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

Friday, June 29, 2012


(Courtesy Philadelphia Union)
In a time not too removed, on a field not too distant, a pretty solid battle for a starting spot will commence.

The Union have one centerback they counted on, another who's turned heads of late, and a third they inked within the international transfer window. If you're doing the math, that's three players for two spots in the starting 11.

When Bakary Soumare, pictured, is healthy (and every indication – including Soumare's – lends itself to a two-week timetable), his place in the Union's formation could threaten the starting spots of Carlos Valdes and Amobi Okugo. Valdes, the club's captain, has been a staple on the backline since the start of the 2011 season. Okugo, meanwhile, is a natural midfielder who has been thrust into the centerback spot since the May trade of Danny Califf to Chivas USA.

So where does that leave the Union? If you ask interim manager John Hackworth, he's not prepared to make a decision any time soon.

“We have (had that discussion),” Hackworth said. “I think we’ll be a little bit conservative with him. One (reason) is we’re playing really well right now. Amobi Okugo is turning out to be a fantastic centerback. His consistency alone, I mean, Baki’s got a tough job.

“I told Baki he’s got to come in here and beat out Carlos Valdes and Amobi Okugo for a job right now. That’s a big challenge, but when I look down at this sheet and I’ve got nine games in 27 days, there are opportunities to spread those minutes around. And we’re going to have to. Guys are going to take a little knock here or there. … We need to rely on our depth.”

That part is true – the Union play their third of nine games in a 27-day stretch Saturday at Houston. At some point, the Union will have to count on reserves to get consistent minutes in critical matches, including MLS play and U.S. Open Cup competition. Chances are there will be plenty of minutes to go around.

But it still begs the question, 'Who's job is it to lose?'

"It's good to have competition,” Okugo said. “I'm here trying to keep my spot, so I welcome the challenge.”

Game on.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012


Union rookie Raymon Gaddis will miss Saturday's match at Houston with a one-game suspension, Major League Soccer's Disciplinary Committee announced Thursday.

The right back also incurred a fine of an undisclosed amount.

Gaddis recklessly tackled Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza in the 24th minute of the Union's 4-0 victory June 23. Espinoza had already played the ball when Gaddis tackled him high, drawing a yellow card. (Video of the tackle is embedded above.)

The absence of Gaddis should not be such a burden for the Union, assuming regular right back Sheanon Williams can return from a right big-toe fracture. Wednesday, Union interim manager John Hackworth spoke promisingly of Williams' progress and said Williams' return wouldn't be out of the question.

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Though he may downplay it, or deflect credit for it, Lionard Pajoy’s progress since joining the Union hasn’t gone unnoticed.

He may not be a step as quick as other players. And he may not have scored nearly as many goals as advertised in the preseason by ex-Union boss Peter Nowak. But Pajoy’s improved play is showing up when the Union have needed it.

Pajoy struck twice Tuesday night, once from the run of play and another time from the penalty spot, in a 5-2 win over Harrisburg that sent the Union into the semifinal stage of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Part of the reason for Pajoy’s improved play of late has been that he’s lining up beside two others in the Union’s new-look formation. No longer is the Colombian striker being counted on as the lone striker. Instead, he’s been paired up with Jack McInerney and a combination of other players, like Josue Martinez, Antoine Hoppenot and even Freddy Adu at glimmers pushing forward.

On the same token, Pajoy isn’t always on the attack. He’s dropped a step or two into the midfield, and been counted upon as a link to distribute the ball, rather than simply dump it over the opposition and run onto it.

“It’s just been the hard work that we’ve been putting in,” Pajoy said the other day, through a translator. “The offense, as well as the rest of the team has realized that we have to start scoring goals to win games.

“Not just me, but the entire team, feels pretty confident due to our recent games. It’s something that we didn’t have in the beginning of the season.”

Notice how many times Pajoy said ‘I’ there? Zero. He’s a humble guy, who often will not answer questions pertaining to himself. Call it Bryzgalov-itis, but Pajoy’s taking a team-first approach … even after netting a brace.

Pajoy doesn’t want to be the only guy being relied upon to score. That might have been his M.O. when brought in last offseason, but it isn’t anymore.

“The team isn’t relying on one person. Everyone on the offense is doing their part,” Pajoy said. “This is important for a team that aspires to great things. Hopefully, the offensive players can continue their ways.”

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012


(Greg Carroccio / Philadelphia Union)
About 15 minutes after the locker room had nearly emptied, after the shouts of elation had quieted, there was this subtle exchange between Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and midfielder Freddy Adu.

Adu: “What's up, boss?”
Sakiewicz: “Two more, baby.”
Adu: “Yep, yep.”

Sakiewicz knows it. Adu knows it. The Union and their supporters know it. They are two victories away from winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, following Tuesday's 5-2 thumping of Harrisburg City Islanders. They face Sporting Kansas City, a 3-0 winner over Dayton Dutch Lions, in a July 11 semifinal at PPL Park.

It seems as though the Union's success is a product of playing more loose, which is a product of John Hackworth's impression upon this group.

From playing a more youthful lineup, to those younger players actually pulling their weight (Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot, for example) … from players saying how they feel, to wearing what they like (bowties are a pretty popular look these days in the locker room), the Union are a charismatic group of guys who don't feel any pressure.

“Player management is important, and (Hackworth) has done a great job doing that for us since he's taken over,” Adu said. “Even when he was the assistant coach, he was the guy that – when you're the assistant coach, you have more of a relationship with your assistant coach when you're a player than with your head coach. He's the guy that is kind of quote-unquote your friend. He's the guy you go to to talk to. The head coach is more like the guy you don't approach – the boss.

“Because of that, I think some of the guys feel close to him. The relationship now, the title is different, but the relationship is strong. He's done an amazing job of keeping it the same, where he's really allowing us to really be ourselves. He is himself. He hasn't changed. He's John Hackworth, and we're thankful for that.”

If you don't buy into Hackworth's influence on this group, how else would you rationalize the following:
  • The rapid development of Hoppenot, the 51st pick in the supplemental draft, from seldom-used sub to impact reserve with the scoring touch?
  • The immediate impact of McInerney, who has transformed from lineup-card omission to goal-scoring starter?
  • The emergence of Amobi Okugo, a natural midfielder who has played impeccably at central defense?

Hackworth may not be the best X-and-Os coach in MLS. He may not be the most skilled man to ever hold a clipboard. But he knows how to handle a group of kids looking for a chance. He's given the Union confidence and, in turn, they've given him production. He's shown them faith and, in turn, they're making good on that commitment.

“Hack has always told me the same thing, from the moment I got here,” said Hoppenot, who drew a foul in the box that resulted in Lio Pajoy's 69nd-minute penalty kick goal. “He's been in my corner since Day 1.”

That's why the Union are two wins away from their first piece of hardware.

NOTE: The Union introduced newly signed 26-year-old Bakary Soumare prior to the match. He went from greeting media in pregame to greeting fans during the game. Soumare, a 6-4 centerback, grabbed the mallet and starting playing the bass drum in The River End, Section 137. "I didn't play it too much," Soumare told me, "but it was a lot of fun out there." According to Soumare, his deal with the Union is "long-term." Read about it here.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Tuesday, prior to their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal, the Union introduced Bakary Soumare to the media at PPL Park. Manager John Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz issued Soumare the No. 4 kit, and scouting/sporting director Diego Gutierrez spoke of the signing.

