Featured / Local

The kids are alright

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

I’ve been working on this post pretty much since a very young, John Hackworth-led Philadelphia Union side took down their older opponents on Saturday night, PDL Mid-Atlantic Division leaders Reading United AC. Then on Wednesday, the Union called a press conference in which Union supremo Nick Sakiewicz told the world, “that Peter Nowak is stepping down as our head coach and team manager.”

KA-BOOM—my post and the Union are back at the drawing board.

With the reset button being hit on the season, let me make a plea to our club’s new boss:

Coach Hackworth, play the kids!

If Wednesday’s presser was any indication, Hackworth has a strong desire to get the very gifted young guns on our team on the field. I could not have been more happy to hear Sakiewicz say, “we’re committed to young players.” Hallelujah Nick, because those young studs riding the pine for the Union may just have what it takes to turn the 2012 campaign into a respectable season.

Young guns impress

I’ve been fortunate to watch many of the Union’s youngsters in action during the three reserve matches that have been played at home and Saturday’s friendly with Reading United AC. When watching these games from field level, you can see the caliber of players our technical staff has assembled over the past three years. For all the negatively perceived moves Peter Nowak made over the past six months, he had quite the knack for identifying promising young talent. Players like Jack McInerney, Chandler Hoffman, Antoine Hoppenot and Amobi Okugo are all hungry for minutes with the first team. They play with energy, enthusiasm and creativity, capable of moments of brilliance. Their young legs run at opponents for ninety plus minutes, their hustle eventually catching the opponent vulnerable.

A prime example of what the kids can do was a play early in the United friendly when Cristhian Hernandez found a streaking Hoffman with an inch perfect pass. Hoffman, ever the predator in front of goal, found the back of the net to earn the Union their first advantage of the evening. Want another example? Antoine Hoppenot had the winning goal on his boot in the dying minutes of the US Open Cup clash with DC United. He scuffed his shot and the match was forced to extra time. Never doubting in himself, Hoppenot continued his relentless runs at the DC backline, his hustle paying off when he found the winning goal early in extra time.

Growing pains

Such a young team will have moments that leave everyone in PPL Park shaking their heads. Their inexperience will lead to difficult lessons on the field, but the field is where our young players belong. Let them experience the highs and let them learn from the mistakes and defeats. That is the only way they will grow as a unit.

Think back to the early season gaffes by MacMath. We all worried if last season was a fluke. Back then, the 20 year old keeper rattled off the longest goalless streak in franchise history. Tuesday night, USL Pro affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders capitalized on errors made by some of our younger players. Jimmy McLaughlin and Ray Gaddis were beaten badly for the Harrisburg opener. Rust and lack of matches may have led to Roger Torres mishandling a Michael Lahoud pass that resulted in the City Islanders’ game winning tally. If anyone from the Union recorded Tuesday’s match, the mistakes that gifted a USL-Pro team a 3-2 victory will be difficult to watch in a film session. Still, the lessons learned from a match that didn’t count in the standings should now be applied in league play.

Coach Sean plays Union manager

How would I deploy such a young team? McInerney and Hoffman would lead the Union attack, with Freddy Adu tucked in behind the forwards providing service and creating chances. Keon Daniel would play wide on the left and Michael Farfan and his bag of tricks would stay wide to the right side. I prefer Brian Carroll’s leadership and quiet consistency at the holding midfield position providing support to a back line. Okugo would slot into the backline next to Carlos Valdes with Sheanon Williams restored to right back and Gabe Farfan dutifully holding down left back while Zac MacMath stays in net.

I’d keep speedster Josue Martinez on the bench for when a change of pace or an extra attacker is needed. Torres’ energy and flair are handy in situations when the offense needs a jump start. When I’m looking for a high pressure assault on the opponent’s defense, Antoine Hoppenot is my guy. Gabe Gomez, Cristhian Hernandez, Ray Gaddis and Chase Harrison would also make a game day roster that would feature just five players older than twenty-three.  While players like Lionard Pajoy, Porfirio Lopez, Chris Albright and Michael Lahoud are needed for roster depth, they would not be part of my long term plans.

The Union currently field Major League Soccer’s youngest roster, but the current results can’t be laid at the feet of the young players wearing the blue and gold. Sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with just two wins from eleven matches, the Union have plenty of room to improve over the season’s final 23 fixtures.

