It is becoming monotonous to write each week about the Philadelphia Union. As my fellow Brotherly Game staff can attest, it has been a demoralizing and draining experience following the Union this season. It is exacerbated by the excitement heading into this season and the performances of the first two weeks. The problems we witnessed in those two games were shrugged off because of performances in the midfield that far surpassed anything we had seen on the field in Philadelphia in the past five short years.
The problems the Union have are rearing their ugly head early in the young season, and it's increasingly harder to find solace in hope that the Union will turn it around. John Hackworth is preaching to us that the results will come, but after seven straight uninspiring performances how much can we trust the oft-maligned manager?
Now it seems the Union are snake-bitten. Having not scored in the run of play in three matches, worries are mounting and moods are deteriorating. There are lots of issues with this team, but I'll focus on one for this week: Why can't the Union score a goal?
Let's see what the Brotherly Game writers cooked up this week.
Nicholas Youngstein - They need to fire Hackworth. The performances are pathetic, and someone has to pay.
Phil Schwarz - Two reasons why they didn't score yesterday: Fabinho and Danny Cruz. Hack's refusal to play people at their stated position and refusal to play good players acquired for a specific purpose and play out of position players instead is Nowak-esque.
Barry Evans - Because Hackworth refuses to play the players that have ability and quality to create goals. That doesn't mean Vincent Nogueira obviously, who has been outstanding but isn't overly creative. The fact that the Union doesn't have anyone with great finishing ability any more is also the reason.
DOOP Cast - Hack is obviously a defensive coach - his system is set up to not concede goals. He does not know how to create scoring opportunities other than a statistician's favorite method of slinging balls in to the box / set pieces. For that to work you need either a dominant aerial presence or a true fox in the box sniper. The Union have neither.
Heather Reppert - Hackworth is baffling. Yes, just leave it at that.
Jared Young - The only two players whose sole job it is to score are Andrew Wenger and Conor Casey (leave Antoine Hoppenot out for obvious reasons). Casey appears far off the form of last year which is the first problem. While Wenger runs well and can find space and shoot reasonably dangerous shots, he is not a dynamic playmaker by himself. He's not beating anyone off the dribble and creating shots. He and Casey need good service to be effective and the midfield does not have the creativity to get it to them. The most creative midfielder I think is Cristian Maidana but he can't seem to stay on the pitch. Given that what you are left with is goal scoring by committee which can only yield inconsistent results.
Eugene Rupinski - Hackworth's unwillingness to give up on the 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1 or whatever) is the reason the Union hasn't been scoring, and thus the reason they can't score. The club doesn't have a single striker who has the tools to be a lone threat up top, especially with the prototypical MLS center back one who keeps the play in front of him and uses his physicality to dispossess the striker of the ball.
If I were Hackworth, I'd sit Brian Carroll and start Wenger and Casey up top in a 4-3-1-2. But I'm not, so expect to see the definition of insanity on Saturday - the Union doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Dan Kenworthy - 9 goals in 9 games. Shutout twice in these 9 games. Also only shut out 2 teams (1 being a draw where we had zero shots on goal). Compared to last year, we were shutout only once in 9 games (against a crappy New England Revolution side) but only had 1 shutout. We had 13 goals in these 9 games in 2013 as well.
1) New players. New midfield. Either strikers don't know what to do, midfield doesn't, or whatever else.
2) Traded "point", or star, or whatever you want to call Jack McInerney. Jack last year had 6 goals in these 9 games. This year we have 9 goals between 6 players. 6 goals between 3 players. And Jack, in 4 games, had only contributed to one (also still continuing on his "below" expectations performance, sadly). This goes along with number 1, but a lot of changes can make a difference with how well a team can put it together. But, results of goals up until now prove otherwise.
3) Routine. Predictability. If I, half drunk, seriously (and not jokingly) can predict the time within 2 minutes when Hoppenot is subbed on every game, there is a problem with strategy. Especially when some games devolve into looking like I am playing FIFA 14 (has happened on 2 occasions). For reference, my strategy is simple and anyone with creativity or foresight could come up with a way to defeat me.
9 goals in 9 games isn't as bad as one would think. We are tied for 5th in our conference with goals forward (don't even bother comparing to Western conference...sheesh). It's more the goals we let up than the goals we score (even though we do need to score more). And last week's game we didn't have any shots on goal doesn't help us.
So our rut right now is more having our defense fail us, letting in cheap late goals, and now for whatever reason not getting our balls in the net.
I've covered just about every problem the Union have this season and it seems I'm caught in a recurring nightmare as they are displayed to me on the field each week. Up until Philadelphia squared off against New York Red Bulls, the U had scored in every match they played. A fine stat, indeed. Despite this, the Union still had missed chances a plenty in each of their appearances.
Now we're staring at a goal scoring drought and, as many of his supporters will remind us, Jack McInerney no longer being on the team coincides somewhat with the moment this is becoming an issue. Rest assured, I am not implying that trading Jack was the reason for Philadelphia's lack of goal scoring.
There seems to be a far deeper reason for this. I don't know what it is, but it seems to be far deeper than just, "Hackworth is an idiot, why is he our coach?"
Each passing week we watch this promising team, arguably filled with talent, come out and underperform against competition that is certainly at least of equal value to that of the Union. I'm not saying the Union are world beaters, but why is a team with talent like this not being more competitive?
This looks like a team who doesn't believe in the message being delivered. There isn't enough creativity going forward and that could stem from players not following Hackworth's tactics or personally revolting against them. This could be why Cristian Maidana is now being a sub off the bench. The result is now all of the creativity is dumped on Vincent Nogueira, who was not brought here to bear the weight of running the entire team out of the midfield. Again, I'm not sure why Maidana is not starting, but it makes you wonder why a player was brought in to ride the pine?
Questionable line-ups and lack of creativity are prevalent, but sloppy and sluggish performances lead me to the conclusion that this is a team that lacks discipline. I'm getting the feeling that this season is shaping up to be a highly disappointing one if the issues aren't solved. I'll draw a comparison to the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles. The final season with Andy Reid at the helm is eerily similar in my eyes as this current, albeit unfinished season. A promising 3-1 start for the Eagles turned into a dismal 4-12 season with the Eagles looking lackluster and downright pathetic on some occasions. It didn't look like a team that lacked talent, it looked like a team that lacked belief in the system and they certainly had their reasons. A stubborn coach who lacked the ability to shake things up on game day on one end and on the other a coach who had no idea what he was doing (I'm looking at you wide-9). This could be the perfect sum of John Hackworth to a lot of people.
A change of head coach, methods, and message, and look Philadelphia made it to the playoffs the following season, although not without its bumps in the road. I'm not saying it's going to be automatic for the Union, but a shake-up is certainly needed.
Hopefully it doesn't occur before it's too late.
What do you think is the biggest reason the Union can't score? Let us know in the comments below!