Here's the video:

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What was rumored yesterday, in a Fox Soccer report by Ives Galarcep, panned out today with the Union announcing the signing of Bakary Soumare.

Soumare will be eligible to play Saturday at Houston as well as further MLS competition, pending the opening of the international transfer window Wednesday, but is unable to play in U.S. Open Cup competition.

The Union announced Soumare came their way by way of a trade with Vancouver for the top spot in MLS allocation ranking in order to sign Soumare, a former MLS player with Chicago from 2008-2009.

Soumare will be available to the media for interviews prior to tonight's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal, so check back later tonight for more with the Union's newest addition.

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Monday, June 25, 2012


(Associated Press)
The Union appear to have made a pair of transactions in order to fill a void in their lineup.

According to a Fox Soccer report from Ives Galarcep, the Union have completed an allocation-order trade with Vancouver that enables them to sign centerback Bakary Soumare.

Galarcep reported that the Union, which sat 13th in allocation order, traded with the Whitecaps, who were at No. 2, to move up and sign Soumare. Per league rules, a former MLS player returning to the league must go through the allocation order process unless his original club (Chicago, in Soumare’s case) hadn’t spent the money it received for his transfer.

 It’s believed the Union sent allocation money to the Whitecaps in order to facilitate the trade. Galarcep reported that the Union will announce the trade and signing of Soumare today, in conjunction with their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match against Harrisburg City Islanders.

Soumare, a 6-4 central defender, will be eligible to compete Wednesday, when the summer international transfer window opens. Soumare spent two seasons with the Fire. The 26-year-old was an MLS Defender of the Year finalist in 2008, when Chicago limited its opponents to 33 goals in 30 matches.

A Malian national who also has American citizenship, he has played the last three seasons abroad — with French side US Boulogne in 2010 and 2011, and on loan to German club Karlsruher SC in 2012.

(If I hear anything further, I'll be sure to update the post.)

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Sunday, June 24, 2012


Fifty players were selected before he was … in the third round … of the 2012 MLS supplemental draft. It's a selection process reserved for the afterthoughts, the guys who weren't good enough to get picked in the SuperDraft.

So being taken No. 51 has taught Antoine Hoppenot a thing or two about humility.

“I feel like everybody wants to play, but I never expected to play this much soon since, you know, I'm a supplemental guy,” Hoppenot said.

A Princeton product, Hoppenot scored in the 87th minute – a savvy chip for the first MLS tally of his career, off a brilliant throughball from Michael Farfan – in the Union's 4-0 win Saturday night over Sporting Kansas City. He was subbed on in the 58th minute, in place of Freddy Adu.

It's right to assume the Union expect more out of Adu, their designated played. But Adu said he was “running a little fatigued” and suffering from a bum shoulder, courtesy a first-half hit. That left the door open for Hoppenot to shine.

Hoppenot was all over PPL Park Saturday, racing through the box with regularity and making runs into the offensive third. He was challenging from the moment he stepped onto the field, even with his team ahead by two goals. The 21-year-old forward drew a foul in the box, setting up Lio Pajoy's 82nd-minute penalty-kick tally, before scoring one of his own – a chip-shot goal in the 87th.

“I love coming in with 20, 30 minutes left. Right now that's my thing,” Hoppenot said. “I can go out there and just completely gas myself out because 20, 30 minutes is not that much time. It's perfect for me. I can go out there and sprint, sprint, sprint and make something happen.

“I was just happy to get drafted,” he continued. “I worked hard when I got to camp and now Coach (John) Hackworth has confidence in me. He knows if he keeps playing me, I'm going to keep trying the best I have.”

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Saturday, June 23, 2012


(Greg Carroccio / Philadelphia Union)
The Union pulled off something that, outside of their locker room, not too many people would've predicted.

How about a 4-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City ... to snap a seven-game winless streak ... for a team that, entering the night, had scored only eight goals all season?

"This was big, wasn't it?" rookie Antoine Hoppenot asked, rhetorically.

Yeah, it kinda was. The Union had been written off this season, left for dead after an abysmal start to the season was part of the reason Peter Nowak got canned. So to break out with four goals against the Eastern Conference's second-place team, against a goalkeeper (Jimmy Neilsen) many had penciled in as a favorite to start the MLS All-Star Game, this one was out of left field.

Is 'stunning' the right word? If you ask Freddy Adu, it is.

"It is. With our team, we haven't had a lot success this season," Adu said. "This game was huge for us. This was very important for us."

Here's a quick rundown of the accomplishments from Saturday night's win: John Hackworth picked up his first victory as manager, Hoppenot scored his first career goal in MLS, Jack McInerney (who had a brace) scored his first goals in 322 days, and Zac MacMath posted his fourth shutout.

That's a lot to happen in one night.

“Everybody brought it today," Adu said.

And that's what it might take for the Union to dig out of their hole in the East.

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A few notes and quotes from the locker room:
  • Roger Torres, who was set to sub on in the 90th minute, never got his chance. He had to go back to the bench because he had forgotten his shin guards. "I would've been in trouble," he said.
  • Zac MacMath, who took a knock to the head in the 89th, said he's OK. Having missed action with concussions this season, and playing without a helmet, MacMath drew widespread concern. "He hit me in the back of the head a little bit," MacMath said. "I'm not sure if he meant to do it or not, but just a little knock. Nothing serious."
  • Ray Gaddis is a fan of bowties. He was rocking the unique look while fielding interviews from his locker. “Back home, if you don't have a good suit, that's bad. It's expected of you," the rookie right back said. "It's an expectation of your mom, too. I come from a church-going family, so I'm used to wearing suits and getting it all together. Chris (Konopka) has his variety of bowties, so it's always good to see what he brings to the table.”
  • John Hackworth broke some news in the postgame presser. Here's the lowdown: "First announcement is I heard that if we score more than three goals, Great Clips is going to give free haircuts to everybody at PPL tonight," Hackworth said. "I guess we all get free haircuts." Better get in line: 18,207 attended the match.
  • Peter Vermes is a man of few words. "They deserve the three points," the SKC coach said. "We didn't play well and they did." And that was the extent of his press conference.

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(Times staff / COLIN KERRIGAN)
Union starting XI just announced for tonight's match against Sporting Kansas City. Here it is:

GK MacMath
DEF G Farfan
DEF Valdes
DEF Okugo
DEF Gaddis
MF M Farfan
MF Carroll
MF Lahoud
MF Adu
FW McInerney
FW Pajoy (pictured)

A couple observations here:
BACKLINE: With Sheanon Williams listed as 'out' in the injury report with a right big toe avulsion fracture, you knew the Union were going to have to get creative. So Ray Gaddis is back at right back, and we get to see more of Amobi Okugo paired with captain Carlos Valdes at centerback. Never a bad thing.

MIDFIELD: Nothing doing here. As John Hackworth said this week, if it isn't broke, don't fix it. So you get the same lineup the Union tossed out there a week ago. Good to see Hack sticking to his guns.

FORWARD: A little different look here, with Lio Pajoy returning from his one-game suspension and knocking Josue Martinez from the starting lineup. I still think Pajoy, who's been a step too slow this season, has something to prove before he gets playing time ahead of Martinez. But that's not up to me, now is it? Also, Jack McInerney gets his second consecutive start. Great opportunity for the kid to have at it. He's been champing at the bit since the end of last season and had been denied the chance. Let's see if he's as aggressive as he was a week ago.

