The Philadelphia Union have gotten the offseason to a great start by locking up Andre Blake, signing Home Grown players and trading for David Accam. But all signs point to them not being done with the offseason with Jim Curtin and Earnie Stewart wanting to add a 10 to the roster. While adding a playmaker to the team would be nice, I'm not sure that it is the most cost-effective thing out there when the Philadelphia Union want to play their kids and improve other areas of the team.
If anything, adding a number 10 to the roster will prove that Jim Curtin is a coach that isn't able to show tactical flexibility. One of the biggest issues last season outside of the lack of rotation was that Curtin refused to alter his formations in game. The only flexibility that he showed was tossing a forward on for the last five minutes for fuck's sake. And that isn't being flexible, that's going for broke at the end of a game.
With the addition of Accam, the Philadelphia Union now have the perfect personnel to run a 4-3-3 formation and absolutely overpower teams in the attacking third this year. Let's take a look at that potential lineup:
Outside of the defense, I would take that lineup versus most teams in the league. It will score a ton of goals but it will also allow a good bit which is why Andre Blake committing his future to the team was so important. What is interesting is that the savings from buying a 10 could be spread across the defense to buy a centerback and a right back (yes, a right back, we're not going to sit and pretend that Rosenberry wasn't awful last season).
The narrative that the Philadelphia Union need a 10 is a false one because in Major League Soccer the most important position is becoming a goal scoring winger. The Union got just that in David Accam so building to his strengths is of the utmost importance. He's paid to produce and he should be set up to do it. A 4-3-3 also gets the best out of Fafa Picault and CJ Sapong because it allows Picault to stretch the field while Sapong is either knocking down balls into his path or finishing his own chances.
The biggest winner from this setup would be Haris Medunjanin. The Bosnian is an elite chance creator and the 4-3-3 formation would make him the fulcrum of Philadelphia Union attacks. When Medunjanin is averaging 2.6 key passes per game (good for seventh in the league per whoscored.com) it's not the worst idea in the world to run the offense through him. After Medunanin, the next winner of the formation shift is Jack Elliott.
The young centerback is a secret weapon for the Philadelphia Union due to his passing abilities and they do not use him enough. Elliott has the ability to hit free runners in passing channels with ease, an ability that is not usually one found in centerbacks but it was on display with his link-up play with Picault last season. The shift to a 4-3-3 would not only allow him to showcase this talent but with the cover of Derrick Jones, Elliott could step into the midfield to really showcase his skills as a passing centerback.
Talking to Elliott last year, we talked a lot about his comfort on the ball and it goes back to his college days. When asked about his reading of the game and mentality on the ball, Elliott said,
"As a youngster and growing up, I played in midfield a lot. It obviously helps being able to pick out a pass and read the game a little easier. When you go back to center back, you have a lot more time on the ball. You can pick out passes a little easier but it definitely improves your decision making."
Playing CDM while growing up helps immensely in processing speed and it shines in Elliott's games. Because of that, it would be foolish for the Union to not integrate him onto the offensive side of things more. Signing a center back that could offer him cover when he goes forward would also assist with that.
If the Philadelphia Union front office actually rates Derrick Jones as highly as they claim that they do, then they should be trying as hard as they can to get him on the field in 2018. Anything less would be a disservice to the youth system that they tout so highly. Signing another big-money signing from abroad shows that the Union doesn't have faith in their internal options to compete for first-team spots.
One talented youngster that could be left in the cold is Adam Najem. While he is viewed by the organization, he is more of a tweener even in the eyes of former coaches and scouts around the league. In a 4-3-3 Najem could operate effectively as Medunjanin's backup while in a 4-2-3-1 he is maybe the fourth number 10 on the roster. Considering that the team gave up their 2018 SuperDraft pick for Najem, not playing him would be a disappointment.
While the Philadelphia Union signing a 10 wouldn't mean that this system can't work, depending on cost and flexibility it could make the system highly unlikely. Signing a 10 isn't the worst thing that the Philadelphia Union could do but it makes their margin for error razor thin on the season. You have to integrate a very important player ahead of the season while expectations for that player will be through the roof. After Accam joining, the defense is more of a worry than the offense ahead of the season.
Good coaches are able to work within a system but great coaches make the system fit their players. If Jim Curtin is aspiring to take a step forward in his short professional coaching career thus far, he must show some tactical flexibility when needed. Anything less could put him in some jeopardy this season.