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The Keon Daniel enigma: Are the Philadelphia Union winning games because of him or in spite of him?

Aug 23, 2013, 1:24 PM EDT


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?

While you ponder these questions, please enjoy this video of Daniel’s central midfield partner acting like the subdued captain that he is while mic’d up during a recent game.

  1. jay peezo - Aug 23, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    good article

  2. broadsthooligans - Aug 23, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    The way I see it, the problem is that both Keon and Carroll are on the field. Brian Carroll has done a lot for this team and been a core part of their culture the last few years, but he’s lost a step and the other central midfielder is forced to make up for that to an extent. I see the criticism of Keon’s starting spot as more of an inability to acknowledge that Brian Carrolls flaws need to be covered up. Keon does that well and adds something going forward while doing it. Ultimately the best thing would have been if Soumare had worked out at CB and allowed Okugo to relieve Brian Carroll which then allows Keon to move up the field. If you watched Keon in the Gold Cup, or ever with Trinidad, you know that he can pair very well with a strong striker and adds a lot to an attack. The plan is to have two CDM’s because Carroll can no longer do it alone. That’s not Keon’s fault, it’s the position he’s put into

    • Jason R. - Aug 23, 2013 at 9:56 PM


      Essentially Keon’s “problems” are that Cruz and Carroll are terrible and declining, respectively and he’s supposed to do both of their jobs for them.

  3. Fire Hack - Aug 23, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    His stats speak for themselves: one assist and zero goals from the attacking midfield position. Time to move on. Let’s see what the $500,000 man can do.

    • broadsthooligans - Aug 24, 2013 at 1:08 AM

      But he’s not actually playing an attacking midfield position. He’s playing a box to box CM who has to fill in for other players’ (Carroll, Cruz, Williams) defensive deficiencies while still trying to make moves forward when possible. Hackworth is happy with him because this is the role that he is expected to play.

      • philsoc8 - Aug 24, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        This is true.
        Daniel has soft feet and is one of the better players on the Union in terms of comfort on the ball. However , he can’t hold it against physical challenges, which is why so many of passes are backwards.

        He’s an ok player for an ok team, nothing more nothing less. I think if he was lower profile (i.e. no dreds) he’d be less controversial.

      • WilkersonMcLaser - Aug 26, 2013 at 4:26 PM

        This is incorrect. Carroll may have “lost a step” somewhat, but he still remains a pretty smart defensive player. The problem has been too often that he is 1) not at all a box-box midfielder and 2) has often had to assume the offensive mantle because of Keon’s anonymity (with the expected results). Keon has barely gotten forward all season and has been woeful the handful of moments he has.

        Keon isn’t a bad player and may be worthwhile as a late game substitute, but he is nowhere near deserving of his rock-solid starting role that even Jack Mcinerney can’t seem to hold (which is especially criminal for a striker, by the way). The obvious solution is to swap him for Kleberson, although it seems clear at this point the Brazilian was only brought in to get Adu off the books. I expect the Sakiewicz regime wants no reason (like a string of good performances) to keep him and his high salary around after the loan is up.

        The other option, based on what we have at our disposal, is to insert Torres on the left (since he’d be drifting inside anyway) in a playmaking role and put Michael Farfan in the middle with Carroll, who is much more creative and offensive minded than Keon. Le Toux stays on the right.

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