Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
As Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says you are.
Philadelphia Union are a 9th place team. The Union have the league’s second worst points-per-game rate. The only team worse is Montreal, who the Union have drawn with and lost to already.
Yes, they have caught plenty of bad breaks. Their goal differential of -4 is the same as the Houston Dynamo, who sit in 4th place while the Union languish in 9th. The Union’s record in one-goal games is by far the league’s worst at 1-5. Had they not surrendered late goals in three early games, the Union would be six points better in the standings and tied with Houston.
But that Bill Parcells quote poses some questions.
How much time does John Hackworth have left?
As of late Monday night, Hackworth remains the Union’s manager. Chances are he won’t get fired this week. That would give the team very little time to adjust as it prepares for two tough games this week.
But the Hackworth death watch has certainly started. If the Union lose those two matches, against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, Hackworth could be out of a job next week.
The schedule doesn’t get easier after that. The Union take a two-game road trip to Los Angeles to play the Galaxy and Chivas USA, return home to host Vancouver, and then get a three-week break for the World Cup.
If one was to replace a manager, that break would be the ideal time to do it, because the new manager would get three weeks for a mini training camp. Alternatively, one of the assistants could take over on an interim basis at an earlier time and then be replaced by a more permanent option over the World Cup break. After the break, the Union have two games — at home against New England, away at Dallas — till the summer transfer window opens for MLS. Those are tough matches.
Hackworth’s teams have stunned people before, often when it was least expected and particularly against Kansas City. If he can steady the team till the summer transfer window, he should get the chance to bring in the reinforcement he clearly needs at striker.
What options do you have to replace Hackworth?
The Union’s board of directors have to consider potential replacements when debating whether to replace Hackworth. Will the replacement be an improvement?
Internally, the options are not good. None of his assistants have head coaching experience. Brendan Burke had a stellar record leading Reading United in the USL PDL, but he left the Union staff earlier this year. Mike Sorber is probably the best internal candidate due his longer coaching career.
Externally, the options aren’t great either. Eric Wynalda remains an attractive big name, but could you imagine two strong personalities like Wynalda and Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz coexisting, particularly after Wynalda’s farcical arrangement to “coach” in Atlanta? Martin Rennie remains available after Vancouver let him go. Former Chivas USA Robin Fraser is out there. Are you excited? You shouldn’t be. Alejandro Moreno may seem attractive, but the ace ESPN analyst has no coaching experience.
The only name that should interest you is Veljko Paunovic, who one inspired Union fan suggested two weeks ago. The retired Union attacker led Serbia’s U-19 squad to the U-19 European Championship last year. He speaks English and Spanish, is popular in Philadelphia, has some familiarity with MLS, showed loads of class in his time with the Union and … seems like a long shot who deserves a column in his own right, so let’s stop right there.
Beyond that, would any of them match Hackworth’s ability in the role of general manager? The Jack McInerney trade may not look good right now, but otherwise, he has done a very good job acquiring player personnel.
The dearth of good in-season replacement options should be considered when wielding the hypothetical axe over Hackworth’s neck. The Union board must decide what’s more likely: A success from a mid-season hire, or righting the ship under a coach who had a far less talented Union team a few points off the Supporters Shield pace last summer?
The most telling stats tell a damning story
Consider the story these stats tell about the Union attack. The Union:
- have spent more time in their opposition’s half than all but two MLS teams;
- have the league’s lowest percentage of attacks down the middle (26%);
- are tied for 3rd in MLS in crosses per game (25) behind NY and Columbus;
- have completed only 18% of their crosses;
- rank 18th in MLS in shots on target;
- rank last in MLS in goals from open play that aren’t counterattacks (3).
Basically, the Union control possession and push the attack, but they send everything wide and fire in cross after cross. Unfortunately, nobody collects those crosses to turn them into shots. That’s how Philadelphia ends up with two separate home games (Houston, DC) in which they completed 2 of 35 crosses, with every completed cross coming in a set piece situation.
Everyone knows what the Union are going to do, and they’re happy to let them do it. As former Union center back Jeff Parke said after Saturday’s game, “Today they were a little predictable and made it a little easier in the back, knowing they were going to whip crosses in. That being said, they had the ball the majority of the second half and are still a really good team.”
This is the Union conundrum.
How did the Union forward corps suddenly get so bad?
Philadelphia was 1-1-2 when they traded Jack McInerney to Montreal for Andrew Wenger in April. Since then, they are 0-4-3.
The Union miss McInerney and his creative off-the-ball runs desperately. (For more on this, click here.)
It’s not that Andrew Wenger has been that bad. He just hasn’t been good enough soon enough. (Note his world class turn on Parke, followed by a shot right at Bill Hamid.) And he certainly doesn’t look capable of pairing with Casey — they’re both target forwards.
Look at Casey’s chalkboard to the left.
Where was he Saturday? Everywhere but where he should be, which is high and central. The Union sent in 35 crosses, but their best aerial threat wasn’t in the box to collect them.
Instead, Casey went to find the game out wide. Last year, that was understandable with the Union’s poor midfield. This year, it’s not.
The Union desperately need Casey to replicate the form that produced 7 goals in 10 games over two months last year. In 2013, he hit his stride in June after recovering from a preseason injury. You may have noticed it’s still May. Casey looks to be in preseason form after again starting the season with an injury.
And what of the rest of a group of forwards that looked like one of the league’s better ones in 2013?
Aaron Wheeler has been playing center back.
Antoine Hoppenot has been diving more than shooting.
Sebastien Le Toux hasn’t regularly played striker since 2011. Does he still have what it takes there? Yes, probably. But can he regularly score in the Union’s current setup? He hasn’t yet.
The Union’s trade of McInerney probably helped free up salary space for a summer striker acquisition, and based on recent history, the Union probably have some targets in mind.
But can they make it that far? Can Hackworth? How patient will Sakiewicz and the Union’s board of directors be?
Is there hope for this team in 2014?
Yes. They have too much talent for there not to be. This team is good enough to turn the season around under Hackworth. The players play, not the coaches, and the talent is there.
At this point, it comes down to five more questions:
- Can the attackers show creativity in finding scoring opportunities?
- Can a Union player hit the net already?
- How will the team change during Maurice Edu’s absence due to international duty?
- Can this team catch a break?
- How much heart do the Union players have?