Know Your Enemy: Philadelphia Union
OTF’s Stephen Mangat marches to the beat of the drumming in his mind…
In the 2010 book The Invisible Gorilla, psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons write about a video that shows six actors passing a basketball. Viewers are asked to count the number of passes. Many viewers are so focused on counting the passes that they fail to see a person in a gorilla suit enter the scene, thump its chest and then walk off.
This inability to see something that’s amiss, yet in plain sight, is well-documented and appears to have affected Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth. Philly is a solid unit with one major problem – lack of striking power. Actually, the team has striking power, it’s just Hackworth insists on playing the ineffective Jack McInerney even though this issue has been in front of his face since last September. So open your eyes, Fire fans, and start pounding your chests to get ready for this weekend’s opponent, the Philadelphia Union.
PLAY OUR NEW MUSIC FOR THIS SEASON!!!
Philly will be in a 4-3-3 that changes into a 4-1-4-1. When attacking, the midfield three are narrow and the outside forwards and defenders provide the width. When defending, the outside forwards are supposed to track back and one of the central midfielders drops to provide a shield for the back four. This actually works pretty well and coach John Hackworth deserves credit. Unfortunately he pairs solid tactics with bang-your-head-against-a-table player selections.
Zac MacMath was one of the league’s worst at the beginning of last season, and while he improved significantly in the second half, already this season he’s received blame for soft goals vs. Portland and Columbus.
Also, the Union used the #1 MLS Superdraft pick on goalie Andre Blake and, unsurprisingly, already some Union fans want a change. Looking to FIFA2014, MacMath is a 68 diving, 59 handling, 52 kicking, 65 positioning and 66 reflexes. That’s one of the worst ratings in the league.
This is the Union’s strength. Centerback Amobi Okugo is comfortable on the ball and plays bigger than his short(ish) size since he can jump through the roof. Partnering with Okugo will be either ex-Fire man Austin Berry (who has been dealing with an injury) or converted forward (and Thor impersonator) Aaron Wheeler. Wheeler is huge, athletic, and fun to watch even though he’s still getting used to being a defender.
On the left will be energetic and reckless Fabinho and on the right will probably be Ray Gaddis since Sheanon Williams is injured. Gaddis is very quick and has had a fantastic season thus far. If only he could cross the ball effectively.
Maurice Edu and Frenchman Vincent Noguiera are a huge upgrade on last season’s pitiful midfield. Edu wins balls, dominates, and does a decent job of distributing, while Noguiera can do it all. In fact, he’s been the best midfielder on the field this season in Philly. Joining them will probably be Brian Carroll, who is the same player he was last year: a not-physically-imposing, poor passing, poor dribbling hustler. Carroll’s continued involvement is one of the main reasons some fans think Hackworth is an idiot.
With every minute he is on the field, Jack McInerney creates more doubters. He’s been completely ineffective this season, and it’s to the point where his supporters are pointing to the fact that he makes great runs off the ball, which is a poor attempt to hide the fact that he’s terrible with it.
Thankfully, the Union have two ready-made replacements: Conor Casey and Aaron Wheeler. Both are big and could provide a pivot around which the team could operate. Unfortunately, Casey just made his return from injury last weekend, and Wheeler is deputizing for the injured Austin Berry, so expect the Hackworth to go with McInerney again. With McInerney on the field, it’s like the Union are playing with 10 ½ men.
Workhorse and sometimes-awesome, sometimes-terrible crosser Sebastian LeToux will be on the right, and skilled, though physically suspect, Argentinian Cristian Maidana will be on the left. Expect an appearance from Leo Fernandes who was terrible last season but has turned it around thus far in 2014.
How can Chicago win?
If Jack McInerney starts for Philly, Chicago can be far more aggressive without the ball. Normally, central defenders like to provide cover for one another, but with McInerney on the field Chicago need not worry. Therefore, the Fire can take more risks defending, which should equal more possession and attacking thrust.
Pressure down the right side
Whether it’s Maidana or Fernandes pairing with Fabinho on the left, Philly will be vulnerable defensively on the right. Fabinho takes risks, and the other two aren’t naturally inclined to defend, so Chicago should see opportunities to attack and push the right flank.
Force the ball to Carroll
Noguiera and Edu have been very good this year and either can dictate a game. Thankfully for the Fire, Hackworth insists on adding Brian Carroll to this mix. Carroll is very weak with the ball and he is simply a hustler who exists to break up play.
In reality, it seems like Carroll exists to slow down play and get in Edu’s way. Carroll is Hackworth’s man (they’re both Wake Forest guys) though, so expect him to play. And if he does, the Fire should funnel Philly’s play to him.
Go to hell, Fire fans. I’ll be watching and hoping for all kinds of unfortunate things to happen to your team this weekend.
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a Union season ticket holder and owns a house with all multi-colored, light-up floors. Follow him @smangat12.