CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union have been in slumps before but manager John Hackworth has generally steered clear of making any major lineup shakeups to snap out of them.
That could change for Saturday’s crucial Eastern Conference matchup against the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week).
During his weekly press conference Wednesday, three days after a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes that Hackworth called “alarming,” the Union manager admitted that some players might lose their place in the starting XI.
“There are more positions open this week than there have been all season,” Hackworth said. “We wanted to emphasize that it was unacceptable on many levels on Sunday night. It bodes well for guys working hard in training who smell it a little bit. They know there’s opportunity there. And if the coaching staff isn’t happy with the performance, the logical thing is you interject a new face in there or change something tactically.”
Hackworth didn’t say which specific players could move to the bench, but he did put the onus on the team’s attack. Over the past four games, the Union have scored just once with no goals coming from starting strikers Conor Casey or Jack McInerney.
Attacking midfielders Danny Cruz, Keon Daniel and Sebastien Le Toux also mostly struggled in Sunday’s loss to the Earthquakes, when the Union failed to control the midfield despite going up a man early in the second half.
“I think the pressure is now on our front five – our two strikers and three attack-minded midfielders,” Hackworth said. “Whether it’s Keon Daniel, Conor Casey, McInerney, Sebastien, Cruz or Michael Farfan, whoever we put in there, someone on our team has to start making the big plays that all teams need.
“We’re in a position where we need to have a guy step up and make a play,” he added. “Make a big play for this team.”
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When then asked if he’s consider inserting more of a natural playmaker into the lineup – someone, perhaps, like Kleberson or Roger Torres – Hackworth simply reiterated that there will be “more opportunities in the starting XI this week than there’s ever been to this point in the year.”
But no matter how the lineup looks against Houston, one thing is clear: Hackworth believes more creativity can help the Union snap their four-game winless streak and reestablish themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“We certainly looked pretty predictable against San Jose,” Hackworth said. “We were way too predictable, in reality. And our guys know that.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.