For the first time since 2009, the New England Revolution are heading into their second match of the MLS regular season with an opening-day win under their belts after this past Saturday's victory in Chicago. They'll be taking on the Philadelphia Union during MLS Rivalry Week, and though the two clubs are not really rivals, it will hardly be an easy task. Especially when the Revs have never won at PPL Park.
For today's Q&A, we caught up with Scott Kessler of The Brotherly Game, SB Nation's Union blog. Once posted, you can find my answers to his questions over there, and feel free to get the "rivalry" fires going with some good-natured ribbing on their comment threads.
TBM: Sebastien Le Toux has been back two games and he's already got a goal and an assist. How immense was it for the Union to get their leading scorer back after last year's debacle? Was it like he never left?
SK: I have to say that it's actually kind of sad that it feels like he never left. Though Le Toux scored 25 goals in his first stint with the Union, the offenses that he existed in for two years were single minded and very limited. There were few headed goals, even fewer goals off of set pieces and the tactical strategy for the offense was almost always a long ball over the top of the defense to Le Toux.
The acquisition of Le Toux helped the team to avoid more potential public relation nightmares, a much needed move for a team that has put itself into a corner in that regard, but it didn't particularly help the team on the field. Le Toux failed to give the Union a 2-0 lead against Sporting Kansas City, despite having a simple one-on-one with plenty of space and time against Jimmy Nielsen, dragging his shot wide left of the goal.
When he started up top with Jack McInerney versus the Colorado Rapids, neither striker was able to produce a performance of any value to the Union. It took a knock on Le Toux to take him out of the game for Antoine Hoppenot, who eventually sent an assist to McInerney on his game winning goal.
Conor Casey was the important addition this off season and yet it's Le Toux that everyone is interested in, perhaps because a lot of people subconsciously think of Hackworth as just Nowak-lite when it comes to game tactics.
TBM: John Hackworth got to keep the reins after dealing with last year's atrocious season. Two games in, Philly is 1-1-0 with three goals scored and four conceded, which isn't really a terrible look all things considered. How do you feel about Hackworth's ability to manage this team at a high level in 2013?
SK: I don't. I've been called overly negative for years now when it comes to the Union, but I've often been proven right in the end (that is one huge reference to the albatross that was the Nowak era).
Hackworth is the soccer equivalent of former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid. He's fantastic with the players, pretty good at management of assets but a terrible in game decision maker. The first half seems to be his forte, with no need to react to the opponent much because both sides head out with a mostly scripted take on play that was developed throughout the week leading up to the game. Then once the second half kicks off, Hackworth gets left in the dust.
The Rapids game wasn't his doing, it was a stroke of genius by two players who had never played well together (Hoppenot and McInerney) before that game.
Add into the equation the fact that his substitution choices look very much like Nowak's own and my feeling is that the Union got a friendly version of Nowak, sans the behind the scenes troubles. It's not really an upgrade, no matter how likable Hackworth is to people.
TBM: The average age of the 14 Union players who made appearances in Commerce City this past weekend was 24.5. That's a pretty young squad, with only Jeff Parke and Brian Carroll in their third decades. Do you think youth and inexperience will be a problem for the Union, or a strength? Is it something the Revs might be able to exploit?
SK: If I'm not mistaken, that lineup was still older than most of the lineups the Union put on the field in 2012. You have to look at the players on the field that made up that lineup (except for Parke and Carroll, who are veterans as you've pointed out), because there's a lot to read into beyond the 24.5 years of age average:
Zac MacMath (21): third season, second as a starter (goalkeeper). He's been shaky for some time now, so perhaps the Revolution can expose him and his youth.
Raymon Gaddis (23): second season, first as a starter (right back/left back): this would add to his handful of games at left back, ripe for exploit despite his immense speed.
Amobi Okugo (22): fourth season, second as a starter (center back/central defensive midfielder): he's been impressive out of the back, but his natural tendency to push forward to join the attack leaves room for opposing teams to exploit his midfielder mind.
Sheanon Williams (22): fourth season, fourth as a starter (right back): the franchise's career leader in games played and minutes played. Youth isn't a problem for him.
Gabriel Farfan (24): third season (left back/left midfielder): he's been dropped as a starter at left back and only started the season opener at left midfielder before being dropped as a starter against the Rapids.
Michael Farfan (24): third season, third as a starter (right midfielder/central attacking midfielder): the star attraction to the Philadelphia offense since Freddy Adu is persona non grata. He's not one to be exploited, but rather he's the one who typically does the exploiting.
Keon Daniel (26): third season (left midfielder/attacking midfielder): he's been long played out of position, but Hackworth finally said that he's better as an attacking midfielder, where he played prior to joining the Union. Daniel has been a professional in and out of the United States since 2006.
Jack McInerney (21): fourth season (striker): he's tied with Okugo as the longest-tenured player on the Union. He doesn't typically get hot-headed, but he does disappear from games.
Sebastien Le Toux (29): third season, third as a starter (striker): scores goals, hustles and is supposedly a leader in the locker room. He does, however, get hot headed on the field and on occasion pushes the boundaries of dissent toward a referee.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
SK: I honestly have no one for this answer. The only real options are Roger Torres, McInerney, Marfan, Garfan and Gaddis, but two or three of them will probably start and everyone in the league knows about Torres at this point. Philadelphia is hardly unpredictable this year.
TBM: Let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
SK: MacMath / (r-l) Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis / Carroll, Garfan, Daniel, Marfan / Casey, Le Toux
2-1 Union. They haven't lost to the Revolution yet and I don't see that ending this game at PPL Park.