By JOEL HOOVER
A few days removed from the Philadelphia Union’s heavy 5-1 defeat to the New England Revolution on Sunday, John Hackworth wanted to press the point that sometimes “perception becomes reality” after a big loss.
And in this case, his and the Union’s reality was that the outcome could have been quite different if the officiating had been different too.
“I don’t think there’s enough recognition that there’s a massive decision in that game that goes against us that changes everything,” Hackworth said in the team’s press conference Wednesday. “It changed the outcome for the game, and it also changed the outcome for possible playoff scenarios. I don’t think there’s enough being talked about on that side of it.”
The most controversial decision came in the 55th minute with the score level at 1-1. After goalie Matt Reis spilled a cross in the box, Conor Casey was on hand to score the loose rebound and seemingly give the Union the lead. However, referee Allen Chapman ruled that Reis had possession of the ball, meaning Casey had fouled him in scoring the rebound. New England would go on to take the lead for good just three minutes later, pouring in a further three goals in the following 15 minutes.
Hackworth was willing to take “full responsibility” for mistakes made by both himself and the players in what followed the decision, but said it has been hard for the players to move on from the loss this week because of the growing perception that the defeat was an embarrassment. He even referenced former Union and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman as an example where both sides of the story were not completely considered in an assessment of the loss.
“We’ll never know ultimately what would have happened (if the goal stood),” Hackworth said. “I’m absolutely sure you wouldn’t have 11 players on that field in Foxboro who were beside themselves frustrated.
“My feeling is, we would have gotten out of there with a good result.”
Here are some more notes from this week’s Union press conference:
DEFENSE SET FOR SOME CHANGES
With Ray Gaddis still “questionable”, and Amobi Okugo now sidelined for two games, the Union are bracing for an entirely different look on defense when Montreal comes to town on Saturday.
Okugo was already going to be banned for yellow card accumulation after picking up a booking in the 75th minute of the Union’s defeat to New England. However, the center back also picked up a second yellow card in the first minute of stoppage time in the second half, meaning he would incur a further one-match ban for that sending off. It will be the first time in 49 matches, dating back to May 26 of last year, that Okugo has not played in a match for the Union.
“We’ll have to deal with it, but it’s a tough loss,” Hackworth said of losing one of his key components in a defense that had been going through a strong run of form before the New England rout.
Solutions for the loss of Okugo are still being explored. Sheanon Williams, Chris Albright, and Matt Kassel are all being considered for sliding in at center back. A healthy Michael Lahoud saw over an hour of action against New England following the departure of Keon Daniel to injury, and Hackworth said he would be an option to fill right back if Williams is forced to move to the center.
He also would not rule out the possibility of sliding Aaron Wheeler back into his familiar role at center back. Wheeler has seen time playing at striker in the summer months, becoming an impact target forward off the bench in several matches. With Okugo absent though, he has made his way back into the mix on defense.
“Aaron’s done a really good job in training the last two days,” Hackworth said.
“We know Amobi’s important, but now maybe comes an opportunity for someone else.”
LOOKING FOR ATTACK FROM THE MIDFIELD
The lack of a true midfield playmaker has been a notable aspect of the Union’s tactics this season, creating an attacker-by-committee format between Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel and recently forcing Conor Casey to play deeper to link the midfield to the forwards. However, this area of the field has been a struggle according to Hackworth.
“I think that’s a fair assessment,” he said, saying that the move to bring Casey underneath McInerney was a tactical one twice prior to the New England match, where Casey played alone up front.
In total, Daniel, Carroll, and Michael Farfan have combined for just three goals and three assists this season playing as the Union’s primary central midfielders. Fellow contributors Kleberson and Leo Fernandes have been unable to record either statistic so far this season.
It has been a very lean area of the field in terms of attack this season for Philadelphia. However, with Daniel questionable for the weekend match with Montreal, several players are in the mix to fill the void and try to bring some attack to the center of the midfield.
“Michael Farfan would be an obvious choice, and Kleberson and Leo Fernandes (are also being considered),” Hackworth said. “We could go with two defensive guys and bring (Michael) Lahoud in there…we’ll have to see over the next few days how things play out.”
- Hackworth said that Jack McInerney took his substitute’s role “really well” when it was presented to him before the New England game and worked hard when he came in despite the lopsided scoreline.
- Regarding Saturday’s home match with the Montreal Impact, Hackworth said it would be a “huge challenge” to turn around from the deflating loss to New England and face the top team in the East.
- Hackworth reemphasized that he has wanted to play highly-paid Designated Player Kleberson “several times” but that it has not happened due to tactics.
What do you think of these developments? Do you see the Union overcoming the controversy at New England and still making the playoffs? How will the defense line up this weekend against Montreal? What do you see as the solution to the Union’s lack of attacking play in the midfield?
Share you thoughts below.