Inside Doop: Absences, Injuries plaguing Union

Inside Doop: Absences, Injuries plaguing Union

July 8, 2013, 2:00 pm
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The Philadelphia Union had a lot working against them for their two-game road trip this past week.

Among the challenges: playing two games in four days; dealing with the Salt Lake City altitude and the Houston heat; and trying to manage without many key players, including most of their midfield and their leading scorer.

So the fact that the Union returned to Philly with just one point in their pocket from the two games is not entirely surprising … but it’s still a setback for a squad that could have ascended to first place in the Eastern Conference with a better showing. Instead, they now sit in fourth place.

Let’s take a closer look at the road trip and what lies ahead now that they’re home in this week’s “Inside Doop.”

Three thoughts from this past week
1. It was tough enough for manager John Hackworth to field his lineup for Wednesday’s game against Real Salt Lake, with Keon Daniel and Jack McInerney gone for the Gold Cup and Kleberson and Michael Lahoud out with injuries. That task became considerably more difficult when starting midfielders Danny Cruz and Michael Farfan left the RSL game with injuries of their own and were forced to miss Saturday’s contest in Houston. Because of all of the absences, this past week Hackworth gave two players their MLS starting debuts (Leo Fernandes and Aaron Wheeler), one player his MLS debut (Don Anding), one player his first start of the season (Antoine Hoppenot) and two players a rare opportunity see the field (Matt Kassel and Roger Torres). While Hackworth praised the performance of those guys stepping in, having so many deep reserves play so much was one big reason why the Union followed their 2-2 draw with RSL with a disappointing 1-0 loss to Houston.

2. Saturday’s game in Houston marked the first time the Union lost since May. But, in many ways, the draw three days earlier seemed so much worse. That’s because the Union were seconds away from beating RSL – one of the league’s best teams – before a handball in the box led to a game-tying penalty kick in the 97th minute. Making it even harder to swallow was the fact that the Union gave up a game-tying equalizer in the exact same minute the game before. If the Union fail to make the playoffs this season, they’ll probably think back to the time they lost four points because of those back-to-back 97th-minute goals.

3. As a 31-year-old veteran with an injury history, Conor Casey hasn’t been used as a 90-minute player very much this season. But with leading scorer Jack McInerney gone for the Gold Cup, Casey was asked to carry a bigger load this week. And he did so terrifically, playing a full 90 minutes against both Real Salt Lake and Houston and arguably having his best game of the year against RSL. Casey now has six goals and three assists on the season, proving to be one of Hackworth’s best offseason acquisitions.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The team’s depth was put into question this past week, specifically in the attacking third. For Friday’s contest against Chivas USA at PPL Park, some reinforcements could be called upon as new international acquisitions Oka Nikolov and Fabinho will be eligible for their first game. But since they both play positions the Union are currently at full health in -- Nikolov is a goalkeeper and Fabinho is a left back -- Hackworth might decide to slowly ease them into the rotation.

2. The more pressing concern for Friday is if any of the midfield foursome of Kleberson, Lahoud, Cruz and Farfan can return to full health and take the field against Chivas. All four of them were listed as questionable on the injury report Saturday -- as opposed to out or doubtful -- so a return for even all of them could be realistic. And that would certainly help the Union’s depleted midfield.

3. There are other intriguing storylines for Friday’s game, with former US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra set to play his first game for Chivas USA after returning to MLS for the first time since 2004. And then there’s former Union fullback Gabriel Farfan, who comes back to Philly after being traded to Chivas earlier in the season. Will we see a Farfan vs. Farfan matchup at PPL? That all depends on Michael’s health -- but if it does happen, it should be fun.

Stat of the week
The Union have been outscored, 21-14, in the second halves of games this season.

Quote of the week
“Looking at the schedule, we had to play some really good teams in this stretch. I think we’re handling it well but it becomes very difficult when pretty much every midfielder you have is in pain or hurting.” – Union midfielder Danny Cruz, between Wednesday and Saturday’s game

Player of the week
Casey was easily the team’s best player this week, showing the kind of creativity and speed that’s not usually a part of his game. His goal and assist against Real Salt Lake were pure class.