Here's the Union's bench for tonight:
GK Konopka
DEF Lopez
MF Daniel
MF Torres
FW Hoppenot
FW Martinez
FW Perlaza

If I'm Hackworth, I'm looking to Perlaza, Martinez and Hoppenot to give me a lift if the Union trail late. As far as we can tell, Torres is not 100 percent -- per Hackworth -- and could be a liability if he rushes back for more than garbage time.

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(Times staff / JULIA WILKINSON)
If today is anything like the few days that preceded it, Zac MacMath will wear his helmet while manning the space between the pipes.

But that's only because MacMath, the Union’s starting goalkeeper, said wearing the protective headgear following a concussion — and its subsequent recurring symptoms — has become almost essential, whether or not he likes it.

MacMath and the Union host Sporting Kansas City tonight. (For a preview on the game, on Union interim manager John Hackworth's bid to keep things consistent, click here.)

“That’s my personal decision,” MacMath said of wearing the helmet last weekend against D.C. United. “I’ve had people recommend it to me, but it’s definitely my choice. Don’t know how much longer I’ll wear it, or if I’ll wear it this weekend or not. Probably depends on how hot it is.”

MacMath sustained a concussion May 5 in a loss at Seattle. He played the next match, against visiting New York May 13, before sitting out a pair of road matches — May 19 at FC Dallas and May 26 at Toronto FC. He finally returned to the pitch, in league play at least, for last weekend’s match with D.C.

He said the helmet hasn’t disrupted his play, which has produced a 2-7-1 record with a 1.30 goals-against average.

“I don’t think it affects me and the way I play,” MacMath said. “I think it’s a little uncomfortable, but that’s it. I’ve never worn one before. It takes time. I don’t think I’m going to be used to it any time soon. It’s about not thinking about the helmet and just thinking about the play.”

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The Union will be without starters Sheanon Williams (right big toe avulsion fracture) and Gabriel Gomez (left knee contusion, patellar tendonitis), who were among the four players listed as 'OUT' in the MLS injury report, which was published late Friday. 

The others are: Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms), and Chandler Hoffman (left big toe fracture), whose injury was initially reported here.

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Be sure to check back to the blog tonight, for the Union's starting lineup and analysis of it, around 6 p.m. There'll also be some postgame stuff up here around 11 p.m., so stay tuned for that, too.

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Friday, June 22, 2012


Union forward Chandler Hoffman suffered a broken toe in training Friday, the rookie announced through his Twitter account.

No further details about the injury --- like severity, or which foot it was --- or a timetable for his return were available. A Union official declined comment on Hoffman's status.

The league's injury report, due every Tuesday and Friday, has not yet been updated, so it does not reflect Hoffman's status.

Hoffman, who was taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, finished his junior season at UCLA tied for fourth nationally in goals scored and points.

Though he's only appeared in three MLS matches --- including 51 minutes as a starter against Vancouver, and 13 minutes last weekend being subbed on against D.C. United --- Hoffman has gotten his feet wet with considerable playing time in friendlies and U.S. Open Cup competitions.

Losing Hoffman for any period of time at least opens the door for more playing time for guys like Jack McInerney and Josue Martinez, both of whom started against D.C.

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(Associated Press)
He first played for Peter Nowak at 14 years old, when he became the youngest player drafted into MLS. He won a championship with Nowak, endured good and bad times with Nowak. And he reunited with Nowak last season, by signing with the Union.

So it’d only be natural for Freddy Adu to worry about his time with the Union in their, ya know, post-Nowak era. The other day, Adu even went as far as admitting he came to Philly to play for Nowak.

“Right. I mean, I did,” Adu said. “But I also did because I knew John Hackworth. He was my coach when I was 12 years old in Bradenton. There were a lot of familiar faces and, at the end of the day, that made me want to come here and be a part of this organization and be a part of this team. … At the end of the day, you come here to work.”

Aside from a pesky two-match stretch last month, the Union’s 23-year-old veteran midfielder — it felt peculiar typing that — has been incredibly crafty. His production has been down, but everyone’s has for the Union, the lowest-scoring side in MLS.

Because of Adu’s allegiance to Nowak, who he referred to as “like a father” when he signed with the Union last season, one has to wonder how Adu’s play will suffer under Hackworth, who has taken over for Nowak. Can't imagine it would, but you never know if playing time, motivation and production will factor into Adu's next few months with the Union.

Maybe the relationship between Adu and Nowak wasn't as strong as outsiders believe, though. Adu said the other day that he sent a text to Nowak after Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz dismissed him.

“I haven’t heard back,” Adu said. “Obviously, I know (Nowak) has his stuff to deal with. I just sent him a text wishing him the best and thanking him for what he did for me in my career and thanking him, telling him if he ever needs anything, I’m always here for him.”

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 Two things happened Thursday in Union news: They won the bidding process to host the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, should they make it that far ... and it was announced Union interim manager John Hackworth will not coach the MLS All-Stars. Read more about both here.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012


The Union won a bid to host a U.S. Open Cup semifinal at PPL Park, should they win Tuesday's quarterfinal-round date with Harrisburg City.

The semifinal, against either Sporting Kansas City or Dayton Lions, would be held at PPL Park either July 10 or July 11 at 7:30 p.m.

If Dayton beats K.C., the match will be July 10. If K.C. wins, the match will be July 11.

If you haven't noticed, the Union are playing this tournament to win it. In a season in which they are mired near last place in the MLS Eastern Conference table, the Open Cup provides a chance for the Union to "chase some silverware ... and we're taking this very seriously," said Union manager John Hackworth.

Added Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz in a statement: "Winning the bid to host the semifinal round ... is very important to us. We are definitely not looking past Harrisburg, but if we advance, we wanted to make sure that we had the opportunity to play at home in front of our fans. Home field advantage is very important in our quest to win our first ever trophy and secure a spot in next year's CONCACAF Champions League Tournament."

I caught up with Sakiewicz, who offered a little insight into the bidding process, as well as the lineup the Union plan on throwing out there against Harrisburg City.

"It's a sealed-bid process," Sakiewicz said, "so we don't know what (other clubs) are bidding, and they don't know ours. But it was really important for us to win this. We're in this to win it."

Because the Union have made it this far, they're not taking the Open Cup lightly. And, as Sakiewicz said, they never do.

"We've never approached it that way in our history, by going with a half a lineup," Sakiewicz said. "We've always gone and tried to put our best lineup out there. Unfortunately, in 2010 and 2011, we got knocked out, but we will continue to use our best lineup."

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D.C. United's Ben Olsen will lead the MLS All-Stars July 25 against Chelsea FC at PPL Park, the league announced Thursday.

The job had been Union boss Peter Nowak's...until he was fired eight days ago. So much for that plan.

It was bandied about that Nowak's successor, John Hackworth, would get the honor. That's partially the case, with Hackworth joining the rest of United's technical staff on the job.

"Ben Olsen has experience playing in All-Star Games and he has guided his team to one of the best records in MLS so far this season," said Nelson Rodriguez, MLS executive vice president of competition and game operations. "He and his staff also have a relatively short distance to travel and his club does not play a league match on the weekend after the All-Star Game. Adding John Hackworth at his side strengthens the group that will assemble and prepare our team for this important game."

Traditionally --- well, of lately --- the coach of the team in the All-Star Game's host city has been the coach. That left the job to Nowak. Since he was fired last week, it was kicked around online whether Hackworth would assume the duties.

Olsen seems like the perfect choice, as outlined above by Rodriguez. He's geographically close to Philly and his team is close to tops in the Eastern Conference, a previous pre-requisite for managing the MLS All-Stars. And Olsen's a Harrisburg native. Sounds like a good fit to me.

