Season Review: Austin Berry – What went wrong?

Photo: Earl Gardner

When Jeff Parke was traded to D.C. United for Ethan White and allocation money on January 14, the last puzzle piece of the Union offseason was to find a new center back partner for Amobi Okugo.

So it seemed like a slam dunk when, just six weeks later, the technical staff picked up 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry from Chicago for a mere $100,000.

Fire fans were wondering why the hell Frank Yallop rated the trio of Bakary Soumare, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Patrick Ianni over a 6-2, 25-year-old with early career success and undeniable upside.

Some of us were wondering the same thing.

There wasn’t much time for Berry to gel with Okugo. The Ohio native joined in late February and had about 135 minutes of preseason game time to play together with the entire Union backline before the March 8th season opener in Portland. Whether he was ready or not, Berry was handed the starting job.

Then it all went bad.

A promising start

We all watched that game against the Timbers and thought to ourselves, “Hmm … maybe this team will be pretty good this year.” Vincent Nogueira was slinging the ball around. Cristian Maidana looked good. Maurice Edu looked good. Berry and Okugo were solid.

The defense limited Portland to two shots on target, blocked eight other shots, and only conceded five fouls in the process. Even with Fabinho deputizing for the injured Sheanon Williams, the Union back line was incredibly effective on its way to shutting out the Timbers on the road in the season opener.

One mental letdown and a Brian Carroll gaffe denied the club a clean sheet, so John Hackworth’s team returned home with one point instead of three.

Berry was in the starting lineup for the home opener against New England, and the future Eastern Conference champions were mostly impotent going forward. The Revs mustered just three shots on goal and eight crosses. Philadelphia limited open-play crosses to the single digits.

But he left the game in the second half with a hamstring injury, and that set the tone for the rest of his season.

Wheeler at center back 

Austin Berry lost the starting job less than one month after it was given to him.

Converted forward Aaron Wheeler, who played center back during the preseason, immediately slotted in on the back line and proceeded to start the next three games against Columbus, Montreal, and Chicago.

At that point, the Union back line looked like this:

LB – Ray Gaddis (actually a right back)

CB – Aaron Wheeler (actually a striker)

CB – Amobi Okugo (actually a midfielder)

RB – Sheanon Williams (actually a right back)

Hackworth had three out-of-position players on his backline, but Wheeler played decently enough and even won “Team of the Week” honors for his performance against the Impact.

Berry was out of the picture temporarily, and Hackworth said ahead of the week five trip to Chicago: “Right now, we’re deep there (at center back). Coming back off injury, he has to make sure and prove through training that he’s the best selection.”

Back in the saddle, sort of

Berry was thrown back into the starting lineup against a tough Real Salt Lake club, and he had a very poor game in that 2-2 draw.

He conceded a penalty just four minutes into the match, taking down Olmes Garcia in a challenge that was clearly inside the box.

In the 85th minute, he fluffed a challenge on Javier Morales that ultimately led to a Kyle Beckerman goal that earned RSL a point at PPL Park.

Berry played the full 90 minutes, but Hackworth benched him for the next four games and put Aaron Wheeler back into central defense. The club lost three of those four, probably due more to the lack of offense than any sort of defensive issues.

Still, Berry was on the outside looking in.

austin berry

A couple of poor performances, compounded with injury and illness, made 2014 a forgettable season for the 2012 Rookie of the Year

The last action

Berry worked his way into the starting XI for one final time in May, starting in three games against D.C. United, Kansas City, and New England. He was part of the resilient Union team that shocked Sporting on the road, then shipped five goals at home to New England just three days later. Berry suffered a high ankle sprain in that loss, then dealt with a rib injury and a bout of stomach flu and found himself sidelined for most of the summer.

Things became so desperate that Hackworth benched Wheeler for Sheanon Williams for the next three games. The Union right back moved into central defense with Okugo, while Fabinho came in at left back and Ray Gaddis slid over to the right. That lineup was crushed 4-1 by Los Angeles, then won 3-0 against Chivas USA before shipping three more goals in a home draw with Vancouver.

Hackworth was sacked shortly after, but he admitted in early June that the Wheeler experiment was over.

He told reporters, “It’s 100 percent our responsibility. I think any time you’re looking for solutions, you’re going to try things. And look, I don’t think it’s fair to Aaron to have this conversation around whether he’s going to be a center back or a forward. He is a good pro. He’s played some really valuable minutes for this club this year.”

Berry didn’t play a single minute for Jim Curtin, not even in the U.S. Open Cup. That was mostly due to the promotion of Ethan White and the shuffle that saw Maurice Edu at center back. When Carlos Valdes returned from San Lorenzo, that pretty much brought Berry’s season to a close.

It’s safe to say that Berry can just scrap this year entirely and see what 2015 has in store. No one really knows if he’s in Jim Curtin’s plans or not, but it will still be interesting to see how a healthy Berry rebounds from a poor season that included a lot of bad luck.


