The Philadelphia Union find themselves in a puzzling, frustrating, but not terribly unfamiliar situation at this point in the MLS season. They are second to last in the Eastern Conference with 11 points, just ahead of the Montreal Impact with 7 points. Montreal does have three games in hand.
By the eye test, the Union have been up and down in form all season. They’ve had flashes of brilliance. They are relatively young and are willing to push numbers up the pitch and attack. They play with a youthful exuberance at times. They can overwhelm with guys like Danny Cruz, Sebastien Le Toux, and Leo Fernandez (who is a decent Fantasy player to add to your bench now that he starts regularly). They have a star in the making in Amobi Okugo. They have one of the youngest starting goalies in MLS in Zach MacMath who had kept them in games with big saves and penalty stops. In the off season, they brought in World Cup hopeful Maurice Edu as a DP to boss the midfield. He’s been solid. I look at this roster and see a team on the brink of an MLS wildcard spot. But things just haven’t added up this season . . .
They’ve lost five of their last six matches. They have two wins, one against a Sporting KC team with a depleted backline and the other in the second week of the season against a struggling New England Revolution who have turned it around since. When conceding first, they struggle to get back into the game and comeback. Even when maintaining and building possession, they’ve had trouble breaking down organized defenses and finishing their chances. Earlier this season, they traded Jack McInerney to the Montreal Impact for hometown kid Andrew Wenger. Jack Mack scored 12 goals last year. Wenger scored one, though he was not a regular starter. They haven’t had much success offensively since the trade.
Some fans and media members believe Hackworth is on the hotseat. Watching this team with MLS live, I see lots of potential. Even with the team’s form going stale, there is hope. The Union need to shake things up:
Start Conor Casey.
Casey scored 10 goals and had 5 assists in the same number of starts as McInerney last year. Yet, the #9 has only 9 appearances (3 starts, 338 minutes) this season. I know Hackworth wanted to switch to a more uptempo style of play, but give the man a chance. Conor Casey was a wrecking ball in the final third at times last year, and he brings things no other forward Philly has can. He’s strong, wears down defenses, and is decent in the air. He’s a tough target to miss, and he finishes chances when you get him the ball.
For him to be effective, he needs to be able to wear down opposing centerbacks from the start of the game. Wenger just isn’t as good as McInerney. Hoppenot and Fernandez are too young. Give Casey a chance. Yes he’s slow, but he can win balls in the air, and help create space for the speedsters on the wings and underneath him. He fits in up top in the 4-2-3-1 they’ve been running. Put in an underneath forward with him, let him win the ball to the other attackers.
The only negative I see to this is him slowing down the pace. But at this point, I can’t see it getting worse. Even if Danny Cruz needs to drag him up the field on the attack, I think it’s worth a shot. Maybe he catches up on a play in time to finish on an open ball on the box.
Plus, there’s something endearing about Conor Casey sweaty and panting as he hustles to the bench to celebrate a hard earned goal. #DOOP
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