CHESTER -- Opening the season against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at PPL Park, the Union won’t just put their off-season roster changes to the test. They will also try to implement a set of new team personality traits.
“We want to be consistent,” said Union coach John Hackworth, who is entering his first full season as club manager. “I try not to look too far down the road and a lot of people said we have to make the playoffs this year.
"Of course, that’s a given. If we put together the kind of games we did last year and are capable of this year, we feel we’ll have a much better chance to be in the postseason.”
While consistency may seem underwhelming vocabulary coming from a club that went 10-18-6 in 2012 -- good for eighth in the Eastern Conference -- Hackworth understands that his club isn’t moving from doormat to conference titan in one offseason.
Knowing that, the Union have added veteran leadership in players like Conor Casey, Jeff Parke and Sebastien Le Toux, in hopes of creating a positive progression that builds momentum as the season progresses.
“The unrealistic expectation is for us to be a power in the league right away,” said Hackworth. “You don’t go from seventh to first in our league without major shifts occurring.
"The expectation from all of us is that we will be better. If we can be consistent week-in and week-out, our performances will add up to something that will put us in position to be very competitive when the postseason rolls around.”
Maturity is also on Hackworth’s list of must-haves for 2013.
“There will be significant hurdles,” said the coach. “We know that will happen but it’s how we deal with them and the maturity that this team shows, we’re positive we can draw on things we’ve learned from the past. We expect a lot but we’re not trying to put unrealistic expectations on the season.”
Along with using their experience as a weapon, Hackworth noted the Union want to get back to a Philadelphia-style of play, featuring grit and determination.
Helping the team's philosophy along are Philadelphia-natives Parke, Chris Albright and new assistant coach Jim Curtin, all of whom are expected to take major leadership roles.
“Our organization has put a premium on getting back to our roots,” said Hackworth. “We know what this city expects and we know what kind of fans we have and the way Philadelphia teams are expected to play.
"Having Jeff Parke, having Chris Albright and bringing in Jim Curtin onto our staff -- those guys know it, they’ve lived it. They are part of the culture and that is something we wanted to grow within our organization.”
Despite Hackworth’s expectations for the 2013 season, it will be determined on Saturday if the club is truly ready to begin this personality transition. But if you ask the coach right now, his team is prepared both mentally and physically.
“I do think we’re ready,” said Hackworth. “It’s really difficult to get it 100-percent right with the amount of time we spend in pre-season and in talking to coaches around the league, every team is having their own issues.
"Our team is prepared. We feel like we’re fit and have worked on things tactically that we wanted to go through. Mentally, guys are in a good frame of mind. We feel like we’re prepared.”