It didn’t matter that the Philadelphia Union started Saturday’s game with a two-striker formation for the first time in more than a month.
It didn’t matter that they inserted two dangerous strikers in Danny Mwanga and Josué Martinez in the game for the final 15 minutes.
It didn’t even matter that they pushed goalie Zac MacMath all the way forward for a last-minute surge.
The result was familiar: few chances and zero goals.
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The Union, who came into the contest tied for last in the league in goals scored with five, were shut out once again in a 1-0 defeat to the host Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. It was the fourth time the Union have been shut out in eight total matches.
“From our side, we didn’t do enough to make Seattle really defend us well,” said Union assistant coach John Hackworth, who manned the sideline in place of suspended manager Peter Nowak. “We have to be a little more dangerous in the final third. We didn’t do a great job of that.”
The Union have been one of the least dangerous teams all season, only averaging around two shots on target per game. Coming into Saturdays’ contest, Hackworth and the rest of the Philly coaching staff really made that a point of emphasis, encouraging the Union players to have the courage to take more shots.
But against Seattle, the Union mustered only one shot on target, a weak dribbler from striker Lionard Pajoy that was easily scooped up by Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, who was making his first MLS start.
“With a rookie goalkeeper in there making his first start, we talked about putting balls in the box and testing him and putting shots on frame and getting numbers forward,” Hackworth said. “And we continued to struggle a little bit with that, so we’re disappointed.”
The Union were able to push numbers forward, at times, but as Hackworth noted were “hesitant to pull the trigger.” One example of that came in the 85th minute when Mwanga led a break but slowed up his dribble and gave up possession with a poor pass into the box.
“We had a couple of good plays to break them down in the middle and once we got into the final third we just ran out of ideas sometimes,” Union midfielder Freddy Adu said. “We’ve got to do better. We’ve just got to do better.”
But how? According to Hackworth, it starts by drilling it into the players’ heads.
“All we can do is continue to ask our players to have the courage to take those shots and hopefully that will happen,” Hackworth said. “It didn’t happen today.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.