While the Union have been on a horrid run of form that has seen 2 points picked up out of a possible 15 and just 1 goal scored in that same run of games, there is reason to be positive. Over the last 11 games the Union defense has given up just 11 goals. The fewer goals given up, the fewer goals you have to score to stay competitive in each game, giving you the greatest chance to take points from each game. Seems pretty simple.
To take this stat just one step further, if we take out the 5-1 beating that New England put on during that time frame, the Union have given up just 6 goals in the remaining 10 games in that same span. That's an even more impressive stat. With a defense that is paper thin, the Union have managed to keep their opponents scoring to an absolute minimum. There have always been questions of if Zac MacMath was ready to be the starting keeper, if Fabinho was a good enough defender to play in the back, if Gaddis was ambidextrous enough to play the left back position, or if Okugo was actually still just a midfielder in disguise. Whatever way you cut it, the Union have a current defensive streak that is keeping them in the playoff conversation. A clean sheet is enough for at least 1 point, and in 5 of those 11 games the Union were guaranteed at least a point, and in 3 more of those games, the Union were one deflected shot away from gaining a single point.
If you want to remember back to the Nowak era, where lineups seem to be picked from a hat each week with no rhyme or reason as to where players were positioned, regardless of how they played each week, well now the Union are in a cycle so different it is almost as equally maddening. It has been 5 games without a win now and over that stretch, along with the last win, there have been 9 players that have started every game. There seems to be very little accountability in the roster these days.
Hackworth himself has pointed out how toothless the attack has been in some of the scoreless games of late, but still there is very little that is being tried to right the ship. The most that Hackworth is interested in tinkering with the roster is to push Seba LeToux forward, benching McInerney, who is in desperate need of some confidence, and either inserting Michael Farfan once or most recently pushing Fabinho from left back to left midfield. While Fabinho's crosses gave the illusion of service to the flailing Union attack, there was still very little support for the forwards in the center of the pitch, yet every single game is the same Daniel/Carroll partnership in the central midfield roles.
As the problem continues to grow of dropped points, dominating performances from opposition central midfield (regardless of who the opponent is), and an attack that looks more hung out to dry than a barn full of tobacco, a little bit of outside the box thinking needs to take place. There are options that have not been tried. Why hasn't Kleberson been given a chance since returning from injury? The defense looked routinely solid without Okugo partnering Parke, so why not move Williams inside and give Okugo a run out at central midfield? Heck, and you knew this was coming, why can't Roger Torres even get a minute off the bench with how poorly this team is playing in attack? Your guesses are as good as mine.
If the Union defense is playing statistically great, and the team is still not collecting enough points to grant them a smooth ride into the playoffs there is really only one thing that could fall under this category this week. Finishing. The mind of a striker is a delicate butterfly. It can be such a beautiful thing, but it can be ripped apart if smashed under the weight of a goalless streak. What once looked to be one of the best partnerships in MLS has become one of the least dangerous and with each passing game it is easier to read the frustration on the faces of Jack Mac and Conor "Big Country" Casey.
It is well documented that Jack hasn't scored since being called up to the USMNT during the Gold Cup, but in reality, it had been two games before he left that he had last scored against Toronto on June 1st. In desperate need of confidence, Jack has instead found himself benched, thus limiting his chances to get back on track. In probably his best chance recently to get back into scoring form he used a bit of luck to find himself placed perfectly for a curled shot to beat Tally Hall Saturday night. Instead it only found the advertising boards behind the goal.
Conor Casey has found himself starving for a goal as well lately. His last goal was against Chivas USA on July 12th as he netted the third goal of the game and sealed the 3 points. Since then he has been mostly alone up top, being forced to chase the play deep into the midfield or wide to get his touches in an attempt to impact the game. He is surprisingly effective when moving wide, but it takes him away from his most dangerous position in front of the goal. However, on Saturday night he had more than enough chances to break his duck as crosses were sent in from both wings and more than a few goals he would have finished in mid-season went begging.
LeToux does not escape my spotlight either. The (once) league leader in assists has gone dry. He has failed to tally an assist since the last Union win, when he assisted both of the goals against DC. In the time since that double assist he has looked more likely to pass the ball out of bounds nowhere near a teammate or stand helplessly has his first touch is a turnover than to actually setting up a teammate for a goal. Whatever magic LeToux has used in the past to dazzle the PPL crowd needs to be found, and soon, to save the season.
The Union are off this week and will be hoping for a bit of help in the games this weekend so that they do not slide too far from a playoff spot while they are idle. While waiting and watching to see what their rivals in the playoff chase do, it would be the perfect time to do a bit of soul searching to try and find what was working in the early season. There is still enough time to string together a few results and ride that momentum into the playoffs, but the big three in the Union attack are going to have to figure out what is ailing them and do it quickly.