CHESTER, Pa. – Since taking over as the Philadelphia Union’s manager 16 months ago, John Hackworth has played many different players in many different spots.
But one position he never needed to think about was at the starting holding midfielder spot, where Philly captain Brian Carroll has started 59 consecutive games and played all but one minute under Hackworth.
That’s about to change.
Because of a suspension for yellow-card accumulation, Carroll will miss his first game since early in the 2012 season when the Union host Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on Saturday (3 pm ET, NBCSN). And Hackworth still isn’t sure how to replace the steadying midfield presence in a game the Union need to win to remain in playoff contention.
“We could move Amobi [Okugo] there but that would shift our backline a little bit,” Hackworth said this week. “We could use [Michael] Lahoud there, but he’s coming off an injury, so we would have to make sure he’s 100-percent ready to start a game. We could change our formation a little bit and not replace Brian in that spot but play a little differently.
“So we have some options. But at this point we haven’t made any decisions yet.”
Okugo probably has the most talent and experience as a defensive midfielder, but he’s been exclusively deployed as a center back for the past year-and-a-half. And Philly’s only other defensive-oriented midfielders with game experience – Lahoud and Keon Daniel – are both battling injuries, with Hackworth saying Daniel will “probably not be available.”
One other issue will be finding someone new to wear the captain’s armband.
“Two guys I would look at immediately would be Jeff Parke and Conor Casey,” Hackworth said. “Sheanon Williams and Amobi Okugo are two young guys who could also take that leadership role on. I don’t think it will be a big deal for anybody and I think the way our team has done it all year long is those guys have acted as leaders, whether they wear an armband or not. Whoever wears it Saturday – and we haven’t made that decision yet – will do the same thing they have been doing.”
While optimistic that the team will be able to survive without him, Carroll is naturally upset the only game he’ll miss all year will be the last.
“It will be gut-wrenching not to be able to be involved in the game in any capacity and knowing that we have to win,” he said. “It’s just tough. But I think it’s really hard to go through an entire season playing a certain amount of minutes and being involved in the midfield and not get in yellow-card trouble. It’s just part of it. But it’s an unfortunate time.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.