United’s latest horse in the stable is 33 year old (he’ll be 34 before we kick a ball in anger again) forward Josh Wolff. Much of my reaction to this signing is predicated on three unknowns:
- Did we talk to Conrad and Angel and find their demands unrealistic?
- Just how low did we negotiate Wolff’s once-substantial cap hit?
- Do we have designs on acquiring a finisher?
Note that none of these have anything to do with Wolff as a player, because I’m making the (perhaps misguided) assumption that he’s been acquired in much the same vein as Ngwenya: forward depth that brings variety and dynamism to a predictable and toothless attack. Where Ngwenya provides athleticism and unpredictability on the ball, Wolff brings veteran presence, scrappy determination, and relatively intelligent running off the ball to the table. If that’s what he’s been brought in for, then fine. If, however, he’s being looked at for a consistent starting role, I’m less impressed.
Wolff has never been what you would label a “prolific” scorer, and when he was at his best, he relied on quickness to do the business in front of net. That extra step has faded, and at 33 it’s not coming back. He’s not the deadly finisher that we so sorely lacked given the chances we spurned last year. And he’s not the type of forward you can play alone up top (hence his lack of PT in KC’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation last year).
Why is that important?
Well, let’s look for a moment at the midfield. You’ve got to figure that Simms and McCarty start in the middle. You don’t leave your DP on the bench, so throw Boskovic on as well, either operating ahead of the holding pair or wide left. Najar is the best thing going about United these days, so you’d be hard pressed to leave him out of the equation. That’s four. So where does Quaranta fit in? Does he play up top again? Does Najar? Is Benny pining for the days of 3-5-2? Because it looks an awful lot like Najar and Q (with Ngwenya, Junior, and maybe Pontius and Hernandez in reserve) on the flanks of a middle triangle of Boskovic, Simms, and McCarty (with Shanosky and King in reserve) would be ideal. And if you go with that five in midfield and a back four, that leaves you one up top.
Wolff’s not a one. Pontius? Cristman? Maybe. But not Wolff.
Okay, okay. Ignoring how wonderful it would be to look down the bench and find quality, I know there’s an immediate solution XI here that even fits most of the tools at our disposal. We can play two up top with some combination of Pontius, Hernandez, Quaranta, Wolff, Ngwenya, and maybe Cristman. Tuck Boskovic in on the left. Simms and McCarty hold. Najar plays high on the right. An overlapping wingback provides width on the left, offering Boskovic plenty of options in possession.
We traded away our attacking left wingback (Wallace) and seem to be suffering from the terrible delusion that Burch is one of the best left backs in the league. Whatever his other qualities, he certainly doesn’t have the speed and engine to operate as an overlapping wingback.
Which puts us back to square one: where Wolff? Not just positionally on the chalkboard, but in the larger scheme of the club as well.
If he’s depth, variety, and cheap to boot, if Angel and Conrad wanted the moon, and if we’re not done signing forwards, I’m happy with the move. If not? What if there’s a sinister motive behind this mysterious morphing of the PR message that United’s traditional “style” is less technical, possession-based attacking play than gritty, blood-on-the-shirt, aggressive stuff (if you’ve been reading the quote-sheets, you’ll have noticed this trend too)?
Or, phrased another way…Would I be happy with the playoffs delivered by a gore-stained iron fist of a team?