It’s not very often you see a coach respond to a blog on Twitter. But earlier this week, Philadelphia Union assistant Jim Curtin felt compelled to do so when The Philly Soccer Page (by far, the best Union blog out there) posted a piece on the team’s midfield woes.
His reason: to defend oft-maligned midfielder Keon Daniel.
The tweets have since been deleted but Curtin’s main point was a good one. Simply put, the Union are winning when Daniel plays and losing when he doesn’t.
The stats: The Union are 8-3-4 in games when Daniel starts (4-0-1 since the start of June), 1-2-1 in games when he comes on as a sub, and 1-2-3 in games in which he hasn’t played at all.
Now, it’s true that you can’t necessarily correlate wins with the inclusion of one player in an 11-man starting lineup. And it’s also true that some of the games Daniel didn’t play in were also games that leading scorer Jack McInerney missed because of the Gold Cup.
But is there still something to those stats? Could Daniel be a lot more valuable than some fans might think?
The detractors say that Daniel is not an offensive threat, that he lacks creativity in the box and that he should have a lot more than one assist and zero goals through 1,398 minutes from his central “attacking” midfield position. And they say it loudly and often – and in a lot more places than on The Philly Soccer Page.
But there are some Daniel defenders out there that marvel at his technical ability and the fact that he successfully completes so many of his passes. And manager John Hackworth, while admitting that Daniel sometimes falls back too much, often notes that the polarizing Trinidadian has remarkable skill on the ball.
For what it’s worth, Daniel seems to be most comfortable dropping back into a more of a holding midfielder role alongside captain Brian Carroll, which you could argue has helped the team’s defense and distribution. But is having just two strikers and two wing players enough of an attacking presence (especially when one of those wing players is another maligned player – Danny Cruz – that’s far from a proficient finisher)? Would the Union be better off if they started a player in Daniel’s spot that can defend, distribute and create goals?
The truth is, the Union probably don’t have a true box-to-box midfielder who can fill all of those roles. So until they get one, is Daniel the best bet to start in the central midfield? Is Curtin correct in his assertion that the Union are winning games because of him? Or could do they be doing so in spite of him?