Loss of Okugo a negative, but players stepping up to challenges all season remains a plus

With starting center back Amobi Okugo beginning a two-game suspension and Ray Gaddis and Keon Daniel questionable through injury, the Philadelphia Union starting XI is likely to look much different when the team takes on Montreal at PPL Park this Saturday (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets).

Let's go through the scenarios, starting with center back.

Assuming that Gaddis can't go, the technical staff could move Sheanon Williams inside to cover for Okugo at center back. It's a position Williams played under Peter Nowak, before he was immediately reinserted at right fullback when John Hackworth took over.

Another scenario is using forward Aaron Wheeler in central defense. The six-foot, four-inch striker has played center back for Harrisburg and also played 45 minutes against Stoke City in the same position.

Whomever ends up in the center half spot gets to keep an eye on Marco Di Vaio for 90 minutes.

"That's one scenario for sure, Sheanon over to center back," Hackworth told reporters at his weekly press conference. "Michael Lahoud, (Matt) Kassel, (Chris) Albright are other options to bring to the backline or Wheeler at center back and leaving the rest of the backline the same. Aaron's done a really good job in training the last few days, so right now that's one move. I wish I could tell you that Ray is back 100 percent and that was an option for us, but it doesn't look like that at this point."

Let's say for a minute that Williams comes inside to center back. Who covers for him at right back?

Hackworth mentioned a few options in the above quote.

Veteran Albright played the position during his best years with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Lahoud also played the role briefly under Robin Fraser at Chivas USA. He had primarily played right sided midfield and other positions under coaches Martin Vasquez and Preki. Kassel was used at RB in the first half of the Stoke friendly.

You've also got Michael Farfan, who filled in at right back against Portland in 2011. That was a unique scenario, with Jordan Harvey on red card suspension and Danny Califf coming down with illness. The backline that night was Farfan, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, and Gabriel Farfan.

Theoretically, you could also call up Jimmy McLaughlin, Don Anding, or Cristhian Hernandez to play fullback.

"Amobi's been so important to everything we're doing," Hackworth explained. "We'll have to have guys step up. The good thing about any of these situations, if you look at our whole season so far, any time we've had a guy that was out to injury, or a call up, or yellow cards or red cards -- guys that are coming on have stepped up. I think that's a positive sign for us. Amobi is important, but now it becomes an opportunity for someone else. Maybe Aaron Wheeler is the guy you'll be writing about next week because he had such a great game at center back."

The "Farfan to right back" scenario is not likely, but becomes even less so if Keon Daniel can't play against Montreal. Farfan is third on the central midfield depth chart and covered for Daniel while he was on Gold Cup duty.

"Michael Farfan would be an obvious (midfield) choice, (also) Kleberson, Leo Fernandes," Hackworth said. "We could go with two more defensive guys and bring back Lahoud in there, although clearly he's an option to play right back if we move Sheanon inside. We'll have to see over the next few days how things play out."

Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com


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