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MLS Features: Hackworth's seat may be warming with Union

<p>Philadelphia fans are a demanding bunch. They expect hard work, and results.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Philadelphia fans are a demanding bunch. They expect hard work, and results.

Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth may be finding this out the hard way early in the 2014 Major League Soccer season.

After a hugely successful offseason which saw the club dramatically improve its main weakness from last season -- the midfield -- by bringing in a pair of Designated Players in Cristian Maidana and U.S. international Maurice Edu as well as French playmaker Vincent Nogueira, it's been a major struggle for the Union to produce positive results this season.

In addition to shoring up the middle of the park, the Union also used the No. 1 overall draft selection on goalkeeper Andre Blake and traded for former MLS Rookie of the Year defender Austin Berry.

Yet after Saturday's 1-0 loss to the previously winless Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo, the Union have just one victory and eight points through nine games, placing them eighth in the Eastern Conference.

So considering their seemingly successful overhaul of the roster, why have wins been so difficult to come by?

Two reasons: Lineup selection and poor execution in the final third.

From a statistics point of view, the Union have played well in most of their matches, keeping much of the possession, but the offense is anemic. They have been shut out in each of their last two matches and have scored just nine goals this season.

Oh, let's not forget that pesky seven-match winless run, either.

Against Montreal in sloppy conditions Saturday, Philadelphia managed five shots on target and kept more than 60 percent of the ball, but it isn't how much of the ball you have, it's what you do with it, and for large chunks of the season the Union haven't done enough with the ball.

Montreal capitalized on one of the few chances it had for the only goal of the match in the 14th minute when a laser shot from Patrice Bernier wasn't handled by Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who spilled the rebound in front of goal which allowed Felipe Martins to pop home the rebound.

"It's frustrating because we only gave them a couple of opportunities in that first half and they capitalized on one of them," Hackworth said. "And then we do a lot of good things but don't capitalize in the most important moments of the game. Now we walk away frustrated and lose a game like that 1-0."

In addition to not creating enough in the final third, some of the lineup choices the team has made could at best be classified as questionable.

When Berry was acquired by Philadelphia during the preseason, he was tabbed to slot in next to Amobi Okugo in central defense to replace the departed Jeff Parke.

He started the first two games of the season and played well, but suffered a hamstring injury against the New England Revolution on March 15.

He missed three matches and was replaced in the starting 11 by forward-turned- defender Aaron Wheeler. Wheeler played well in Berry's stead, but Berry returned to the lineup against Real Salt Lake on April 12.

He didn't play particularly well and gave away a penalty in the sixth minute of a game which the Union would draw, 2-2, at PPL Park.

Berry hasn't seen the field since then, seemingly having been usurped for the starting spot by Wheeler.

For someone who has only been on the back line for a short time, Wheeler has done well, but Berry is clearly the better man for the job.

And then there's the trade of Union original Jack McInerney to Montreal for local lad Andrew Wenger.

McInerney had a huge first half of the season last year, scoring 10 goals in his first 14 games, but he went cold down the stretch and netted just two the rest of the way.

For Wenger, a No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012, it's been a struggle to find consistent minutes behind veteran striker Marco Di Vaio.

A change of scenery will probably benefit both parties.

It'll take a few years to see which side ultimately got the better of this deal, but Hackworth liked Wenger's versatility to play at the top of his 4-3-3 formation rather than McInerney's penchant for poaching goals.

"Andrew is a young and talented attacking player who we think is a good fit with our style of play," Hackworth said. "Jack was an important member of our squad over the past four years, but the reality is our team has evolved and this deal puts our team in a better overall position long-term. Andrew is a Pennsylvania native that we are familiar with from his time as a youth and Reading United player and he will be a great addition to our team as both a person and a player going forward."

Whatever the reason for the trade, Wenger will need to capitalize on his opportunity for a clean slate if the Union are to have a successful season.

Last season, midfield was the obvious weakness on this team, but with Maidana, Edu and Nogueira in the fold, that has been successfully remedied.

Hackworth needs to put his best 11 players on the field every week for the Union to capitalize on their significant level of talent and be successful.

If he doesn't, he may feel his seat on the touchline at PPL Park becoming very hot, very quickly.

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