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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Here's John Hackworth's starting XI tonight at PPL Park v. New England:

GK ... MacMath
DF ... G Farfan, Valdes, Okugo, Williams
MF ... Carroll, Gomez, M Farfan
FW ... Adu, McInerney, Hoppenot

Bench: Harrison, Daniel, Gaddis, Lopez, Martinez, Pajoy, Lahoud.

Observations about the lineup:
  • Hoppenot gets his chance. Rookie Antoine Hoppenot will start in the attack, his first opportunity to do so. Previously, he had only been used as a sub and playing no more than 31 minutes (June 23) in any of his appearances.
  • Adu is back. After a one-game absence, Freddy Adu is back in the lineup. More to come on this hot-button topic (hopefully) afterward.
  • Pajoy on the bench. Assuming he gets into the match, Lionard Pajoy will come off the bench for the third time in his last five appearances, after starting the first 11 matches of the season.
  • Gomez v. Lahoud. Seemingly, the only week-to-week positional battle has been in the midfield, between Gabriel Gomez and Michael Lahoud, who had started six of eight games since arriving in Philly via trade in May. Tonight, it's Gomez, who started the first 10 matches of the season. Since then, he's been an unused sub three times, been subbed on three times more and started only twice.
  • Albright on the bench ... sort of. Defender Chris Albright hasn't played more than nine minutes in a match since March 24. So why is he on the bench tonight? Well, technically, he's the team administrator -- as is stated on the gameday roster. He's not in the 18. Word is he's a good influence on the younger guys, but Hackworth didn't want to surrender a roster spot for a guy who likely would not get into the game.

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Friday, July 27, 2012


There's been plenty of talk bandied about lately, regarding John Hackworth and whether the 'interim' label will be removed from his title with the Union.

For now, it won't be. But that's not to say it'll never be.

“Right now, John's our coach,” Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told me Friday, in a phone interview. “He's done a great job and he has my 110-percent, full-faith confidence. He's got all the decision-making power and he's in charge."

“I'm not interviewing, and I'm not entertaining resumes.”

Hackworth, who served as an assistant coach for Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game, has guided the Union to a 4-3-0 mark since taking over the club June 13. And while the Union remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference table, the same spot they occupied when Hackworth succeeded Peter Nowak as the club's manager, they are only 11 points (four victories) out of a playoff spot, with 15 of their 16 remaining matches against East foes.

It's not insurmountable and it's clear how Sakiewicz feels: Until further notice, this is Hackworth's team.

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The MLS midsummer international transfer window closed Friday, with the Union standing pat. That was the best-case scenario, too.

Here's why: Both Hackworth and Sakiewicz had said that adding a player to the Union, who at midseason have endured more than a season's worth of roster turnover, would hinge solely upon the ability of that player to make a huge, immediate impact. There's reason to believe in the players on this club, who have posted a 4-3-0 mark since Hackworth took over. And there's no reason to doubt that the Union turned over every stone in search of adding such a player.

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On the missing-player front, Hackworth said Freddy Adu should be back for Sunday's match after missing the previous one due to "an internal team matter." Also, Hackworth let on that Bakary Soumare --- who is still on the mend --- is healthy enough to consider putting him on the 18-man gameday roster. So stay tuned.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012


(Times staff / ROBERT J GURECKI)
For most of the night, Union interim manager John Hackworth had a good time ... except for when MLS All-Star coach Ben Olsen decided to sub in the Union's Carlos Valdes late in the first half.

"Carlos got an opportunity early and I told Ben I was pissed because I didn't want Carlos to play more than 45 minutes," said Hackworth, one of Olsen's assistants. "We had it out on the bench, and now we're all good."

Valdes got 55 minutes, Union teammate Michael Farfan took in the final 16 and the MLS All-Stars topped Chelsea FC, 3-2, Wednesday night in the MLS All-Star Game at PPL Park.

Seattle's Eddie Johnson scored in stoppage time to lead MLS, which required a first-half goal from Chris Wondolowski and a second-half strike from Chris Pontius to avoid staying winless in the league's summer showcase game for a fifth consecutive season.

For more from Hackworth and Farfan about the game, read on. Also, I've embedded video of Valdes (pictured above), upon entering the match, which can be viewed below.

On Farfan:
"You know, Michael -- I can't say enough about that kid because he just comes in and he's class. His touch is good, he weights his passes good, he fits right in, he doesn't look out of place at all. I'm really happy for him.

On reception for his players:
"It gave me goosebumps. I thought it was incredible. It's fantastic. It's great for our fans to see that and to embrace Carlos and Michael was fantastic.

On the game:
"It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life. To have all these fans cheering for us is an amazing experience."

On brother Gabriel Farfan's message:
"Nothing. He was just excited."

On disbelief in getting subbed on for David Beckham:
"I didn't (believe it). I never thought that would happen, but I'm excited that it did. Just really happy to be out here with everyone."

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(Associated Press)
Here's a look at MLS All-Star Game coach Ben Olsen's starting lineup for tonight's match against Chelsea FC at PPL Park:

GK ... Nielsen
DF ... Beitashour, Collin, DeMerit, Morrow
MF ... Alonso, Beckham, De Rosario, Donovan
FW ... Henry, Wondolowski

About the starting XI:
  • Off the plane, onto the pitch. Midfielder David Beckham will start tonight's match, despite getting off a plane only a short time ago. Beckham did not train Tuesday. He was in London for the Beyond Sport summit, in advance of the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games, at which Beckham will have a role. Kudos to the guy for making the trek back just in time for the game.
  • Newcomers to the starting lineup. Forward Eddie Johnson and midfielder Graham Zusi were picked to be in the starting XI by fan vote. But D.C. United coach Ben Olsen instead went with defender Justin Morrow and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.
  • No Union starters. Though it would've been nice to see either of the Union's All-Stars, whether Carlos Valdes or Michael Farfan, in the starting lineup, that didn't happen. Valdes likely will sub on at halftime, and Farfan is expected to play the final 12 minutes of the match as a sparkplug sub.

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(Associated Press)
Some high praise for Union rookie Antoine Hoppenot was handed down Tuesday, by one of Major League Soccer's top players.

San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski (pictured), who leads the league with 17 tallies, is in town for tonight's MLS All-Star Game against Chelsea FC.

And like Hoppenot, who was the 50th pick in the MLS supplemental draft, Wondolowski's MLS fate was left to the secondary draft day -- as an overlooked entry-level player back in 2005.

Though Wondolowski's resume is dotted with a tad more success (tie for MLS Golden Boot, two-time MLS Cup champion) than, say, Hoppenot's, Wondo offered some advice to Hoppenot, the kid who has scored a pair of goals coming off the bench for the revitalized Union.

“Keep working at it. You have to work hard," Wondolowski said, following Tuesday's training at PPL Park. "Just keep developing your skill set and, if you get a chance, just try to make the most of it. That's what I'd say (to him)."

More from the All-Star Game later tonight, including a post with the starting XI for both clubs and a post-game update.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012


(Associated Press)
Saying today was a busy one is kind of an understatement.

Here's a quick recap of what went down:
  • Michael Farfan made the MLS All-Star team's gameday roster, becoming the league's youngest selection and the Union's second representative (joining Carlos Valdes).
  • Oh, and ex-Union boss Peter Nowak sued his former club.

Yeah, about that.

Nowak has filed a lawsuit against the Union, citing wrongful termination while also seeking severance money he claims he's owed. According to his attorney, Nowak is owed “in the ballpark of $1 million.”

The story was first reported by's Jonathan Tannenwald.

There are a couple variables here: First Nowak contends his dismissal was without cause and without notice. Nowak's attorney, Clifford E. Haines, Esq., told the Daily Times that Nowak's contract did not allow for termination based on wins and losses, which was “not under the terms of this contract,” he said. At the time of Nowak's dismissal, the Union sat in ninth place in the Eastern Conference table.

Second, Nowak's lawsuit papers say he was unwilling to meet the Union's demands: To either sign a separation agreement, by which Nowak would agree to be dismissed by the club while also retaining his salary through this calendar year, or refuse to sign the agreement and receive no severance package.

“The team disputes the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against the lawsuit,” Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told the Daily Times. The Union said they will issue no further statements regarding Nowak's suit.

The interesting thing here is that Nowak's case is harmed by one of the documents he submitted as evidence. Nowak's attorney filed a letter sent to Nowak by Pennsylvania Professional Soccer LLC, a branch of the ownership group that owns the Union – Keystone Sports and Entertainment. Within the letter dated June 13, the date of Nowak's dismissal, the Union offer a number of explanations regarding Nowak's termination. Among them: Hazing of players, preventing his players from contacting the MLS players' union, insubordination with Union CEO Sakiewicz, suspensions and fines accrued as a result of on-field behavior, requiring injured players to train with the club, and seeking employment elsewhere. While still employed by the Union, Nowak reportedly applied for a vacant coaching position with Hearts, of the Scottish Premier League.

“They (the Union) have listed other things that Peter has alleged to do,” Haines said. “And even if he did them, we do not believe they're enough to justify his firing.”

Doesn't sound like a resolution will be reached any time soon. So stay tuned.

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Anyway, back to the All-Star Game. Here are a few videos from Tuesday's training at PPL Park, with Union interim manager John Hackworth (also the MLS All-Stars' assistant coach) and Farfan discussing Farfan's selection to the team:

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Saturday, July 21, 2012


(Times staff / COLIN KERRIGAN)
Unsure what to make of this Freddy Adu situation? Well, get in line.

To recap, here's what we know:
  • Adu was not in the Union's 18-man gameday roster and did not travel with the team to Harrison, N.J., for Saturday's match against the Red Bulls.
  • Prior to the game, a Union official said it was “an internal team matter.” Union interim manager John Hackworth echoed the reasoning for keeping Adu at home, saying it was “a team matter.”
  • Adu did not miss the match due to fitness or injury. Earlier in the week, Hackworth insisted Adu would be ready to go. And Adu was not featured in Friday's league-wide injury report. When asked if Adu was unfit to play, Hackworth ignored the question and fielded another.
  • A teammate said the Union learned Adu would not travel with the club upon arriving at PPL Park to take the team bus bound for North Jersey.
  • Whether it's disciplinary in nature or rooted in something altogether different, Hackworth only said, “Hopefully (Adu) will be ready for the next game,” which would be a July 29 meeting with New England at PPL Park.
  • Prior to kickoff, Adu sent out a good-luck tweet to the Union.

One scenario running rampant on Twitter suggests that the Union sat Adu to prepare to move him in advance of the July 27 closure of the MLS midsummer international transfer window. That means teams have until Friday to determine their immediate needs. Per Hackworth, the Union only would do add a player if he can make “an immediate impact.” Feeding this scenario is the belief, based on their recent trade history, that the Union have a decent amount of allocation money at their disposal – to facilitate a transfer. But such an assertion is rooted merely in speculation, and I don't feel comfortable spreading rumors.

For all we know, Adu might have been kept at home for violating a minor team rule. Then again, it might have been something more severe. And even still, it remains a possibility that Adu just might not have been 100-percent fit.

Until either Adu or the club step forward and speak further on the topic, we simply don't know.

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(Associated Press)
Here's who John Hackworth is going with today against the New York Red Bulls:

GK ... MacMath
DF ... Valdes, Williams, Okugo, G Farfan
MF ... Carroll, Lahoud, M Farfan
FW ... Pajoy, McInerney, Martinez

Bench: Konopka, Daniel, Hoppenot, Torres, Gomez, Albright, Gaddis

A few observations about the lineup:
  • No Adu. Hackworth said this week that he expected Michael Farfan and Freddy Adu, who were absent from the midweek friendly against Aston Villa, to be available. Yet only Farfan made the 18. So where's Adu? He wasn't included in Friday's injury report, either. Wonder if Hackworth will lend some logic afterward.
  • Lahoud over Gomez. One of the Union's leading scorers, Gabriel Gomez again begins the match on the bench, with Hackworth going in favor of Michael Lahoud. Gomez has taken on a reserve role in recent matches.
  • Look who. It's Le Toux. The Red Bulls will start former Union player Sebastien Le Toux in a three-forward formation, along with Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. If that trio doesn't account for at least a goal, something's either terribly wrong here in Harrison, N.J. ... or the Union have an underestimated backline within the MLS ranks.

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Friday, July 20, 2012


Looks like the Union are loaning (Read: sending down) rookie midfielders Greg Jordan and Jimmy McLaughlin to USL Pro club Harrisburg City Islanders.

It's a move that had to be made. Here's why: They need playing time.

The Union took 22-year-old Jordan out of Creighton with the 32nd overall pick in January's SuperDraft. Earlier in the offseason, in December 2011, the Union made 19-year-old McLaughlin their second Homegrown Player. The only problem was the two have played with the first team in only one match --- Wednesday's loss to Aston Villa in a friendly.

There's only so much young players can soak up from MLS Reserve League matches, international friendlies or -- let's face it -- practice cones for the regulars. McLaughlin will be a better player because of this arrangement. So will Jordan. They'll play regularly with the Union's affiliate club.

Here's something else that can be gleaned from this personnel move: The Union have faith in Cristhian Hernandez and Zach Pfeffer. Both the forward and the midfielder have gotten similar amounts of playing time, yet remain with the big club. For depth? Hardly. It's probably a combination of two things -- a show of good faith by the technical staff and a statement that Hernandez and Pfeffer are closer to contributing than Jordan and McLaughlin.

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The countdown to the MLS All-Star Game, against Chelsea FC at PPL Park, has begun.

Later today, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter and MLS commissioner Don Garber will officially open the ceremonies with a 2 p.m. press conference on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Here's a preview video to further entice your appetite for next Wednesday's big game. Enjoy.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hey Union fans, remember the feeling you had about a week back, when you heard that Sebastien Le Toux was traded to the New York Red Bulls?

Well, Le Toux felt the same way.

In advance of the Union's road date with the Red Bulls this Saturday, I spoke with Le Toux -- one of the most popular players in Union history. And he said his first thought after getting word he'd been shipped from Vancouver was similar to what Union fans likely experienced.

"I thought, 'Oh no, I have to play Philly next weekend,'" Le Toux told me the other day. "And I read some of the tweets that people were sending."

Le Toux scored 14 goals and tallied 11 assists in two seasons with the Union. He was a 2010 All-Star, one of the MLS Best XI in the same season, a top-five goal scorer in 2010 and 2011, and a good guy who twice won the league's Fair Play Award for committing the fewest fouls. He was a guy everyone seemed to rally around.

So when the Union traded him to the Whitecaps in January, naturally, the move ruffled a few feathers. The common logic is that New York dealt for Le Toux because the Red Bulls figured they would have better luck re-signing Le Toux, whose contract expires after this season, than Dane Richards -- who's believed to be Europe-bound in 2013.

That being said, I asked Le Toux if he'd ever consider returning to Philly by signing in the offseason with the Union. (Remember, this is the guy who told me the day he was traded to Vancouver, "I would be happy to just retire than play for Peter (Nowak) again." But Nowak's not with the Union. It's John Hackworth's team.)

Anyway, here's what Le Toux had to say: 
"To play there again, I don't know," Le Toux said. "I said I would not come back, but that was a different circumstance. You can see from the results what John Hackworth is doing. He's done a great job. He's very capable of leading the team to good results. He's good and the players have responded.

"I don't know. That will have to be something I think about after the season. I had a great two years there in Philly. I will see what will happen, but I won't say no."

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012


(Associated Press)
There was no point to Wednesday's match. That is, because there were no points at stake. Therefore was no point for Union interim manager John Hackworth to start his regulars.

And he didn't, going with a starting XI that featured the likes of Zach Pfeffer (pictured), Cristhian Hernandez, Jimmy McLaughlin and Roger Torres. The average age of Hackworth's starters was 21.5 years.

Hackworth would disagree, that this game actually carried some merit.

