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Preview: Union vs DC United

What: Philadelphia Union vs DC United

When: 7 pm

Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA

TV: Galavision

Is there much left to say? After two seasons, the Philadelphia Union looked to be onto something huge. With a stout defense, a young core, and veteran leaders who relished their roles, the formula for success had been discovered.

It’s all different now. From the coach, to the captain, to the striker corps. And after a strange and awkward final chapter to Peter Nowak’s Philadelphia story, the focus can finally return to the field.

Enter DC United. Two and a half years ago, DC essentially ushered Peter Nowak into Philly hearts by losing 3-2 at Lincoln Financial Field. John Hackworth will be hoping for similar treatment.

Hacking up the plan

What will John Hackworth change? Not much by Saturday. And with Lio Pajoy suspended for one match, Hackworth’s preferred offensive options won’t become clear for at least another week.

The new manager has a long history of working with young players, but whether that will translate into increased minutes for fringe guys like Amobi Okugo, Jack McInerney, and Chandler Hoffman is unclear. Hackworth has appeared to maintain a good relationship with the locker room, even as tension between Nowak and the veterans became public (and those veterans became trade bait). As a head coach, Hackworth will have to maintain good relations while navigating the weekly selections that, under Nowak, ran the gamut from odd but acceptable to incomprehensible.

On Saturday, the most notable change will likely be in the stands. The fans have spent most of the season watching off-the-field drama unfold as decidedly undramatic soccer left them increasingly disillusioned. Hackworth will get a clean slate with the PPL faithful; then he will be judged by the performance and attitude of the players.

Wins are the consequence, not the solution

Make no mistake, this is a team in need of wins. But the wins will come from a new attitude coupled with simplified tactics. Sometimes when a plan isn’t working, you have to go back to the beginning and walk through it again, looking for the weak points. The Union offense hasn’t worked for two seasons, so it’s time to try something simple. A back four, a playmaker and a defender in the middle of the park, hard-working wingers, and clear delineations of responsibilities. Keep the tactics simple, let the guys have fun.

The wins will come.

DC has something the Union need

Confidence. DC United is not the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. Yet, they have earned the right to stand proudly above the rest by executing a simple game plan: Get DeRo the ball, move. The Union don’t have the first step as an option, and they’ve performed the second step poorly this season. In Marfan, Gomez and Torres, the Union have capable playmakers, but nobody has been given the minutes (or, in Gomez’s case, the tactical freedom) to impose themselves on a game.

Is it worth giving up some defensive comfort in the name of offense? Absolutely. All of the team’s leaders are in the back, and this is the time to heap responsibility on them. If they handle it, great. If they don’t, they’ll face up to it and get better. Meanwhile, the corresponding freedom granted to the midfield can breed that long-absent confidence, which begets forward runs and movement.

For more on DC’s tactics, check out PSP’s USOC preview post from last week. The only major change for the stateless United will be the likely return of Dwayne De Rosario from international duty. While he may be rested, don’t count on it. Given DC’s inability to break down the Union with any regularity in the US Open Cup, coach Ben Olsen won’t hesitate to insert his star. Olsen knows that it feels pretty good to be in first place, and it feels extremely awful to drop out of it.

Doop it up

Peter Nowak is gone. Three of the team’s most popular jersey names are also gone. But a likable — and talented — team remain. They know the hole they’re in. And they know that they have to start climbing out of it now. And I’m sure they know they need the overwhelming noise and support of the Union supporters to do it.

Whether you loved Nowak or hated him, whether you think Nick Sakiewicz is sincere or willfully ignorant of supporters’ feelings, the team that steps on the field tomorrow night will need your unquestioning support.

Will you give it to them?

Lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Gaddis, Williams, Valdes, Garfan*
  • MID: Adu, Carroll, Marfan, Keon
  • FWD: Perlaza, McInerney

* Garfan is now listed as out with an injury, so Amobi Okugo (or possibly even Porfirio Lopez) will probably join the back line and bump Williams back out to one of the fullback slots, if Williams returns from a toe injury. (Editor’s note)

DC 

  • GK: William “Billiam” Hamid
  • DEF: Robbie “Kurt” Russell, Brandon “Ronald” McDonald, Emiliano “RockStar” Dudar, Daniel “Wholard?” Woolard
  • MID: Perry “Hell’s” Kitchen, “Lil” Andy Najar, Nick “Of Lion” DeLeon, Dwayne “De” Rosario,
  • FWD: Hamdi Salihi “Hehe”, Josh “Lone” Wolff

14 Comments

  1. Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

    Garfan is listed as back spasms, so I imagine Gaddis goes at LB, Sheanon at RB and Okugo at CB. Even when healthy, i think Okugo should be the starting CB with Williams restored to his wide position.

  2. Josh of the worst river ward says:

    How long does your list of opposition nick names take to come up with? I’m saying three and half minutes.

  3. It’s on Comcast SportsNet locally as well.

  4. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    If your closing question was addressed to me — and don’t lie and say it wasn’t! — here’s my answer: definitely! I won’t #doop because it’s a Nowak-imposed convention, but the boys in blue have my 100% support (actually, always have). Not convinced about Sak, but I don’t have to be. Not yet, anyway.

  5. MikeRSoccer says:

    I would think that Martinez would get the start on Saturday given his form and Sakiewicz pretty much said that he should be starting.

  6. Martinez and perlaza

  7. T of the U says:

    Someone refresh me…why is Pajoy suspended this week? Not that I will miss him on the field…I just wasn’t aware of his suspension

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      When he bumped Plata to the ground and got the yellow against Toronto, the league ruled he had tried to stomp on the little winger and gave him a one-game suspension.

      Having watched it dozens of times, I’m still not convinced its even a foul. Silly from the league, but good for the Union.

      • T of the U says:

        Ahhh…I see. Definite bonus for the U! Give me Mwanga up front!…oh wait a second.

  8. I hate 7:00 games.. with 7:30 games I could leave work.and see the start of the game, now I will miss the fiirst few min. Curse you Union!

  9. Per Philly.com (http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/soccer/159130175.html) Garfan is out with back spasms, as well as Chris Albright, and Shaenon is doubtful with a toe sprain.

    This has to mean a couple things, 1 Okugo has to fill in at CB (thank god), and either we will see the return of Fropez (NOOOOO!) or Marfan will fill in at right back with more of a 3 back flowing system.

    Also, please please I hope Keon doesn’t start, he shows nothing and we know what he is. I’d like to see Kai get a chance or Torres or even Gomez…Just not Keon.

    I like Jack Mack up top, hopefully it’s either him or Hoppenot.

  10. Philly Cheese says:

    Would prefer Hoffman and Jack Mac with Martinez off bench as forwards, or go with 4-3-3 and show three up front. Perlaza needs to get to know his teammates for another week or two. Best example of throwing someone unready into games was Lahoud starting before he even knew the names of his teammates, just to try to prove it was okay to move Califf.

  11. James Korman says:

    Perhaps more important than the players John selects tonight will be the tactical formation on the pitch. In mls players are always coming and going but I’m really curious to see what formation our new coach favours. Does anyone know specifically what he used when he coached at the college level? Or elsewhere? (I’m assuming whatever formation he utilized with the junior national team was not his call.) How many guys up top? Go Union…!!!

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