Philadelphia Union

Union confident their luck will change

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Union confident their luck will change

CHESTER, Pa. -- John Hackworth is feeling the heat.

He’s also feeling a bit unlucky.

Instead of immediately fielding questions at his midweek press conference as he usually does, the Philadelphia Union manager took a few minutes off the bat to address the growing concerns that his team, despite some lofty preseason expectations, has sunk to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and is winless in its last seven contests.

And while taking responsibility for the disappointing start to the 2014 season, he also predicted a turn in the team’s fortunes.

“Our team is not satisfied at all with where we are,” Hackworth said. “The fact that we are not getting the results that we want is unacceptable to all of us. I can’t emphasize enough that as players and coaches, that is first and foremost on our minds.

“At the same time, if we continue to play at a level that we all believe we can, the shots are going to start to fall for us and the ball is going to start to bounce our way. There will be some luck that comes with it and we will see a turn in these results.”

Few would argue the Union have talented players – a group that includes rising young stars like Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams coupled with big-name newcomers like Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira.

And, according to Hackworth, they’re handling the disappointing 1-3-5 start as best as they can heading into Saturday’s brutally tough road tilt against the Seattle Sounders (5-2-1) at CenturyLink Field (10:00 p.m., The Comcast Network).

“The players have responded well,” Hackworth said. “They’re all frustrated. They all know that, to each one of them, they are capable of making a play when called upon. The reality is that we haven’t had guys make that play, and they all take responsibility for that. But I think there’s a belief within that locker room that they do have the capability to do it.”

Who will be the one to make a big play to help the Union snap out of an offensive funk in which they haven’t scored from the run of play in their last three outings?

Edu, the team’s marquee offseason acquisition and a potential member of the U.S. national team in this summer’s World Cup, put the onus on himself this week.

“I need to try to get forward more and try to support the attack a little more and not leave that role just to Vincent [Nogueira],” Edu said. “Before I was playing box to box but starting a little deeper and timing my runs from there. Maybe I should start a little bit higher so that way, going forward, we might have a little more numbers in the attack. And hopefully that can lead to some more opportunities.”

Regardless of where Edu is positioned in the field, many fans are pointing fingers at Hackworth for being unable to effectively mesh his big signings like Edu with the team’s returning core.

And Hackworth is well aware of his growing number of critics.

“I would tell you that, first and foremost, I would take responsibility for that,” the Union manager said. “I think I have to be held accountable for that, no matter what. The players that are out there, they’re putting everything forward. And the way that we have tried to play this year and execute in many different facets of the game has been good. Our belief is that it will change, and we will see some results start to fall our way.

“We feel unlucky up to this point. The reality is that this game can be cruel sometimes.”

The thing about soccer, though, is that cruel moments can turn into great ones. Perhaps that’s why Hackworth and many of his players believe the tide will soon turn.

Fullback Ray Gaddis even noted that “it hasn’t been difficult” to remain positive given that there’s still six months left in the season.

“For me, it’s still early on in the season,” Gaddis said. A lot of people are frantic about our team but we have to remain positive among ourselves. I think the results will start turning our way and then everyone will be excited again.”

Rookie Adam Najem hopes to prove he's the playmaker the Union need

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Rookie Adam Najem hopes to prove he's the playmaker the Union need

CHESTER, Pa. -- Jim Curtin has made it clear he won’t use falling out of playoff contention as a reason to throw the team’s youngest, most untested players into the fire.

But the Union head coach also made clear Adam Najem doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, saying this week the rookie midfielder is “right in the discussion” to see more time regardless of where the team might be in the standings.

For Najem, though, just getting onto the field during Philly’s last 10 games of the 2017 season — starting with Saturday’s road tilt vs. the San Jose Earthquakes — is only a short-term goal. Long term, the 22-year-old New Jersey native hopes to emerge as the kind of attacking midfielder the Union can build their team around — in a role that’s usually been occupied by international imports.

“I want to kind of get rid of the stigma that Americans can’t be playmakers,” Najem said after Thursday’s practice. "And if they give me the opportunity to continue improving at the No. 10, I’ll try to show what I can do.”

The Union have struggled to find a consistently good option at that No. 10 spot — an important position that sits behind the striker (CJ Sapong) and in front of the two other central midfielders (Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya). Roland Alberg, a native of the Netherlands, and the Brazilian Ilsinho have both shown occasional flashes of brilliance but not nearly enough consistency, leading to speculation that both could be on their way out when the season ends.

At that point, the Union will likely chase a high-priced player, possibly from South America or Europe, to fill that void, as MLS teams are prone to do. But Najem believes he can be the guy, and that more starts as the season winds down can perhaps prove it.

