CHESTER, Pa. – With Jack McInerney and Keon Daniel gone to play in the Gold Cup and Michael Lahoud (sports hernia) and Kleberson (quad strain) still recovering from injuries, the Philadelphia Union will be forced to give someone their first start of the season in Wednesday night's game vs. Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium (10 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Who that person will be, manager John Hackworth is not saying. But he does believe his team has the pieces to survive all of the absences.
“You’re always going to have call-ups, injuries and certain situations that arise,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com before departing for Utah. “I think this is a great opportunity. We have guys like Antoine Hoppenot, Aaron Wheeler and Leo Fernandes that are ready to step up. Our expectation is our team doesn’t miss a beat here.”
A Day in the LIfe: Sebastien Le Toux
The toughest task for Hackworth will be replacing McInerney, who’s started the last 16 games for Philly and is tied for the league lead in scoring with 10 goals.
The easiest choice would probably be to slide Hoppenot – who’s come off the bench in all but two games this year – into the starting lineup next to Conor Casey and then use Wheeler in Hoppenot’s “super sub” role.
But Hackworth might also prefer to keep Hoppenot as a second-half substitute, which allows the pesky second-year striker to effectively wear down tired defenders.
“My hope is that Antoine can evolve and develop as a player where he can be a starter as well as how he’s been labeled a super sub,” Hackworth said. “While I do think he’s fantastic in that situation, for his own growth he needs to be a guy that can start a game and be impactful for 90-plus minutes.”
The other most logical solution would be to move Sébastien Le Toux from the right wing to striker, where he scored most of his 25 goals during his first two seasons with the Union from 2010-2011.
But then the Union would then have to reconfigure the midfield and find another attacking midfielder to start alongside Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz. The most likely options there would probably be rookies Don Anding and Fernandes or fan favorite Roger Torres.
Either way, Hackworth said that knowing Le Toux can thrive at both forward and in the midfield is “extremely important” as he looks to piece together his next couple of lineups based on matchups.
“It gives us some good options, especially when we’re going on the road and you need to have a little bit of an element of surprise,” Hackworth said. “Sebastien has clearly done very well for us out wide. And that’s certainly an option to stay like that. Or we can play him up high, which is a position he has done very well for this club in the past.”
The good news for the Union is that Real Salt Lake will have to shuffle their lineup as well, as Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Álvaro Saborío have all been called up to their respective national teams for the Gold Cup.
Said Hackworth: “It will be a little bit of a guessing game for both teams going into it for sure.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.