Watching the Philadelphia Union through the first two matches, it looks like the club’s chemistry is in midseason form.
Despite some changes to the roster, manager John Hackworth is not surprised.
“I was talking to (former Union defender and captain) Danny Califf yesterday after training,” Hackworth said at Wednesday’s press conference at PPL Park. “We were training at YSC and Danny had stopped by to say hello. Danny asked me the same question. I said, ‘Danny look, a lot of what we established in the first year within our locker room, a culture if you will, a way of doing things, a way of working has continued.’ There was a little blight there for a while, but we have our core of guys that has been here in our locker room for the entire time.
“We have a group of guys that have been here for a while now,” Hackworth added. “So those things, when you have the environment and the culture that we have, and when you add new pieces into that, as long as the guys understand it (then) it’s a lot easier to build a team around. It’s great that we have players that are of quality, but it’s even better that we have guys that understand that team chemistry is so important, that being a part of a team and adding to that in the right way. Again, I don’t want to sound too overconfident about it but we’ve liked the group that we have and we continue to build with the new guys we have in the locker room.”
When asked if he expected the strong chemistry this early, Hackworth didn’t flinch.
“Yeah, I think you build that over time is what I’m saying,” he said. “A lot of that is when you bring a new piece in, it could go one of two ways, but if the core group holds the locker room accountable for certain things especially in the culture of how we work, how we recover, how we prepare, how we deal with diversity, how we look at all the positives and keeping it in perspective, it makes it a lot easier.”
The Union opened the season with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Portland and followed that up with a 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution.
Those four points were accounted for without some key pieces early on such as defender Sheanon Williams and forward Conor Casey.
There is some tremendous depth right now.
“It means that we’re not going to have a drop-off,” Hackworth said. “Aaron (Wheeler) was a really good example of that. How often do you see a centerback come into a 1-0 game and the opposing team clearly went at him right away and tested him? He handled it in the right way, played well and was ready. Look at Leo Fernandes, him finding out on game day literally right before we started walking out for warm-ups, now he has a responsibility to be a playmaker on opening day in your home stadium. That’s a big responsibility but it’s great as a coach to have players like that, to have a core group of guys that understand it and are good with it. Right now, what people are recognizing we’ve been doing for a while, it just is a work-in-progress. Time is certainly a component to all of this.”
The leadership aspect has been huge as well. Union captain Brian Carroll missed the New England match because of flu-like symptoms and Amobi Okugo stepped in and accepted the responsibility of donning the armband.
“I would tell you that it’s unofficial because it was kind of a last minute situation,” Hackworth said of Okugo being a co-captain or filling in again. “Amobi and I have already had talks in the preseason about him stepping up as a leader on this team. I had a similar conversation with Sheanon Williams. There are other guys that are in that locker room that have been doing a really good job. Maurice (Edu) has come in and clearly established himself. On Saturday, when I talked to both Mo and Amobi about this, it wasn’t just a decision to say, ‘Amobi you’re it,’ It was more of a decision to say, ‘Hey, how could we have the most effective leadership on the field and what are the responsibilities going to be?’
“I’m really happy that Amobi stepped up. He did a good job for sure. He takes a lot of pride in that and that’s something you want as a coach. You want a guy to want to wear the armband and lead. I’m pleased that we have enough guys in the locker room that understand it and appreciate it the way that they do."
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Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com