manager Peter Nowak used two holding midfielders, a plan he recently abandoned in part because of injuries to Stefani Miglioranzi and Amobi Okugo.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Union’s offense has begun to come alive with Farfan, Mapp and Nakazawa all in attacking midfield roles. In the game before Philly’s 6-2 demolition of Toronto, a 2-1 win over Chicago, the Union employed the same midfield for just about the entire game — except with Michael Farfan playing instead of his twin brother, Gabriel.

“I think [Nowak] is starting to instill more attack into our minds,” said Gabriel Farfan, who followed up his first career MLS goal with another goal in Tuesday’s friendly. “And we’re starting to understand each other a bit more on the field. We’re all on the same page now.”

Although he’s new to the starting lineup — Saturday’s game marked just his second start, and first in the midfield — Gabriel Farfan believes the midfield used in Toronto operates with a good mixture of aggression and sophistication.

“We bring a lot of different aspects,” he said. “J-Mapp likes to run at people. Naka has a lot of composure on the ball and a great touch. And I think I can mix it up too — I can run at players or calm the play down a bit also.”

And of course, Carroll, a nine-year veteran of the league, has the ability to stay back and hold the fort while the midfielders and fullbacks spread the field wide.

“I love playing with BC,” Farfan added. “He’s great at holding mid. He keeps the attack together and he keeps the defense together. He’s a great player to have on the field.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.