The Good: Leo Fernandes
For the sake of full disclosure, I'm going to admit up front that I thought Fernandes was dreadful last year. I feared every time he was on the field that we were bound to be overrun in midfield, a turnover was waiting at his every touch, and he would simply be bodied off any challenge.
When Fernandes showed well against New England, but faded late in the game, I was suspicious if this was a rare moment of extreme focus and effort, or if it was a changed player. Well, a second straight positive appearance has me thinking it is becoming more of a norm than an outlier. His movement off of the ball has improved, and his confidence seems to be sky high. He held his ground on some strong challenges, and he has shown an ability to push the ball forward, picking up a goal and an assist in 125 minutes of work this season, putting him in a tie with Sebastien Le Toux for the (statistically speaking) most accomplished offensive players.
Whatever Leo did in the offseason has worked in his favor. Let's hope that he can keep it up.
The Bad: Substitutions
I feel like I keep harping on this topic, but each week it is evident that nothing is really added to the play on the field.
I will concede that Fernandes brought a lot to the Columbus match and gave the Union a shot of urgency, however in all honesty he should have been on the field from the start. After how well the Union midfield played against New England, there was no reason to change the midfield. Bringing in Brian Carroll only made the Union midfield sit deeper and have less connection with Jack McInerney. So if making a sub to include a player that should have been included from the start earns you tactical points...you win Hackworth.
Fernandes pushed higher up the field and played a little more centrally than that of who he was replacing (Cristian Maidana). If told to play that specific role, I feel Maidana would have been equally successful. For some reason however after a short time in the game Hackworth had Le Toux and Maidana switch sides of the field, rendering both of them useless.
Bringing on Antoine Hoppenot for McInerney merely put fresh legs up top, but didn't change the way the Union attacked at all. Hoppenot had a decent run in 2012 as the super sub, scoring 4 goals in his 25 appearances, however he has slowed of late, and a look at this stats since his last goal show just how dismal his inclusion in matches has been. Since his goal on July 27 of 2013, Hoppenot has appeared in 13 of 15 Union matches, totaling 287 minutes, or 22.07 minutes per appearance. In that time he has logged 11 shots and just 2 on goal. That means he is only logging a shot on goal every 143.5 minutes, or 1 ever 6.5 appearances. It is awfully hard to score if you're not getting shots on target, and outside of 1 appearance with 6 shots there aren't many shots off target to speak of either. So not only is this sub not changing the attack at all, it is adding a stone cold forward to the mix.
The Le Toux off, Cruz on sub is another one that is purely like for like. Le Toux was playing wide (and to be honest, Seba wasn't having a great game) and Cruz is another wide player. Once again, this was a substitution that changes the attack very little. The only thing that the Cruz and Hoppenot inclusions brought was more speed, but with 10 minutes left in a game and the opponent winning, the Crew had no desire to push high up the field and risk getting caught on a counterattack - when Cruz and Hoppenot are most effective.
All this while Brian Carroll is still on the field, adding nothing to the attack. Aaron Wheeler was sent higher up the field to try and turn the formation into 3 at the back, but it turned more into him wandering without a position, meaning that there wasn't really a formation being used. If you're going to bring in Hoppenot, why not bring off Carroll and play a 4-4-2? Or if McInerney has to come off, push LeToux inside and bring on Cruz for Carroll? You can't expect to change the game without altering the lineup away from one that hasn't worked the first 60 minutes of the game.
The Ugly: Formation
There has been one common theme to the Union games thus far; one goal for. Against Portland the team was very effective on the counterattack, against New England they held possession very well in the first half, but against Columbus they did very little well. Portland looked like a preseason favorite for a Supporter's Shield run, but after two draws relying on late equalizers and being beat 2-0 at Colorado, there are questions about their strength in the league. New England has yet to score a goal this season in their 3 matches and sit only above the winless/drawless duo of D.C. United and Montreal in the standings. Then comes along Columbus - a team that thrashed DC the first week and looks to have a lot of good piece in place and the Union couldn't counter effectively or hold possession.
The worst part of the game was the island that Jack McInerney was left on all too often. The Union are supposed to be playing a 4-3-3 formation, which should mean that McInerney always has wingers in support of him when attacking. In reality, against the first good team the Union have faced, the formation reverted to a deep lying 4-5-1 formation leaving McInerney all along to go against the full Columbus back line. There were several balls played through to Jack, but when he got in to the box and looked for help there was nothing but yellow. It left him with an awkward decision of shoot from a very tough angle, cross to no one, or try to cut back from the endline and hold on to the ball, waiting for anyone to join him. It usually turned out he could only put in a half-hearted shot and hope for a deflection that lead to a corner so more teammates could join him.
One other thing that I can't figure out is Hackworth's continued forcing of the wingers to switch sides of the field. Maidana has only looked dangerous when attacking from the left or playing more centrally, but he played most of the game against Columbus on the right. LeToux isn't any more effective on the left, in fact his only good cross came from the right side and resulted in a goal. All of LeToux's other crosses never made it past the first defender.
It wasn't a well played 90 minutes for the Union in Columbus, but there are still signs of promise. Let's just hope that Hacktics don't get in the way of their potential.