Union gives Aaron Wheeler new role on defense

Philadelphia Union v Houston Dynamo Aaron Wheeler is valuable to the Union as a versatile player. Credit: Getty Images

Part of coach John Hackworth’s plan this offseason was to transform one of the many talented players on the Union’s young roster, Aaron Wheeler, into a center back — a position that Wheeler hadn’t played on the professional level before.

When starting center back Austin Berry went down with a hamstring injury a little more than two weeks ago, Hackworth called upon Wheeler to take his place in the starting lineup and the results have been very promising.

“Aaron is first and foremost a soccer player, and he can play any position,” said teammate Amobi Okugo. “Last year he did great as a forward and right now is filling in at center back and he is doing admirably.”

In a 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact last Saturday, Wheeler played a full 90 minutes of sound defense on the muddy field at PPL Park. His play got him a spot on the Week 4 MLS Team of the Week.

“I don’t want people to look at me as a converted forward,” said Wheeler. “I want people to judge me how they judge the other center backs in the league. I want to be judged as a center back because that’s the position that I am playing. I don’t need any soft critics. I am just going out there and trying to do things to the best of my ability.”

With Berry possibly returning to action as soon as this weekend, Hackworth is stuck with a decision to make. Will he ride the hot hand in Wheeler again, or will he insert Berry — the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year?

One thing’s for certain, Wheeler’s not going to let up an ounce of energy on the pitch.

“I don’t want to be known down the road as the guy who came in and played a couple of good games,” said Wheeler. “I want to be known as the guy who plays hard and stayed consistent through the season … I have so much more to show. I’m looking forward to taking that next step.”

The Union (1-1-2) head to Chicago (0-1-3) Saturday to take on the Fire. The game will air at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.

Berry nearing return to roster

Austin Berry could return to the starting lineup this weekend against his former team the Chicago Fire.

Berry was traded to the Union in February for an undisclosed amount of draft allocation money. Last season, Berry was one of just three MLS field players to play in every possible minute of every game (3,060). Berry injured his right hamstring on March 15 in a game against the New England Revolution.

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