Hackworth faces lineup shuffle for busy stretch

First test comes Saturday vs. Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium

Hackworth - close up

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CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union have hit perhaps the most grueling part of their schedule.

Fresh off two home wins this past week, the Union pack their suitcases for back-to-back road contests against Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, TCN) and the LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center on Wednesday.

They follow that up with five more games over the next two-and-a-half weeks, meaning that by July 21, they will have played nine times in a 27-day span. It’s a stretch that will test interim manager John Hackworth’s ability to field the best possible lineups while also ensuring his players aren’t overworked.

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“We’re going to have to manage minutes of guys really well,” Hackworth said. “We’ll have to rely on depth in our locker room. Guys will get opportunities to play and will be important pieces starting and coming off the bench. We’ll have to do an excellent job with the medical staff in regeneration and recovery and hopefully we can stay healthy.”

One problem for Hackworth is that he might not have a full team at his disposal for Saturday’s game against the Dynamo. The main area of concern is at right back. Sheanon Williams is doubtful with a broken toe while Raymon Gaddis will serve a one-game suspension for a late tackle on Sporting Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza last weekend.

And with new acquisition Bakary Soumare still working toward full fitness, the Union could be very thin defensively against the high-scoring Will Bruin and the rest of the Houston attack Saturday.

“I think we’ll be conservative with him,” Hackworth said of Soumare. “We’re playing really well right now. Amobi Okugo is turning out to be a fantastic center back and his consistency alone has been great. Baky has to come in and beat Amobi and Carlos [Valdés] for a job right now. But with nine games in 27 days, there’s an opportunity to spread minutes around.”

Before they peek ahead at the rest of their July slate – which includes a big US Open Cup semifinal matchup against Sporting Kansas City on July 11 – the Union (3-8-2) understand they first must first find a way to secure some difficult road points. That’s the only way they’ll be able to surge up the standings.

“We’re playing the two defending MLS Cup finalists and LA is the champion, so it can’t get harder in a five-day road swing,” Hackworth said. “It’s one trip and it will be a huge challenge. But we set goals for ourselves in blocks, and this block is important. We need results on the road.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.