Nine games played, five draws, three losses, a minus-two goal differential, one win and prized striker Jack McInerney sent north of the border. If I told you at the onset of the season that this is where the Union would be nine games into the 2014 campaign, would you believe me? Sure, most fans expected the team to struggle at the beginning of the season. With a new midfield in place, and veteran center-back Jeff Parke sent to rival DC United, there were bound to be growing pains. But, I don’t think that anyone expected it to take this long.
When the season began on March 8th in Portland, the Union faithful were about to burst with excitement. Edu, Nogueria and Maidana were wearing blue and gold for the first time and they certainly did not disappoint. Nogueria and Maidana were playing off of each other like they had been together for years and Jack McInerney stared 2014 with a goal much to the relief of the Union faithful. The game may have ended in disappointing fashion, but the team got a point away at Portland and gave the fans a glimpse of the talent that had arrived. The following week the fans at PPL Park were treated to a 1-0 victory over the struggling New England Revolution who were sans 2013 Defender of the Year José Gonçalves. Gee wilikers, how could you not be excited? The midfield was playing well, we got an away point at the fortress that is Providence Park and won the season opener and the back of fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux.
March 22nd, the Union took on Columbus Crew for their second away game in two weeks. This game was the start of the path that the team currently finds itself on. The team was unable to score until a 62nd minute goal by young Leo Fernandes, and the Union were defeated 2-1 by the Crew. The next two weeks saw the team draw against inferior competition and give up late goals that cost a total of four points. Were it not for a game-saving performance from Zac MacMath against Chicago, that total would be down to one point. But hey, it’s only two games, the team is still gelling and getting a feel for each other. Right? After the frustrating tie against the Montreal Impact, Coach John Hackworth decided that he had seen enough and jettisoned Union original Jack McInerney in a straight swap for Lancaster county native Andrew Wenger, who had been red-carded in the Union’s game against Montreal. Jack McInerney, the man who had won the hearts so many fans with his 12 league goals in 2013 was now gone. The trade left a bad taste in mouths of many supporters. The team may have received 2012 #1 overall pick in Andrew Wenger, but surely the team should have gotten more for a player who was only 21 years old and had showed great potential. Allocation money? No. Draft Picks? No. Anything? No, just Andrew Wenger. Wenger is a very talented and skilled player, but he was quickly becoming known as a player who struggled to finish in the offensive third. The Union had traded their young, but struggling striker for a slightly older, but still struggling striker. The fans and media alike were confused to say the least. Surely there must be a grand scheme to this whole thing?
The following game against Real Salt Lake is not something I would call disappointing. Let’s face it, Real Salt Lake is one of the best franchises in MLS and was fresh off a year in which they were runners-up in the MLS and US Open cups. There were mistakes, missed chances and defensive lapses but a draw against RSL, whether home or away isn’t a result to be embarrassed about. The following three results, however, are something that the Union faithful should not be thrilled with. Another loss in Harrison, NJ saw the Union drop three points to the Red Bulls. Aaron Wheeler and the defense struggled defend Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam, fell 2-1 and remain winless at Red Bull Arena. The next game against Houston, I believe, has led the fans to the point where they are now. A game in which the Union registered no shots on goal despite the Houston Dynamo not having star Brad Davis and losing defender Kofi Sarkodie to a red card in the 82nd minute. Despite being a mere eight games into the season, the fans appear to have lost patience in the Union. A loss against winless Montreal Impact certainly has not helped matters and some fans are calling for Coach John Hackworth’s job. Some say, it’s his line-ups, formations or substitutions. Others believe that we don’t have a player that can finish inside the box or that fan-favorite scapegoat Brian Carroll is to blame. Perhaps it is an inconsistent defensive line that has not played like its 2013 counterpart. A case could be made for all of the above points and the likely scenario is that it is a combination of all of the reasons.
So I return to the question of the day. Should the fans of the Philadelphia Union panic? I say no, we should certainly worry, but I’m not ready to panic just yet. These points that the Union have been dropping could surely come back to haunt us come playoff time, but it bears mentioning that there are 25 games left in the season. There is still plenty of soccer left to play in this still young MLS season and the Union will have their chance to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. The midfield will continue to gel and find their groove, Hackworth will (hopefully) find consistency at the center back and left back position and Andrew Wenger should show the Union supporters that he is the player we hope he is and was worthy of the #1 overall selection in 2012. It’s hard to preach patience in a situation like this, especially with so much money spent in the off-season to fix up a broken midfield. I wouldn’t expect much in the way of change for the remainder of the season. Odds are that the roster will be similar to the one we have seen the past few games and John Hackworth will likely be in charge come the seasons end. There are some quality players on this team and they should be able to find a way to win.