Few players on the Union's roster generates as much consternation among observers of the team as Keon Daniel. The Trinidadian midfielder has never lived up to expectations at PPL Park, whether playing in the center of the park or on the left wing.
Now, as Major League Soccer's March 1 roster compliance deadline looms, it looks like Daniel's job is under real threat.
He has made just one appearance in the Union's three Disney Pro Soccer Classic games, playing 21 minutes in a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew. In the team's two other exhibitions against MLS teams, Daniel played 30 minutes against the New England Revolution and 45 minutes against the New York Red Bulls.
During John Hackworth's weekly conference call with reporters Thursday. I asked the Union's manager to address why Daniel hasn't played much so far this year. Hackworth asnwered:
There’s been a lot of competition for those spots. We think we’ve upgraded our midfield, and there has been a lot of competition in training for those positions. Right now he's behind those guys that are being featured. It doesn’t mean Keon has done anything wrong, it just means that his role on this team has changed from what it was last year.
You don't have to be much of a politician to see a message between the lines there. So I asked Hackworth whether Daniel could be left out when the Union trim their roster to 30 players at the end of the week. Hackworth answered:
It’s a good question, but it’s also a really hard question to put in the context of Keon. We are going to have to make some really tough decisions in the next two days. Some of those are already made for us because of contractual obligations, and our salary cap affects that equally as much.
Also, how many guys can we have on the senior roster versus the supplemental roster? All of these [factors] are going into those decisions, and one way or another we are going to have to release guys that are really valuable. We don’t want to lose those guys, but it’s part of the business.
It will be very interesting to see whether Daniel survives.
As for other subjects Hackworth discussed...
On what he has seen from newly-acquired defender Austin Berry so far, and how the trade with the Chicago Fire came together:
So far, what we’ve seen are the things we saw in him as a player [in Chicago], and then doing a lot of homework and [having] conversations with various coaches about the kind of person he is. It was good to see him get some minutes yesterday.* I think that’s something we’re going to have to put on a fast track to make sure we build the relationships [on the back line] right. But because of the kind of player he is, we think some of that is easy to accelerate.
[Fire manager] Frank Yallop and I had been discussing [a deal] for a few weeks. In the end it was an opportunity that was good for us, and Chicago feels it was good for them as well. It fit everything that we really wanted. We’re happy and feel fortunate that we now have him on our team.
* - Berry played 35 minutes in Thursday's scoreless draw with Toronto FC.
On Conor Casey's lack of playing time in preseason due to injury, and other injury updates:
Conor has been nursing a soft tissue injury [in one of his calves], We have held him out of training games, and that’s been a problem. We have a couple of other guys who are out as well. We clearly miss Conor right now, but our priority is to try to get him and other guys who are banged up healthy.
We still think there’s a lot left in the tank. Our job is to try to get him healthy. When he’s ready, it will be an easy integration for him to come back in the team. We just want to make sure we are trying to get him back at 100 percent, so we don’t risk having him out longer.
Michael lahoud Antoine hoppenot pedro ribeiro and richerd marques and Sheanon williams are the guys that are currently on our injury list.
We would be hopeful that we would have Conor back in time for the opener. We’ll see how that plays out. Lahoud and Antoine are doing really well, we should have them available no problem. Pedro might be a week or two behind that. Richie Marquez has a knee injury which we need to maybe give a little more time. Sheanon is getting a MRI to figure out exactly how long he’ll be out.
On whether he thinks the team will be truly "ready" for the season to start on March 8 in Portland:
I think we had a good plan going into preseason. We knew eit was going to be difficult with a shortened preseason, which I think all the clubs and coaches are having a hard time with. The league is starting earlier than it has ever started. You especially have the impact of climate conditions in the northeast that are going to affect all the teams up there. In the big picture, yeah, we have a ways to go before I think we’re going to be ready. The hard part is knowing how far away that is.
I feel we‘ve made some real progress, and at the same time, you’re never really satisfied with where you are.
On the goalkeeping competition between incumbent Zac MacMath and rookie challenger Andre Blake:
Zac is still our number one. He has performed very well in games, he has performed very well in training. Because of his experience at this level, Zac does a lot of those little things better.