What: Philadelphia Union vs DC United
When: 7 pm
Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA
Is there much left to say? After two seasons, the Philadelphia Union looked to be onto something huge. With a stout defense, a young core, and veteran leaders who relished their roles, the formula for success had been discovered.
It’s all different now. From the coach, to the captain, to the striker corps. And after a strange and awkward final chapter to Peter Nowak’s Philadelphia story, the focus can finally return to the field.
Enter DC United. Two and a half years ago, DC essentially ushered Peter Nowak into Philly hearts by losing 3-2 at Lincoln Financial Field. John Hackworth will be hoping for similar treatment.
Hacking up the plan
What will John Hackworth change? Not much by Saturday. And with Lio Pajoy suspended for one match, Hackworth’s preferred offensive options won’t become clear for at least another week.
The new manager has a long history of working with young players, but whether that will translate into increased minutes for fringe guys like Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney, and Chandler Hoffman is unclear. Hackworth has appeared to maintain a good relationship with the locker room, even as tension between Nowak and the veterans became public (and those veterans became trade bait). As a head coach, Hackworth will have to maintain good relations while navigating the weekly selections that, under Nowak, ran the gamut from odd but acceptable to incomprehensible.
On Saturday, the most notable change will likely be in the stands. The fans have spent most of the season watching off-the-field drama unfold as decidedly undramatic soccer left them increasingly disillusioned. Hackworth will get a clean slate with the PPL faithful; then he will be judged by the performance and attitude of the players.
Wins are the consequence, not the solution
Make no mistake, this is a team in need of wins. But the wins will come from a new attitude coupled with simplified tactics. Sometimes when a plan isn’t working, you have to go back to the beginning and walk through it again, looking for the weak points. The Union offense hasn’t worked for two seasons, so it’s time to try something simple. A back four, a playmaker and a defender in the middle of the park, hard-working wingers, and clear delineations of responsibilities. Keep the tactics simple, let the guys have fun.
The wins will come.
DC has something the Union need
Confidence. DC United is not the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. Yet, they have earned the right to stand proudly above the rest by executing a simple game plan: Get DeRo the ball, move. The Union don’t have the first step as an option, and they’ve performed the second step poorly this season. In Marfan, Gomez and Torres, the Union have capable playmakers, but nobody has been given the minutes (or, in Gomez’s case, the tactical freedom) to impose themselves on a game.
Is it worth giving up some defensive comfort in the name of offense? Absolutely. All of the team’s leaders are in the back, and this is the time to heap responsibility on them. If they handle it, great. If they don’t, they’ll face up to it and get better. Meanwhile, the corresponding freedom granted to the midfield can breed that long-absent confidence, which begets forward runs and movement.
For more on DC’s tactics, check out PSP’s USOC preview post from last week. The only major change for the stateless United will be the likely return of Dwayne De Rosario from international duty. While he may be rested, don’t count on it. Given DC’s inability to break down the Union with any regularity in the US Open Cup, coach Ben Olsen won’t hesitate to insert his star. Olsen knows that it feels pretty good to be in first place, and it feels extremely awful to drop out of it.
Doop it up
Peter Nowak is gone. Three of the team’s most popular jersey names are also gone. But a likable — and talented — team remain. They know the hole they’re in. And they know that they have to start climbing out of it now. And I’m sure they know they need the overwhelming noise and support of the Union supporters to do it.
Whether you loved Nowak or hated him, whether you think Nick Sakiewicz is sincere or willfully ignorant of supporters’ feelings, the team that steps on the field tomorrow night will need your unquestioning support.
Will you give it to them?
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Gaddis, Williams, Valdes, Garfan*
- MID: Adu, Carroll, Marfan, Keon
- FWD: Perlaza, McInerney
* Garfan is now listed as out with an injury, so Amobi Okugo (or possibly even Porfirio Lopez) will probably join the back line and bump Williams back out to one of the fullback slots, if Williams returns from a toe injury. (Editor’s note)
- GK: William “Billiam” Hamid
- DEF: Robbie “Kurt” Russell, Brandon “Ronald” McDonald, Emiliano “RockStar” Dudar, Daniel “Wholard?” Woolard
- MID: Perry “Hell’s” Kitchen, “Lil” Andy Najar, Nick “Of Lion” DeLeon, Dwayne “De” Rosario,
- FWD: Hamdi Salihi “Hehe”, Josh “Lone” Wolff