June 02, 2017
The Philadelphia Union's third-string defensive midfielder is a 26-year-old veteran with 113 MLS appearances.
Warren Creavalle is the next man up on a Union squad that won't have Alejandro Bedoya or Derrick Jones on Saturday. The first and second-stringers at the number eight position are both on international duty with the United States, which tells me that this isn't your grandmother's Philadelphia Union.
Creavalle has only played 40 minutes this year in three substitute appearances. It's not due to demotion or a lack of form, it's just the product of the team having quality depth for the first time ever.
Head coach Jim Curtin compares Creavalle's situation to that of Ray Gaddis, the sixth-year right back who wrestled a starting spot away from Keegan Rosenberry.
"A guy who is in a similar mindset to Ray," said Curtin of Creavalle. "He brings it each and every day of training. He works his tail off. He's always fit and never complains. He's sharp, he competes, and fights for every yard and inch in practice. His team always wins in practice. He's a true pro and a guy who will be called upon to play this week, for sure, a guy that I have full confidence in. He covers as much ground as anybody and has come in at the end of games to close them out in wins. That destroyer type of midfielder, (he does) a lot of stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet – tackles, breaking up plays, intercepting balls, cutting out passing lanes, and also being sharp with the ball and starting our attack. Haris is confident playing with him. They're comfortable together and train a lot in practice."
Medunjanin on Creavalle: "I call him “Kante” from Chelsea because he gets every ball, it’s unbelievable. I don't know how he does it."— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) May 21, 2017
Creavalle last started in the October playoff game at Toronto and he was probably the best Union player on the field.
It wasn't until after the match that we learned he had been playing with three broken ribs. That didn't seem to affect his performance at all, judging by the actions he compiled in the 3-1 loss, which was closer than the scoreline indicates.
Playing as a number six alongside Bedoya, Creavalle went 3/5 in tackle attempts with four interceptions, one clearance, and 11 recoveries. He was 2/2 on dribble attempts, won three fouls, conceded zero, and finished 45/59 in the passing game for a 76 percent success rate.
Last year, you saw Creavalle play the midfield in two ways. One deployment was that number eight "destroyer" role that Curtin mentioned. It's the more advanced position he occupied when paired with the typically conservative Brian Carroll.
The other usage was the number six, playing alongside Bedoya or Tranquillo Barnetta in a more protective role. That limited his ability to roam and required more discipline, but he still played well in both spots.
Saturday, he'll partner with Haris Medunjanin, a guy who doesn't play like Carroll, Bedoya, or Barnetta. He's a regista-style playmaker with a completely different approach to the role.
That means Creavalle will be tasked with winning the ball as a number eight while also having to protect his less mobile teammate.
"It's probably safe to say that Haris will be a little more advanced, a little closer to the goal so he can make that final ball, that final pass," explained Curtin. "Ale and him have a pretty good understand of sharing the load and taking turns. Warren is more of defense-first, stay at home midfielder compared to Ale, different skill sets, for sure. You could see Haris a little more advanced. He's not going to be running in the box 15 or 20 times, but he probably will be a higher up the field, maybe five or ten yards. That can make a big difference."
One positive is the small size of New York's field, a rhombus-shaped pitch shoved into Yankee Stadium and comprised partially of sod. The Union pulled in the goalposts at the Power Training Complex to mirror those pitch dimensions, a situation that benefits a ball-winning and field-clogging midfielder.
"It's a great field for him, too, because it's tiny and there's not a lot of space for teams to hide," Curtin added. You can really press and run and cover ground. It's a good situation to have a quality player like Warren ready to go."
We hit up the @Phillies for some tips ahead of our match on a baseball field this weekend#JoinOrDie pic.twitter.com/IlM70kBHZy— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) June 1, 2017