The Final Whistle with John Hackworth

The latest letter from the Union manager to you, our supporters

Dear Supporters,

Here we are three games into the season, sitting with six points and in second place in the Eastern Conference standings. Considering everything that has happened (10 inches of Rocky Mountain snow and a not-so-pleasant hailstorm at PPL included), that’s not a bad place to be right now.

What Do You Stand For – as I mentioned earlier in the year, as a team, coaching staff and an organization, We Stand For You.   This past Saturday, when you couldn’t feel your toes, your fingers and every layer of clothing was soaked to the bone, you stood for us. I want you to know how much it means to me and to every guy in the locker room that you spent your Saturday getting pelted with various forms of precipitation to support us. Thank you.

Here’s a little glimpse into the irony of the sport we play:

We lost our home opener while playing some of the best soccer we are capable of playing (well, approx 70 min of it). The next week, we went to one of the hardest places to compete on the road and frankly, played “ugly,” but did something no other team in this league has ever accomplished: we beat Colorado in their home opener. While “ugly” means that our stats for the game weren’t great, we took care of the stat that matters the most – we scored more goals and walked out with a victory. Not only that, but we came back home and beat New England 1-0, scoring in the latter part of the game and then holding on, despite not closing the game out the way we would have wanted to.

Despite the funny nature of this game we love, the point I want to make is that it is really important to win those types of games. You aren’t always going to play your best soccer game in and game out, so winning like that takes what I would call Philly toughness. Until a team experiences that, there’s nothing that a coach or a player can do to replicate it. Those kinds of wins, especially early in the season, give you so much belief that you can do it the next time around.

Another reason why Saturday was so important is that it was our first home win of the year. In front of the fans who give so much to our club, we want to honor your level of commitment, passion and character and continue to make PPL Park one of the toughest places to play in the MLS.

Overall, while it is good that we’ve won two games under some difficult circumstances, we know we still can and must improve if we’re going to continue to get results.

I also wanted to mention some of the individual performances that have helped us get these kinds of results.

Suffice it to say, Jack has come through in the clutch when it mattered. Getting two game winners in back-to-back weeks is huge. The fact that Sebastien has two assists off of corner kicks in the past two games is a big step forward for us, as well.  As I said after the game against New England, if you would have asked me at the beginning of preseason if I thought Sebastien Le Toux would be taking our corners, I would have flat-out told you there was no way. But we practiced it a lot in preseason and he earned the right to take them through his consistent and dangerous service. Keon and Michael have complemented each other really well in the midfield. Even though our entire midfield has room to improve, the ‘yin and yang’ between those two has really allowed the team to be successful when we haven’t necessarily played our best possession soccer. Selecting Amobi at center back has probably been our most difficult decision because Baky has played very well, but these are the types of decisions I referenced earlier in the year. And in the back line, Jeff and Amobi have been forming a really good partnership. Lastly, I give credit to Danny Cruz for taking one on the chin, almost quite literally, before Lahoud came in and performed more than admirably out wide right. Laheezy (as he is affectionately known in our locker room) does so many little things well, but the best thing we saw on Saturday from him is that he had two great shots – one that barely missed in the first half and another where he takes a guy on inside the 18, creates a shot and then forces the keeper to make a tough save that trickles over the top of the net.  This is something we need to see more of from everyone.

On a whole, the defensive unit – Zac, Sheanon, Ray, Jeff, Amobi and BC – have been consistent in all three games. It’s important to build the relationship and teamwork within that group to get us through the tough moments like we had against Colorado and New England.

Looking ahead, we have two weeks before our next MLS game. We want to improve on a lot of things, and our friendly this Saturday against Pumas is a great opportunity to do that. We approach these games as preparation for our team to be successful when it really matters. More importantly, we’ll get to see a lot of guys who deserve playing time that just haven’t been able to see the field for us due to a really competitive roster.

Looking further ahead, we have a big game coming up against our rivals to the north…

Two years ago, I remember a match we played in New York and, as I always do, I went to go walk the field hours before the game. High up in the rafters of Red Bull Arena were hundreds of you - our supporters - representing the blue and gold. In enemy territory, you started to chant and fill the stadium with your voices, giving me the loudest ovation I’ve ever had. I looked around at a couple of our guys on the field and smiled, and I remember thinking how cool it was to have that many of our fans there so early, supporting our squad with that kind of passion hours before the match.

That’s something I would love to see again.

Thanks for your continued support,

John Hackworth
Team Manager
Philadelphia Union
Jungite Aut Perite