Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union
Carrying a lead and momentum into the halftime break, both John Hackworth and Marco Schallibaum had choices to make. Both managers needed a win and, following a toothless first half performance, Montreal never looked like beating Zac MacMath.
So Schallibaum prepared his team to change. Less long balls to the less than towering Marco DiVaio, better use of the wings and, after 8 minutes of the second half, a formation changing substitution.
When Andrew Wenger replaced Patrice Bernier, the Impact suddenly became the potent attacking team the rest of MLS had seen through the first half of the season. Both Justin Mapp and Davy Arnaud got on the ball to beat their marks, DiVaio floated around finding space, and Felipe sat in a more traditional playmaker’s spot, pulling the strings.
The results were staggering. Montreal stormed back to claim not only the equalizer, but also the seemingly inevitable match winner
In other words, the Union punched, Montreal counterpunched, and the Union got knocked out.
Wrong spot for Jack
Despite restoring Jack McInerney to the starting lineup, Hackworth did not truly return to his typical 4-4-2 formation. Clearly on instruction to drop off and play more defense, McInerney patrolled the midfield much like he would earlier in the season when helping his team to defend a lead. Perhaps he was asked to help protect Kleberson, or put an extra body in midfield to combat the Bernier-Hernan Bernardello partnership.
Whatever the rationale, it was a mistake.
Yes, McInerney helped keep Montreal at bay for the first 45. But without the young striker plying his trade on the last shoulder of the defense, the Impact defenders hardly struggled to contain the Union outside of the occasional perfect entry pass, first by McInerney himself and then by Kleberson for the Union’s opener.
With a combined age of 70 between their center back pairing, Montreal’s defense was asking to be worn out. Instead, Hackworth’s tentative approach to Saturday’s match meant that they were still fresh and ready to push forward once their attack got going, so they were hardly ripe for Antoine Hoppenot’s picking, as McInerney usually leaves opposing defenses.
Holding a lead
The Union are not great at finishing games, but that has not altered their approach. Left short on the bench by the suspension of Michael Farfan and injuries to Keon Daniel and Sebastien Le Toux, Hackworth still waited too long to bring on midfield reinforcements.
When confronted with the need to hold a lead, Hackworth’s pattern is fairly typical. First, the insertion of Antoine Hoppenot is meant to pin back an opposing defense. Next, Hackworth makes the inevitable replacement of Danny Cruz who, despite having started all 31 matches for which he has been available, has only completed a full match three times. Then in the dying minutes, the Union boss brings on an all-out defensive-minded sub to try and see out the result.
Three chances to change the game, three negative moves.
All fairly well scripted.
Hoppenot could be thought of as an attacking sub but, considering that unlike McInerney or Cruz, he needs to drop in to get the ball before running at the defense, his insertion pushes the Union further towards their own goal.
Once the Union have lost momentum, their lack of midfield creativity often ensures they never regain it. Against Montreal, it was no different. Starting for consecutive matches for the first time since May, Kleberson offered a bright start, but come the hour mark, his lack of match fitness showed. Removing McInerney, who had accepted his role and tenaciously defended as much as he attacked, rather than Kleberson, effectively handed Montreal the middle of the pitch. Felipe and Bernardello suddenly had a laboring Kleberson and straightforward running Hoppenot to contend with, rather than a defensively-motivated McInerney and the fresh legs of Leo Fernandes.
While the latter configuration may not have offered the inspiration to go ahead and score another goal or two, it would have better allowed the Union to compete in central midfield and so kept Montreal for taking over complete control of the match.
Build through youth? It couldn’t hurt
Considering the bench options available to Hackworth on Saturday, one might ask the question about the potential inclusion of a player like Jimmy McLaughlin or Cristhian Hernandez. True, neither has played a single minute in this season’s MLS campaign, but unlike Roger Torres, Matt Kassel, Gilberto and to a lesser extent Leo Fernandes, they have played consistent minutes throughout the year.
