Training camp competition has its pluses and minuses.
While battles for position bring out the best in players and ensure the club promotes the best starting talent at each position, it also makes for some brutally tough coaching decisions.
And with just two days remaining before the Union open their preseason against Orlando City at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla., coach John Hackworth is still pining over his choices.
“A week ago I would have told you yes,” Hackworth said, when asked if he had his starting 11 set for the Feb. 9 preseason opener. “We have a good idea of how we want to play it but competitions at positions have made things very difficult. We have tough decisions to make. That’s good news because it means we have more depth than we thought we did. As a coaching staff, we’ll have difficult decisions to make and we’ll use these games as a true evaluation tool.”
With a crowded group at forward, full back and at points in the midfield, the Union are not short on interesting camp battles. And though certain players are challenging for a starting spot, what the Union are ultimately looking for is consistency.
“Guys like Keon Daniel have come in and played really well and have forced us to make some difficult choices,” Hackworth said. “Roger Torres has played well. Ray Gaddis has played really well. It’s been healthy competition in training and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot. As a group, everybody fits in well with each other -- they understand how we are trying to play and what we’re trying to do. It’ll make for some interesting decision on the coaching staff part. But our goal is that whoever we throw out there, we see consistency from player to player and group to group.”
Whichever starting group Hackworth puts out there on Saturday, it will be a good test for the Union, who tied Orlando City, 1-1, last preseason.
“We’ve had the good fortune of having a good relationship with Orlando City,” said Hackworth. “They are a good, professional organization and there is an obvious reason the MLS is considering putting a franchise here. They have good fan support and the team and coaching staff do a fantastic job. We’re looking forward to Saturday, we want to be tested and we know they are going to bring it in front of their crowd. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate our players and hopefully get a good result.”
Although the Union are pushing strong work ethic and in-house competition, the club is also trying to keep players from burning out. As Hackworth explained, training camp and preseason can be a delicate dance for players.
“We want to slowly build up all the players here so that they can take what we do in training and apply it to a game,” Hackworth said. “We want to build them up so that we feel they are ready to play 90 minutes. In a lot of ways, we want to make sure everything is accounted for heading into that March 2 [regular season opener against Sporting Kansas City] and has been covered, taught and repeated. The games are a really good evaluation tool and while we’re happy with competition in training, it’s different against an opponent, they present different challenges and we’re looking forward to it.
“The training and effort by the players has been excellent. We still think we’re making progress. We’re putting in some long, hard days and it’s a challenge to recover from those - but so far, so good.”