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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Compliments for Kassel: Hackworth praises defender's stand-in performacne

Yet again, this appears to be another week of tactical change for the Philadelphia Union. Facing a daunting task in needing to get a result in Montreal, manager John Hackworth is not only facing the prospect of reintroducing two players in Sheanon Williams and Fabinho back from suspension. He’s also having to cope with the loss of Michael Farfan to a yellow-card ban just as his form has improved, and the likely absences of Sebastien Le Toux (foot) and Michael Lahoud (ankle).

If Hackworth is looking for a reason to hope amid the changes, perhaps nothing provides more reassurance than the play of Matt Kassel last week against D.C. United.

Four days later, at his weekly press conference Wednesday, Hackworth was still extolling the virtues of Kassel, inasmuch as they served as an example for others to emulate this week.

“Matt Kassel’s performance in DC is probably going to go under the radar screen a little bit, but he deserves a ton of credit because he was so important to us battling back in that game,” Hackworth said. “He played at right back in the first half. He played kind of a hybrid left back/left midfield position in the second half. He got us to a point in the game where we could put Jack on the field and get a result. Guys like Matt and other guys are really valuable, and it’s just good to see that those guys are taking their opportunities at this time. We might have the same situation this weekend.”

Indeed, Kassel’s performance was important, if understated, in the Union salvaging a draw Saturday. It was in the game’s first minutes that Le Toux tweaked his foot injury, straining to make a clearance from a right-back position he was playing for the first time in his Union career. That’s when Kassel started warming up, and by the 16th minute the pain was too much for Le Toux to continue.
Kassel performed ably at a position he’s not used to – he’s primarily a midfielder, though he’s shuttled around plenty for the Union this year. He was able to repel the attacks of Chris Pontius down the wing, and the goal that D.C. got came from the opposite winger, Nick DeLeon.
“It’s never easy going in 10 minutes into the game, obviously not with a full warmup or anything like that,” Kassel said Saturday at RFK Stadium. “But we’re professional athletes. That’s our job and we’ve got to be ready when your name’s called. Coach called my name, and I think stepped up to the task pretty well and he seems to be happy with the way I played.”

At halftime, trying to spark a sputtering offense with the introduction of speedy forward Antoine Hoppenot for midfielder Keon Daniel after a ghostly first half, Kassel changed positions. He moved from the right to the left wing and played the hybrid role Hackworth described (think of the outside midfielders in a 3-5-2, only on just one side for an imbalanced formation that really defies simple explanation). When it came time for the Union to go full bore for an equalizer, it was Kassel who was withdrawn for eventual goal scorer Jack McInerney in the 73rd minute.

To the Union’s credit, the need for a player such as Kassel, with two defenders out and no recognized defenders waiting in the wings, was communicated early.

“I knew I was really the only defensive cover that we had,” Kassel said. “It was me or, I don’t even know who else would be called. But I was happy to do the job. At the end of the day, it’s OK that we got out of here with a point.”

The tone in Hackworth’s presser Wednesday indicated that he was looking for someone else to step up this week, with spots in the midfield up for grabs. Someone, perhaps, like Kassel.

“I think we were fortunate earlier in the year that we were pretty consistent with the lineups that we were putting out and not having to change very much,” Hackworth said. “As you get later into the year, normally there’s lots of injuries that occur, you have yellow-card accumulations you deal with, some suspensions. I think we’re a little bit fortunate that we didn’t have to deal with some of these issues earlier in the year. The good news is that guys who are training hard every day are contributing.”

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December 23, 2013 at 4:23 AM 

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