The difference between a good and bad team

(Published on April 28, 2015 in The Philly Soccer Page)

The difference between good and bad teams in MLS is three goals.

The Columbus Crew are a good team.

Philadelphia Union are clearly a bad team.

No more talking about how much talent the Union have, how likable Jim Curtin is, or what level of play this team is capable of.

This team sucks. Period.

Does that sound crass? A bit blunt? Rather broad? Were you looking for the usual intellectual take on the club and its state of affairs?

Sorry, but sometimes the message is simple and direct.

Fabinho over Williams? Really?

Any MLS team that continues to start Fabinho at left back in a four-man back line after he has repeatedly cost them games on defense does not deserve to win or tie. They deserve to get pounded.

Do Jim Curtin and his coaching staff not learn? How many games must Fabinho cost the Union? How many opposition goals must he be responsible for? He played a part in surrendering three on Saturday. That should be enough to staple him to the bench. Maybe he could fare well as a wingback in a five-man back line — he is not without talent — but he’s too positionally unsound (and not quick enough to compensate for it) to succeed as a starting left back in MLS.

Was this a message to Sheanon Williams after he played a part in letting in two goals a week earlier? If so, Williams now knows Curtin will bench him to start an inferior player, and the Union will get smoked.

If you really want to send Williams a message, then just trade him already, play Ray Gaddis at right back full-time, and find yourself an actual starting left back. This is a league in which Corey Ashe and Chris Klute are now backup left backs. Meanwhile, both Williams and Gaddis are good enough to start at right back in MLS. (Who’s better? I think Williams overall, but each is quality.) Either pick one and trade the other, or leave them both in and be done with it already.

Questions of character and quality

After the game, Curtin said, “I learned a lot about a lot of players tonight, the guys that stuck with it and pushed and the guys who bailed out. You want to be able to look yourself in the mirror after a game and say that you gave everything. That’s what we talked about before the game, and I think we got a lot of answers. Especially in the second half, the guys that stuck with it.”

Well, that’s great. We know who has heart, is that it? Toughness? Is it Philly Tough, or just regular tough? And wouldn’t we all like to know which players bailed out? I think we would.

Here’s an idea: How about picking a lineup entirely of players who are MLS starting quality?

On one hand, it’s admirable that Curtin looks for personal character in his players. That’s important. You want good people, not players who give up.

On the other hand, maybe it’s time we hear less about character intangibles that are completely subjective (and potentially flat out wrong) and more about guys who can actually play this game.

For example, take Cristian Maidana. If you’ve read between the lines this season, you’ve learned that Curtin doesn’t think much of Maidana’s hustle or supposed lack thereof.

But anyone who watches the Union also knows that the Maidana-Vincent Nogueira pairing is probably the most important determinant to this team’s success. When they are healthy and playing together in the No. 10 and No. 8 roles, this team has ideas in attack. Without them, the Union lack ideas and possession.

There’s a lot to like about Curtin and the way he carries himself. I like him. You like him. Who doesn’t like him? (OK, maybe Amobi Okugo.)

But seriously, just put in a team that can play already. Nobody wants to hear about players supposedly giving up when most Union fans gave up once they saw a lineup featuring Fabinho.

Stop trying to telegraph messages to your players. Stop trying to motivate this club like they were an offensive line in American football.

Focus on what’s lacking in your tactics. Show us you know how to evaluate talent, and pick a lineup with the 11 players who put you in best position to win. Barring that, give us a different look than those that have failed repeatedly. Try Richie Marquez at center back, Jimmy McLaughlin at right back or on a wing, Andre Blake in goal. Something — anything — to show us there are some ideas here. Right now, we see few.

Yes, this club has been handicapped by poor leadership from the team’s ownership group, and the roster clearly had holes entering the season, notably the failure to replace Okugo. The team lacks adequate depth almost everywhere but center forward, and it’s showing.

But it doesn’t change the fact that this team has enough good players that they should be winning some games and competing in all of them, not rolling over the way they did Saturday and being the worst possession club in the league.

This gets old. People don’t want to watch this mess every week.