It’s a new beginning for the Philadelphia Union as the John Hackworth (interim?) era starts today at PPL Park against first-place D.C. United (7PM, Comcast Sportsnet/Galavision). After parting ways with Peter Nowak midweek the Union return to MLS play for the first time since May 26th.
Dating back to the Sebastien Le Toux trade it has been a tumultuous last five months for the third-year franchise. Consider that in that time they’ve traded their most popular player (Le Toux), parted ways with two former captains (releasing Faryd Mondragon so he could return to Colombia and trading Danny Califf), traded their first ever draft pick (former first overall selection Danny Mwanga) and parted ways/fired/broke up with manager Peter Nowak. Oh yeah, and they’re 2-7-2 and sit in ninth place in the ten team MLS Eastern Conference.
Say what you will about the off-the-field moves, but the fact remains that the Union have been a terribly painful team to watch thus far. Their offensive philosophy seems to consist of completely bypassing the midfield and playing long hopeful balls into space for Lionard Pajoy (who is suspended tonight). They’ve played well enough defensively, conceding the third fewest goals in the conference, but they remain vulnerable on set pieces.
Speaking of set pieces, the Union will have their hands full today with D.C. United who have scored three goals from corner kicks and two from free kicks so far this season. Branko Boskovic is the trigger man on set pieces. Assuming he plays, he’s listed as probable with an abductor strain, his service will present a huge challenge for the Union back four.
Another massive challenge for the U? Trying to handle reining MVP Dwayne De Rosario. D-Ro leads MLS with eight assists and is tied for seventh in goals with five. Oh, and he was the MLS Player of the Month for May, so he’s in good form. As if that weren’t enough, Maicon Santos is the fifth leading scorer in the league, scoring 10 goals in 13 games.
So what can John Hackworth do to counter a streaking D.C. United team that is on a three-game winning streak? Your guess is as good as mine. He stated during his introductory press conference that “There will be some changes and some new faces out there”. Who could he be referring to? Will we see Jorge Perlaza, who was aquired in exchange for Danny Mwanga, get a start along the front line? Will Josue Martinez get an opportunity to shine with Pajoy suspended?
Hackworth should have goalkeeper Zac MacMath back between the sticks as he returns from concussion symptoms. He’ll continue to wear the very Petr Cech-style padded helmet, but he should return tonight.
No matter what Hackworth does with his formation or changes he makes to his lineup the hard truth is that this team has no identity, no style and little margin for error. Yes, we’re only at the 1/3rd point of the season, but it’s getting late early.