Why Benching Keon Daniel Won't Matter

I finally have arrived here on the fan post section, it took awhile considering I announced that I would back in June (and was invited by The Brotherly Game), write an article, which was never fully written about John Havkworth, as I drunkenly failed the spelling bee:

Keon Daniel is the most frustrating player to watch on this team (Danny Cruz is second, a close second, but still second.) I've viewed this as early as June with physical evidence which I won't share due to foul but expected language.

I, also, second the motion to get him out of the lineup (coincidently along with Cruz) immediately, don't fret, but it won't matter. If just Keon Daniel leaves the lineup it is still a problem with the tactical prowess of our manager John Hackworth. I'll use our most recent sickening performance as an example.

For one of the few cherished times this season (it very well may be the first time) Michael Farfan entered the game for Keon Daniel to uproarious applause at PPL Park, or at least uproarious applause from myself. Aside from the free kick Keon hit in the first half that was called back for a Amobi Okugo interference on Houston GK Tally "Who in God's name is Tally?" Hall (Side note: His name is actually Talmon. My condolences, Tally.), Keon was remarkably ineffective. This is the usual for Keon, as he tends to sit back behind our defensive midfield Brian Carroll attempting to thwart all potential offensive sequences. Finally, however, he is off the field for a player who I still believe despite his lackluster performances has a chance to be a very good midfield contributor on this team. Farfan delivers another dud. He doesn't have the same feel as the player who for the past two years has done everything and more in our midfield, including an All-Star appearance. But, and this may seem like a Farfan supporter's really unimaginative argument, is it really his fault he's having such a dull season?

There are two major problems with our midfield that I can see. Farfan's substitution solves one of those two problems. Keon in the lineup is the first problem. He doesn't play the position he is supposed as I mentioned earlier. He is expected to play in an attacking midfielders role. He does not do that whatsoever. His passes can be lazy and are supremely conservative for our "CAM" and his positioning on the field is remarkably far away from the standard locale of an attacking midfielder. This is evidenced by just about every minute of his play this season. The ENTIRE season. As a specific example of Daniel's inability to perform his task, let's look at his movement. Against Houston he would often be jogging stride for stride next to a defender. Not because he was being marked, but because he was following them. I'm not even kidding. As the ball movement around between our back four Daniel moved away from the ball on multiple occasions. On a few particular throw-ins down the left side of the pitch Keon actually mimicked the movement of a defender who seemingly paid no mind to him. He's neutralizing himself. I can't speak for other games but his movement out of space into positions where he will not receive the ball is astounding.

The second problem isn't solved nearly by the fact Keon is being taken out of the game. It's a much more fundamental and tactical problem. Farfan coming on is simply a like for a like, if you will. A better creative talent coming on the field looking to attack over Daniel who is less prone to attack than a newly born baby seal. I saw Farfan enter the game on Saturday and find open space, receive the ball, and attempt to create. Albeit to no avail. Is this Farfan's fault? He looked more, to me, less of a shell of his former self rather I saw a player who looked like an abandoned dog when he received the ball. Farfan would receive the ball in open space, turn, and find no one there to outlet the ball to. Where is the midfield? The problem lies with the ridiculous 4-2-4 we stroll out with every game.

Let's talk about our amazing midfield. Cruz and Le Toux are completely useless in the midfield possession game and are practically forwards in our lineup. So I discredit them entirely as midfielders. The only thing those two do useful is make runs along the sideline for over the top balls to come to them via our wing backs (Except Le Toux who up until a few games ago was ridiculously good at serving in crosses and set pieces). Brian Carroll, on the other hand, has one mission in mind and that is as a defensive midfielder. He does it very well. I would not call him a holding midfielder, though, if we think of that label strictly. Carroll does not keep the flow of the possession game moving very well. He is conservative with every pass and his creativity goes no further than pulling off a double jump in checkers.

