CHESTER, Pa. – Through the first four games of the season, the Philadelphia Union kept new signing Lionard Pajoy company in the team's attack. The team rotated a cast including Danny Mwanga, as well two other offseason pickups, Chandler Hoffman and Josué Martínez alongside the Colombian forward.
In the three games since then, however, Pajoy has suddenly found himself all alone up top.
Instead, the Union have opted to go with a five-man midfield – which they believe has helped them overcome a slow start. After dropping their first three games, Philly own a 2-1-1 record, with their only loss in that stretch coming this past weekend against red-hot San Jose in a game they felt they should have won.
“It’s been a good recipe,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said ahead of the Union's trip to face Seattle on Saturday (4:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com). “The structure allows us, with the personnel we have, to be a team that’s successful on both sides of the ball. Aside from giving up that goal late against San Jose, it’s proven to work for us.”
Despite playing with a lone striker, the formation still has an offensive look to it with four attacking midfielders pinching behind Pajoy and offering support in the attacking third.
One of those midfielders has been Gabriel Gómez (above), who began the year in a more defensive role but has since been asked to get in on the offense, where he leads the team with three goals. Brian Caroll – or Amobi Okugo, when Carroll is hurt – then acts as the lone defensive midfielder, working on outlet passes and preventing counter attacks.
“I think it gives us an opportunity to try to outnumber the team in the middle of the field and keep possession throughout the middle of the field,” Union center back Danny Califf said. “Normally, if we can win the battle in the middle, then we’re in a god spot to put our stamp on the game and give ourselves a chance to win. I think that’s kind of the premise behind that formation.”
Between Gómez, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan, Keon Daniel, Kai Herdling and Roger Torres when he returns from his knee injury, the Union certainly have more than enough attacking midfielders to make the formation work.
The one downside, though, is that it gives less of a chance for their young strikers to see the field. And between Mwanga, Martínez, Hoffman and Jack McInerney, they aren't exactly short in that department, either.
“That’s a disadvantage to it, but it is what it is,” Hackworth said. “This is professional sports. We have to make sure we put a team on the field every week we feel that can go out and get a result.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.