With the dissolution of the reserve league, the Union might do well in future years to look to their Harrisburg-based players as potential options to fill roles late in the season or to rotate those players more frequently to insure that they see the pitch often enough to remain sharp in match situations. It may not have helped on Saturday, but both McLaughlin and Hernandez are technically astute players whose skills may have offered the Union a pressure release as they tried to keep the ball and hold off Montreal’s rampant attack.
Set piece defending
The Union should do it.
Karl Ouimette was not the only Impact attacker handed a free run on the match-winner. His captain at the time, Matteo Ferrari, was also left completely unmarked and could have easily finished the chance himself.
There is no excuse for that.
Zac MacMath – 5
Made only 1 save and looked slightly jumpy at the back. Nearly conceded a goal when an overly ambitious throw came right back at him. Neither goal can be put on the Union keeper though, with DiVaio’s spinning effort giving him little chance and none of his defenders doing their part on the winner.
Sheanon Williams – 5
Got forward well enough in the first half while keeping Arnaud from establishing himself. The second half was a different story, as the Impact captain was far more influential.
Amobi Okugo – 6
Forced to do a great deal of work at the back, Okugo dealt with most of it with his typical calm, composed demeanor. Was unlucky to get turned by DiVaio for the Impact’s opener when the wily Italian timed his turn perfectly to create separation on Okugo.
Jeff Parke – 8
The Union’s best player on the afternoon, Parke made every critical intervention. While he has been found wanting for pace in the past, Parke moved his feet and positioned his body in a manner that cut off DiVaio at every turn.
Ray Gaddis – 4
Restored to the left flank, Gaddis struggled to push play forward or link up with Fabinho. Kept a close eye on Mapp for most of the first half before joining his team in being overrun in the second.
Danny Cruz – 3
Playing against the youngster Ouimette, Cruz probably expected to run riot. But Ouimette got the better of the Union winger at almost every turn. Cruz’s involvement in the attacking third was limited to a handful of badly mishit passes and shots.
Brian Carroll – 3
When Montreal turned up the attacking pressure, Carroll faded out of the match. As the supposed leader of his team, some blame for this loss falls to him, as the Union sat back and tried to defend a one-goal lead rather than searching for a second goal, or even some simple clock-wasting possession. Loses an extra point for the silly yellow card he took that will now see him miss his first match of the season, the finale against Sporting Kansas City.
Kleberson – 6
Showed just what the Union was missing out on when Hackworth refused to play him. His perfectly weighted pass to Fabinho was only one in a series of clever, smartly hit balls from a player who looked keen to push for the win. Ran out of gas in the second half, but the blame for that falls to Hackworth for not hauling him off for fresh legs or giving him the minutes earlier in the campaign to get up to full fitness.
Fabinho – 5
Scored a screamer of a goal when he ghosted in behind the Impact back line and buried his shot behind Troy Perkins. Otherwise, he did very little to further his team’s cause.
Jack McInerney – 4
Asked to play behind Casey to help with defensive pressure in midfield, McInerney played his role dutifully, even springing a few players, Fabinho most notably, from his new role. But, as mentioned above, Hackworth removed the most dangerous part of McInerney’s game by asking him to play in this manner, and the young striker never looked like scoring.
Conor Casey – 6
Bullish in his approach up front, Casey mixed smart hold-up play with some impressive footwork. Yet, the big man was unable to maintain his composure, conceding 5 fouls while earning a yellow card for dissent and the ire of referee Petrescu. For Casey to be successful, he needs to keep his head, keeping the play in the attacking zone rather than handing over possession through the concession of fouls.
Antoine Hoppenot – 4
Unable to get on the ball, Hoppenot languished up front. Mixed it up physically, but could not do enough to turn the momentum back in the Union’s favor.
Leo Fernandes – 4
Aside from a soft header straight at Perkins, Fernandes played an anonymous quarter of an hour.
Roger Torres – N/A
Did what he could in limited minutes to push play forward, including picking out Williams with a late free kick. In the end, he did not have enough time to influence the match.
Silviu Petrescu – 3
Kept the game from finding its rhythm with 39 fouls called in total. At times, it appeared that he just wanted to blow his whistle. Was too easily taken in by flopping from Fabinho and Camara, though he did correctly wave Cruz back to his feet after a pair of overly dramatic tumbles.