Final Whistle: Manager John Hackworth provides a midseason review

The latest insight and views of Union manager John Hackworth

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you.

I am continually amazed at the support you’ve shown us this year. To put it lightly, we’ve had some interesting weather for some of our matches so far, and last week was another example of your unwavering support in spite of poor conditions. You put your passion for this club higher than staying dry on a Friday evening. I’ve said it from the beginning and I will continue to again and again, but our players, coaching staff and organization – We Stand for You. And as I continue to reiterate that point, you’ve shown over and over that you have our backs, rain or shine, sleet or snow and in the heat or freezing cold. And to us, that means everything. 

Oh, and a special shout out to all the Sons of Ben who cheered & "high fived" me after I received my walking papers. 

Once again, thank you.

We’re a little past the halfway mark of the season, and while there is always room for improvement, I think it’s good to look at the big picture to see some things we have done well. We have 30 points, are sitting in fourth place in a tight race in the Eastern Conference (just three points separate us from first place) and have scored 32 goals through 20 games, which is the most at this point in any of our four years. We’ve also won three of the past four games at PPL Park, one being a 3-0 win over one of our biggest rivals up north. Considering the fact that we didn’t reach 30 points last year until the end of September, I look at some of the things we’ve accomplished this year to build on that success.

At the same time, we know there is still a lot of room to get better. And we will be working hard to do so.

Since it’s been such a long time, I wanted to talk about some of the things you have seen over the past month or so. We’re still in the middle of one of the hardest parts of our schedule this season – as the rankings stand.  Four of the last five teams we’ve faced are all in playoff positions and our game this weekend is against the Western Conference’s second-place team. To top it off, we’ve been without some big components of our team in Jack and Keon due to international duty and Kleberson and Lahoud both out with injury.

To address the two heartbreaking draws we recently had against FC Dallas and RSL: we felt like we had done enough to win both of those games. Some calls went our way and others didn’t, but we still have to do a better job of managing the match to close a game out with a victory. Those were two really good games for us to learn from, and I was really pleased to see the way we responded against Chivas. After drawing those two games really late into the contest and then losing another to Houston in some really difficult conditions, we went down a goal at home against Chivas last Friday. Up until that point, we hadn’t won a game in which the other team scored first. And in that moment – on the heels of that fact and a tough stretch of results – I was really proud of how our team responded. It would have been really easy to mentally fold under that pressure, but guys stepped up and fought back to get us three points (I’m sure the result helped make up for standing in the soaking rain for two hours, too, right?).

And speaking of guys stepping up…

With the recent absences on the team, a lot of guys were able to come in and do a really good job of contributing while we were a little thin in our roster. It’s important to put a lot of trust in those guys, and they certainly rewarded us with it. Leo has been able to give our club good production in his first three MLS starts; Aaron stepped in and provided some really consistent minutes in a big way (no pun intended) and even gave us a goal that put us in a position to get a really good result against Dallas; Zac has had very strong games the past few weeks and kept us in games with some important saves; Sebastien is leading the League in assists again with nine after getting two more last week and Sheanon is just behind tied for third (as a defender, no less) and, of course, Conor is having a resurgence and showing exactly why we thought he could be a big factor (pun intended) for our club this offseason. Guys like Matt, Don, Antoine and Roger all were able to contribute, as well. Additionally, with players like Fabinho coming into the lineup, as well as the return of Jack from Gold Cup action, Kleberson and Lahoud from injury and soon Keon from international duty, we’re looking at a really deep roster. It’s going to be tough to select a starting 11 each week once all of our guys return, and just as tough to decide who will fill out the 18. That’s a really good problem for a coaching staff to have, especially going into the second-half of the season pushing for a playoff spot.

Looking ahead to Saturday, this match is an important one for a lot of reasons.

We have the chance to better ourselves in the standings, will have another opportunity to compete against one of the best teams in the League and continue to establish PPL Park as a fortress. But aside from what happens on the field on Saturday, it’s an important game for another reason: we are honoring our country’s military during the match. We’re happy that fans look up to our athletes as role models and we take that with great responsibility. But in reality, the men and women that serve our country, fight for our liberty and sacrifice their lives so we have the freedom to even enjoy a soccer game with friends and family are the ones who deserve our praise. They are the real heroes. We are so proud to be able to give them recognition they have earned.

On Saturday, we hope to see you in the stands at PPL Park supporting our club, but also helping us honor those who deserve it the most.

 

 

 

 

 

John Hackworth, Manager

Philadelphia Union

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