“It's a great way for younger players to test themselves to see if they're ready to play at this level and, more importantly, to see if they're ready to play the kind of soccer we're going to represent every time we step on the field,” he said. “That's a hard thing for young guys to understand, and especially harder to go do. It's the toughness, the physical preparation that has to go into playing the way that we saw our team play those last 30 minutes. That's the expectation and I'll never drop that. The first time I sat up here as the interim team manager, I said, 'We're going to play the way that the fans deserve to see the game of soccer played.'”

Due to popular demand, here's a quick-hitting synopsis of how the Union's youngsters performed at PPL Park against Aston Villa:

The midfielder, who had not featured with the first team all season, got 77 minutes and the start. Looking timid at times, the 17-year-old made a few connecting passes with ease … and then others that looked amateur.

“I was super excited,” said Pfeffer, who looked it. “I got a start, I got 75 minutes and it's always great to get as much game time as possible.”

The 19-year-old forward, who has gotten two MLS appearances this season, played 60 minutes. Without registering a shot on goal, Hernandez did as much to stay involved in a Union attack that lacked any sort of firepower in the first half.

“I was just trying to see where I was, from a soccer standpoint, playing against an EPL opponent,” he said.

The 19-year-old Great Valley High product, like Hernandez, picked up 60 minutes. McLaughlin's greatest contributions were a pair of first-half runs, carrying the ball from the midfield into the Union's offensive third. But once he got there, McLaughlin looked lost.

Still, he picked up Hackworth's praise.

“Jimmy McLaughlin is a young guy who we have great hope for and we feel that he can really play,” Hackworth said.

The 21-year-old midfielder, who's recently returned from in-season left knee surgery, got his first real test since the injury with a 60-minute showing. And Torres played absently, failing to connect on a handful of passes and not properly anticipating where his teammates would be when he had the ball.

“Look, I love Roger Torres. I've loved him since the day he got here. But I just don't think he's ready physically or mentally to play the kind of soccer we're trying to play,” Hackworth said. “He's a fantastic, technical player, but he has to understand when to make decisions on the field. Those decisions turn out to be everything in professional soccer. He's got so many great qualities, but we still have to push him along, for sure.”

The 22-year-old forward played all 90 minutes, recording a shot on goal for the Union. The sparkplug to the Union's offense in a reserve capacity, Hoppenot could be angling for more playing time based on how well he's featured of late, said Hackworth.

“Antoine is certainly one of them,” Hackworth said, of the youngest guys who are on the rise. “He's come off the bench, but we want to see if he can now take his game to the next level.”

So what can we take from all of this? Hoppenot is going to get a chance to start in the near future, Torres isn't nearly as close to becoming a breakout player as anticipated, and Pfeffer, Hernandez and McLaughlin are better than a 'long-term project' label, but aren't going to get minutes overnight.

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(Times staff / JULIA WILKINSON)
Remember this guy?

That's Zach Pfeffer, who will make the start in tonight's friendly with Aston Villa. He hasn't appeared with the first-team at any stage of the season --- not against MLS competition, not in U.S. Open Cup play, not even in friendlies.

Until tonight.

Here's the rest of the Union starting XI:
GK MacMath
DF Gaddis; Okugo; Valdes; G Farfan
MF Gomez; Pfeffer; Torres; McLaughlin
FW Hoppenot; Hernandez

And the Union (expanded) bench:
GK Harrison
DF Williams; Albright; Lopez; Jordan
MF Carroll; Lahoud; Daniel
FW Pajoy; Martinez

Some observations about tonight's lineup:
  • Careful with the starters, Hack. Union interim manager John Hackworth values Saturday's league match with rival New York over tonight's friendly. So why start so many of the regulars? Perhaps Hackworth feels a commitment to Aston Villa, which precludes him from starting an all-reserve lineup. In any case, the Union cannot afford an injury setback to any of their starters. So if we see Zac MacMath in goal, All-Star Carlos Valdes, Amobi Okugo or Gabriel Farfan on the backline, or Gabriel Gomez in the midfield for any more than 45 minutes, that could be a problem.
  • No place like Home(grown Players). Tonight, Pfeffer and Cristhian Hernandez get their chances to show what they can do. Pfeffer, as previously mentioned, hasn't seen the pitch with the Union first-teamers this season. Hernandez, at least, has played twice in the MLS slate.
  • Where's Jorge? Anyone seen Jorge Perlaza lately? The guy for whom the Union traded Danny Mwanga, Perlaza didn't even make the 18 (err, 21). How far has the guy fallen on Hackworth's depth chart? While Mwanga entered tonight's MLS match against Chivas USA as a reserve, and has scored since joining the Portland Timbers, Perlaza has been a ghost. He's gotten 72 of 540 possible minutes in MLS play, compared to Mwanga, who's gotten 336 of a possible 630 minutes with the Timbers.

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Monday, July 16, 2012


(Associated Press)
He walked out of the locker room Saturday night, smiling as widely as any 21-year-old on his birthday. Of course, Roger Torres would have been happier had he actually contributed to the Union’s 2-1 victory.

“I just want to play,” Torres told me.

The crafty Colombian has gotten onto the pitch for a grand total of seven minutes since sustaining a knee injury in April that required surgery.

Torres says he’s healthy, calling his afflicted left knee “great.” But the 5-5 midfielder might have a difficult time cracking the Union’s lineup, and for more reasons than their 4-2-0 record in their last six matches, under interim manager John Hackworth.

The reality is that, while Torres was away, the Union found someone else to play. No longer the go-to reserve to spark their offense off the bench, Torres has relinquished that job to Antoine Hoppenot — pictured, the 50th pick in the MLS supplemental draft and the most-unlikely contributor to the Union’s attack.

