Hackworth And The Midfield Woes

USA TODAY Sports

Poor midfield play was one of the main reasons that the Philadelphia Union fell 2-0 to New England on Saturday night. It's time for John Hackworth to shake things up a bit in the center of the field.

Going into the locker room at halftime locked at zero with the struggling New England Revolution surely did not please Philadelphia Union head coach John Hackworth. His team was able to generate little offensive opportunity, mostly due to poor midfield play.

Just four shots, two of which came in the first four minutes, were taken by the Union in the first half, and only two of those shots came from within the Revolution box.

The second year head coach had a plethora of midfield options on his bench to right the ship and bring home three points. Instead of taking the chance to turn around the momentum of the game, Hackworth instead let the ship sink before trying to plug the holes in its leaking hull.

In the 59th minute, Hackworth decided to replace an apparently gassed Conor Casey with Sebastien Le Toux, sending the latter into the midfield and essentially leaving Jack McInerney to run by himself.

New England would score two minutes later, as Le Toux let in Lee Nguyen behind him, then slowed up on the play. Kelyn Rowe, through a nicely slipped in pass by Nguyen, found an unmarked Diego Fagundez all alone in the middle of the box and the youngster was easily able to beat Zac MacMath from close range.

Searching for an equalizer, Hackworth pondered his options and saw fit to remove winger Danny Cruz in favor of super sub Antoine Hoppenot in the 65th minute. The team still lacked a linking midfielder on the pitch, which lead Hoppenot's presence on the field to be rather unsubstantial in results.

The Revolution would find the back of the net again, as Nguyen would score on a rebound, making it 2-0.

And with the game totally out of reach, Hackworth finally made a change that fans have wanted earlier in games for weeks, with his third and final substitute by taking off Keon Daniel - who has been in a downward spiral for a few games - for Kleberson.

It was a move that should have come 20 minutes prior. The other two substitutions should not have come at all.

If there was anything to know about Le Toux from his prior stint in Philadelphia - or with the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps - it is that he's rendered ineffective as a midfielder. Yet Hackworth, despite being fully aware of the Frenchman's hesitance and inability to play as a midfielder, has played him there for a majority of his appearances this season.

Le Toux plays best when he's not the one creating offensive chances, but rather cashing in on them. Placing him in the midfield is a waste, which should have been evident in the first two seasons he was donning a Union jersey and Hackworth was on the bench next to Peter Nowak as his assistant coach. in his thirty-one minutes on the field, 33 percent of his passes were unsuccessful, and he lost possession four times.

Those states show that Le Toux is not exactly the guy you'd expect to change the tide in a scoreless game, especially in an awkward position.

Replacing Cruz with Hoppenot just magnifies the team's passing woes, as Hoppenot, like Le Toux, is a striker who needs opportunities set up for him. Taking out a midfielder and replacing him with a striker, not to mention the team's third forward on the field, will inevitably bring the Union offensive to a stagnant position.

Whilst an opportunity to salvage a point slipped away, the Union's best offensive midfielders were wasted on the benches at Gillette Stadium.

Kleberson, the 33 year old midfielder acquired in the Freddy Adu deal, has the ability to be a game changer for Philadelphia. In his debut on April 13th as a substitute versus Toronto FC, Kleberson flashed some brilliance, carving a left footed pass through three defenders to an in stride Hoppenot, almost giving the team a dramatic comeback victory.

His role with the Union is undefined. He was an unused sub in two games prior to his debut and saw no action against DC United on April 21st, before logging 18 minutes against New England.

For the Union to be achieve success, and for it to be worth paying a Designated Player a high salary, Hackworth must give Kleberson consistent game action, and eventually hand him over Keon Daniel's starting job or move around the midfield formation to add him into the mix from the opening kick off.

Daniel simply is not an adept passer, and because of that he frequently halts offensive opportunities for Philadelphia. With Kleberson - or even the seemingly non-existent Roger Torres - on the field, the Union will finally have a playmaker that can feed Casey and McInerney the ball in the box.

On April 11th, Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com's Dave Zeitlin that for Kleberson to see some action on the field:

"He's got to earn it just like every other guys." We like him a lot. But he might have to be patient and wait for the opportunity because I'm not going to take guys out that have been here and are doing well just for the sake of inserting someone else."

How exactly does one "earn it" in the eyes of Hackworth? Is it buying into the team's slow and methodical style of play that brings little creativity? Is that why Torres has fallen out of favor with the team?

The 21 year-old came into this season looking to prove to the coaching staff the type of player he is after a injury riddled 2012: a flashy, impact substitute with a knack for the net. After a strong preseason and even high praise from his head coach, Torres seemed to be a main factor in the Union's plans this year.

Instead, Torres been subjected to the bench in all but one league match, forced to twiddle his thumbs and sit idly during games in which he could make an impact.

Both Torres and Kleberson can bring some life to a rather monotonous Union attack and keep opposing back lines on their heels with their creativity on the ball. Open space is vital for strikers to perform up to the highest level in a 4-1-3-2 or 4-1-2-1-2 and the Union haven't seen to much room on the field beyond the crazy back and forth play in Columbus a few weeks ago.

If the Union are to make a run this year, Hackworth needs to opt for those who can help get the job done - Kleberson and Torres- rather than those who fit his ideal style of play - Cruz and Daniel.

Only time will tell if he makes the changes this team so desperately needs to make the step to the next level.

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