So far, so good.
But there is still a much more to tackle before opening night at Portland on March 8; that was the message conveyed by Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth on Thursday.
“We actually played four [exhibition] games [in Florida] so far and we've been progressive, I think we’ve seen some of the work [in these matches] that we’re doing [on the training ground],” Hackworth said. “In specifically, I would say our ball movement and our ball circulation has been much better both against [the Union's last two preseason matches against [Red Bull New York and Orlando City FC]. Our organized pressure, we’re pressing those two teams at least in these games, pretty high up the field and that for the most part was pretty good. In both games we were successful in locking those teams in their own half for a while and sustaining that.
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“At the same time, concerns, we have given up two goals that were counterattack goals that were in our opinion goals that we should have been able to cut out before they ever got to a dangerous point. So we clearly still have some work to do in that area and there is a lot of other pieces that we need to add in the next two weeks to truly be ready for our season opener against Portland and that is what our focus is right now.”
The Union’s focus is also on paring down the roster. The process has started and there are still many more decisions to be made.
The roster compliance deadline is March 1, just one week before competing against the Timbers.
“Yeah, it has been the toughest I think we have experienced in my fifth preseason with the Union and our competition has been greater throughout preseason,” Hackworth said. “I think that is in large part because the quality of the players has been better and at the same time we do not have that many roster spots available, so that has all kind of contributed to the ramping up over the competitions for spots both to make the team and for guys that are fighting for a starting job. “
There is strong competition at every position, especially with the plethora of changes to the roster in the offseason with the likes of Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira and Andre Blake. That’s just the beginning of the revamp to the roster.
Even though the Union have yet to play a regular season game, Hackworth likes what he sees thus far.
“We feel good about our offseason moves,” Hackworth said. “Clearly the quality of some of our offseason acquisitions is obvious and we are better in a lot of ways, with just of some of those moves, and that is pretty easy to see. We still are looking, and I think I mentioned that last week, we are still looking for another center back, we have the competition in camp, but we also think that is a spot we need to address. We are being picky about that because we are just not going to take anybody.
“We have some guys that are here that we feel that can do the job, but that is an area we feel we need to upgrade in. Long term, I feel really confident about the season because we have a group of guys retuning that were building something, they know what we did last year was good, but was not good enough and they have that desire to come in and make sure we have a better season this year than we did last.
“When you add good pieces to a core group of players that already have the belief and how you play and understanding of what it take to be successful. I think that bolds well for the future.”
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Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com