Union offense beginning to find form after slow start
CHESTER, Pa. -- After eight weeks of searching for answers, Philadelphia Union's offense looks to have found an identity.
Multiple-goal games against the New York Red Bulls and Schalke 04 were a drastic improvement for a team that managed just one shot on goal the week prior in Seattle.
Movement has been better, decision-making faster, and scoring opportunities far more plentiful.
The most obvious tactical change was the reinsertion of Danny Mwanga into the starting XI.
“(Having two strikers) makes life easier, not just for me, but for everyone else attacking," Mwanga said after Sunday's 3-2 loss to New York. "I was trying to be in the center of the pitch and trying to occupy the two centerbacks. That gives Lio and Freddy the free space to go one-on-one, and they had shots on goal. Whenever you have more offensive players on the field it helps you create more chances. We can attack -- we can definitely create chances.”
For much of the season, Lionard Pajoy has played alone in various single striker sets, such as the 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1.
But in the Schalke exhibition, the technical staff experimented with a loose 4-3-3 shape that we hadn't seen this season.
Mwanga played "point man" at the top of the shape, with Pajoy wide left and Josue Martinez wide right. Brian Carroll sat in the pocket behind Gabriel Gomez and Keon Daniel in a small triangular midfield.
With Mwanga drawing centerback attention, Pajoy and Martinez were able to run into space from deeper positions. The Union stayed in the 4-3-3 for the entire game and won 2-1 with goals from Pajoy and Chandler Hoffman.
The Union's formation against New York was similar, except Freddy Adu replaced Martinez on the right and had increased freedom to roam and create in the midfield. Essentially, the shape played like a 4-4-2 with Pajoy and Mwanga up top.
The result? Two goals for Pajoy. The Union created 21 attempts on goal, which was their highest total of the season in league play. The team had six shots on target and scored multiple goals in a league game for the first time in 2012.
"I think Lionard finds good spots and he’s very dangerous going forward," said manager Peter Nowak. "He had a little bit more room on the wings in the situations he had, a couple in the first half and a couple more in the second half. I think it’s a good combination, and you always have Danny Mwanga inside to receive the ball and hold the ball for him to make a great run, so it’s very important to give him more (space) like that and more confidence. He played a great game."
WATCH: Red Bulls 3, Union 2