"This is a huge honor," Olsen said in a statement. "This league has been a major part of my life, both as a player and now as a coach, and it's given me a lot. Ultimately, this recognition comes because of my team and my staff, but to represent the league on a big stage like this is a real privilege."
Hackworth, who has managed just one game as a head coach in MLS, doesn't deserve the distinction bestowed upon Olsen. At least not yet. But it's absolutely a cool gesture on MLS' and Olsen's part to include Hackworth in the festivities. Should make for a fun weekend.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


(Associated Press)
If Jack McInerney was attempting to veil his real feelings about his time under Peter Nowak, well, he probably was going about it all wrong.

McInerney vented a little Wednesday, when he spoke to reporters at PPL Park following a two-hour training session.

The 19-year-old striker, who went from No. 7 overall SuperDraft pick in 2010 to being overlooked on the 18-man gameday roster six times this season, said he was "pissed off" with his playing time under Nowak.

He added that all could have been tempered between he and Nowak if the outgoing manager, who was fired a week ago, had spoken to McInerney about his roster decisions.

“It was really frustrating because Peter really didn't talk to the players all that much," McInerney said. "He wouldn't let us know why this is happening or why that's not happening. It was tough, not dressing for six games and not knowing if you're playing bad, or if he's teaching you a lesson or what he was doing. You just really questioned going to practice, questioning yourself every day whether you're good or not. You didn't know what was going on in Peter's head."

"It made me pissed off, really."

McInerney said he hasn't played a match as motivated as he was Saturday, in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United, since his high school days.

"I just came out having the mentality, 'This is my opportunity. It could be my last one.' I just took full advantage of it."

McInerney, who got the start in interim boss John Hackworth's lineup Saturday, played 72 minutes. McInerney said it was the best he's felt on the pitch since getting 90 minutes in the second leg of the Union's 2011 Eastern Conference semifinal series against Houston.

Now, before anyone gets testy about McInerney's public decrees of distaste, the kid did say Nowak spoke to him, Danny Mwanga and Amobi Okugo at the SuperDraft back in 2010 and promised nothing. So McInerney said he knew nothing - playing time, starts, anything - was guaranteed.

But at a certain point, McInerney said, enough was enough. McInerney said he even considered requesting a trade.

“I would say those five or six games I didn't dress, like I said – I was questioning myself, whether it was time to make a change or a time to move on," he said. "I stuck it out and I got a good opportunity last week."

Hackworth said Wednesday "if it isn't broke, don't fix it," concerning his lineup for this Saturday against visiting Sporting Kansas City. So take it for what it's worth, but you can probably expect McInerney to get another start ... and it's deserved.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Kai Herdling's time with the Union has run its course.

The German import, who arrived in Philly on loan April 16, has returned to Hoffenheim 1899 two weeks ahead of schedule and in time for its preseason. Herdling's loan was set to expire June 30.

It's conceivable that the return of Roger Torres, whose injury precipitated the loan of Herdling -- a midfielder/forward -- in order to fill a void.

“We would like to thank Kai for his contributions to our club over the last two months,” Union interim manager John Hackworth said in a statement. “He was a consummate professional and it was a pleasure to have him as a member of our organization.  We wish him the best of luck with his career in Germany.”

Herdling joined the Union in the days after Torres sustained a knee injury in an April friendly. Expected to handle some of the connecting passes between a formidable backline and an attack that -- seemingly -- was one touch shy of scoring, Herdling was to be a goal producer. It didn't exactly work out that way, but that's not to say Herdling's loan was a lost cause. (After all, he was a stellar translater when German club Schalke 04 came to town.) In all seriousness, he was a good teammate and a veteran presence that a green Union team could always use. 

Considering Herdling hasn't played all that much of late, his presence on the pitch won't exactly be missed. We'll see what Hackworth has to say about it Wednesday afternoon during his weekly presser.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012


The Union, who have used a break from MLS competition lately to advance to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, resume league play today when D.C. United visits PPL Park for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

Here's the updated injury report for the Union, who are searching for their first league victory since April 21:

OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms)

QUESTIONABLE: MF Cristhian Hernandez (R knee sprain); MF Gabriel Gomez (L knee contusion); FW Lionard Pajoy (L calf contusion)

PROBABLE: DF Gabriel Farfan (lower back muscle spasms); MF Michael Farfan (L foot strain); DF Sheanon Williams (R big toe sprain); GK Chase Harrison (L ankle sprain); MF Keon Daniel (L ankle sprain); FW Freddy Adu (L calf strain)

What we can glean from the injury report is the Union are thin on the defensive front. If the Farfan brothers and Williams are unable to play, the Union will be looking to Ray Gaddis and Carlos Valdes to hold down the fort, with Amobi Okugo also getting a look at centerback.


Friday, June 15, 2012


(Associated Press)
Saturday night, the Union are going to be without Lio Pajoy.

While basic logic would dictate that new-guy Jorge Perlaza, pictured, would get the nod to start against D.C. United, Union manager John Hackworth said the other day, 'Hey, not so fast.'

Hackworth said he and the technical staff haven't had too much time to watch Perlaza, for whom the Union traded last week with Portland, and he added the opportunity to play Saturday is up for grabs.

“We got to see (Perlaza) for the first time earlier this week and (Tuesday in a friendly with Harrisburg)  for a half," Hackworth said Wednesday, after his hire as the Union's interim boss. "We're going to go through the next two days and see if he's the best option for us to put on the field. If he is, he'll get that opportunity, but there are some other guys in there that certainly are fighting for that spot."

Pajoy, who has three goals, will serve a one-game suspension for what the MLS Disciplinary Committee deemed a reckless tackle against Toronto FC. So if Pajoy is unavailable, and Perlaza isn't an automatic starter, that means one of the Union's younger strikers could get a shot to crack the starting XI.

Among those who could get the nod are:
  • Jack McInerney, 19, the third-year forward who has played all of 93 minutes this season and who last fall was rated as one of MLS' top 24 under 24.
  • Cristhian Hernandez, 18, a Homegrown Player who has made two MLS appearances in cleanup time.
  • German import Kai Herdling, whose loan expires June 30. 
  • Chandler Hoffman, 21, the first-round SuperDraft pick whose MLS playing time has been limited but has impressed in friendlies.
  • Antoine Hoppenot, 21, the supplemental-draft choice who netted the game-winner against D.C. in a fourth-round U.S. Open Cup match.
If not Perlaza, who do you think has earned the chance to start Saturday at forward? Let the debate begin.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012


Not sure if you heard, but...the Union were in the news Wednesday.

Kind of a big deal around these parts, Peter Nowak was fired when CEO Nick Sakiewicz said his and Nowak's philosophies differed. (I would've gone with wins and losses, but whatever.) Apparently, philosophy was enough to leave Nowak on the outside looking in after two-plus seasons at the helm.

Enter John Hackworth, Nowak's assistant who will take over duties as the Union manager. We don't know too many specifics about how Hackworth will run the team, but here are a few incontrovertible truths we learned from Wednesday's press conference:
  • The Union, according to Hackworth and Sakiewicz, are maintaining the rest of the technical staff, and have not made a decision regarding whether to add someone to it.
  • Hackworth will be granted an opportunity to shed the interim label and stay on as team manager in 2013.
  • Hackworth confirmed he'd like the Union to be active during the international transfer window, which opens June 27 and closes July 27, but he said his priority is to show faith to the players currently in the club's locker room.
So, with 23 matches to go and the Union (2-7-2) in next-to-last place in the East, what becomes an acceptable finish to the 2012 season?

