The Inside Doop: Playoff chances faltering
CHESTER, Pa. – Are the Philadelphia Union’s playoff chances dead?
Probably not yet.
But after a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Chicago Fire on Sunday – a result that snapped a four-game home winning streak – it’s almost getting to that point.
Let’s take a look back at what went wrong Sunday and a look ahead to what the Union need to do keep their flickering playoff hopes alive in this week’s installment of the Inside Doop.
Three thoughts on Sunday’s game
1. If this wasn’t the worst game the Union played all season, it was certainly close. Interim manager John Hackworth said the team didn’t come out with the same energy they had been playing with for the past couple of months and lacked the execution needed to beat a strong Chicago side. He was right. Too often a Chicago player broke free for a near-breakaway on net. And the Union had few dangerous chances of their own, especially in the first half when they fell behind for good.
2. The Philadelphia debut of Bakary Soumaré was a promising development for the Union, and his inclusion in the lineup should certainly help the club’s backline down the road. But without captain Carlos Valdes (who was away the Colombian national team) and with rookie Raymond Gaddis replacing Gabriel Farfan at fullback, the defense was back on its heels for much of the game and allowed a set-piece goal for the second straight contest. Right back Sheanon Williams probably put it best after the game when he said, “I don’t think we really did anything well.”
3. Aside from the defensive tweaks, Hackworth also made some other interesting lineup choices, some of which were forced and some by his own design. With Jack McInerney suspended, Hackworth gave rookie Chandler Hoffman his second career start, accompanied by Freddy Adu and Keon Daniel up top. Behind them were Gabriel and Michael Farfan, one of the few times the twins have been paired together in the midfield. Considering Valdes, McInerney and Gabriel Gomez were all unavailable, most of the moves made sense. But for better or worse, the different lineup harkened back to the days of Peter Nowak, who seemed to love moving parts around, often to the detriment of the team.Three questions for the upcoming week
1. With Valdes, Gomez and Daniel set to return from international duty, Hackworth should have more players at his disposal for selection for Sunday’s game at rival D.C. United. And as someone who’s said before not to like making too many changes, he’ll probably go back to the lineup that made the team successful after he took over as head coach. One thing to keep on eye on, though, is if Soumare and Valdes are paired together at center back. And if so, does that mean Amobi Okugo will get a start in the midfield?
2. What’s happened to Roger Torres? Once considered one of the Union’s top offensive threats off the bench, the diminutive midfielder has hardly played at all since returning from injury in early July, even in games the team has fallen behind and has needed a spark. With the Union still looking for goals – they’ve only scored twice in the past four games and are 16th in the league with 23 goals on the year – could Torres be someone who emerges as a viable offensive threat? Or is his defense still too much of a liability?
3. Here’s one player we know will be counted on for goals over the final two-and-a-half months of the regular season: McInerney. It was clear how much the young striker was missed in Sunday’s loss and it’s also become clear that he’s emerged as the team’s top striker – a remarkable development for someone who was buried on the depth chart under Nowak. Will McInerney rise to the occasion in his return to the lineup Sunday and give Philly the offense it’s been looking for? Or is being “the guy” too much pressure for a 20-year-old to handle?Fact of the week:
The Union have only had two ties this season, the lowest number in the Eastern Conference and second lowest in the league. Last year, by contrast, they finished with 15 ties.Quote of the week:
“I’m not ready to toss in the towel yet.” – John Hackworth, on his team’s playoff chancesPlayer of the week:
Since nobody on the team played particularly well Sunday, we’ll give the nod to teenager Zach Pfeffer, who led the Union’s U-17 academy team to the 2012 Generation Adidas Cup on Thursday.Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for CSNPhilly.com and MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.