Back to my point. By this part of the game Farfan was not dealing with an ideal situation. Jack McInerney was on for Cruz creating even less opportunity to move the ball forward. In most games, Conor Casey and Jack have had to drop back to the midfield just to get touches on the ball and to keep the play moving for them. In this instance, Hackworth had laid out the game plan of firing in crosses to their one target forward. This tactical decision came against one of the best, defensively and offensively, set piece teams in the league. Coinciding with this Houston is one of the biggest teams, in terms of size, in the MLS. The plan was to feed the ball out wide to our wingers and serve crosses in. Cruz mainly failed while Sheanon Williams and Fabinho picked up their slack admirably. The Union fired in 29 crosses but they would yield 0 shots on target.

Farfan enters the fray seemingly to jump-start the offense, the only problem is that his offense was set in its ways. The three forwards in front of him were anticipating the ball played out wide and to be crossed in. The Union were not out of fresh ideas. The Union simply would not adjust their tactics to win the game. You can't teach an old dog new tricks much like you can't change the Union's offense once the game starts. Farfan came into the looking to create, but he had no one to create with. His forwards were waiting for a cross and he had no midfield to connect with. The substitution of Hoppenot is an old stand by for Hack, who did himself no favors by putting in another striker who does not help his strategy while leaving his 6'4 striker Aaron Wheeler on the bench. Farfan became more isolated with 4 forwards back on the field and now one of his two crossers pushed back into the defensive half of the pitch.

I'll just leave it at this for my analysis. John Hackworth did not coach a good game. He can say all he wants that his tactics and his subs aren't predictable. They are and he is kidding himself if he thinks the league has not figured him out. Its appalling that we have 5 games left in the season and Good Ol' Johnny hasn't figured out what he is doing isn't working right now. To even say that his players gave it all on the field isn't a correct statement. They did not adjust either when it came to need to win a game. The Union choked last night and its been the story this half of the season. The talent we have, and its there, isn't being used to its fullest potential. We are playing players out of position and we don't have to. Hackworth has a method he likes, which is all fine and dandy, but when he needs to realize that its not getting the job done, he isn't. Plain and simple.

Just for fun I'm going weigh in on the lineup, why not? Two weeks from now I hope, and I'm really stretching on this one, that this is our lineup. I don't prefer these tactics at the foundation, but the pieces we have fit this mold.

It's a formation I've dreaded, but it's a formation and player personnel that fits. Thanks to a strong back four and Danny Cruz being useless unless he is chasing ball down like a crazed bull, Fabinho gets to move up to left wing. Le Toux maintains his starting spot simply because we don't have anyone to fill his spot. He does spread the field well enough with his runs that if we had an attack minded midfield to play him the ball like earlier in the season he could find form again. Remember, he leads the league in assists ahead of the likes of Graham Zusi, Brad Davis, and Landon Donovan. Casey needs a break. He's been running all over the place to give the Union anyone to pass the ball to and has performed well. McInerney got his benching, now give Casey his. Two point blank headers missed that would have been buried earlier this season against Houston is concerning.

I personally don't care if its Kleberson or Torres (not that it matters, they won't play) but if one of those two can combine in front of Carroll with Michael Farfan, things can go very well for the midfield. Combination play between the two can go straight up the middle with a more than capable McInerney holding the ball up, or can go out wide to Le Toux and Fabinho who have been very good at delivering dangerous crosses all season. The two attacking midfielders possession and the striker's hold up play allows its wingers to transition from their defensive responsibilities to an offensive position. Farfan and Kleberson are also the only two midfielders that show tendencies to shoot the ball outside the 18. We NEED THIS to take the pressure off of our strikers so they have space to function (Don't even mention Brian Carroll as someone who pulls the trigger because his shots are downright awful and we all know it).

I can't promise you change will come. I can't even say fully that we deserve to make the playoffs we so longingly crave. I can say, however, that we won't make the playoffs unless we make a serious tactical change. We have the talent and we certainly have the stakes to drastically change our methods, but we need to get through to someone who is in charge to get this done. I'm not saying I'm right, but someone should show this article to John Hackworth.

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