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

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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