A 21-year-old Princeton product, Hoppenot made two appearances for 26 minutes under ex-Union boss Peter Nowak. Under Hackworth, he’s been involved in the last six league matches and tallied two goals in 159 minutes.

“I’m so proud for (Hoppenot),” Torres said of the 5-8 striker. “I just joked with him, that he’s like me last year. That’s what I say to him before he go in today. He’s doing well, too, for the team. I just say congratulations to him for everything he do in this moment.”

Hackworth, who’s been singing Hoppenot’s praises for quite some time, echoed that sentiment.

“Right now it’s fantastic, but I think there’s a lot of pieces that go into that too. And while Antoine is coming off the bench and playing a pivotal role, there’s a lot of other guys that are connected to that and doing a great job,” Hackworth said.

So where does that leave Torres? Well, he says he expects to play a bunch Wednesday in a friendly against English Premier League side Aston Villa. Beyond that, he might be relegated to bench duty and reserve-league minutes … until he’s called upon in a pinch.

“It’s difficult because everybody is going in a good way, so it’s hard but it’s nice,” Torres said. “When everyone is doing well, I’m so happy for that. I just keep working hard and the opportunity, Wednesday, is a good game for some minutes. I’m going to try to enjoy that moment and just wait for my opportunity. I know when I go on the field, I will do everything I can to win.”

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Sunday, July 15, 2012


(Associated Press)
Union captain Carlos Valdes has made the MLS All-Star Game's 18-man roster, and will be eligible to play July 25 at PPL Park against Chelsea FC.

This will represent the first All-Star Game appearance for Valdes, a second-year MLS player who has anchored the Union's central defense since 2011. He was named the club's captain in May, following the trade of Danny Califf to Chivas USA.

"I think it;s fantastic for Carlos and he's most deserving of this," said Union interim manager John Hackworth, who will assist D.C. United coach Ben Olsen with the MLS All-Star Game's technical staff.

"Carlos has had two outstanding seasons with us, he's our captain and it's an honor. We needed another centerback on this roster, and Carlos is one of the best centerbacks in the league. He's very deserving of this."

Valdes earned the All-Star nod Sunday as one of two players voted in by MLS commissioner Don Garber. Both Garber (two selections) and Olsen rounded out the All-Star Game's 18-man roster. The first XI were named a week ago.

It's been a whirlwind 24 hours for Valdes, who followed up his game-winning goal Saturday against Montreal with the first All-Star selection of his career.

The Union have had three All-Star selections in as many seasons since joining MLS in 2010. Striker Sebastien Le Toux started the 2010 showcase game and Faryd Mondragon got the start in goal in 2011.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012


(Times staff / ERIC HARTLINE)
Less than a half-hour after the Union had defeated Montreal, 2-1, Saturday night to consummate the franchise's first three-match winning streak in MLS play, Nick Sakiewicz wore a grin befitting of a happy boss.

The Union's CEO, Sakiewicz addressed the team's elevated level of play, which has resulted in a 4-2-0 record since John Hackworth went from assistant coach to interim manager.

That's why Sakiewicz said he's content to leave the Union roster as is, even though the international transfer window will remain open until July 27.

“We have a good team. We're done tinkering,” Sakiewicz told me. “We were tinkering the first stretch. I think that's a good question for John, but John's not tinkering. The group, they're very locked in.

The Union (6-9-2, 21 points), who at the midway point of the season, are only five points out of a playoff spot, used a stoppage-time goal from Carlos Valdes to win their fourth match in five outings.
Last month, at the opening of the transfer window, the Union signed centerback Bakary Soumare for depth on defense. It wouldn't be a surprise if that's the only move the Union make.


“Again, if opportunities come our way we feel like we can take advantage of to make our team better, we'll do it, but how can you not be proud of this team?” Sakiewicz said. “They overcame so much adversity today – not just the 11 players they were playing against, but you saw what I saw. For them to come out with this result...”

Sakiewicz began tapping his heart.

“It's all heart,” he said. “They gave up a soft goal and it's tough to come off that, but they scored in stoppage time. It's exciting stuff and it's all heart.”

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Here's the lineup the Union will use against Montreal:

GK MacMath
DF G Farfan
DF Valdes
DF Okugo
DF Williams
MF Carroll
MF Lahoud
MF Adu
FW Daniel
FW McInerney
FW Martinez

Bench: Harrison, Gomez, Hoppenot, Gaddis, Albright, Torres, Pajoy.

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Some notes and obserations about the lineup...

Welcome back, Josue. It's been so long since Union fans saw Josue Martinez in action that it's likely they forgot who he was. But Martinez (pictured), a key offseason acquisition, will get the start at forward -- his first since June 16 and only his third of the season. Martinez, who will pair with Jack McInerney and Keon Daniel up top, will make his 10th appearance of the season. Martinez has not played since June 16, a stretch of four matches of inactivity. He has managed only 177 minutes since the end of April.
Bench bodies. Before drawing conclusions about who's in the dog house, here's all you need to know about the Union's bench tonight: They're resting some tired bodies. Gabriel Gomez is still as productive as ever and Lio Pajoy has enjoyed a rejuvenation of late.
No Perlaza, no Lopez. Forward Jorge Perlaza and defender Porfirio Lopez warmed up together, serving as jogging partners in pre-game. But neither player made the 18. The obvious reason why: They're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Perlaza was traded for by former Union boss Peter Nowak. And Lopez was sought after in the offseason by Nowak. They just don't seem to fit into interim manager John Hackworth's plans.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012


(Times staff / ROBERT J. GURECKI)
If you took a look around the Union dressing room Wednesday, you probably couldn't tell that they had been eliminated from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Their 2-0 semifinal loss to Sporting Kansas City was filled with fouls, bookings and intrigue.

