CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union are certainly happy to be tied for second place in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday’s key rivalry match against the New York Red Bulls (3:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
But, at the same time, they know they’ll likely need to improve their midfield play to keep churning out the wins.
Last week, Union manager John Hackworth said that he knows the midfield – and the anchor of the unit, captain Brian Carroll – could be better than it has over the first three games.
And on Wednesday, Carroll reiterated the same point.
“The fact of the matter is, we need to get it rolling a little better and understand when it needs to go up and through and understand when it needs to be slowed down and possessed more,” the Union captain said. “That’s something we need to do well against New York to get a good result.”
The Union (2-1-0) have gotten good results so far, having won two straight league matches as well as last weekend’s friendly against Mexican outfit Pumas. But those victories had more to do with solid defense and timely set-piece goals than strong midfield play.
Through three league games this season, the opposing team has completed an average of 151 more passes per game than Philly. And the Union have yet to win the possession battle in any contest.
“I think it will come with time,” Carroll said. “Ideally, we’d like to pass the ball on the ground and have 20-30 passes going every time we get the ball and leading to a beautiful goal. But the fact of the matter is it’s not going to be like that all the time. There will be stretches were it’s very pretty and on the ground and it’s awesome buildup play. But there are other times when, even in the same game, it’s going to be very ugly. When it’s not pretty, we need to find a way to get through those bumpy patches in order to get a positive result.”
To be fair, there have been some positive moments for the midfield. Keon Daniel had one of the team’s best assists of the year and Michael Farfan has shown flashes of why he’s been asked to become the centerpiece of the team’s attack.
But for the unit to completely click, it will likely come down to the play of Carroll, the string-pulling holding midfielder who will likely remain in that spot for the long haul now that Amobi Okugo has entrenched himself into the lineup as a center back.
How does Carroll think he’s done so far?
“It’s very early in the year but I think I’ve slowly gotten a little better from the first game through the third game,” the Union captain said. “I don’t want to put a letter on it or a number on it or anything like that but it’s been fine. It’s been solid. Nothing crazy, nothing outstanding, nothing terrible. It’s been fine.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.