Play by Play Plus: Finding stride
Playing its third game in eight nights, the Philadelphia Union probably weren't sure how much energy they would have on Saturday against a New England Revolution side who had been idle for a week.
The club was dealing with an emotional controversial loss at Columbus, then a spirited midweek game against Chicago that was both mentally and physically draining.
On the plus side, the team is the youngest in Major League Soccer, so tired legs probably weren't that big of an issue. The fact that this was a home game was also in the Union's favor. If the home side ever needs a wakeup call, Union supporters seem to be able to transfer their energy to the playing field.
Unlike the previous three games where the offense was the team star, this was more of a defensive effort where one goal decided the game. It was 20-year-old Jack McInerney who would again decide the clubs fate. His goal off of a Keon Daniel free kick in the 73rd minute was all the team needed to secure back-to-back wins for the first time since July 4 and eight wins over Los Angeles and Toronto. For McInerney, now the top goal scorer on the team with seven, it capped off a very strong week, with goals in three consecutive games.
The young striker has scored all seven of his goals since the coaching change from Peter Nowak to John Hackworth. Even more impressive is that he has scored those seven in just 17 games with 15 as a starter. He has clearly benefitted from the confidence Hackworth has shown in him, and from the increased playing time.
Speaking of Hackworth, I thought his use of the bench Saturday was very effective. It can be a challenge going to your bench, to not just know who the right player is for a particular situation – but also to know the correct time.
When he brought on Antoine Hoppenot for Michael Lahoud, it changed the formation to a 4-4-2 and gave McInerney more help up top. Bringing in Roger Torres in the 71st minute for Gabriel Gomez brought in fresh legs and ideas into the game. Gomez had a strong game but may have been tiring. Gabriel had a strong second half against Chicago on Wednesday along with a goal to remember.
With the final sub, Hackworth replaced McInerney with the veteran Chris Albright. This was more about managing the game and closing it out. The 33-year-old Albright has battled through injuries this season but gave the club 12 good minutes in Chicago, and another nine on Saturday.
With three games left on the club schedule, the Union look to close out the 2012 campaign on a high note with road games at Houston and Sporting Kansas City, then the home finale against the New York Red Bulls.
For now, most of the team can enjoy some time off as MLS takes a break in this international window.
Three Union members won't have any break as Carlos Valdes (Colombia), Gabriel Gomez (Panama) and Keon Daniel (Trinidad and Tobago) are all headed out for international matches. Valdes and Gomez will be involved in World Cup qualifying, while Daniel's team is active in Gold Cup qualifying.
This is perhaps a bad time for a break with the Union winning three of their last four games, but after this last busy stretch, I’m sure everyone will appreciate a couple of days off.