Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth "baffled" by mistake-filled performance in loss to New York

HARRISON, N.J. – Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth is baffled.

He’s baffled how a team that is capable of playing such good soccer at times can be winless in its last five contests.

He’s baffled how the Union failed to generate any kind of scoring chances while up a man in the final 10 minutes of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls.

And, most of all, he’s baffled how his team could leave players unmarked in the box as they did Wednesday on goals from Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam, both of which came on simple crosses.

“There’s a lot of breakdowns on those plays,” Hackworth said. “To allow two serves in the box so easy and then to not have men on the first one … we literally didn’t track guys from the midfield. On the second one, we had plenty of guys back but no one chose to mark the most dangerous players. It’s baffling to watch it back.”

While Hackworth used the word “baffling” throughout his postgame press conference, center back Amobi Okugo used a different word to describe the defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Union, who have now given up two goals in three straight games and four of their last five.

“One game, it’s a failed clearance; one game, it’s too much space; one game, it’s not following runners,” a visibly frustrated Okugo said from a dead silent visitors’ locker room at Red Bull Arena. “We just have to clean it up because it’s getting annoying.”

The Red Bulls’ first goal was especially annoying for the Union, who didn’t have a player within 10 yards of Henry after Roy Miller played him a ball in the box. One of the league’s deadliest scorers, Henry had an easy look at net to give New York the lead for good.

“He’s a great player,” Okugo said. “He can lull you to sleep for 89 minutes and he gets going in the 90th minute. That’s just a missed assignment in the box.”

The Union missed another assignment in the box ten minutes later when Eric Alexander beat Okugo near the endline and played a looping cross that Sam outjumped teammate Tim Cahill to score on and put New York up 2-0.

The Union managed to make it 2-1 after taking advantage of an Ibrahim Sekagya handball in the box – and ensuing red card – to score on a Sébastien Le Toux penalty kick.

But the Union didn’t come close to finding the equalizer while up a man, leading to even more irritation from Hackworth.

“I cannot even tell you how frustrating it was,” the Union manager said. “We had midfielders coming back and just rolling the ball around to our center back. I’m literally baffled because that’s not the way we trained it. I don’t know what to say. Our whole setup in that last 10 minutes was just baffling.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.