The Final Whistle by Union manager John Hackworth
As nice as it was being in the sunny warmth of Florida, I have to echo Led Zepplin and say how good it is to “Bring It On Home.”
What Do You Stand For – with the Season Opener this Saturday, I wanted to express what this means to us as a team, coaching staff and an organization before our busy season begins.
As the head coach of this team, I think we stand for the principles that this club was founded upon. When I think back to how this club came to be, I think about how the Philadelphia Union were birthed from the passion, determination and loyalty of the Philadelphia Union fans. I remember how special it was that a group of fans initiated the idea for there to be an MLS franchise in this city. So when I consider what we stand for, it’s easy to look back to why we even exist: You.
The history of this city and the character of its people – that’s who we stand for and who we want to represent. This is your team. We are lucky to be a part of it. More than anything, we want to perform on the field for you.
Having said that, I also wanted to share some of what has been going on with us during the past few weeks…
Although a three-week trip down to the Sunshine State can seem like a vacation more than work, I can assure you it couldn’t feel any more like a business trip. To be on the road for three weeks means you leave family, friends and everything that is “normal” in your life behind. In addition to a demanding schedule – practicing twice a day and, at one point, playing three games in four days - it means that, over and over, you’re eating the same kind of meals, seeing the same people, having the same conversations and telling the same jokes. Don’t get me wrong, I like our guys and our team, but there’s only so many Rob Vartughian pranks you can take before you are ready to come home.
Regarding the training itself, I’ve said this word a lot, but what we’re doing here is periodization. In simple terms, that word means we’re trying to plan how to get to an endpoint that is much improved from where we started. That’s something I feel like we’re accomplishing. Our soccer is improving, we are better with the ball, we have a better understanding of our tactics, we are stronger, we are fitter – much fitter. To steal a saying from a friend of mine, we are “singing off the same tune sheet” and that is half the battle.
During this process of periodization, we’ve been able to evaluate our players in training and games, which highlights some really tough decisions we have to make. The reality was that we only had a couple of roster spots available, which meant that we had to let go of some guys that we really liked and thought could potentially make really good professionals. Add in the fact that Freddy still occupies a spot on our roster, and that means that there is one less player to put on it. While we continue to work to correct that situation and don’t want to keep harping on it, I think it is important for you to fully understand the parameters under which we’re working. Long story short, we went into this preseason knowing that we would have to make some tough choices and let some guys go who we would want to be here otherwise.
The good news is that with the roster we do have, there is a very good core of young players. These are guys that played well last year in a very difficult season of transition. They have grown up and improved in a lot of ways, and it should be pretty exciting to watch them this year. You have MacMath, Okugo, Jack and Antoine. Add in other slightly older guys like Gaddis, Sheanon and even the Farfans (who are only 24) and I think that’s a good group. Then, you add some veteran experience, under the leadership of BC and Albright, and you have a high-quality roster. You know what to expect from Seba, so it’s exciting to have him back. At the same time, there’s Parke, who not only gets what our club is about but, as a Philadelphia-area native, also understands what our fan base expects. I think you will also see a very different Baky– a healthy one, a motivated one, and even a nasty one. And last but not least, Conor brings attacking qualities to our team that we did not have previously.
With all of that considered, I think that we’re a more balanced team than last year. We are not a one-trick pony, so to speak. We can probably hurt our opponent in a number of different ways. Part of that is being able to line up in various tactical arrangements that we hope to take advantage of based on who we’re playing. In a characteristic that I feel is true to this city, we want to dictate the rhythm of the game. We want to take it to our opponents and put them on their heels.
Lastly, to our supporters who joined us in Florida for preseason, I would like to say how much it means to the staff, players and our organization that we have a group of fans that care as deeply as you do, willing to spend your own money to travel a great distance and spend some time to watch us, share your stories and show your passion. It’s fantastic. It adds a lot of meaning to a very hard preseason. It makes us appreciate and be that much more thankful for the things we’ve been blessed to do as professional athletes, coaches and staff.
On Saturday, we play an extremely tough opponent. But regardless of who we play, we want to show you what we stand for on the field. We will be playing for you. We want to represent our fan base, our city and our organization.
And when we do, we want PPL Park to be rocking.
Jungite Aut Perite