If you ask Sakiewicz, he'd say nothing short of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

“Now is really the time for us to take this season by the neck and show the rest of this league what we’re made of," Sakiewicz said. "I’ve always said the test of people is not when you’re on a 10-game winning streak, but when times are tough. We’re in a tough spot right now. We have terrific momentum going right now in U.S. Open Cup. … I still think the league is up for grabs. There are a lot of teams in this league that people are saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that kind of start to the season,’ and we’re only a third of the way in with two-thirds of the way left. I’ve been around this league from Day 1, and I know this league is won after the all-star game. It’s after the all-star game where teams are positioning themselves and have made significant runs. We’re putting ourselves in that position right now."

I'd agree. In my honest opinion, the Union's season can salvaged. Here's why: The Union are 10 points out of joining Columbus and Chicago in a tie for fourth place. A three-game winning streak, and a corresponding three-game losing streak by those clubs, alters the Union's season. Three matches. Out of 23. That's it.

The MLS season is a marathon, beginning in March and ending in October. You have to imagine the Union, who have played about as poorly record-wise as possible, have a run in them. Factor in that Hackworth, who's made a name for himself as a youth development guru, admitted he will give some of the younger, less experienced guys a shot to prove themselves, and you have a wild-card factor that the Union can exploit. When the expectations are low -- and let's not kid ourselves. They're low right now -- players and teams tend to thrive. The Union can hit a stride and turn around their season.

"There’s a tremendous amount of soccer left to be played," said Sakiewicz, whose team resumes MLS competition Saturday by hosting D.C. United. "We’re close and we’ll make those changes accordingly."
# # # # # # #

Wednesday, I was a guest on the Philly Soccer Show, with Greg Orlandini and Eli Pearlman-Storch. We talked for about 20 minutes, about the direction of the club under Hackworth and the product Nowak leaves behind. Take a listen, let me know what you think.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


John Hackworth
Wednesday, the Union announced a changing of the guard.

Union boss Peter Nowak was out, after two-plus seasons. John Hackworth, his top assistant, was in.

Here's what Hackworth and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said at PPL Park, concerning Nowak and saving the Union's season:


“Today, we’re announcing that Peter Nowak is stepping down as our head coach and team manager. I made the decision to do that. Peter is a terrific coach and has incredible sideline instincts. Probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. But over a period of time we determined that we were no longer on the same page between ownership and Peter’s philosophy of managing the team. At this moment, I made the decision in consultation with our investors that it was time to make a change. Unfortunately, these are never easy things to do. Peter is a friend and it’s a very difficult decision, but in the best interest of our club, I made that decision and we parted ways this morning. John Hackworth, who I’ve known for many, many years and has been an integral part of building the Union brand from Day 1, will take over responsibilities as interim team manager. He will oversee all soccer operations. From our perspective, from my perspective, this is not about wins and losses and this is not about how the team has been playing on the field because, quite frankly, our team has performed well on the field and has moments where we could’ve played better and scored goals. All and all, this team has performed very well on the pitch. And as soccer is, it’s a very cruel sport and we were on the losing end more times than we were on the winning side. I want to make no mistake — this is not about wins and losses or performance of the team. We have a very good team. We have very good players. This is more about philosophical differences about how Jay (Sugarman) and I envision this club and what our vision for this club is. Sometimes, that happens that a coach and ownership aren’t on the same page. That’s why I felt it was very important to make that change and give John the opportunity.

“Peter’s experience and contributions have been greatly appreciated by me and our investor group. This has been an immeasurable learning experience and I want to thank Peter for having afforded us this learning experience. Coach Hackworth has always been part of this and I have an immense amount of comfort with him leading our guys. This is a man of extreme character and I can say that because I’ve known John for 100 years. Well, maybe not 100. Maybe 50. But John is more than capable of leading this team. This is a coach that has coached in two World Cups, a confederations tournament and has managed young players and has coached at the very highest club level and international level. He’s a former player, himself, so he knows the ropes. I have no doubt we’re going to continue the momentum with our team on the field and get better as the season goes. There’s a tremendous amount of soccer left to be played. We’re close and we’ll make those changes accordingly.

“Now is really the time for us to take this season by the neck and show the rest of this league what we’re made of. I’ve always said the test of people is not when you’re on a 10-game winning streak, but when times are tough. We’re in a tough spot right now. We have terrific momentum going right now in U.S. Open Cup. … I still think the league is up for grabs. There are a lot of teams in this league that people are saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that kind of start to the season,’ and we’re only a third of the way in with two-thirds of the way left. I’ve been around this league from Day 1, and I know this league is won after the all-star game. It’s after the all-star game where teams are positioning themselves and have made significant runs. We’re putting ourselves in that position right now.

“It’s been a tough day because Peter is a friend. I respect him highly for his coaching abilities and his instincts, but in the best interest of this club, this badge will always come first. Our fans, our sponsors, our broadcast partners, our dear Sons of Ben, I have to make tough decisions. It’s all on the behalf of the club, the brand and all of those people. At this point, I felt it was necessary to make this move so that we can continue on the growth and development of the brand."

“In terms of the player personnel moves, we’re all involved in those discussions and those strategic moves. It’s just a matter of certain styles and certain ways, and the purpose of who we are and what our brand is that you, sometimes, go in different directions. I’m not going to get into specific details about that. That’s a personal issue between Peter, me and Jay and our ownership. I wanted you guys to know this wasn’t about wins and losses or about how the team was playing."

“His reaction was my reaction. None of this is easy. None of this makes us happy. None of this is enjoyable. It’s hard stuff. The difficult part of it is we’ve known each other for a long time and competed against each other for a long time, but what’s important is you’ve got to set those feelings aside and make the decision that’s best for the club, the fans and the brand. That’s why I’m the operating partner because, for our nine investors, I have to make those decisions."

“I don’t know. It develops over time. At some point, you wake up in the morning and you realize, ‘Oh, this isn’t quite the way we want the Union brand represented.’ I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question because I don’t know if it’s a particular start time or a particular end time. I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I know what good wine tastes like. I sipped the wine recently and it didn’t taste so good. I don’t want to make light of it using that analogy, but I don’t know when it started. But I do know we’re not on the same page and that’s why I decided to make that change."

“No. Those were Peter’s decisions. I’m not the type of manager or owner that whispers in players’ ears or makes decisions. Those are 100-percent the team manager’s decisions. We support him. We provide input. We provide consultation. When I say ‘we,’ I mean a number of us including our board of directors. I hadn’t vetoed anything. I fully supported his decisions, but those were Peter’s decisions as they are now John’s."

“No. I’m not sure what you’re talking about (with) ‘fan confidence eroded.’ We’ve had amazing crowds. Saturday night was a standing-room only crowd. I have not detected any erosion of fan confidence, to be honest. Again, the technical staff makes player decisions based solely on one thing, and that is to make our team better. Hopefully all of our players are fan favorites in some form or way. It’s something that, you know, we look at one thing and that is, ‘Will a player make our team better and can they help us play the style of soccer we want to play and ultimately win games and put the product on the field here that fans like?’ I have not detected fan erosion."

