With 31 players reporting to preseason training camp a little over a week ago, Manager John Hackworth began to assemble a group whose goal is to get back to the MLS Cup playoffs after missing out last season.
To return to the post season, the club will have to be better offensively (15th out of 19 teams with 37 goals) and also stronger defensively where they allowed 45 goals, which ranked 11th in MLS. They will have to be better on offense minus Freddy Adu and better on defense minus 2012 captain and MLS All Star Carlos Valdes.
My gut feeling at the end of last season was that Adu would not be back. You could tell by his minutes played that he didn't figure prominently in Hackworth's plans, and if Adu is not going to be in your starting 11, he is not a player you would want to have on your bench. The way MLS is structured it is impossible to have Designated Players on your bench. Though not recognized by the club as a DP, high salaried players like Adu not only have to start, but also have to be effective. The Los Angeles Galaxy surely have it figured out with all three of their DP's in Donovan, Keane and Beckham ranking among the elite players in MLS the past two seasons when then captured back-to-back MLS Cup titles.
With training underway, the John Hackworth era has officially begun.
"The young Union manager also did something more for this team in 2012. He created an air of stability after the chaotic start to the season."
Each and every deal that has been made since Hackworth became interim manager last June, has had his stamp on it. While the Bakary Soumare acquisition was started when Peter Nowak was the club manager, it was Hackworth who made the deal official. If he didn't want the player here, there would have been no deal.
The moves to re-acquire Sebastien Le Toux and bring in Jeff Parke and Conor Casey were Hackworth's along with the loan deal of Valdes back to Independiente Santa Fe, plus the decision to try to move Freddy Adu. Hackworth made sure he had cover in the back before agreeing to the Valdes loan. Carlos was a terrific player for the Union, but with Jeff Parke on board with Soumare and Amobi Okugo, this is now a position of strength.
We had a taste of what the club would be like last year when Hackworth took over the interim role in June.
He gave the players more freedom, encouraging them to attack. He made starters out of seldom used Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo, two young talents who were wasting away on the bench, and in some cases, in the stands. McInerney became the club's top scorer while Amobi never missed a minute in a new position as a central defender, drawing raves with his steady play.
The young Union manager also did something more for this team in 2012. He created an air of stability after the chaotic start to the season.
After years as a college head coach and assistant, plus stints as a Union assistant and a Bob Bradley assistant on the U.S. national team, John Hackworth seems more than ready for his first big chance as a professional head coach. He has made some definitive moves for 2013, with more to come. The naming of Brian Carroll as team captain is another positive step for 2013.
Carroll's play on the field exemplifies what a captain should be like. He is a well-respected player, not just in the Union locker room, but in all of MLS. Anyone who has known John Hackworth over the years has to be happy that he is getting this opportunity to be the man in charge. He has been well qualified for a job like this for several years.
All he needed was an opportunity.
This is his chance and so far he’s off to a good start.
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