Photo: Paul Rudderow
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
Michael Lahoud didn’t join the Union under the best of circumstances.
He was effectively the player to be named later in the controversial Danny Califf trade, an apparent afterthought in Peter Nowak’s efforts to rid himself of the Union’s vocal and popular captain. In a situation like that, most players would feel a lot of pressure to replace Califf, even though the Union received allocation money as well. Knowing the trade was agreed to before you were even put into the deal might not have been a big vote of confidence either.
Lahoud came in and played hard anyway. He quickly secured a regular spot in the lineup, and that remained the case after Nowak was fired (which happened in part because of the Califf trade). In the process, Lahoud established a reputation as a good team player and standup guy who put in maximum effort every game.
Few were wowed by his on-field efforts, however. As time went on, it became very easy to be underwhelmed by his performances because nothing stood out, which isn’t uncommon for holding midfielders. Each game was pretty much like the game before: Lahoud would cover a solid amount of ground defensively, rarely give the ball away, but offer little going forward in a relatively punchless Union attack. He was a common target for criticism, most often because people questioned the wisdom of playing two defensive midfielders when one of them was already the one-dimensional defensive stalwart Brian Carroll. Lahoud was the starter most often identified for replacement by a striker to compliment Jack McInerney.
But that’s an easy game to play when the team isn’t good. Considering the Union’s 4-2-3-1 had Amobi Okugo on the back line, Lahoud was the best choice to pair with Brian Carroll at holding midfield. He may not have excited the fans, but he played a necessary role on a team with major roster problems.
Lahoud’s through ball to Antoine Hoppenot in the 3-2 loss to Columbus was a thing of beauty. Lahoud rarely looks to thread that needle, but this time, he did it to perfection, hitting Hoppenot in stride and forcing a successful penalty kick. The play showed there may be more to Lahoud’s game that we haven’t seen yet.
The end of the season. Unless he picks up his game, his days as a regular starter with the Union are probably over.
Lahoud has an engine that goes on and on. He never stops hustling, and he covers a good amount of ground. He proves tidy in possession, but that has its limits. (More on that later.) Lahoud is also versatile enough to fill in at fullback or on the midfield flanks if absolutely necessary.
Also, Lahoud is exactly the sort of high-character guy teams need in the locker room. In some corners, he’s known as much for his charity work as his playing, and he comes across as a classy, polished, humble team player. Considering the controversial circumstances under which he joined the team, a lesser person might not have handled it so well.
Lahoud offers little going forward. Most of his passes are negative or neutral. Perhaps that’s all that’s asked of him by the Union. (I won’t pretend to have seen much of his play for Chivas USA.) Perhaps it’s all he can offer. He has occasionally shown excellent vision with through balls that have unlocked defenses and put Union strikers in on goal. For him to maintain a starting position in 2013, he’ll have to show those anomalies are more accurate signs of his capabilities than the limited attack skills he’s shown thus far.
Lahoud hasn’t earned a starting spot in 2013, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t be back. He was a reliable contributor in three years with Chivas USA, and he proved the same for the Union. No, he wasn’t a world beater. And he may not be a starter next season. But he likely brought more to his role than any non-starter would have.
The strengths of the Carroll-Lahoud pairing are on defense, but their offensive limitations detract from the team’s attack. One of those positions likely needs an upgrade to someone with better vision going forward. Amobi Okugo could be that upgrade, if he returns to midfield. A formation change could also render the issue irrelevant. (Carroll has flourished most when deployed as a lone defensive midfielder.) Whether a change comes at Lahoud’s or Carroll’s expense remains to be seen.
Regardless, Lahoud is a good player to have on the team, and Union manager John Hackworth likely recognizes that. Lahoud is an ideal depth player who can be counted on to help hold a lead late and kill the game, because of his defensive prowess and reliability in possession. He’s a reliable spot starter in midfield who may not bring a ton to the table, but he takes little away from it. Further, the Union need high character players like Lahoud after Nowak gutted the team of its key leaders this year.
Lahoud will probably be back. And people should be thankful for it, whether it came at Danny Califf’s expense or not.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards