As I sit here, writing this article while watching the New York Red Bulls and DC United in the MLS Playoffs, perhaps one area where the Union need to improve on is the backup striker position. This year, that position was filled, surprisingly, by DP Forward Fernando Aristeguieta, veteran Conor Casey and Antoine Hoppenot. How did they do?
- Fernando Aristeguieta :- 21 games played, 14 starts, 1251 minutes, 5 goals, 1 assist.
- Conor Casey :- 14 games played, 2 tarts, 340 minutes, 3 goals, 1 assist.
- Antoine Hoppenot :- 1 game played, 0 starts, 4 minutes, 0 goals, 0 assists.
What they did right:-
Fernando Aristegueita made an instant positive impact with Philadelphia, scoring a lot in pre-season and starting the season well with two goals in the 3-3 draw. He was also very active in terms of shots, leading the team with 50 (along with Sebastien Le Toux who played much more games). However, perhaps the biggest plus to his season was how hard he worked coming back and defending corners. Usually strikers are told to stay on the other end of the field because they make mistakes when defending, but Fernando always did well when defending.
Conor Casey was his usual physical threat up front, never giving defenders a break. He was as always good in the air, and was better than anyone else at holding the ball up waiting for others to join him in attack. Also, at 0.79 goals per 90minutes, Casey was by far the most effective striker for the Union when he was able to get minutes in.
As for Antoine Hoppenot, He never had the time on the field to have done anything right for Philadelphia this season. However, it does seem he had a decent season at Harrisburg City Islanders.
What they did wrong:-
The biggest issue with Fernando Aristegueita's game was the lack of pace he had on the breakaway. There was a few times during the season that a quicker striker would have been through on goal to take a shot, however the lack of pace caused Aristeguieta to have to check back, and a lack of help from his teammates meant the chance was over.
The other issue with Fernando was his lack of being ready for the physical play of MLS. The big striker was often found on the ground waiting for a free kick that was not going to come (and most of the time they were free kicks). The pivotal moment in his season came from such a moment, where in a game against Columbus at PPL park in June, Aristegueita was kicked, no foul was given, and he had to be taken off injured. CJ Sapong then made the starting striker job his own, and after Fernando got healthy again he never got the chance of a prolonged run in the team to show what he can do.
The main issue with Conor Casey this season was (almost) all fitness. At 34 years old with a history of injuries, he isn't going to be able to provide more than the 10 to 20 minutes a game. While his physical play can be a positive, Casey allowed that physical play to go over the top. In the US Open Cup semifinal against the New York Red Bulls. he got himself sent off for a hard tackle so late that it was almost an off the ball incident. This meant that an already short-handed Union (without the suspended CJ Sapong) had to battle over 75 minutes a man before the penalty shootout win. A player of his experience shouldn't be making that kind of mistake.
As for Antoine Hoppenot, sadly perhaps the biggest mistake he made wasn't on the field, but off the field. After a particularly poor performance in a 3-0 loss away to the Vancouver Whitecaps, Hoppenot took to twitter and created a storm by calling out the fans who were complaining. While the sentiment can be a good one (sticking up for your teammates), it probably should have came from someone who had played more than 4 minutes during the season. If you had forgotten about that - read more here.
Their most memorable moments:-
Conor Casey's most memorable moment was an easy one. After coming on with 19 minutes to go, Casey scored twice turning a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 win away to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Union were down 1-0 after Fabinho had given away a silly penalty when Casey entered the field. In pretty much his first touch, Casey headed into the corner from a cross by Raymon Gaddis. Then a few minutes later, a beautiful free kick from Tranquillo Barnetta was flicked into the corner, giving the Union a 2-1 win, and the 3 points from a difficult cross-country road trip.
As mentioned before, Fernando Aristegueita's best moments were mostly in the beginning of the season. He got two goals against Real Salt Lake, and looked like a player who could fit in with the Philadelphia "hard nosed" vibe. However, perhaps his greatest single moment was later in the season, against the New York Red Bulls in the US Open Cup quarter final. He was just coming back from injury, and was asked to play a lot longer than he was probably physically able to. However, he was the player who put away the winning penalty kick, leading to a home US Open Cup semi-final game against Chicago, and then the US Open Cup final.
Antoine Hoppenot's greatest moments were those 4 minutes he played against Chicago, as it was 4 minutes more than a player of his quality probably deserved.
What to expect from them next year:-
I wouldn't expect anything major in a Philadelphia Union jersey for these players in 2016. Fernando Aristeguieta's wages mean that the odds of him coming back to Philadelphia are low (or at least they should be but Kevin Kinkead sees it differently), as he lost his starting spot to CJ Sapong and would be unlikely to win it back in 2016. A team like Philadelphia, who don't spend millions in general, can't afford to have that kind of money wasted on a bench player. Conor Casey may stick around in an almost coaching role, and log a few minutes here and there when needed. As for Antoine Hoppenot, considering the interview of Brendan Burke by Scott Kessler, I would expect Hoppenot to be one of the 14-16 players who get a contract at Harrisburg, as that seems to be his level.
Overall, the backup strikers were a problem for Philadelphia this year. While Conor Casey did a great job in the little he could get on the field, he isn't going to be able to play many minutes and therefore shouldn't be the first off the bench. Perhaps the biggest reason for not having Aristeguieta playing is that all five of his goals were in games where he started, and he struggled to make an impact when coming on as a sub, which is the main method of getting on the field when you are a backup. If Hoppenot is still in the squad come opening day, then I will question Earnie Stewart's ability to run the team. This all means that up to two new strikers are going to be needed before the season starts if the Union are going to contend.