“Absolutely. We have a balance of young players and some veteran players. I mean, even some of our veteran players are relatively young players. We’re the youngest team in the league — from Ray Gaddis to the Farfans to Freddy Adu to Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams. Sheanon seems like a seasoned veteran, but he’s still a young, under-23 player. That’s our philosophy. That hasn’t changed. There’s a lot of people who kind of seem to think we’ve gotten away from that philosophy. I don’t know where that’s coming from because when you look at our starting lineup, we’re very committed to younger players.
We’re proving it every game that we feel our starting 11, with our newcomers like Pajoy and Perlaza and Josue Martinez, who we have not seen enough of and when we’ve seen him, we like what we’ve seen. Those guys are great adds to this team. Now the key for John and his technical staff is pulling them all together and making them a team, instead of just individual talented players. That’s what we’re looking for John to do."

“Not good timing. No employer, no manager likes to read that his most important guy or most important asset is out looking for employment. It was a rumor and I don’t react to rumors. I believe 80-percent of what I hear and 100-percent of what I see. At that point it’s just a rumor. I don’t really react. If you’re asking me if that was the reason for the change, it’s absolutely not."

“It was discussed. That discussion was a private discussion, so I’m not going to comment on it."

“No. None of the player moves were reasons for this. None of those. Danny had a great time with us and, hopefully, he grows and have a different environment. You read all those comments and press releases about Danny when he was moved. He had nothing to do with this move."

“I think Peter did the best that he can while he was here. He’s a very good coach and his instincts on the sideline were the best I’ve seen and I’ve been around some pretty incredible coaches in the world and his instincts are almost second-to-none, I would say. And he brought a lot to the club. I made the decision because I felt, philosophically, we were not on the same page anymore."

“Of course."

“John is the team manager who reports directly to me."

“I informed Peter we were moving in a different direction with our team manager. That’s about all I can comment on right now, because it’s fluid. All I can tell you is, right now, I informed Peter this morning that he is not the team manager because of philosophical reasons."


“I want to start by mentioning I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Peter Nowak. He and I had discussions about what it would be like to work together and start a new franchise. Peter’s a dear friend of mine and a lot of things we did together, I’ll remember forever. I’m very thankful to him for those opportunities.
“At the same time, I’m very excited about this one. I’m humbled and honored to be in charge of this organization. I take that responsibility very greatly. There’s tons of potential in our locker room and I’m very excited to get to work."

“We have a great staff before today and we’re going to continue to do so. Things won’t change in that regard at all."
“Nick and I will talk about some possibilities. Certainly there’s a lot that’s going to change. This is happening rather quickly. We have a lot of work to do and we’re in a good spot to do some very good things."

“I can’t give you that answer right now, but I can tell you that I’m not Peter Nowak. I’m John Hackworth. I’m going to do things the way I’ve done it as a head coach and work with my staff and my players. I believe in the players we have right now. We have a young locker room, one of the youngest teams in the league. We have guys in there who are fighting, scrapping every day who want a chance. From ownership and the support I’ve been given, there will be some changes. There will be some new faces out there, but at the same time, as Nick said earlier, we’ve played some really good soccer this year. Our record does not reflect how good we are. It’s not like you’re going to see a whole new team or lineup out there on Saturday, that’s for sure."

“Their reaction is probably the same that Nick and I had. The feeling in there is that it’s a big change. It’s an adjustment time. With any change that takes place, guys are hopefully going to take it the best way possible. I’ve got to give Nick congratulations because he went into that locker room and said a lot of things to those guys that put them back in a place that is the foundation of this club, this organization. He announced me to those guys and, for us, meaning me, the players and our staff, we’ve worked together for a long time now.
I think that’s a little bit of relief to those guys and I think we all know we’re much better than our record reflects. Now it’s time to go prove that on a consistent basis."

“It’s a great opportunity for us to potentially make some moves. For right now, we do want to concentrate on the guys in our locker room and make sure they know we believe in them, have faith in them, that they were brought here for a reason. Any decision we make going for will have that in mind, that those guys are who we have to take care of first."

“You’re not going to be able to tell on Saturday. You’re not going to be able to tell in July. You don’t change things overnight. We have a lot of work to do. Saturday, what we hope is we put our best foot forward and compete the way every player and coach wants to happen. Peter, again, is a great soccer person. Our philosophies as far as playing is very similar. I don’t think we’re going to change stylistically from what Peter believed in. Will we do some things different? For sure. But we always want to play attacking soccer. We want to be a team that presses high up the field, that gets numbers forward, that creates numerical advantages, be an attractive team to watch, have a good style, be very hard. One thing I love about this city and this club is how tough everybody is. We as coaches and as players want to make sure that every day we compete to the highest of our ability. I think you’re going to see those things. At least that’s our hope. It’s not going to be an overnight thing."

“I’m going to steal one of (Sakiewicz’s) lines. It’s not my first rodeo. I was a college coach for nine years. I was a head coach in college for four. I was a head coach with the national team for over four years. Even here, I’ve been the head coach numerous times. I don’t think any of that is going to be different. For me, just so you guys know, I don’t think this should be about John Hackworth as the focal point of this team and this organization. I’m very honored to be in this position, but at the same time it should be about this team, our players, our fans and this organization, putting all these things first."

“I have not had the opportunity to talk to Peter. As soon as I learned, I tried to get a hold of him, but we have not spoken yet."

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(Associated Press)
Peter Nowak, who dealt with scant success on the field and a dose of criticism off of it, is out after two-plus seasons as the Union's manager.

The announcement is expected to be made at 2 p.m. Wednesday by Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, during a press conference at PPL Park.

It's expected assistant coach John Hackworth will step in as the Union's boss in the interim. His nameplate was on the table at PPL Park's media room, signifying he will join Sakiewicz at the 2 p.m. press conference. (My guess is he'll also helm the MLS All-Stars at PPL Park when they face Chelsea next month.)

Guess who else is expected to speak today.
The writing had been on the wall for Nowak's departure for more than a month, with the Union failing to win a match in MLS competition since April 21. The Union (2-7-2) are in a tailspin, having lost four of their last five matches, netting only a draw with FC Dallas in that span while also falling to previously winless Toronto.

Last week, a report in Scotland's Edinburgh Evening News listed Nowak as a candidate for a coaching vacancy with Hearts, a club in the Scottish Premier League. Nowak denied those reports. Hearts has yet to hire a coach.

Nowak was hired as the Union's manager May 29, 2009, a day after resigning his position as an assistant coach with the United States men's national team.

As the executive vice president of soccer operations with the Union, Nowak has overseen all personnel moves with the third-year club. He turned the Union from a cellar-dwelling expansion franchise in 2010 into a team that was in the race to win the Eastern Conference regular-season title in 2011.

The Union went 21-27-23 in Nowak's tenure with the club, reaching their apex of success in 2011, when they qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

In the months that followed the Union's loss to Houston in an Eastern Conference semifinal series, the club underwent one questionable personnel move after another. In a two-day span last offseason, the Union permitted all-star goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon to vacate the final year of his contract and traded all-star striker Sebastien Le Toux. This season, the Union have jettisoned captain Danny Califf and fan favorite Danny Mwanga, the first SuperDraft pick in club history, in trades separated by less than a month.

Pick up Thursday's Daily Times for more on this developing story.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012


(Associated Press)
Union manager Peter Nowak has applied for the head coaching position with Hearts, of the Scottish Premier League, according to a report this week in a Scottish newspaper.

I couldn't reach Nowak Sunday for comment, but according to the Daily News' Kerith Gabriel, Nowak refuted that assertion Saturday night, calling it "absolutely false." Similarly, the guys over at -- who deserve credit for the find in Scotland's Edinburgh Evening News -- got a big, fat "no comment" from a Union official.

