Inside Doop: Can Union defense recover?

Inside Doop: Can Union defense recover?

May 27, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Sheanon Williams' early miscue was the first of many for the Union in a 5-3 loss to Montreal. (USA Today Images)

After trading away their top defensive reinforcements in Bakary Soumare and Gabriel Farfan over the past two weeks, the Philadelphia Union probably could have used a strong defensive showing on Saturday to prove there’s no need for concern.

Instead, they gave up the most goals in franchise history in a 5-3 loss to the Montreal Impact.

What went wrong on the backline? How can they fix it heading into their U.S. Open Cup opener against the Ocean City Nor’easters on Tuesday before making a return trip to Canada next weekend to face Toronto FC? And is there a need for a lot of concern?

Let’s examine in this holiday edition of the Inside Doop.

Three thoughts from Saturday’s game

1. Eight seconds into the contest, right back Sheanon Williams tried to boot the ball up the field but turned it over. It proved to be just that kind of the night for the Union, who surrendered a goal one minute later, two more before halftime and a whopping five before the final whistle blew. The defense almost even accounted for an own goal when goalie Zac MacMath had to race back to clear a Jeff Parke back-pass off the goal line. Philly’s starting defensive unit of Williams, Parke, Amobi Okugo and Ray Gaddis is still a pretty good one and we can probably just chalk this up to having a terrible night. But the main issue here is that manager John Hackworth really can’t make any changes since he no longer has any real viable defensive options on the bench. If the team continues to give up goals in bunches, look for Hackworth to bring in reinforcements.

2. The defense’s most glaring issue -- and this was a problem with the midfield too -- was not paying close enough attention to Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio, one of the league’s premier goalscorers. Di Vaio was essentially left unmarked for all three of his first-half goals as he tied Philly’s Jack McInerney at the top of the MLS Golden Boot race. McInerney also scored in the match, giving him nine goals on the season. But Saturday’s game marked the first time this season the Union lost when McInerney scored. They were previously 5-0-2.

3. While Philly’s offense was once again fueled by McInerney, the Union also got a lot more production from some of their other attacking players. Sebastien Le Toux made a nifty play to help set up McInerney’s goal and later scored on a great left-footed shot, Antoine Hoppenot (the super sub who hasn’t been that super of late) scored his first goal of the season on what may have been a cross, and Michael Farfan finally got his first assist of the year. The production from Philly’s strikers and attacking midfielders may have been one of their biggest problems last season -- but it’s certainly not a problem right now.

Three questions for the week ahead

1. What can we expect when the Union begin play in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday with a home match against the Ocean City Nor’easters? Hackworth places a lot of value on the historic tournament that pits teams from all levels of American soccer and knows not to overlook the amateur Nor’easters. But the Union have played a lot of games this month and will almost certainly look to use this opportunity to try to play a handful of seldom-used reserves. Which of those players gets the biggest opportunity remains to be seen but perhaps look for fan favorite Roger Torres, as well as rookies Leo Fernandes, Aaron Wheeler and Don Anding.

2. Speaking of Anding, Hackworth has mentioned the rookie as someone who has impressed the coaching staff and could be a viable defensive backup. Other defenders he might try out Tuesday are veteran Chris Albright and Matt Kassel. But those three players have combined to play just three minutes this season, so he could just opt to keep the normal starting backline in for the whole 90 minutes. Stay tuned.

3. What ever happens Tuesday, the Union will get their passports back out to return to Canada next weekend. But they’ll have a much better chance to come back to the United States with three points this time as they take on a Toronto team that has won just one game this year. They will, however, have to contend with another dynamic goal-scorer in Robert Earnshaw, who has five goals on the year. After allowing Di Viao to get a first-half hat trick, will the Union be able to slow down Earnshaw north of the border?

Stat of the week

The Union have now given up 23 goals, the worst total in the Eastern Conference. The only team in the league that’s given up more is Chivas USA (24), the last-place team in the Western Conference.

Quote of the week

“Our defensive play wasn’t good. It’s as bad as it’s ever been.” – John Hackworth, following Saturday's 5-3 loss to Montreal

Player of the week

Sebastien Le Toux scored once, played a big role in another goal and continued to show how vital he is to the Union after seeming to fall out of the rotation just a few weeks ago.