“It sucks to lose," Jack McInerney said, "but we have such a young team. We're only halfway through the season and the goal has to be to get into the playoffs."

Captain Carlos Valdes (pictured) and the Union got shoved around plenty. They took their knocks and, even though Union interim manager John Hackworth said he doesn't want to pin blame for the defeat on his club's fatigue, it's difficult to mask that the Union were run down. They're playing nine matches in 27 days, including next week's friendly against Aston Villa.

So, considering the resurgent nature of the Union and their attempt to climb the MLS standings, maybe dropping the Open Cup semifinal wasn't the worst thing in the world. Good luck trying to pry those words from any of the players' mouths, but there's an argument to be made there.

Consider their next five matches: v. Montreal (8th in East), at New York (3rd in East), v. New England (6th in East), at Montreal, v. Chicago (4th in East). World-beaters, those teams are not. This would be as good a time as any for the Union to make their push.

"I think the first game, (SKC) thought they were going to step on the pitch and win the game (a 4-0 Union win June 23) just by stepping out there," said Michael Lahoud. "This time, they played what they were designed to do – scrappy and found a way to win. In this tournament, that's what gets it done and that's what got it done for them tonight."

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Amobi Okugo, who's already on the fast track to establishing career-bests in games played, games started and minutes played, could be in line for the full-time starter's job at centerback.

Okugo, who played all 90 minutes against SKC, got rave reviews afterward from Hackworth --- who said injured centerback Bakary Soumare, who the Union signed earlier this month inside the transfer window, isn't a lock to start when healthy.

“Amobi was fantastic again and when a player's playing like that, there's no way that you're going to replace him," Hackworth said. "Hopefully Baki gets back sooner and that'll be some tough decisions. Crazy things already happened with injury or another long stretch of games here. It's good to have that depth."

A defensive midfielder, Okugo was viewed as a stop-gap centerback at first when Danny Califf was traded in May. Since, he's started and played all 90 in each of the Union's last five MLS matches. Okugo has played nine games with six being starts, for 610 minutes. His career-best totals were achieved last year, when he logged 15 appearances with 10 starts for 811 minutes.

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Couple more odds and ends...
  • Long after the final whistle, McInerney was seen walking off the pitch at PPL Park holding a cardboard-cutout replica of the U.S. Open Cup. According to one Tweeter, a young girl gave McInerney her homemade souvenir. What a cool gesture.
  • The Union were whistled for four yellow cards and 21 fouls, to SKC's two bookings and 17 fouls. Wouldn't be the first time some folks in Chester were shouting about cheatin'. (Just ask the kids who play basketball at Chester High.)
  • Not sure who had the hook-up, but Sporting Kansas City was booming some Jay-Z/Kanye West out of the visitors' dressing room. Usually, the Union's opponents don't play music. But winning an Open Cup semifinal must be different.

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(Times staff / COLIN KERRIGAN)
Here's who the Union will start tonight against Sporting Kansas City in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal:

GK MacMath
DF G Farfan
DF Valdes (C)
DF Okugo
DF Williams
MF M Farfan
MF Carroll
MF Lahoud
FW Pajoy
FW McInerney
FW Adu

Bench: Konopka, Daniel, Gomez, Hoppenot, Albright, Martinez, Gaddis.

A few notes about the starters:
  • No go for Gabriel Gomez? The Union's leading scorer, with five goals, Gomez starts the match on the bench. If he was to start, Gomez likely would have supplanted Michael Lahoud, the sparkplug midfielder who never stops running. Perhaps John Hackworth is looking to give Gomez a breather, during this tenuous stretch of games. Or perhaps he likes what Lahoud gives him at the start of the match. Not sure what else to say about this move.
  • If it ain't broke... Hackworth has made a point of saying he's unwilling to tamper with things that are working. With that in mind, we find Jack McInerney (pictured) and Lio Pajoy situated atop the attack. Hackworth knows what he's doing: Across all competitions, with those two at the forefront of the team's offense, the Union are averaging 2.5 goals per match (15 goals in 6 matches).

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Monday, July 9, 2012


(Times staff / COLIN KERRIGAN)
It's been 27 days since John Hackworth took over, and in the near-month that he's been at the helm, well, the Union have played pretty-darn good.

But that doesn't nearly do the Union justice, does it?

They're scoring with regularity, playing out-of-their-minds defensively and getting under the skins of their opponents ... as evidenced by their 3-0 throttling Sunday of Toronto FC.

Just about the only thing that should come as a surprise to anyone is that the Union are playing this well so quickly after the firing of their head coach and the dismissal of the scouting director, Diego Gutierrez ... and that they're playing nine matches over a 27-day span, including Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Sporting Kansas City.

"Everyone knows what they need to do to get ready for the next game," said Antoine Hoppenot, who tallied the Union's third goal Sunday. "People are ice bathing, getting in the hot tub so they are getting stretching regimens and the guys know what they need to do.  They are professionals so they make sure they are ready for the next game."