That Nowak not only is implicated with the position, but also that Hearts director Sergejus Fedotovashe said Nowak "submitted a CV," or a resume, perhaps means that the Union boss' application for the job isn't simply a cursory procedure.

To reiterate, this is all conjecture until Nowak or the Union say otherwise. Considering the source, and the high-profile nature of the job, it's something worth keeping an eye on. Merely some food for thought on your Sunday afternoon.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012


It's an obvious question that has no simple answer.

The Union, owners of Major League Soccer's most-anemic offense, traded one of their goal-scoring threats this week when they shipped Danny Mwanga to Portland.

They picked up forward Jorge Perlaza in the process, but the move begged the inquiry, 'Where to from here?' Who carries the torch for a team that -- like Toronto FC -- has scored the fewest goals, with only eight?

Union boss Peter Nowak might have said it best Thursday.

"Why (make this trade) now?" Nowak said, rhetorically. "If you look at the standings and you look at the goals we scored, we can't rely on one guy who can score. It's Lio (Pajoy) or Gabriel Gomez (pictured above). We have to be dangerous up top. These youngsters … they're moving along, but they're not there yet. We cannot wait until it's too late. This kind of stuff is important to give (Perlaza) a couple weeks to establish himself to make sure we give him enough time to know the team. … We cannot fool ourselves with our position in the standings.”

Here are three ideas and observations for how the Union can turn around their season, beginning June 16 when they resume MLS competition with their home match with D.C. United:

1. One (striker) is the loneliest number. The Union have tried their luck with a one-striker formation, leaving Pajoy up top to create off what the midfield gives him. So far, he has only three goals. Gomez has four. Eleven matches into the MLS slate, it's time to try something new. The only way for the Union to determine what they have at their disposal is to throw their forwards into the fire. How about a two-forward look with swift youngster Jack McInerney taking the lead, with Pajoy -- who's a step or two slower -- creating more by playing off him? What about putting Josue Martinez, who's proven himself of late, and Perlaza on the wings with Pajoy as the center-striker, using three strikers to stretch the opposition's backline? What the Union have attempted hasn't worked. So why not try something different?

2. Give the keys of the offense to Perlaza. If the Union aren't willing to try the latter, perhaps the next-best option is putting the offensive workload in Perlaza's hands. He'll have the trust of his Colombian countrymen, with whom -- Nowak assures us -- he'll work well. He demonstrated in Portland that his speed, agility and skill have the potential to break down opposing defenses and, as seen in 2011, he thrives as a center-striker. Giving Perlaza these next two friendlies as a chance to get accustomed to the Union, in advance of that June 16 match, and then turning him loose might be exactly what Perlaza -- who hasn't scored since Aug. 20, 2011 -- needs in order to break a 786-minute scoreless stretch.

3. Don't count on much from Roger Torres. The crafty Colombian midfielder, due back tonight from a two-month injury layoff for a friendly against Reading United AC, is skilled. He's that connecting pass between the midfield and the attack that the Union desperately need. But Torres should be eased back into the mix. Consider: Torres has played more than 70 minutes only eight times since joining the Union in 2010. It's more realistic to allow Torres to progress slowly the next three weeks while Kai Herdling plays out the final weeks of his loan, which expires June 30. That's how the Union can ensure they'll get the best out of Torres in the season's crunch time.

Hey, just some ideas.

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Friday, June 8, 2012


(Associated Press)
Midfielder Roger Torres has recovered from April knee surgery and has been cleared to play in the Union’s friendly Saturday at Reading United AC, manager Peter Nowak said Thursday in his weekly press conference.

Torres sustained a left knee MCL sprain in an April 9 reserve-league match against New England. Three days later, he underwent surgery to repair the afflicted knee, and he’s been sidelined since.

“He is good to go. He will play,” Nowak said of Torres, a previously loaned player whose rights the Union acquired outright in the offseason.

“For 10 days, he’s working to come back. He’s not feeling any kind of pain. He’s striking the ball very well. … He needs to be monitored to make sure he’s OK, but he needs to touch the ball more.”

Torres has played 72 minutes in two matches this season, recording one assist.


IN FRIDAY'S DAILY TIMES: According to Union boss Peter Nowak, the Union simply could not drag their feet on trading Danny Mwanga to Portland. Said Nowak: "Why now? ... We cannot fool ourselves with our position in the standings."

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Thursday, June 7, 2012


Thursday, Peter Nowak had a few interesting things to say about jettisoned forward Danny Mwanga.

First, he said trading Mwanga to Portland for Jorge Perlaza "was not Danny's fault." Then, he said Mwanga "needs to answer questions for himself" regarding his career trajectory.

Overall, it sounds like Nowak had good intentions in bringing aboard Perlaza, but there's no doubt Mwanga's lack of sustained success as the top overall SuperDraft pick in 2010 has people scratching their heads.

Here's the rest of Nowak's press conference:

On the trade
"I think both teams were looking from the technical standpoint. Noth teams were looking for some, not change per se, but also to complement the strikers we have. Portland have Kris Boyd and they were looking to complement him with something. With us, it's Lio Pajoy. We tried with the different components to put two, three strikers, for this reason. … Jorge's good to withdraw the defenders a little bit. But it's difficult for him to stretch the field. We're looking to stretch the field and make it bigger. I think both teams can find good components in the lineup. From this standpoint, it's a good trade for both teams.”

On what went into the trade
"Before the trade like that happens, you have to check all the angles. I talked to Carlos (Valdes) and Lio about him. We check all the angles. We want the guy who is hungry and have experience winning the championship. He's slightly older than Danny, but it's not like we're getting an old striker.”
"I will say the most important thing is when we go to Carlos and Lio about (Perlaza's) abilities. Carlos played with him. We know what we're getting. We know the qualities he's bringing to the table."

Why make this trade now
"Why now? If you look at the standings and you look at the goals we scored, we can't rely on one guy who can score. It's Lio or Gabriel Gomez. We have to be dangerous up top. These youngsters … they're moving along, but they're not there yet. We cannot wait until it's too late. This kind of stuff is important to give (Perlaza) a couple weeks to establish himself to make sure we give him enough time to know the team. … We cannot fool ourselves with our position in the standings.”

On Perlaza
"We need a guy who is not afraid to stretch the backline and make the defender think. Now we've got the guy who is very good at this. He's very mobile, moves to the wings. ... They're both (Josue Martinez and Perlaza) very good on the wings. Both of them have tremendous speed. Now we have another option to make the defenders uneasy."

On where Mwanga faltered
"It's not Danny's fault. We try a lot of things. We try to give him confidence that he needs to succeed. ... He struggled last year with his shoulde. He scored a couple goals coming off the bench. He played with Sebastien up top. The process is not anything. The quality is what we need right now because of the configuration of the team. It's not like we wake up in the morning and trade this guy. It's a colelctive decision. ... We're on the same page.

On whether Mwanga's hunger to succeed, based on an earlier quote, was lacking
"No, that's not what I said. Danny was a consummate professional. He was great. I cannot say anything negative about him. The technical side of the trade, hungry means neither Danny or Jorge has scored a goal. He wants to be successful. I wish Danny the best. You never know how this is going to work out, but these are the qualities we needed. We believe he is going to help us. Lio will have a good complement and that's what we're looking for. The work needs to be done. ... We believe he will work out very well and he knows already the people he played with."

