How the Mac deal impacts the Union

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

The trade of Jack McInerney changes Philadelphia Union perhaps more than any departure of another Union player would.

That’s because it’s a system trade, one made in part because Union manager John Hackworth didn’t think McInerney fit the Union’s new 4-3-3 as an ideal No. 9.

Hackworth goes all-in with the 4-3-3

Five games into the season, Hackworth has gone all-in with the 4-3-3. All his caveats about two-forward sets go out the window. Sure, you might see it here and there, but realistically, this is Hackworth committing full-on to the vision he laid out for this team in November. For that, he wants a certain type of forward, and it’s not a poacher like McInerney.

The timing is notable, for a few reasons:

  1. The deal occurred right when target forward Conor Casey returned from injury, meaning that the preferred type of striker for this system, fully fit or not, was finally available.
  2. Union coaches had four games to see what their attack looked like in real competition: Terrific in the middle third, lacking in links to the final third. They determined something was missing: Hold-up play.
  3. Assistant coach Mike Sorber had plenty of time to watch McInerney in practice and compare him to Andrew Wenger, who Sorber coached for two years while an assistant coach with Montreal.

That last point is significant but perhaps obscure. (I forgot this too while writing my Friday column about the deal.)

Sorber’s assessment of Wenger almost certainly played a big part in the deal. He watched Wenger in practice for the last two years. When people talk about Wenger, they often talk about his amateur achievements that made him the No. 1 draft pick in the 2011 amateur draft. But Sorber has seen everything since then, including all the close reviews of game tapes after every game.

That’s as good inside knowledge as you’re going to get. It means Sorber is confident that Wenger is capable of replacing McInerney — if not now, then eventually. We’ll see if he’s right.

Mac deal has implications for others

The McInerney-Wenger trade has implications for other players too. Here’s what it could mean.

Aaron Wheeler: Wheeler is now the third man on the target forward depth chart, behind Casey and Wenger. Add that to his overall impressive showing at center back this season, and it may mean his time as a forward may be fully over. Yes, Wheeler was bound to get burnt eventually by his overly aggressive play, and it finally happened Saturday. But don’t let that misstep obscure the massive presence Wheeler was during his time filling in for Austin Berry. Wheeler may not be ready to be a consistent star center back, but it’s very clear that he can be in the not-too-distant future. The physical tools and instincts are there. The judgment will come with experience.

Conor Casey: Casey can now get used to playing one role in the new system. When fit, he is in many ways an ideal target forward. The question is whether he can stay disciplined enough in the new system after often having to come very deep to find the ball all over the pitch last season.

Sebastien Le Toux: Le Toux likely won’t play much of the traditional striker role he played in the past. I asked Hackworth about this last week. He said that, while it’s possible Le Toux could at some point redeploy in his old center forward role, he thought Le Toux was doing just fine on the wing.

That said, recall the relationship Le Toux had in 2010 with former Union forward Alejandro Moreno. Moreno would come deep to find the ball and often hit Le Toux on runs behind the defense. We could see Le Toux doing more of this from a winger role without McInerney in the lineup. The same goes for Danny Cruz as a sub for Le Toux.

Antoine Hoppenot: If Hackworth does want to deploy a two-forward set, Hoppenot may now be his go-to second striker. This could mean more opportunities for him. Conversely, it could also mean fewer opportunities, because Hackworth will likely prefer Casey and Wenger at center forward. Hoppenot may now be deployed primarily as a winger.

Cristian Maidana: Maidana has been out of the flow his last two games. The presence of a target forward to help with linking to the wingers could resolve that once Maidana returns from injury.

Amobi Okugo: With Wheeler now a full defender, Okugo could return to midfield. Or not. No, definitely not. Never mind. He won’t be a midfielder. Forget this. Now. Bury it with your McInerney jersey. You’ were always too old to be wearing the jersey of a (recent) teenager anyway.

Keon Daniel’s departure

Daniel’s descent from starter to his release today is a bit of a stunner. As recently as September, he was a regular starter for the Union. This year, he didn’t even make the 18 in a single regular season game. Daniel seemed like he would at least be a potentially valuable reserve on a team now deploying three central midfielders. Instead, he and the team agreed it was best to part ways.

The Union’s full commitment to the 4-3-3 may have left Daniel without a position. Then again, it’s not like he impressed enough in last year’s 4-1-3-2 either.

Similarly, his contract may have hurt him. He earned a raise to $80,000 prior to last year, and it’s unknown whether future raises were built in to his contract. A $100,000 salary for an occasional reserve is probably more than the Union budget allows.

At just 27 years old, Daniel remains a player with terrific technical skills, but something was missing for the Union. His car came equipped without a gas pedal. He almost always made the conservative play instead of the attacking one. If someone can figure out how to flick on Daniel’s Attack switch, they could find themselves with a very good player.

Combined with the trade of McInerney, Daniel’s sudden descent shows that Hackworth has been fully emboldened to remake the Union into his ideal team. Don’t be surprised if it’s not his last roster move this season.


  1. Phil haralam says:

    So, does this set us up for a big-time striker purchase this summer?

  2. The fact this trade move Hopponet closer to getting more minutes is depressing.

    Hop sucks.

