Analysis / Union

Out of their depth: The 2013 Union bench

Photo: Paul Rudderow

As the summer schedule fills up and week-long layoffs become two-day layoffs, the Philadelphia Union’s coaching staff has emphasized the team’s depth. “How guys recover from Saturday’s game is something we’ll gauge. I think what we’ve shown over these last 10 days is that we’re deep. We have players who have come in and contributed. We’re happy with that and it’s something we may have to tap into midweek. We’ll see how it goes,” assistant coach Rob Vartughian said ahead of the Open Cup showdown with Ocean City.

But a quick look at the Union’s season tells a far different story.

Only sixteen field players have seen more than ten minutes of action in 2013 (MacMath excluded). And only fourteen of those players remain on the Union roster.

But have they been good?

While the subs have been effective at helping the team in a tie game, they have not been able to turn the tide when the team is behind.

The Union have gained points three times after subbing this season: From behind to a tie in Toronto and from a tie to a win at Chicago, and the win at Colorado. Though the Union gave up a goal once they started subbing in Colorado, Antoine Hoppenot’s contribution to the late winner cannot be overlooked.

When the Union are behind a goal and start subbing, they tend to get further behind. This scenario played out against Kansas City, New England, and Los Angeles. Against New York, the Union scored after they started subbing, then gave up a late winner to Thierry Henry for a net of zero, which is exactly how many points they got from that match.

Overall contributions

In 2013, Union subs have accounted for two goals and two assists in 643 minutes from strikers and and midfielders.

Once the team has started subbing, they have scored a total of 16 goals and given up 17.

Without league-wide comparatives, these stats are difficult to parse. But one thing is certain: Any coach that believes the Union are a deep team has not been keeping track of minutes this season. And if any anecdotal evidence is needed, just check out the lineup card from Tuesday night’s Open Cup clash against a lower division opponent, in which Leo Fernandes was the only player outside of the regular fourteen to get significant minutes.

Oh, and the defense?

And, as long as depth is the topic, let us not forget that while defenders tend to play mega-minutes, the Union currently have one defender outside of the starting four that has played in MLS before. Ever. And Chris Albright’s not even a young buck when compared to Kleberson.

What does this tell us?

While Antoine Hoppenot remains a spark plug, the Union do not have many other contributors off the bench. Only Hoppenot, Le Toux, and Conor Casey have scored or assisted. No Union sub has better than a plus-one goal differential off the bench, and if you leave out the Toronto match—when the Union scored off a corner kick—only Sebastien Le Toux and Michael Lahoud have a positive goal differential off the bench.

So there are the numbers. What do you think? Do the Union have depth? Or does Jack McInerney’s penchant for late winners gloss over a major roster issue?



  1. 14 players. 14. That is literally the fewest possible. 14 = the shallowest team in MLS.

    • Well it’s 14 field players because he said excludng MacMath. And one of those 14 is Lahoud, who remains injured and unavailable.

  2. Adam – Go fords!

    I think the elephant in the room re squad depth is a plain lack of options at critical positions, resulting in players out of position. Not to defer too much to Hackworth’s technical judgment, but he prefers a one-footed Gaddis to Anding at LB; Okugo and a gimpy Parke to Albright; and everyone including the pretzel lady to Torres. They have a lot of small attacking players, especially those who can play wide (and yet Cruz can’t find the bench if he put his head down and ran to it with the rest of the team 20 yards behind him), and decent numbers of central mids if you count Okugo and Marfan, who I guess if just Farfan now, and an out-of-position Keon Daniel, and LeToux can play a variety of positions, but they are fundamentally imbalanced, and rumors have them bringing in another wide attacking player instead of shoring up the defense. What I wouldn’t give for Califf and Jordan Harvey to come back.

    • Here is a potential team made up of players who were once on the roster but they chased – or traded – away (Not including expansion drafts):
      Orozco – Califf – Soumare- Harvey
      Garfan – Andrew Jacobson – Adu
      Mwanga – Le Toux (he returned but he was initially traded away)

      • some of those guys sucked. i’d include Valdes, though he’s technically under contract but he’s not coming back.