The Union -- who also got goals from Freddy Adu, pictured, and Gabriel Gomez -- are making Hackworth look good. They're creating some space between they and last-place Toronto, closing the gap between they and their competition for one of the five playoff spots in the Eastern Conference ... and returning an exciting brand of soccer to PPL Park.

Something that hasn't been there since, say, 2011. Remember those days?

A couple 'how' situations here:
  • How does Antoine Hoppenot keep doing what he's doing?
  • How did Sheanon Williams make this save, protecting Zac MacMath's clean sheet?
  • How cool was it to see Roger Torres make his way onto the pitch? The midfielder, who checked in for Michael Farfan in the 83rd minute, hadn't played in MLS competition since March 24 while recovering from an MCL injury.

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U.S. OPEN CUP: The results of the bidding war to host the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final are in ... and it's only half-good for the Union.

They'd host Chivas USA in a final either Aug. 7 or Aug. 8, assuming both win their respective semifinals. But if the Union draw Seattle Sounders FC, they'll have to travel to the West Coast to face the three-time Open Cup champs Aug. 8.

MLS ALL-STAR XI: The starting XI for the MLS All-Star Game, July 25 at PPL Park, was unveiled this weekend ... and the Union don't have anybody who made the cut.

That's not to say the Union won't have anybody representing the host club when the MLS stars face Chelsea FC, but it's in the hands of MLS commissioner Don Garber, who will pick two players next Sunday, July 15, and a vote of players will yield the rest of the roster, which will be announced on matchday.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012


If you haven't done so already, buy a ticket to the Union's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal vs. Sporting Kansas City this Wednesday night. Just do it.

Here's why: Because proceeds from every ticket sold will benefit the 'In Ian's Boots' organization, founded by Ron Miller and his wife Holly Wastler-Miller.

You might ask, 'What's that?' The Millers' 12-year-old son, Ian Miller -- a youth-soccer goalkeeper -- died in a sledding accident in January 20120. A Bible verse (James 1:2-4) was found in Ian's boots after he passed away: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

You've got to ask yourself, 'How cool was this kid?' Though Ian is no longer with us, his memory lives on through his parents' foundation in his name, which provides people in need with shoes -- helping the homeless or less-fortunate folks of Pottstown, Reading and Chester, as well as those in Honduras and parts of Africa.

So buy a ticket to Wednesday's game at, using the promo code 'INIANSBOOTS,' and $5 to every ticket will go to a great cause.

Do it. You know you want to.

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On a side note: I have the weekend off, so my colleague Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith, on Twitter) will be covering Sunday's game against visiting Toronto FC. Trust me, you're in good hands with Smith. He's Briarcliffe's finest. Give him a follow. Cheers and enjoy the match.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


You know you've scored a sweet goal when the face of American soccer dismisses it.

Jack McInerney's goal in first-half extra time of the Union's 2-1 win over the L.A. Galaxy caught the attention of Landon Donovan, who had this to say about the tally:

“It’s just lack of concentration. They were barely in our end in the first half and then, in one play, the guy scores a one-in-a-thousand goal, and that’s it. Sometimes that’s the way this game is. It seems like we’ve been on the end of that too many times this year. Maybe we’ve got to create our own luck a little bit more. I don’t know, it’s frustrating, but sometimes things go that way, it happens.”

 There ya go. Welcome to the big leagues, Jack Mac.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012


John Hackworth spent the better part of his Monday conference call discussing the dismissals of Diego Gutierrez and Alecko Eskandarian, respectively the Union's scouting and youth directors.

But Hackworth, the Union's interim manager, reserved only a few moments for laying out exactly how the club will manage without a scouting director … while the international transfer window remains open until July 27.

Now, Hackworth contends that the Union have their fingerprints on a few different players. He said he doesn't expect the Union, teetering in next-to-last-place in the Eastern Conference table, to take a step back in their ability to stay competitive in the transfer front without Gutierrez.

“I've traveled to all those countries and have strong relationships with those people there,” Hackworth said. “I think we'll be OK in that department.”

But was the dismissal of Gutierrez the most-prudent decision, considering the timing of the move? Consider that the Union let go of Gutierrez last week – according to Gutierrez, though the move became official Monday – and only a day or two after landing one of what they hope is a few key signings this summer.

The Union are optimistic that they'll sign someone else in addition to centerback Bakary Soumare, who they inked June 26 on the eve of the transfer window opening. Soumare, a friend of Gutierrez's who played with Gutierrez with the Chicago Fire from 2008 to '09, said his connection to his former teammate was a selling point in joining the Union.

“I would argue that (signing Soumare) was the biggest signing in the league in the now-open transfer window,” said Hackworth of signing Soumare, a process within which Gutierrez played a significant role.

Without Gutierrez, Hackworth said he expects to be taxed time-wise in the next month.

“On the international front, I'm working with my contacts over the last 10 years. It takes up a great deal of the day,” Hackworth said.

So maybe the dismissal of Gutierrez wasn't the most timely, but – after listening to Hackworth – you get the sense that it was a personnel move within the technical staff that had to be made. One report said the two had “philosophical differences” (sound familiar?) which they couldn't overcome. On the other hand, a new coach wants to rid his club of memories from the previous coach's tenure.

Whatever it was between Hackworth and Gutierrez, it must have been substantial to force the manager's hand to go without a scouting director during a critical stretch of the season. It'll be interesting to see how the Union progress in the near future without one.

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Monday, July 2, 2012


Nowak and Gutierrez (
Diego Gutierrez pointed to his relationship with John Hackworth as the reason for his dismissal as the Union's scouting director.

