Before the season, the Philadelphia Union offense may have been thought of as a three-headed monster. Last year, the duo of Danny Mwanga and Sebastien LeToux accounted for 60% of the goals scored by the team. Adding the unpredictable Carlos Ruiz to this tandem seemed to give the Union a great offensive presence going into 2011. Pundits (including myself) were predicting that the Union’s troubles would come in the defensive third. The offense was not going to be a question mark, right?
That was March, and this is nearly June. The Union defense has been one of the stingiest in the league, allowing only 8 goals thus far. If there has been a trouble area thus far, it has been in the attack.
Union fans were delighted with the production of six tallies over the weekend, nearly doubling their entire season’s output in one outstanding display. In their victory over Toronto FC, Mwanga picked up two goals as the match waned. Conspicuously left out of the same match was Ruiz, even though the Guatemalan decided the previous week’s match versus the Chicago Fire with a wondergoal from distance.
The trouble for me is that I still can’t say that these two players are in form. At times Ruiz has looked more like a 40-year old striker than one that is only 31. Mwanga seemed uncomfortable with the addition of Ruiz early on, the two mixing like oil and water on the pitch. In recent weeks both players have looked more at ease in Peter Nowak’s system, but they seem to thrive when the other is on the bench. While Ruiz was on the field when Mwanga opened his 2011 account against the LA Galaxy, the goal was a result of a defensive error, not through the normal offensive build. It seems that Nowak has caught on, and the juggling of these talented forwards has found results.
This leads us to the Frenchman LeToux, Philadelphia’s main stalwart in 2010. A year ago any offensive discussion about the Union began with his contributions. If he wasn’t burying the ball in the net, he was setting up his teammates. What’s the difference this season? In my opinion, not much.
LeToux has been a workhorse thus far. Some fans want to point to his lack of goals from open play as an indication that he has regressed from last season. Statistically that may be true, but it would have always been a challenge for LeToux to match his output from 2010. The Union are a young squad. Players like Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Roger Torres, and Kyle Nakazawa must begin to step into more prominent offensive roles on the team. In my mind, Nowak knows this, and has begun to transition LeToux back into a midfielder.