CHESTER, Pa.The Philadelphia Unions winless streak was extended to six games on Saturday. But for the first time in a long time, there seemed to be a positive vibe in the locker room following their 1-0 loss to D.C. United.
Much of that is due to interim manager John Hackworth and the new energy he infused into the team in the wake of the sudden dismissal of Peter Nowak last week.
Heres a look back at Hackworths first game in chargeand also a look ahead to what may be in store for the Hackworth era.
Three thoughts from Saturdays game
1. The loudest ovation of the evening may have come when Hackworth was announced before the game began. Considering those same fans used to lustily boo Nowak whenever he was introduced, its certainly fair to say Union supporters are happy with new direction this franchise is takingand that Nowak had wore out his welcome here.
2. Hackworth did a little bit of tinkering with the lineup, moving Sheanon Williams back to right back, inserting Amobi Okugo in at center back, starting Michael Lahoud in the midfield and giving Jack McInerney his first start of the season. McInerney had been absolutely buried in the depth chart by Nowak, and given his new lease on life, he created a few scoring chances. Hackworths other moves worked pretty well too, with Williams and Okugo anchoring a backline that mostly shut down the D.C. attack.
3. Michael Farfan looks like hell enjoy playing under Hackworth. The 23-year-old midfielder was as sharp as hes been all season, showcasing his creative dribbling while playing impressive, if sometimes overly ambitious, balls into the box. He was also, for the first time, entrusted with set pieces, taking three corner kicks and three free kicks. If the Union are to start scoring goals, it looks like Farfan and Freddy Adu will be the ones to set them up.
Three questions for the upcoming week
1. The schedule does not get any easier for the Union. Fresh off their loss to first-place D.C United, they take on Sporting Kansas City, the second-place team in the Eastern Conference, on Saturday at PPL Park (7 p.m. The Comcast Network). Playing these teams gives the ninth-place Union a chance to make a dent in the standings and show theres still time for them to make a run at the playoffs. But if they lose again, will the fans be just as happy with Hackworth? In other words, how long will the honeymoon last?
2. With Lionard Pajoy set to return from his one-game suspension and new acquisition Jorge Perlaza getting more familiar with the club, Hackworth will have some tough lineup decisions to make at striker. Hackworth has already told McInerney hell be playing more and the interim manager also seems high on Antoine Hoppenot. Throw in the fact that Hackworth started Josue Martinez and brought Chandler Hoffman on the bench this past Saturday, and he has six viable options to start up top in the Unions next game.
3. Gabriel Gomez is the Unions top scorer and one of the teams leaders in minutes. But is he a lock to regain his starting spot once he fully recovers from a leg injury? With Farfan, Adu and Brian Carroll likely having pretty firm holds on the starting XI, Michael Lahoud faring well for himself Saturday, Keon Daniel a good option on the wing and Roger Torres also returning from injury, Hackworth will have some decisions to make when it comes to his starting midfield, as well.
Fact of the week: Despite losing to D.C. United, the Union won every important statistical category, including possession, passing accuracy, total passes, duels won, open play crosses, corner kicks, shots on target and attempts on goal.
Quote of the week: What a great day all the way around. The fans were fantastic; the players were awesome beforehand. It was a great night for the Philadelphia Union in a lot of ways.Union interim manager John Hackworth
Player of the week: Sheanon Williams was probably the best player on the field Saturday at PPL Park, not only making some terrific runs forward but also thwarting a few D.C. United attempts on goal.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for CSNPhilly.com and MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.