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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stoke City 2-0 Union: Post-match observations

I think we’ve let enough air into the Brek Shea-Matt Kassel kerfuffle, at least until the results of the scan on Shea’s knee due for Wednesday come back. While Shea’s unfortunate (and hopefully not too serious) injury is the most notable takeaway from Stoke City’s 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union Tuesday, a few more thoughts.

- In translating success in the English Premier League to MLS, one thing quite literally stands out between the Union and the Potters: Height. The Union had 20 outfield players see the field Tuesday, nine of which were six feet or taller (and that includes borderline 6-footers Kassel and Leo Fernandes). Of Stoke’s 19 outfield players, 14 were six feet or taller. Only three of the Union’s 10 starters (barely-theres Kassel and Fernandes and 6-4 Aaron Wheeler) hit that threshold, while only three of the Stoke starters were under six feet. Look at the physicality of Stoke’s central defenders (Robert Huth at 6-3, 194 pounds and Ryan Shawcross 6-3, 168) and forwards (Cameron Jerome 6-1, 187; Kenwyne Jones 6-2, 187; Peter Crouch 6-7, 165). Perhaps the most daunting juxtaposition is between central midfielders. Stoke’s contingent includes 6-3, 165-pound Steven N’Zonzi and 6-1, 182-pound Charlie Adam compared to Michael Lahoud (5-9, 162) and Brian Carroll (5-10, 155). The Union have struggled this season against bigger, more physical teams (see Los Angeles and Dallas), and while manager John Hackworth didn’t see many lessons to be taken from Tuesday, he at least had some fun joking about the Union’s vertical challenges. “You can’t,” Hackworth said of the prospect of matching up height-wise. “(Chris) Albright said, ‘coach, who are we going to match up with?’ And I said, ‘You match up with the 6-7 guy, and Kassel, you match up with the 6-6 guy and then just go down the line from there.’ We didn’t know what they would roll out either, so it was impossible.”

- Hackworth made it clear in the post-match press conference that while he had planned wholesale, halftime changes, “I sent a message at halftime without making a swap.” Indeed, knowing that the second-team contingent that started would only get 45 minutes to show their stuff, it’s hard not to view the bench players’ performance as disappointing. On both goals, right back Kassel lost the crosser (Marc Muniesa on the first goal, Michael Kightly on the second) while left back Fabinho was unable to mark the goalscorer (Kightly then Shea). Kleberson, short of a couple of attempts from distance, didn’t show much. Ditto Lahoud. Roger Torres is good on the ball but pretty pedestrian the other 96 percent of the game (perhaps why he’s fallen so far down the pecking order). Fernandes had a couple of decent moves toward goal, but he’s not the kind of guy to carry a team creatively. Don Anding was fairly anonymous, the only memorable moment a shot near the edge of the six-yard box from a sharp angle that he almost blasted out for a throw-in. About the only positive reviews – and Hackworth said as much afterward – were for Antoine Hoppenot, who showed no temerity at running at Huth and Shawcross, drawing several fouls in dangerous areas. Perhaps the most damning evidence of their lack of production was this fact: The Union drew four corners in the first half, and on two of them, the better scoring chance came for Stoke on the counterattack as the Union were slow to retreat back to cover. For a team that has had one of the most stable starting XIs in MLS, the second unit didn’t show much Tuesday to change that.

- Hackworth has said time and again that he is OK with his team’s defensive depth. That’s understandable, given that it’s yet to be seriously tested in MLS. But on a night like Tuesday, you see the lack of depth in clear focus. The fact that the Union can’t field a back four with more than two recognized defenders is a bit embarrassing (and that’s not even factoring in the fact that Fabinho has yet to be used as a defender in MLS). Kassel isn’t a right back, and that showed in more than just the Shea tackle. Wheeler is apparently only a striker in MLS, yet his production doesn’t mean much in the ongoing center back experiment. There seems to be a groundswell movement among Union fans to have Amobi Okugo back in the midfield, but there’s no chance of that as long as the defense is this thin.

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