        In fairness, the Union also could have put out a team of Seitz; P. Lopez, Arrieta, Juan Diego Gonzalez, D. Myrie; Caudet, Paunovich, Herdling, Stahl; Perlaza, Martinez.

      • I never said the team was good, just making a point that we could field an entire starting XI with players we’ve sent away, and the team is only in its 4th season. Although the only player I listed who is questionable is Mwanga, the rest have all proven to be quality players, even if they’re not all-stars.

      • kingkowboys says:

        The most influential player on that list was Mondragon. The defense was much more organized in front of him. If you screwed up he was in your face.

  3. Hackworth’s flowchart is pretty simple:

    Is it before the 75 minute? Yes = Don’t sub / No = Go to next question

    Are you losing? Yes = Sub a striker for a midfielder to further the problem of the forwards getting service. / No = Sub Keon Daniel in to try to kill the game (but actually kill the victory)

    Did you already make a sub? Yes = Throw in the exact same player the second time around and double down on your losing tactic. / No = See previous question.

    Are there 3 strikers and 3 defensive midfields on the pitch yet? No = sub until there are and nevermind that huge gap in between them / Yes = You have reached your destination.

  4. “Any coach that believes the Union are a deep team has not been keeping track of minutes this season.”

    No greater truth than that sentence, Adam.

    This whole mantra that Hack goes into about there being lots of competition for spots is just not convincing. And the worst part about it is the more he says it, the less credibility that he has with the fan base.

    I realize that a leader has to act a certain way in order to achieve a greater goal, but he must think we’re idiots to believe him on this.

  5. Simmonds17 says:

    How would we know if this team has depth? They play only a few guys. I mean, when Parke went down and Williams had his suspension, they played Soumare and he did fairly well, I thought, but as soon as the starters came back, they traded Soumare WHILE claiming to have no depth at defender. Huh?
    The roster lists Chris Konopka as the only other goalkeeper. I believe he has one game of MLS experience?
    How would I evaluate a guy like Leo Fernandes, having never had the chance to see him play.
    I’m not as anti-Hackworth or anti-Sackiewicz as many, but I am very confused about how this team is run and/or what its aspirations are.

  6. kingkowboys says:

    Does anyone remember hack talking about our depth and dynamic lineup before the season? I do and we haven’t seen it at all.

    The mantra was the lineup would match the opponent. We went 5-6 games seeing exactly the same 15 players and formations. That’s not dynamic. Our best looking game was the 1st game of the year, we lost, to the defending champions. Ever since we’ve scrapped for points and if Jack Mack wasn’t so damn good we’d be at the bottom.

    Thanks Jack Mack for giving us hope!

  7. Steve l. says:

    I have been worried about some of the moves (I feel like I was one of the few who was against it, not because I think he was an amazing player but because we have no depth). But on a more optimistic thought pattern, what does every one think about the fact that maybe the Union are just trying to get through this season and clear out the “problems” Novak created, and that next offseason is the real beginning? Not saying I agree with it or think its a great idea, but just thinking out loud.

  8. The Union seem to have a magical way with avoiding long term injuries to starters. We’d obviously have played more of our roster at this point if we had to with injuries (and did have to with suspensions) but its the same cast of players every game. I think Harrisburg is actually reinforcing this since young players like McLaughlin, Hernandez, Anding, Jordan, and Fernandes are seeing so much time down there. Its almost as though 22 Union players are getting the full season experience (with Valdes and Pfeffer on loan) – we are just only seeing 15 or so with the Union first team right now.

    I’m hopeful Leo Fernandes gets a few more looks with the first team. Any kind of midfield creativity off the bench that Hack is willing to put in the game has to be considered a plus (Torres is living in the doghouse it seems and my hopes for him finding the field aren’t high). His little run out the other night may have been brief but he got a full game against Ocean City when we kept a similar starting lineup on the field.

    Does anybody think that Kleberson might have more success as a sub after the 60th minute than he does starting? Physicality is like his kryptonite. Maybe more space and some tired defenders are the way to help him build his confidence and relationships with other players.

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