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Off the field: A message, a date, and a place

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Three thoughts on Philadelphia Union:

Hackworth sends a message

If you didn’t like the Union’s starting lineup Saturday, then you haven’t been paying enough attention.

John Hackworth’s choice to start Jack McInerney for the suspended Lio Pajoy was a bold move that signaled a sharp break with Hackworth’s predecessor, Peter Nowak.

The lineup says a lot about what Hackworth’s tenure may be like.

There wasn’t a Union player on the field Saturday who didn’t clearly belong there. That’s a big change from Nowak, whose lineup decisions consistently baffled. Hackworth started players who deserved to start. He played them in positions in which they’re comfortable. Basically, common sense and merit reigned.

The difference between the two is like watching Freddy Adu play.

Bad Freddy dances among defenders, does a half dozen stepovers, and turns the ball over. That’s the equivalent of a Peter Nowak starting lineup.

Good Freddy looks up, sees the field, plays within himself, and sends a textbook through ball to a winger making a run to space. That’s like a Hackworth starting lineup. It’s not tricky, but it works beautifully, just like Good Freddy.

Hackworth didn’t try to show off how brilliant he is. He just put his players in position to succeed and play the game to the best of their abilities. That’s what a good coach does. No, Hackworth didn’t walk off with the win, but he showed the Union’s brief tenure as the league’s laughing stock is probably over.

Two key dates: June 27, July 1

June 27 marks the opening of the one-month transfer window in MLS.

But July 1 is also notable because it’s the day semi-guaranteed contracts are guaranteed for the season.

The Union could cut loose some players to open up wiggle room on the 30-man roster and avoid the guaranteed contracts. Right now, the Union have 29 players, which doesn’t offer much flexibility for transfer window additions, such as a true center back. (Amobi Okugo looks good there, but there’s no depth.)

MLS doesn’t publicize details of players’ contracts, but these players likely have semi-guaranteed deals:

  • Krystian Witkowski
  • Antoine Hoppenot
  • Ray Gaddis
  • Chase Harrison
  • Chris Konopka
  • Greg Jordan
  • Kai Herdling

Herdling’s loan runs till July 1, a date likely chosen because of the deadline. The Union announced on Tuesday morning that he will return early to Germany ahead of the expiration of his loan so he can start preseason training with Hoffenheim. It’s understandable that the Union has decided not to keep him around, particularly now that Nowak is gone. Herdling’s not a bad player, but there isn’t a place for him in a crowded midfield that still has Keon Daniel and Roger Torres on the bench.

Konopka and Harrison have impressed, and each makes the league minimum salary of $44,000. If it comes to a roster numbers game, however, one could go, because Harrisburg has a good goalkeeper in Nick Noble who could be called up on loan on short notice.

Witkowski has been out with a concussion most of the season. Greg Jordan is another midfielder Nowak tried to convert to defense. Neither has appeared in a league or cup game.

Hoppenot and Gaddis, of course, are going nowhere.

The stadium experience

PPL Park seemed revived on Saturday. There was an energy people hadn’t seen in a while. The players talked about it. The fans reflected it. All told, both groups comprised it.

Or so I hear. I wasn’t there.

I’m in Los Angeles as I write this. I spent Sunday afternoon at the Home Depot Center, watching the Galaxy defeat the Portland Timbers. (No, I didn’t say hi to Danny Mwanga and Kyle Nakazawa. Yes, both did just fine on the field.) It’s a good place to watch a game. The sight lines are good, and it looks and feels like a proper soccer stadium.

Last month, I went to RFK Stadium in Washington to watch D.C. United defeat Toronto FC. Great match. Poor venue. I also got to see the Union defeat United at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

When you get to bounce around the country watching soccer in other places, it gives some good perspective. On Saturday, I’ll be at PPL Park for the first time since the San Jose match on April 28.

None of those places compare with PPL Park on a beautiful day. So it’s nice that everyone gets to sit back and enjoy it again without the drama of the last several months. Everyone’s there for the soccer, after all.


  1. Dead on about the atmosphere at PPL this past week. Just on the concourse before the match you felt a buzz in the air. Like the season was beginning again.

  2. freddy plays with himself

  3. Herdling’s loan expires, Witkowski probably has had an unfair chance to show what he’s got, but them’s the breaks. Jordan was pushed as a look-a-like and play-a-like for Carroll before the season started and with Amobi flexing back to CB I think Jordan probably holds on through the end of the season for depth’s sake. Don’t know that I see the team making a big splash during the break – would like to see a player with defensive flexibility come in for the left side (or see Lopez play like the player he was supposed to be). A full-time CB would be great but that puts Amobi back on the bench. Will we see a new weapon up front? McInerney and Martinez are just getting a bite at the apple and Hoffman and Hoppenot are showing well too. Perlaza was brought in to change the pace (and hopefully he provides just that) and Pajoy is still there. I’m curious to see what happens when Pajoy comes off suspension. Does Hackworth put him back in as the starter? I hope not. I like having a big forward in the arsenal but his play has been largely ineffective thus far. The speed and interchangability up front will be one of our best weapons going forward. 4-3-3?

  4. the atmosphere was created by 500 supporters who sang for close to 3 hours for the team they loved.

    • +1. should be an item for discussion at the SOB summit Sunday, July 22. SOB capos simply cannot be heard outside of the sections directly by the drums. by the time a chant/song filters to the outer sections of TRE the song is over or a different chant/song is already going on and we’re out of sync. screaming eagles, barra brava, etc. has 14 years on us and all, but still, needs improvement.

    • Thanks to the SOB’s for bringing the noise to PPL park! My seats are opposite the river end.We always show up ready to cheer the Union on but you guys lead the way! Keep up the great work! Come on the U!

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    Really happy to get the good vibes going again. This season might be lost, but either way this team has turned a corner. I liked the lineup and I like Hackworth running the team. If they can go on a run of 4-5 straight wins they’ll be fine. Let’s see…

    • scottymac says:

      “can go on a run of 4-5 straight wins they’ll be fine”

      I love the optimism, but the next 4-5 are SKC, HOU away, LAG away, TOR, MTL. 6 points would be positive at this point.

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