“For me, I want to cement myself as the No. 10 wherever I am,” he said. “Right now, I feel if I continue improving, that can be here. I want to reward Philly for giving me the opportunity to be here. And I want to be that player they look upon to win games. If I get the opportunity, I have to continue working and show I can be the No. 10 they’re looking for.”

Although most of his game action has been with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, where he’s made 14 starts, Najem has seen more MLS minutes of late, playing three straight games last month, including his first career start in Columbus on July 22.

And while he felt like he showed for the ball and maintained possession well in that game, he knows he didn’t do nearly enough to help jumpstart a stagnant offense in a 1-0 loss.

“That’s something I want to improve on,” he said. “It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.”

Najem knows there are other things he can improve upon, and he’s been trying his best to pick up little lessons from other midfielders on the team. 

Medunjanin’s quality on the ball? Bedoya’s vision and awareness? Alberg’s striking ability? Ilsinho’s dribbling moves? Najem has been paying close attention to all of it.

“The type of player I am, I like to take the best out of everyone around me,” he said. “Everyone brings their own style to the game and you try to pick up anything you can and implement your own style of play into that as well.”

Najem has seemed to do that well in training, where he often looks sharp and in control of short-field scrimmages. But as his rookie season winds down, it could be time for him to take the next step — if he’s given the chance.

“In my position, it’s obviously an important one on the field,” he said. “Being a young guy, you have to learn how to deal with that and deal with the pressures.

“If the coaches see I’m working hard enough or improving enough, I’ll be on the field. And if not, I’ll just continue working.”

Philadelphia one of numerous possible sites for 2026 World Cup matches

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Philadelphia one of numerous possible sites for 2026 World Cup matches

CHICAGO — The committee that is hoping to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada is seeking bids from 44 cities that may be interested in hosting matches.

The United Bid Committee is considering 49 stadiums in those regions for inclusion in the official bid that will be sent to soccer's international governing body, FIFA, in March.

The committee announced Tuesday that it will review interest and select a short list of possible host cities in September. The bid ultimately sent to FIFA is expected to include up to 25 venues, but it is expected that 12 cities will be designated as official hosts.

The 2026 World Cup will be the first with a 48-team field. Morocco has also declared its intention to bid for the event.

A list of the possible games sites, broken down by market, venue and capacity:

United States:

Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 75,000.

Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium, 71,008.

Birmingham, Alabama, Legion Field, 71,594.

Boston, Gillette Stadium (Foxboro), 65,892.

Charlotte, North Carolina, Bank of America Stadium, 75,400.

Chicago, Soldier Field, 61,500.

Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium, 65,515.

Cleveland, FirstEnergy Stadium, 68,710.

Dallas, Cotton Bowl, 92,100.

Dallas, AT&T Stadium (Arlington), 105,000.

Denver, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, 76,125.

Detroit, Ford Field, 65,000.

Green Bay, Wisconsin, Lambeau Field, 81,441.

Houston, NRG Stadium, 71,500.

Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium, 65,700.

Jacksonville, Florida, EverBank Field, 64,000.

Kansas City, Missouri, Arrowhead Stadium, 76,416.

Las Vegas, Raiders Stadium, 72,000.

Los Angeles, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 78,500.

Los Angeles, LA Stadium at Hollywood Park (Inglewood), TBD.

Los Angeles, Rose Bowl (Pasadena) 87,527.

Miami, Hard Rock Stadium, 65,767.

Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium, 63,000.

Nashville, Nissan Stadium, 69,143.

New Orleans, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 72,000.

New York/New Jersey, MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford), 82,500.

Orlando, Florida, Camping World Stadium, 65,000.

Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field, 69,328.

Phoenix, University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale), 73,000.

Pittsburgh, Heinz Field, 68,400.

Salt Lake City, Rice-Eccles Stadium, 45,807.

San Antonio, Alamodome, 72,000.

San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium, 71,500.

San Francisco/San Jose, Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara), 75,000.

Seattle, CenturyLink Field, 69,000.

Tampa, Florida, Raymond James Stadium, 73,309.

Washington, DC, FedEx Field (Landover), 82,000.

Canada:

Calgary, Alberta, McMahon Stadium, 35,650.

Edmonton, Alberta, Commonwealth Stadium, 56,335.

Montreal, Quebec, Stade Olympique , 61,004.

Montreal, Quebec, Stade Saputo, 20,801.

Ottawa, Ontario, TD Place Stadium, 24,341.

Regina, Saskatchewan, Mosaic Stadium, 30,048.

Toronto, Ontario, Rogers Centre, 53,506.

Toronto, Ontario, BMO Field, 28,026.

Vancouver, British Columbia, BC Place, 55,165.

Mexico:

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Estadio Chivas, 45,364.

Mexico City, Estadio Azteca, 87,000.

Monterrey, Nuevo Le?n, Estadio Rayados, 52,237.