What went wrong Saturday for the Philadelphia Union?
If we boil it down, the Union’s failure to make the playoffs was about an offense that simply doesn’t work. Alas for the young Union, Philadelphia’s entire season was there in microcosm on a chilly Saturday afternoon at PPL Park.
The Union needed a win Saturday at home over Sporting Kansas City. Obviously, that meant needing a goal – and that’s something of a problem around PPL Park. Consider that John Hackworth’s team had scored just 22 goals in 16 previous matches at PPL Park. That’s just not good enough. (Had Philly sneaked into the post-season, it would have gone in with the fewest goals at home.)
Hackworth’s team wasn’t bad on the road, where its grinding style earned points sufficiently for a club with post-season ambition. But at home, where teams generally feel better about attacking, Philadelphia’s offense was stuck in the mud way too often.
Even when Hackworth’s team did produce a goal or two in 2013, so much of that was simply about a hot striker. First it was spring scoring sensation Jack McInerney, and then Conor Casey took over for a spell in the summer. When the inevitable cooling off arrived, the Union output disappeared.
Why? Start with the lack of creativity; Michael Farfan simply isn’t there yet as a prime-time playmaker. And the Brazilian DP Kleberson just never panned out. (When your veteran DP playmaker has to come off after 64 minutes in a match you simply must win, as he did Saturday, something has gone terribly wrong.
There’s no discernible attacking plan at PPL Park, other than a general use of Casey as a hold-up target. And when the Union does get balls forward, there’s just not enough quality in the crossing, shooting and movement near goal.
Worst of all, perhaps, was watching the Union before the break. Again, this was a match where Philadelphia had to score. And yet, too many times, Hackworth’s team just didn’t get sufficient numbers forward, which seems inexcusable.
Get a few more players forward early, and perhaps the last 30 minutes Saturday at PPL Park would not have looked like such a fire drill, as the Union desperately played the hit-and-hope game.
Now they’ll have an entire offseason to sort it out. There is plenty of young talent around PPL Park -- but those youngsters need direction, a playmaker … and a plan.