Final Whistle with John Hackworth
The last time I wrote the Final Whistle was after we beat the Revs at PPL Park on a cold, wet, wintry day. Now we are about to go to Foxborough for the second of our three meetings against New England this year; and the seasons have changed. Spring is in the air and to quote U2, we are hoping for a "Beautiful Day"!
What Do You Stand For – It can't be said enough. This team, this staff, this organization - We Stand For You. On Sunday, away from the comfort and familiarity of a young PPL Park and into what I will politely describe as an “elderly” RFK Stadium, you stood for us, once again. As always, the Sons of Ben were loud and boisterous, with their shouts heard clearly on the field, bench and all the way to the ESPN2 broadcast. But when the final whistle blew and I went to find my family in the stands, I was further amazed at how many people there were wearing Union colors inside what would have otherwise been a stadium full of red and black.
From the Sons of Ben being so organized and loud to the other Union supporters who made the trip to D.C., that kind of support in really tough environments is crucial. There’s no doubt that the energy in the stands trickles down to the effort on the field. On a day where we made club history – getting our first win at RFK against one of our biggest rivals (the best birthday present my son, Larsen, could ask for) – your support made every bit of difference.
With that said, I’ll move into a little bit of where we’re at as a team…
This year, our club has already achieved some good things: we were the first team to ever beat Colorado in their home opener; we earned our first point in Columbus; and now, have our first win in D.C. I think these are all really good signs for our team, and I’m really proud of our guys. And yet, I think we are capable of playing better soccer. We can be much better. This past weekend, we took a two goal lead twice in the game, and gave up a two goal lead twice in the game. We put ourselves through all of the emotions and momentum of a game when we’re playing against a talented home team, trying to get back in it. In a lot of ways, we did a really good job of managing the game once we gave up the two-goal lead, but at the end of the day, we can still play better soccer to keep ourselves out of those situations to begin with. While we’ve already put in some really good performances, we know we can improve in many ways.
Right now, our bench is probably the strongest it’s ever been, and there are different situations within the game that dictate some of the decisions the coaching staff makes on who to play and who not to play. A prime example of that occurring was this past weekend with Seba. While it is tough for Seba to not play in the match because of the game situation, for us to win at D.C. without him is a really good sign. Another example is Kléberson, who continues to do well and has, in every way, been a very positive influence to our club. But I think that is what a good team is all about – being successful when you are faced with those different selection options.
Additionally, Jack continues to play well, and while he deservedly got a lot of accolades for his performance this week, we have to recognize that our team is doing an excellent job of understanding their roles and responsibilities. Of those to note: Conor’s ability to bring his teammates into the game from some really tough situations, allowing us to play off of him; Amobi and Sheanon having two critical blocks in the first half against United; BC, Keon and Michael tactically taking away an important part of the field against D.C.; Danny running tirelessly to stretch the opposing defense, making a big play on the second goal to provide the assist to Conor, and then coming back to help on our defensive side; Zac saving a difficult shot that comes through a crowded box and then holding on to the rebound. All of these little moments are what we call “critical moments.” And when we recognize these moments as a team and win the majority of them, which we’ve been able to do game in and game out, it will continue to put us in a position to be successful.
With all of that said, we have another crucial game on the road this weekend in New England…
On Saturday, our task is to do what we’ve been doing on the road and that is to go and get points. It’s still early in the year and, while we’re in a good position, we feel like we can improve game to game and week to week, and this is an opportunity for us to once again prove that we’re making positive strides.
Saturday’s match will be the first home game NE has played and the first sporting event in Foxborough since the Boston Marathon tragedy. We have some very close relationships with some of the guys from the Revs – Matt Reis, whose father-in-law was critically injured in the bombings and Chris Tierney, whose girlfriend was also injured. Then there is the situation with Kevin Alston, who is battling Leukemia right now. These types of moments in life – the difficult, heartbreaking, hardships – put sports and everything we do in a completely different perspective. Ultimately, sports are really insignificant when compared to our relationships with the people we care about most. What we do is play a game. But at the same time, I think the game we play can serve as a means to bring groups of people together unlike anything else, especially in difficult times like these. Sport becomes a symbol that there are much more important things than the game itself. Within our team, we talk about how blessed we are to be in these positions and how fortunate we are to do something we love. As an organization, we go into this game understanding the emotions that will surround this game and we are humbled by the fact that we get to play in front of fans who share our passion and come together to celebrate something much more important than the game itself.
This weekend as we take on New England, we are united as a larger family – the Union, the Revolution and the soccer community as a whole – through the sport we love, standing together in the face of some really tough circumstances.
Thanks for your continued support.