  1. The Austin Berry Inadequacy, as I like to refer to it, is a tough pill to swallow and one that has created a certain wariness in me about the ability to get things right for this club. By all accounts this was a good move– that for whatever ‘true reason’ didn’t/hasn’t work(ed) out and makes me wonder if there is a glitch in the universe in Chester or a Bermuda Triangle over the Delaware.
    Reading over the circus that was the defense for this team is a lesson in futility. Valdez, White and Berry sound like a solid solid core of central defenders. We can argue at length over who starts and when and who is the ‘first team’ pair. Let’s just have some flipping stability please. For once, mid-term stability.
    Seems to me Austin Berry would be a favorite of Jim Curtin. Young guy he can mold in his image- played with a bit of snarl. I still cannot grasp Aaron Wheeler in favor of Berry – truly. Cannot grasp. But that was then, right….
    or like so so so so so so……so much at Union Headquarters, your GUESS, is a good as mine
    and until proven otherwise- it looks to me like, Guessing Game.

    • oh, and if anyone argues me at anytime that Aaron Wheeler played a good CB…… your on.

      • dude, I still don’t understand why we don’t put pro ballers in the positions that they were raised in………..I’ve never heard of what the Union does at this level and with the frequency they do it. Wheeler, Okugo, Edu, Williams/Gaddis, Nogs……all not in their natural roles. It seems we treat the squad like a high school team! I still think Berry could be a piece to this puzzle too. If Berry, Valdes, and White are here next year……theres your CB core. That way Nogs and Edu can play in their natural CDM roles…….thoughts? I understand as Maurice gets older why you would consider the CB shift. But I still think Nogs and Edu give you a better CDM pairing thats better than most sides in the MLS……with the exception of maybe RSL, Seattle, and NE. Thoughts?

      • I agree with this. CBs: Berry, Valdez, White. CDMs: Nog, Edu, BC(maybe as a cheap back up).
        If you start with that, you really only need to spend your time looking for a striker and a LB.
        Why create a position of need?

      • exactly…….+1…..and its not like we have the ducketts for much else anyway!

      • Yes if if if… Berry works out and Valdez stays and returns to form it would give the team so many workable options. Hopefully the weird karma , poor coaching and management are will be at thing of the past. We deserve it!

      • The Alchemists of the Union coaching staff. Mortar and Pestal, add heat as catalyst and what do you get…..
        A mess is what.

      • Or Andrew Wenger as winger. though he seems to be adjusting to the role.

      • +1

      • …on the Wheeler comment

      • I’ll bite!

        (Consider this a bit of devil’s advocate, because you’re a good commenter and I’m curious to hear you elaborate on this.)

        Wheeler was excellent in the air. He bodied up guys well. He dove into tackles strongly. He had a few good games. He even made team of the week once, and he kinda (borderline) deserved it. He showed definite potential for the position.

        You’re up, Joel. 🙂

      • He also karate kicked a forward in the face to give up a game losing PK

      • that was hysterical in retrospect……..

      • Agreed on all counts Dan (because central defense in general was a mess), however too often he got turned around like the Tilt a Whirl was a half step slow in reading how the play was developing and would miss the late run.
        I give the guy credit for the absolutely untenable situation he was put into. I’m a natural LB- played it my whole life and a pretty good there. Throw me in as a center-mid or striker and my equilibrium gets all torqued up- it is hard to adjust to the way the game comes at me.
        That’s how I saw Aaron. Off balance. Keep putting him on the ride and maybe he levels out and improves. For my part, I take Austin Berry.

      • yup…..reading the play developing and pace…..both essential for a CB…..and he didn’t have enough of either. He was put in a tough spot….

      • Joel – do you think that maybe you can sign for the Union this season? They still don’t have a natural left back. Oh, Jordan Harvey, how I miss thee…

      • Only if I got my own SoB Chant.
        and yes I agree, how nice it would be to have that entrenched guy holding the fort every week on the left side.

  2. old soccer coach says:

    Richie Marquez, if he survives the expansion draft, may be competing in the mix for a CB slot as well. I would expect the Union might lose one of Berry, White, or Marquez in that draft.

    • Could we see the Union protect Marquez, and leave both Berry and White unprotected? If one gets picked, they can pull back the other one.

  3. That’s a great idea, but ONLY IF THE DUMB UNION COACHES PLAY MARQUEZ. I’m so tired of Pfeffer sitting on the bench for the Union but playing for the US. It doesn’t make any sense. Hey, the Union need a target striker and a left back. Got any of those coming through the development system? No? THEN FIRE SACK.

    • Good point Ben- Pfeffer plays for national team at U20 so I can easily see why Union have been slow to bring him along. Really he is just a boy. That said my expectation/hope is for him to be a best 18 regularly if that is the JC litmus and to begin seeing quality time whether as a sub or starts in early Open Cup games.
      What’s the point otherwise of having him. He has quality. At times looked quite comfortable on the field and I really really like his use of space and quick decision making. He has incisive passing and supple touch as well. Against Vancouver he played his age – now he’s older and more wily and hopefully more comfortable.

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