    • Wait you must be a BC fan haha. Are you telling me that you think we should have kept Jack? A player who can’t take on defenders, who cant create space for himself, a guy who has had opportunities to score and instead takes shots right at the keeper, never placing the ball or picking corners. Jack has had plenty of opportunity to develop and improve, being a starter on this team for some years. Hopponet has almost never started for this team and has been used as a sub to come on usually with 10 min. in a match to show what he can do. With that in mind, he’s done pretty well. He is extremely dangerous against the opposing defense. The fact is we haven’t seen enough of Hopponet to really make legit assumptions. We all have seen enough of Jack and he is inconsistent and easy to mark and can’t take on defenders. The trade made sense to me.

  3. I was surprised to see Daniel make the roster after last year’s performance and major regression as a player. I hope he catches on with a club/coach that can help him figure his issues out.

    Also, great headline.

  4. The thing that struck me immediately from the McInerney deal is: this is not just a one-off. There’s another shoe left to drop here. I think Casey was the Union’s MVP last season, and a really underrated player, but at his age, taking the pounding he takes, we cannot just rely on him. Wenger is promising but, let’s face it, an unproven prospect at this point.

    We need another target forward, and of course neither Le Toux nor Hoppenot nor Maidana nor Fernandes fill that role — these guys, and Danny Cruz, will all be wing forwards. (We’re sure stocked with wingers now, aren’t we???) I would bet there is one coming, though at what level I’m not sure — maybe a Steven Lenhart / Alan Gordon type MLS veteran.

    I gotta give Hackworth credit for leadership. The man knew what he wanted, and he seems dedicated to getting the pieces to make it happen. But his devotion to the 4-3-3 makes it all the more puzzling that he’d convert Wheeler into a CB. Wheeler really has all the tools to be a fine target forward, and showed flashes of ability last season. It looks like a great move — Hackworth clearly saw something there (and I wouldn’t get all Negadelphian about it after Wheeler’s one bad game). But even still, if he knew this was a player who’d fit the mold for a forward in his system, why re-train him as something else?

    • That’s a loaded question since it’s hard to take into account every variable but it looks like Hack probably saw Wheeler as a replacement for Parke or just as a good third CB on the roster, especially since we were so shallow there last season.

    • Yea I think it came down to the need for depth, and also his height. This team has always lacked height, and yes that would benefit just as much on the offensive side, but they’ve always struggled – and still do! – on set pieces, so if they were going to switch anyone might as well be the tall guy. Wheeler is not great at creating his own shot in or near the box, and he was never gonna scorch the net from 30 yards out, so I think his general skill set translated into what they deemed as an experiment. So far I have to admit they were right.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    I agree that this is part 1 of 2 when it comes to adding another striker. It has to be. Especially with the international roster spot being opened with Daniel’s release. And the international spot doesn’t have to be outside MLS either. I’m very curious to see where this goes.
    Also agree with the props to Hackworth. He knows what he wants and his acquiring the players to play it. Very much like Chip Kelly with the Eagles. If it doesn’t work, it will be difficult to deconstruct it and start over, but in soccer you have to have the right guys to play the system you want. A lot of credit to Hack for selling out to the 4-3-3 and getting the right guys to play it.

  6. TomHighway says:

    I think we were all surprised by how well Wheeler is doing in the back. (I personally thought he had very little potential up front.) That being said, we need another starter up top. I don’t know much about Hernadez or Ribeiro, but they are obviously not ready to start in the eyes of Hack. Hoppenot is proving he can’t start. Need some depth. Hopefully we don’t have injuries and can pick up someone in the summer. Daniel. Not much of a surprise. He really never quite fit in to any formation (any of the two, maybe 3) we employed. Good for him. Find a team that puts you out wide. Plus, it frees up an international spot, which could be HUGE for us in the future.

  7. Brek Shea may be interested in returning to MLS. Allocation money to Toronto FC for the top spot? Not a true striker per se but he’s an upgrade to everyone we have on the bench and several players in the starting XI.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      He’s more of a winger, and in my opinion not worth what he will want to be paid… especially after he just “killed it” (sarcasm) in Europe. He is terribly overrated.
      Jozy… Jozy… Jozy… HAHA!

      • River Schuylkill says:

        Would it even be possible to acquire Jozy on loan? Can EPL teams still loan players out, or is there a window that is now closed? Not saying there’s a chance, but maybe Mo can lure him over for a while instead of playing for Sunderland’s U-21’s.

  8. Hmmm your assessment and analogies sound similar to another player….Ah Carroll! but I don’t think he has a gas pedal at all. I don’t know what Hack sees in Carroll or what other people see in him either. He hasn’t given the Union any reason to keep him and he doesn’t fit the system at all either. Very frustrating…

  9. Hack says he’s playing and dedicated to a 4-3-3.

    But all I keep seeing is a striker alone on an island. Jack, Casey…

    • This was something I was thinking about. Casey was supposed to the Target striker, But Casey was playing everywhere but in the box to be a target. And if you have a target striker who is he gonna lay the ball off to? Fernandez? They are starting to gameplan for him now. And none of Hackworths flavors of the month has been able to withstand being gameplanned after their initial success.

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