Gutierrez said he was removed from his post last week, a few days before Philly Soccer Page broke the story Sunday night. Here's what Gutierrez had to say, when I reached him by phone Monday:

On the situation:
“Let's face it – I think, first and foremost, I'm thankful for the opportunity Nick (Sakiewicz) gave me to come on board. As you look back, the club has to be satisfied with the job I've done and the foundation I've laid. … The successful signings and negotiations of transfers were satisfactory. But it appears the Union are headed toward a different era. John and I don't know each other well, except for working together for two years. He likes things done his way and he attacks things with a different passion."

On when it happened:
“This went down last week. Basically, it was a conversation (Hackworth) and I had and our views moving forward didn't match up. He wants to have a clean slate to take advantage of the opportunity he has."

On the theory that anyone with ties to Peter Nowak is heading out the door:
“I can't make a comment on Alecko (Eskandarian, the youth director who also was dismissed), but I worked my hardest. Gave it 100 percent. I gave it 100 percent for Peter and I would've given it 100 percent for John. I've been around the block for 20 years. I know changes are made. I have no ill feelings toward the club. If anything I'm grateful for the opportunity to show what I can do."

On whether he'll return to work as an agent, or seek similar employment to his position with the Union:
“I don't know. At this point, I'm at the golf course and I plan on being here for the next couple weeks until I figure out what the next move is and let go of my emotions. Right now, I think it's all too fresh and I don't have a clear mind. It's got to be a couple weeks. I think I have too much to offer to the league. I have a lot of tools to succeed."

On final thoughts:
“I poured my soul into this job with insane hours to make this club better. I just want people to know I am not bitter and I don't hold anything against anyone. I wish the Union success in the future."

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As for Hackworth's point of view, he told reporters Monday in a conference call that it was his decision to remove Gutierrez and Eskandarian from their posts. He also said their duties will be divided amongst the rest of the technical staff.

For more on the story, click here.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012


Diego Gutierrez (Courtesy Union)
A source confirmed to me what Philly Soccer Page reported earlier Sunday night, that Union scouting director Diego Gutierrez and youth director Alecko Eskandarian.

The source said the two "are no longer with the organization."

Gutierrez, who joined the Union technical staff in December 2010, was integral in instilling a pipeline for the Union into talent pools in Central and South America. Gutierrez had his hands in the signings of Lio Pajoy, Carlos Valdes and a host of others.

Eskandarian, who came aboard with the Union in June 2011, oversaw the Union's youth academy clubs and handled other similar responsibilities.

If you're connecting the dots, the Union appear to be trying to cut ties with anyone associated with ex-Union boss Peter Nowak. Gutierrez was a teammate of Nowak's in Chicago, while Eskandarian was a player under Nowak with D.C. United.

Unless interim Union manager John Hackworth gives us another explanation Monday, when he speaks to the media via conference call from the West Coast -- where the Union play LA Galaxy Wednesday night -- it'd be hard to argue against the belief that the Union simply are trimming Nowak's guys from the club. Though, it's worth noting that midfielders Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll also are deeply entrenched with Nowak and remain with the club.

I'll try to get more on this as it progresses. Stay tuned.

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The Union played for 80 minutes like a draw with Houston was imminent. And in the 81st, the game changed dramatically with the toot of the referee's whistle. A penalty-kick strike from Brian Ching led the Dynamo to a 2-1 victory. Now, I'm not prepared to say that a referee's call, a drawn foul by Ching in the box in the 81st, ultimately led to the Union's demise.

Fact is, John Hackworth's club had multiple opportunities to win this game, without resorting to physical play in the box against Ching, a former U.S. national team player and an MLS veteran who knows who to make a subtle contact look not to subtle. “It was a tough call," Hackworth said Saturday night. "I would need to go look at the replay a couple times. Either way, we have two guys in the box versus one and we need to be smarter in the box and defend it better."

 The Union, after playing 45 minutes of flat soccer, found the back of the net in the 46th minute when Keon Daniel turned and fired a cross from Brian Carroll at the edge of the box. Prior to that, the Union had two sound chances to score -- including a 2-on-1 attack from Lio Pajoy and Jorge Perlaza, the latter of whom hit the ball just wide of the left post in the first half's earliest moments.

And after Daniel's goal, the Union began to dominate possession like they hadn't in the opening 45 minutes. It looked like the Union, who had never lost to the Dynamo in a regular-season match, were about to maintain that streak.

The folks conversing with me on Twitter attempted to place the blame on referee Fotis Bazakos, who blew the whistle and, in doing so, blew the call. They called it "unjust," "unfair," "a blown call," and "a phantom call."

Others prior to the game wondered why guys like Freddy Adu and Antoine Hoppenot were on the bench and not in the starting lineup. With the Union mired in a nine-match-in-27-day stretch, Hackworth can't afford to start Adu every game, nor can they attempt to try Hoppenot, who's developed into a super-sub, outside of a reserve capacity. Hackworth has said he has to trust the depth of the Union. He can't play a game of lineup favoritism. He can't play his ideal lineup each time out, either. He has to use the best guys available at the best times in order to keep everyone fresh, so some nights --- like Saturday in Houston --- you might not see the Union's most-potent lineup on the pitch.

OK, long story short: In the most-literal sense, yes, the Union lost the match because of Ching's penalty kick. But neither a PK, nor an errant whistle should have kept the Union from winning. They had opportunities, but failed to deliver on them.

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