Coach Hackworth, it’s time to give the kids on your roster a chance at regular first-team minutes. Let us, as fans, watch these young men become the new heroes of our young and proud club. Give them the opportunity to dazzle the PPL Park crowd, without fear of the mistakes that will happen.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. Peter Nowak, the club’s first manager, was relieved oh his duties on Wednesday—dark day indeed. Coach John Hackworth has taken the helm of a young Philadelphia Union team, a manager that has succeeded with young players at the collegiate and national level.

Yes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. It’s a new day for the Union, Coach Hack. Let the kids play!


  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    100% right on.

  2. Agreed. I think Hackworth, considering Califf’s comment, might be the right man for this sudden rebuilding job, and we’ve got the young guns to make a go of it. Let’s see them.

  3. That’s a good lineup choice, too, though I might swap Hoffman for Martinez (Josue has looked much better as a starter than a sub), and Adu would be a on a short leash, with Torres ready to come on.

    • I agree, although I haven’t seen much of either, I would love to see if Martinez play against the Rhino’s was a fluke or if that’s what he can do with extended play time. Not that I’m against Hoffman, I think they both look good, I’m just leaning more in Josue’s direction right now.

  4. I’m on Team Hoppenot

  5. Ray Gaddis should be a starter, hands down. he is not going to progress on the bench and playing in menial reserve league games. He has a long career ahead of him and needs to be in the starting XI

    • Certainly that’s true for his development, but what makes for the best Union backline/team? Taken 1v1, would you rather have Sheanon or Ray at RB? I’d prefer Sheanon. Same with Garfan at LB. So the questions becomes, is the backlien better with Okugo or Williams at CB? I don’t know, but I’d like to see Okugo play, one way or another, and having him in the center of the backline opens up our passing from the back.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Who knows? Right now, the Union have two good, young, fast right backs. How can Hackworth play them both? We may see Garfan back in midfield. It is his natural position, after all. That could free things up to play both Williams and Gaddis at fullback.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        For my money, Okugo is a better CB than Williams and Williams is a better RB than Gaddis. It’s a no-brainer then. Gaddis will see minutes throughout the year as the first man off the bench at RB/LB or when Sheanon covers CB. He’ll get plenty of minutes.

      • James Korman says:

        Agree 100% Eli.

  6. Not to be too picky, but haven’t the “kids” already been playing this year? Okay, Pajoy has played more than we would have liked, and players like Lahoud and Herdling have seen some time. But your suggested lineup includes eight players who are regular starters or who have seen plenty of playing time this year: MacMath, Williams, Valdes, Garfan, Carroll, Daniel, Marfan, and Adu. In addition, the “kids” on your proposed bench (Martinez, Torres, Hernandez, and Gaddis) have also played varying amounts of minutes, though perhaps not as much as we would like. So to me, besides the inclusion of Okugo, this isn’t much of a change. Don’t get me wrong, I ultimately agree with you that the Union have room to improve and I too have faith in our youth. But from my perspective, the kids have been playing this year and will continue to play; the team simply doesn’t really have any alternative. I also think it is unfortunate that this team, now in their third year, should still be so reliant on youth. So while I’ll be happy to watch the “kids” play and develop, I’m also not holding my breath for any major successes soon.

  7. That proposed team sheet has got me excited!

  8. Jamie Campbell says:

    I love Okugo as a CB. definitely deserves to start there with Valdes. Williams should stay on the wing.

    Hoppenot is crazy fast, and a perfect sub for a striker at the 60-70 min mark. Just imagine him and torres linking up. It could be deadly.

    I would have Martinez start (And at least for this game, Perlaza, just to see what he’s got). Ive been much more impressed with him than Hoffman, but I do like Hoffman as well. plus martinez hasnt been very good as a sub. Id wait a couple games under hackworth and then if martinez isnt scoring id give it to Hoffman.

    Cant play all the youngsters right away. gotta give everybody a shot under Hackworth’s style and tactics.

  9. James Korman says:

    I can’t wait to get started. John Hackworth gets a clean slate. I trust him. I trust his tactical prowess. I trust his ability to develop our young guys. He’s the right guy for this team right now. So let’s do this thing! Hopefully the players feel the same way. Win or lose BIG things start tonight for our team….Go Union….Forever!

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