If you take John Hackworth at his word, the Philadelphia Union manager is seriously considering shaking up the lineup for Saturday’s huge Eastern Conference matchup against the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park.
This comes as fairly big news because Hackworth, by and large, has pretty much stuck with the same guys this season, unless he’s had to deal with injuries or international call-ups. But with the Union winless in their last four and coming off a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in a game in which they failed to score despite being up a man for much of the second half, Hackworth seems to recognize that some changes might be in order.
The Union manager didn’t offer too many specifics during his weekly press conference but did indicate the changes will likely come in the attack, with strikers Jack McInerney and Conor Casey and attacking midfielders Danny Cruz, Keon Daniel and Sebastien Le Toux all in danger of losing their starting spots.
Who will take their place? Let’s take a look at some of the options with their chances to start in parentheses. (Note: these percentages are derived from a complicated formula and specific data I’ve been compiling the entire season and … no, I’m just kidding – I’m pretty much just making it up as I go.)
Fabinho (chances to start - 75 percent): Amobi Okugo returns from a two-game suspension this week and will slide back into his center back role (Hackworth said it would be too much of a change to put him in the midfield, even if Delaware County Daily Times writer Matt De George shows it could sorta make sense), which means Fabinho is in danger of losing his spot at left back. But Fabinho has played well, so it seems likely he will either start at left back over Ray Gaddis or supplant Danny Cruz as the team’s left midfielder, where he can continue to showcase his impressive crossing ability.
Michael Farfan (chances to start - 60 percent): Some people would point to Farfan as one of the problems this season, but Hackworth noted how much better the Union were in the second half Sunday after Farfan came on. If Hackworth takes Keon Daniel out of the starting lineup, it will probably be Farfan that replaces him as the team’s central attacking midfielder. (Granted, this wouldn’t be too big of a change considering Farfan and Daniel have started the same number of games this year.)
Antoine Hoppenot (chances to start – 50 percent): The Union’s “super sub” has started just once this season but Hackworth could look for Hoppenot’s energy at the start of games, when the team has often sputtered. The Union manager could opt to play Hoppenot in place of the struggling Jack McInerney or put him on one of the wings.
Aaron Wheeler (chances to start – 25 percent): The 6-foot-4 striker could be one of the best bets to jumpstart the offense as he always seems to pick out balls when he comes on as a late-game sub. But the only way he’d probably start is if Conor Casey goes to the bench. And even though Casey hasn’t scored in the past four games, the burly striker has still been one of the team’s bright spots all season.
Kleberson (chances to start – 20 percent): A straight swap of Daniel for Kleberson would probably do the most to improve the midfield issues. But for reasons only he knows, Hackworth has been very reluctant to play the Brazilian World Cup veteran, who’s logged only 10 minutes in the past three months.
Michael Lahoud/Leo Fernandes (chances to start – 15 percent): Both are solid options to earn minutes in the midfield but neither really brings the kind of creativity Hackworth hopes to see in the attacking third.
Roger Torres (chances to start – 1 percent): Hackworth wants to see less predictably in the midfield and the Colombian playmaker can certainly help with that. But Torres has been buried on the bench even deeper than Kleberson, having played just 37 total minutes this season. This would certainly be a change that would open the most eyes.