On regret that a No. 1 SuperDraft pick foundered
"I cannot analyze this thing. I will leave it up to you how to address this thing."

On Mwanga in MLS, and whether he can succeed
"Don't forget – I was the one who flew Christmas Eve to Portland to convince him not to go to France, to come to MLS. I spent time with his family, with his guardians. ... For the future, you never know how it's going to play out. It's always a question how we'll address it and how we're going to go in the future. Danny needs to answer the questions himself – where are you going to be as a professional, where are you going to be as a soccer player?”

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Wednesday, Danny Mwanga was traded from the Union to the Portland Timbers, where he'll play in his hometown.

Until he gets set up in Portland, he said he'll have to take up a familiar living arrangement.

"I'll probably be in my old bedroom," Mwanga said. "It'll be strange to go back home, but it'll be good, too."

I caught up with Mwanga, regarding a variety of topics --- like leaving Philly, heading home, playing for Peter Nowak and much more.

Check it out:

On his thoughts on the trade:
"At this moment, I don't think my thoughts matter. (Philadelphia) was a place where I was drafted and I wish I could have been here longer and helped the team and emerge as the top player on the team. I think it is what it is. Now I have the opportunity to play where I grew up. I have to thank the Union front office, the fans and the entire organization for the opportunity. I was happy to be a part of this organization.”

On going back home:
"It's bittersweet. You get the chance to go home and play in front of your friends and family in a town you grew up in. Portland has one of the best fanbases in the league. You're also leaving the only place you've ever known professionally. It's never easy to say goodbye and get adjusted to somewhere else. It's a tough situation. It's a nature of the sport. You've just got to move on and embrace wherever you go.”

On joining Kris Boyd in the Timbers' attack:
"Absolutely. I think Portland has a lot of really talented players. Kris, we all know his resume. He's a talented player. Then there's guys like Darlington Nagbe, another young guy looking to make it work. It'll be good for me to go there. And when we get to know each other, put the work in, it'll be a benefit not just to me but to this team. I think we can do great things together.”

On where the wheels fell off with the Union, in terms of decreased playing time:
"That's a good question. I think that's probably a question I don't have the answer to. I don't know what to tell you. I wish I could. For me personally, it was tough trying to adapt. It takes time to get to know each other on and off the field, as well. Sometimes it takes more than three years. We were trying to get to know each other. Don't get me wrong, I think it was getting there slowly. I've just got to wish the rest of the guys luck. I hope they pull it together and do great things.”

On playing for Peter Nowak:
"Every coach is different, and Peter's a very strict guy and he likes things a certain way. Some guys can handle it, some guys cannot. Sometimes it's a good thing. Just depends how you take it. It was a little bit tough at times, not just about the coaching staff, but for the players as well just trying to get on the same page. Like I said, he's a great coach, gave me an opportunity and I'll never forget that.”

On conversation he had with Nowak in 2010, about choosing MLS over a career in Europe:
"Yes, the conversation did take place. And (Philadelphia) was a great stop for me, so far. Coming here, not only trying to showcase my talent and learning little bit by little bit abaout the professional level and the business side of it, I think Peter's the one who gave me the opportunity and that's one thing I'll always be thankful to him for. It's a learning experience and hopefully I'll try to move forward.”

On whether he's surprised by the Union's personnel moves of late:
"I'm not going to say I'm surprised by it, because I've lived in the States for a while and I watched MLS growing up . I know the business side of it. The coaches have to make decisions as best as they can. As a player, even if you don't agree with the decisions, you have to understand it's for the team's benefit. ... They're doing what they think is best for their team. And you just have to worry about your part. I was never really trying to sit there and question anything.”

On what's waiting for him at home:
"The first thing is being home, getting a home-cooked meal. We have good fans here and the Sons of Ben are some of the best fans in the league. Since Day 1 at the draft, they've always supported me. I'll miss that, but it's a new chapter in my life. I'm moving to Portland and I can't wait to meet the guys. I'm excited to be home with my family and meet some of Timbers Army. I can't wait.”

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On the heels of the Union's trade Wednesday of forward Danny Mwanga to Portland, I spoke with Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, who used the four-minute phone conversation to temper fears of fans while trumping up who the club got in return.

Here are Sakiewicz's thoughts on Mwanga, Timbers-turned-Union striker Jorge Perlaza and fan outcry:

On whether the move carried transfer-window implications
“No, because this move wasn't made within the transfer window. It doesn't open until July. This was a move to make our team better, bring in a guy with multiple weapons in Perlaza and a guy who can do multiple things offensively. Danny's been great with us. He's a tremendous young talent and we wish him well moving forward. This wasn't about freeing up money. This was about grabbing a player who can help us.”

On whether the move was an indictment on a technical staff that acquired offensive players in the offseason
“Not at all. I don't know where you get that from. I don't have any idea if you saw how Josue (Martinez) and Lio (Pajoy) and Freddy (Adu) were playing (Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup).”

On whether there's a crunch for minutes for Perlaza
“There always is. Guy's have to earn there spots. It's good to have a guy like Perlaza with attributes we don't have. Peter will embellish that and tell you Perlaza comes with some weapons we can use.”

On veracity of published reports in the offseason, that Perlaza was on the Union's radar
“I don't know. He's not a player who has come up in our discussions in previous years. Diego (Gutierrez, Union head of scouting) knows him very well. A couple of our guys in the locker room know him. You have to talk to Peter (Nowak, Union manager) about that, whether he's been on our radar.

On reassuring fans who might throw their hands up that another fan favorite has been traded
“I have no respose to (our fans) throwing hands up at any point. We dont give up, we dont quit and we're doing everything possible to get better each season.”

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The Union are about to send another striker to the Pacific Northwest.

Just got confirmation --- from probably the most reliable source involved --- that Danny Mwanga has been traded to the Portland Timbers. In return, the Union receive Colombian forward Jorge Perlaza, who will not occupy an international roster spot.

"I am traded," Mwanga told me in a brief phone conversation Wednesday. "I heard about it maybe two days ago that it was something in the process.

"It was a surprise, yes."

This trade is the latest in a number of head-scratching moves by the Union, who in the calendar year have sent packing all-star goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, traded all-star striker Sebastien Le Toux and fan-favorite defender Danny Califf, the club's captain.

The common thread in these personnel moves is that the Union are slashing payroll as they are readying to make a big splash during the midsummer international transfer window. (According to the MLS Player Union, which released 2012 salary figures last month, Mwanga is owed $356,000 this year in guaranteed compensation.)

But one question remains: Will it be worth it? The ninth-place Union (2-7-2) are closer to last place in the Eastern Conference (with only five points separating them from Toronto FC) than the fifth and final playoff spot out of the East (with Chicago holding 18 points in the table).

Drafted as the fresh face of the franchise, Mwanga was the first overall draft choice in the 2010 SuperDraft, out of Oregon State. So this represents somewhat of a homecoming for the 20-year-old striker, who's had his numbers tail off since his rookie season. He had seven goals and five assists in 2010, five goals in 2011 and none in 2012.

His production dropoff has been well-documented, and it has plenty to do with minutes played. Consider: In 2010, he averaged 61 minutes per appearance and a point every 133 minutes. In 2011, he pulled in only 55 minutes per appearance and a point every 170 minutes. This season, averaging only 41 minutes per appearance, he’s had a point every 285 minutes.

Tuesday night, Mwanga was left home and omitted from the Union's 18-man roster for the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.

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