Union confident their luck will change


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.”

Union plan to lean on Brian Carroll, who's back in playoffs for 10th time

Union plan to lean on Brian Carroll, who's back in playoffs for 10th time

CHESTER, Pa. — Five years ago, there were few certainties in MLS ... but one of them was Brian Carroll making the playoffs.

From his first season in the league in 2003 all the way through 2011, Carroll’s teams got into the postseason every single year, leading then-Union manager Peter Nowak to quip, on the cusp of Philly’s first-ever postseason game, “That’s why we got him — because he never misses the playoffs.” 

But then things, um, changed.

Carroll himself remained a consistent player for the most part, but all around him, the Union were shook by turbulence, missing out on the playoffs in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, sometimes in crushing fashion, other times by a country mile.

Now, five years later, as the Union prepare to return to the postseason with Wednesday’s knockout round matchup in Toronto (7:30 p.m., ESPN2), Carroll is the only Union player left from the team’s last playoff squad in 2011. And you can be sure his playoff streak followed by his playoff drought makes the return trip that much more gratifying for one of the league’s longest-tenured players.

“I had a great run to start my career qualifying for the playoffs, carrying that through up to here,” the 35-year-old midfielder said. “But it hasn’t been easy of late. It’s a great feeling having accomplished that goal of getting back into the playoffs. Now that’s in the past and it’s already about what we can do and how well we can play and try to get a win, try to keep it going.”

With Maurice Edu officially on the shelf until 2017 and Warren Creavalle also nursing an injury, Brian Carroll will likely start in the defensive midfield, just as he did when the Union were swept out of the playoffs by the Houston Dynamo in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals. And he’ll play a critical role, shielding a young backline matching up against a star-studded attack that features two of the league’s top offensive players in Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

Perhaps just as importantly, Carroll will bring a veteran, winning presence to the lineup. During his stretch of making the playoffs in nine straight seasons — three shy of the MLS record — he captured championships with D.C. and Columbus, meaning he’s one of the only players on the team who knows what it’s like to win in the MLS postseason.

“Brian has been a guy who’s done it and won championships and lifted trophies,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “It was a long absence for him. There are a lot of guys in our locker room that have been in the league for a long time that have never been on a team that’s made the playoffs. It’s a new experience for a lot of guys. Brian will fall in the category of a guy I’ll lean on to talk with those guys and tell them what it’s like, what happens when that first whistle blows — and to really embrace the moment because you never know when you’re gonna be back.”

What will Carroll try to tell the young guys based on his past experiences?

“Everything is more intense,” Carroll said. “Everything is heightened. Just go out there and play without any fear. Play as best we can — connect passes, create chances, make defensive plays, play solid, control your emotions, but use the playoff adrenaline in a positive way. Put everything we have and lay it all out there. It’s one game and you never know what can happen, so hopefully we can go out there and play together and get something done.”

While it’s certainly true anything can happen in an elimination game, it’s also true that few people will think the Union can go up to Canada and beat a Toronto team that, despite stumbling to the finish, remains a top contender to win the MLS Cup. And given the Union’s history and the fact that they’re winless in their last seven games, that will make for an even bigger upset if the Union can return with a victory.

But even if just getting to the playoffs is an accomplishment for the franchise, Carroll knows winning the club’s first-ever playoff game would be a far greater one.

“It’s good to be back in the playoffs,” Carroll said. “We have a chance in the second season to come together and do something that maybe nobody is giving us much of a chance to. We’re going to go up there and do the best we can and enjoy the opportunity. Hopefully we’re able to accomplish something that nobody’s expecting right now.”

Once upon a time, everyone expected Carroll to be in the playoffs. But, as he says, sometimes it’s just as much fun doing things nobody expects.

That can happen Wednesday for a team that’s never won a playoff game and for a player who continues to turn back the clock every day as retirement draws closer and closer.

“It’s never a given,” Carroll said. “It’s a lot more difficult to accomplish this feat with more teams and better competition. But I think it’s a real positive step for our club and a good building block to do what we’ve done in accomplishing [making] the playoffs this year. Now it’s about taking the opportunity as best we can.”

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."