When the Union’s losing run began in mid-April, manager John Hackworth was confident his club’s struggling and unsettled defensive line would evolve and come together over time.
He believed that Austin Berry or Aaron Wheeler would move forward and claim the starting center back job, giving the Union a youthful and imposing one-two punch featuring Amobi Okugo.
But with the Union allowing nine goals in their last two matches and falling to 2-7-5 on the season, Hackworth’s optimism is squashed. The Union are out of options with no answer in sight.
“We are clearly struggling to find a back line that is executing and playing well,” Hackworth said. “It’s something we have to continue to work on. It’s unfortunate from Sunday’s game we give up a goal on a set piece. Just a simple marking problem in the second minute and it literally changes everything you’re trying to do. And then obviously we had key guys make some bad mistakes on the next three goals.”
The Union originally had Berry next to Okugo, then experimented with Wheeler, a converted forward, on defense after Berry suffered an injury. The two swapped chances to take the starting job but neither option worked. After allowing five goals to the New England Revolution, Hackworth, on Sunday, tapped right back Sheanon WIlliams to try and stop the LA Galaxy attack.
It didn’t work.
“Unfortunately, when you run into these situations and as a staff, we feel like we’ve given a lot of guys opportunities,” Hackworth said. “For whatever reason, either that individual performance or team performance has been poor. It makes it really tough. The good news is we have, within the team, guys that are honest about the job they’re doing and honest about their own self-evaluation of their performance, so that allows you a little bit as a coach to try some different lineups.”
Hackworth didn’t seem sure which lineup to run Saturday against Chivas USA. Berry, despite his inconsistent play, is the likely favorite since he’s the only true center back on the roster. Wheeler and Williams are both experiments that have gone wrong, and Ethan White is behind all three on the depth chart.
Berry is recovering from an ankle injury that kept him off Sunday’s game day roster.
“To be real fair, whoever we’ve put at center back, our center back pairings, it’s not like they’ve played well,” Hackworth said. “So having Austin back is certainly a good option for us, but he will have to, like everybody else, prove that he is the best available choice on Saturday.”
While it appears the Union have hit rock bottom, it’s not impossible for them to find defensive cohesion at some point. But to do that, the selected combination needs time to gel and gain Hackworth’s confidence.
“We would love to get to the point where we’re putting the same back four in game in and game out,” Hackworth said. “But the reality is that we haven’t found that kind of continuity, which makes it very challenging.”