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Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo

As the season winds down, the Union look to keep the playoff hopes alive with a must win against Houston.

Bob Levey

The Philadelphia Union enter into a must win scenario for pretty much the rest of the season. Starting with Houston, every game comes against an Eastern Conference opponent, and most of those games are against teams in the playoff hunt. The top 3 teams all have 45 points with the rest having 39 and 37 points respectively.

The Union have 39 points, with New England right behind them and Houston - their next opponent - tied with 37 but currently out of the playoff standings due to having scored fewer goals than New England.

I don't think I have to explain to you the significance of Saturday’s game, but I will.

The worst of the possible results for Philadelphia this Saturday are obviously a Union loss and a New England win. If that happens, the Union drop out of the playoff spot that they currently hold. The Union do have one major thing working in their favor and that is Houston’s absolutely abysmal road record this year, posting a 1-8-5 record in league play with a -9 goal differential on the road. The Houston Dynamo aren’t very good away from home and if the Union want to start separating themselves from the lower end of the pack, Saturday is where they need to start. So let’s take a look at what to watch for in Saturday’s game.

John Hackworth

It all starts and ends with the head coach in this one. After the embarrassing loss to San Jose, Hackworth seemingly is ready to start making some changes that the team has sorely needed.

"There are more positions open this week than there have been all season," Hackworth said. "We wanted to emphasize that it was unacceptable on many levels on Sunday night. It bodes well for guys working hard in training who smell it a little bit. They know there’s opportunity there. And if the coaching staff isn’t happy with the performance, the logical thing is you interject a new face in there or change something tactically."

When he was asked about positions that were potentially available he said,

"Six. There’s six of them open right now."

The majority of the blame for the woes of the team must fall heavily on the offense. Jack McInerney has gone utterly cold and can’t seem to buy a goal. Conor Casey picked up his play for a time but has since seemed to have fallen out of form a bit, and the midfield can’t seem to make anything happen during the run of play. Keon Daniel has been utterly horrendous, Danny Cruz (while I appreciate his passion and spark) hasn’t exactly been tearing it up. Michael Farfan hasn’t shown anything when he’s seen the field. Sebastien Le Toux is tied for most assists in the league but hasn’t been able to accomplish much recently. Our attacking options are not very good right now. If Hackworth wants to keep his job long term he must show an ability to rotate players based on form, performance, etc. If we’re talking about six positions, I’m betting that only MacMath and the back four keep their starting roles.

Hackworth has to be the sole focus of this game. He needs to grow as a manager and must start taking charge of the team when they fail to perform. That means not blaming the referees on a semi-consistent basis. Yes, they called a goal back or they missed a call - it happens, its sports. Most fans would be willing to overlook Hackworth’s performance in many games this year if he is able to guide the team into the playoffs and learn from this year for next season.

Hackworth needs to call the team together and express to them that every game from here on out is a must win, every match determines whether or not they make the playoffs. Houston is a vulnerable team on the road and both Hackworth and the Union need to exploit that.

Losing this game says to me that the team has checked out and Hackworth has lost control of them. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

2-1 Union victory.