John Hackworth knows what he has in this year’s group.
It was evident from the questions he fielded in a pseudo press conference following practice at YSC Sports earlier this week that his concern over who will play where and how effective they’ll be in that position is not something he and his technical staff dwell on too strongly at this juncture of the season.
It was important that Hackworth reiterate that point for the media in attendance, as for second week in a row the Union manager fielded inquiries regarding the status of his four-man defensive front heading into Sunday’s match against San Jose (11 p.m., ESPN2). Questions deriving from the fact that the club will once again be without central defender Amobi Okugo, serving the second of a two-game suspension which stems from the aftermath of a tough loss two weeks prior in New England.
“We see it every day, said Hackworth following Tuesday's announcement of the new YSC Academy, the academic arm of a partnership between the Union and the Wayne-based YSC Sports. “We see how good some of these guys are, how versatile they are. We’ve been pretty fortunate not to have injuries and situations that previously forced us to make some changes to that defense. Rolling out the same back four for most of the year has been good for us.”
The team didn’t seem to lack much in terms of defensive stance in a complete performance devoid only of finishing amounted to a scoreless draw against MLS Eastern Conference leaders Montreal. Shifting Sheanon Williams into central defense and the re-inclusion of Ray Gaddis on the right meshed expertly with Jeff Parke in the middle and the craftiness of Fabinho, a true left-footed player running the outside left flank. Fabinho was not only solid defensively but again proved he can whip dangerous in-swinging crosses into the opposition’s 18-yard box as well.
“Adding Fabinho obviously has been a good addition for us,” said Hackworth. “I am pleased with him. But you know, it wasn’t just the back line. I thought our whole team played a really good game defensively. It is good to see, I think we need to continue playing that way, and if we do, then we’ll give ourselves a really good chance to be successful.”
Success will be tested against a San Jose team that on paper looks to be in the doghouse of MLS’ Western Conference but its 9-11-7 record doesn’t show that the Earthquakes are just five points out of first place in the West with a handful of games to play. Additionally, of San Jose's nine wins this season, eight have come at home.
However, the Union itself has proved a formidable bunch on the road. The club is 4-5-4 away from PPL Park this season and is undefeated on the road against Western Conference teams, defeating both Colorado in March, Vancouver in July and earned a draw against Real Salt Lake in July as well.
“That’s one good aspect of our team this year; is that for the most part we’ve played well on the road and we’ve done so when going on those West Coast trips,” said Hackworth.
The Union have been the most successful this season when the team stuck to a fast paced attack-oriented game plan that also found every player ready to step up defensively as a unit. And for Hackworth whenever his team has played that brand of football, it’s been hard for anyone to question anything.
“I think it is just guys trusting each other to play the role,” said Hackworth. “Every time we’ve done that this year, we done it for the most part, it’s been good. You saw it when we were in New York [in a match the Union also pulled a scoreless draw out of on Aug. 17]. We’ve played the same kind of collective team mindset, on both sides of the ball. When we do that we give ourselves the option to be successful. When we don’t and guys try to do something out of their normal responsibilities, that is when we get in trouble.”
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com