CHESTER, Pa. – Interim manager John Hackworth will have some big lineup decisions to make in his first game as head coach of the Philadelphia Union.
For the first time this season, the Union will be without the services of No. 1 striker Lionard Pajoy, who will serve a one-game suspension Saturday vs. D.C. United at PPL Park (7 pm ET, Galavision) for a hard foul he committed in Philly’s last league match.
Midfielder Gabriel Gómez may also not be available for selection. Gómez was scheduled to return from World Cup qualifying with Panama this week but is still recovering from a leg injury he suffered against Dallas on May 19.
Between them, Pajoy and Gómez have scored seven of the Union’s eight goals, and Pajoy is one of only two Philly players who has started every game this year.
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“Pajoy’s a big part of what we do and the way we play, so we have to have a guy step up and fill his pretty big shoes,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “At the same time, it’s a great opportunity for other guys.”
The Union (2-7-2) have plenty of other strikers to choose from, including youngsters Josué Martínez, Jack McInerney, Chandler Hoffman and Antoine Hoppenot, as well as new acquisition Jorge Perlaza, who came over last week in the Danny Mwanga trade.
In his first game wearing a Union uniform, Perlaza scored a goal in Tuesday’s friendly vs. the Harrisburg City Islanders.
“We’re going to go through the next two days and see if he’s the best option to put on the field,” Hackworth said Wednesday of Perlaza. “If he is, he’ll get the opportunity. But other guys are certainly fighting for the same spot.”
The Union's already thin backline is also hobbled with left back Gabriel Farfan (back spasms) listed as out and Sheanon Williams (big toe sprain) listed as doubtful in the midweek injury report.
But the Union could get a boost from a player returning from injury in creative midfielder Roger Torres, who played in the club’s last two friendlies after being sidelined more than two months with a MCL sprain in his left knee.
“I don’t know if he’s fully ready,” Hackworth said. “But on the injury front, he’s looking OK.”
Even if Hackworth didn’t have suspensions or injuries to deal with, many people would still probably look at his first lineup to see if it’s an indicator of what’s to come – whether that’s fair or not.
And while the new Union manager has said he’ll give opportunities to some new players, he doesn’t expect to do too much tinkering, at least not yet.
“It’s really tough,” Hackworth said. “We’re in ninth place in the conference now, so that doesn’t give us a lot of latitude to experiment. We’ll have to stick with the best lineup possible. We hope guys will fight and try to earn the opportunity, but it’s not like we can experiment a ton.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.