With the focus on the reserves against Columbus, the Union continued to limp into 2013, suffering a 4-0 drubbing from the Crew. There were few plaudits to hand out given the team’s generally dire display, but three players raised their hands for the Union—two for a second time—on a day the team would do well to forget.
1. Leo Fernandes
Two matches into the preseason and the discussion about Fernandes has turned from if he will play, to where. One of the few to feature in both of the Union’s first matches, Fernandes showed confidence and drive against Columbus. The next step for Fernandes is to harness that energy and focus on bringing in his wide players, placing his shots on target, and being more careful in possession. From the looks of the early preseason, he can do that and is poised to fight for a place in the 18 having seemingly earned himself a contract.
2. Stephen Okai
Okai’s level of polish was definitely as advertised, with the central midfielder looking comfortable slotting into the Union lineup. Like Fernandes, had some extra energy to burn up which caused him to play a little too frenetically at times, but given the circumstances of his first Union appearance, that is understandable. If the Union persist with this defensive 4-3-3 look, Okai could be one of the first midfield subs off the bench.
3. Roger Torres
For the second match running, Roger Torres’ introduction simply changed the complexion of the Union. Far more deliberate than either Fernandes or Okai, Torres took the game to Columbus, bringing in wide players who had barely a sniff before his arrival. Torres wants a spot in the starting XI and based on performances like these, John Hackworth will be hard-pressed to deny him.
1. Michael Lahoud
On the back of another shaky performance at defensive midfield, Lahoud may be looking up at not only Carroll and Okugo, but also Okai and Jordan on the depth chart. His sloppiness in possession cannot be overlooked, as he recklessly coughed up the ball all over the park. Additionally, as the most senior player in the starting lineup, Lahoud would have been looked to for leadership and consistency in the heart of the Union midfield. What the Union coaching staff got, was a nervy, choppy performance that failed to inspire confidence.
2. Don Anding
This is the guy for which the Union passed on Greg Cochrane? Ouch. Anding struggled to impose himself at left back, looking awkward and downright uncomfortable alongside Schoenle and Jordan in the back four. Once he was moved forward into Hoffman’s withdrawn winger slot, Anding should have stretched his legs and showed off his elite speed, the reason the Union gave for picking him so high in the draft. No such luck. Columbus bullied Anding off the park, welcoming the rookie to MLS and reminding him that life is a lot different in the pros.
3. Chandler Hoffman
Following the frustration of 2012, the Union’s former first round draft will have been bitterly disappointed with his performance on Wednesday. Billed to all the world as an out-and-out striker, Hoffman was forced to accept a left wing role in a side that could do little more than dribble up the center of the park and punt balls forward to Hoppenot. With opportunities as a true forward looking harder and harder to come by under the thus far conservative approach of Hackworth, Hoffman will have to accept his place on the depth chart for now and wonder what he has to do to get a legitimate chance up front. Until he is given a realistic opportunity playing among the forwards, he will remain impossible to evaluate.
4. John Hackworth
While the overall lack of experience accounts for much of the team’s display against Columbus, the Union manager also deserves to shoulder blame for his team’s lack of cohesion. In two matches, the Union have featured two formations and have looked uncertain in both, lacking not only confidence on the ball, but simple awareness of the players around them. Route 1 has become the only road forward for defenders and midfielders alike, who too often are resorting to lumping balls forward rather retaining possession and building out of the back.
Additionally, with back-to-back matches on Friday and Saturday, it appears that Hackworth picked the wrong game to focus on only his reserves, as his top-tier players have seen their preseason reduced to a maximum of three games. In the preseason, players don’t need to a full week between matches, and Hackworth’s decision to ice his starters on Wednesday just means less time for the guys who will be on the pitch come March 2 to develop chemistry.
Still, with 270 minutes to play before the games start counting, Hackworth gets the benefit of the doubt. But with every preseason match where the Union look weak and uncertain offensively, struggling to impose shape or rhythm to their game, the lack of an obvious system will bring the Union coach under fire from fans who are expecting more.