Despite loss, Hackworth era shows positive signs

Philadelphia players feel "new energy in the locker room"

Hackworth first game

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

CHESTER, Pa. – For a team that had just lost another heartbreaker in a season full of them, the Philadelphia Union talked a lot about good energy and good feelings in the PPL Park locker room Saturday night.

It’s not a coincidence they said these things three days after John Hackworth replaced Peter Nowak as manager of the club.

While many Union players said they were shocked and sorry to hear about Nowak’s sudden exit, they decided the only thing to do was rally around the affable and popular Hackworth and start what they hope to be a successful new era of Union soccer.

OPTA Chalkboard: New-look Union put in stellar performance despite loss

That the new era began with a 1-0 loss to D.C. United was, in many ways, secondary to the fact they dominated the contest and played with renewed determination and vigor in Hackworth’s first game as manager.

“It’s exciting,” Union defender Sheanon Williams told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s new energy in the locker room and we’re ready to move forward. We know we have a lot of potential in this locker room. We can definitely get results. You could see it tonight. Even though we didn’t get three points, we sent a message to everyone else that we can play.”

The Union are now winless in their last six games but they can take solace in the fact that they controlled the run of play against the team that sits in first place in their conference.

In front of a hyped sellout crowd, the Union created a handful of dangerous scoring chances, while showcasing a sturdy defense that only truly bent on United’s set piece goal.

“Absolutely, our guy brought a lot of energy,” said Union goalie Zac MacMath, who made two saves. “And I think this is one of the best atmospheres that I’ve had at this park. The fans were there and the players were there. We’ve just got to do better to get the win.”

Things certainly could have been worse for the Union players, who had to quickly adjust to the club’s midweek coaching change and all of the drama that surrounded it. But in part because of how much they know and respect Hackworth – who’s been an assistant coach with the Union from day one – they decided that having a good attitude was paramount.

“This is a first time I’ve been a part of something like that but I thought the leadership in charge, with [Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz] and John and the entire staff made the transition as professional as possible,” veteran midfielder Brian Carroll said.

And Hackworth himself was happy with how his team came together under difficult circumstances, even if it was bitter that his first game in charge ended with a loss.

“What a great day all the way around,” Hackworth said. “The fans were fantastic; the players were awesome beforehand. It was a great night for the Philadelphia Union in a lot of ways.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com