Union manager John Hackworth spent the bulk of his weekly press conference on Wednesday measuring his words. Between sighs and long, thoughtful pauses, the embattled coach struggled to find the patented optimism he's stuck to all season long.
“It’s tough to define exactly where the confidence is,” he said. “The players, I still think they believe in each other and themselves. But it’s hard to believe and to keep that confidence when you’re continually giving up goals the way we’re doing it.”
The last two games have been especially taxing on the team. Although the club was 2-5-5, it wasn’t until they lost 5-3 to the New England Revolution two weeks ago and 4-1 on Sunday to the LA Galaxy that confidence hit an all-time low.
Getting crushed by a total of nine goals in two straight games is a Union franchise record.
“You can see on the field the guys get deflated in those moments,” Hackworth said. “It’s a struggle for them right now. We have to do a better job on the defending end and give ourselves an opportunity to be in games. That clearly didn’t happen in this last game. It was deflating to everybody on the field. I don’t want to lie and tell you we’re still very confident. But you have a group of guys through these circumstances have really been tested in their resolve.”
Yet, as bad as the Union are, there is some hope in the near future. On Saturday, they take on Chivas USA at the StubHub Center -- one of only two teams lower on the MLS totem pole right now. Chivas, led by Erick Torres’ eight goals, is 2-6-4 on the year and coming off a 2-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. The Union are 2-7-5.
“It ultimately comes down to performance,” Hackworth said. “We have to have a good performance on Saturday night. That’s the only thing that can really put us on the right track. We continue to see good things in training and know the quality that we have within this group. It has to come out when we have an opponent in front of us rather than just when we’re playing each other in training. That’s going to be the key and we have to work through this. These are hard times for us, there’s no question. We do see a light at the end of the tunnel and that will hopefully be recognized on Saturday night.”
Although the Union will be without Sebastien Le Toux, who is fighting a back injury, they will get help from playmaking midfielder Cristian “Chaco” Maidana. The Argentinian missed Sunday’s match because of a red-card suspension.
“We struggled in the final third last week, there’s no question,” Hackworth said. “Chaco gives us the ability to have a guy that is good on set pieces, good off the dribble and will take a guy 1-on-1. We certainly need an infusion of that in our game on Saturday. We’re glad to have Chaco back and we’re hopeful he can bring that for us.”
Even with the help of Maidana, the Union need to raise their compete level in order to succeed. Hackworth made it clear that while the team is struggling, there’s no excuse for lack of effort and heart.
“Our pure ability to compete was not good enough,” Hackworth said of Sunday’s drubbing. “Whether that’s the second minute and you’re competing on a ball that’s served into your box or whether that’s the 60th minute and you’re down two goals, it wasn’t even close to what we consider acceptable.”
And that lack of effort could see Hackworth send a message with his starting lineup against Chivas.
“The only way we can get through it is to have a game where our center backs, our defense, our collective team defending, just our willingness to compete, is solid all the way around,” he said. “And then that establishes it. Until that happens, we’re not at a position to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing and these are the guys that are doing it.’”