Young Philly In Search Of A Win

Union's Jack McInerney

The Philadelphia Union is young and inexperienced at the professional level, and near the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer.

After a coaching change on June 13, with Union assistant John Hackworth replacing Peter Nowak, the Union responded early on to a change in philosophy and some personnel changes on the field.

Young players like Atlanta native Jack McInerney and Birmingham native Chandler Hoffman made the game-day rosters and also made it onto the field.

There were some early positive results, but the Union has fallen on hard times this summer. They have only seven wins (7-14-6) all season long, and have no wins (0-4-4) in their last eight games.

The most recent loss was 1-0 to D.C. United, in a game where the Union had much of the play. But they didn’t score a goal.

McInerney, a third-year professional and former U.S. Under-17 MNT goalscorer, has scored four goals this season. The last came on July 29 in a 2-1 win over New England. That’s a long time without a goal.

“Obviously the longer we go, the lower our confidence gets, but we have to grind through, and if you get that one lucky bounce, your confidence is right back on top,” McInerney told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Marc Narducci after the D.C. United loss.

Hackworth, former U.S. U-17 MNT coach, knows his team is young. He also knows the players who are on his team, as most of the young Americans came through the U-17 Residency Program.

McInerney has recently been paired with Danny Cruz, a fourth-year MF obtained in the trade that sent Lionard Pajoy to D.C. United. It was Pajoy who scored the game-winner against Philly.

In that game Hackworth paired McInerney with Antoine Hoppenot, another rookie striker. Hoffman, the team’s top draft pick this year, made only his seventh appearance of the season when he came on in the second half for a defender as the Union pushed players forward..

The Union played without former UNC Tar Heel Michael Farfan, who sat out the game with a yellow card accumulation. Farfan, who played in the MLS All-Star game this year, is a second-year player.

Zac MacMath, Philly’s goalkeeper, is another former Under-17 MNT player and is also in his second pro season after an outstanding collegiate career at Maryland.

“A little bit of me feels like we can’t buy (a goal), no matter what,” said Hackworth, obviously frustrated. He later added that his young forwards “haven’t learned how to put the ball in the back of the net when it really matters.”

Of the 19 teams in MLS, only Chivas USA has scored fewer goals than Philadelphia. Chivas has scored 21. The Union has scored 26, and Panjoy scored five of those before being traded.

One sportswriter wrote that the Union played as though they had lost their internal spark. A response from MacMath might have confirmed that, at least for the moment.

“I can’t pinpoint a time when that actually happened, but its definitely not here anymore,” said MacMath.

With only a handful of games left in the regular season, and hope of postseason play at least another year away, Hackworth knows he has to be patient with his young players. The players know that they may be playing for their jobs for the coming year.

There is still pressure on everyone to turn things around, make good things happen, and to get a win, or two, or three before the season ends.

“Right now, (frustration) is pretty high because I haven’t scored in however many games,” said McInerney. “It sucks and especially sucks that we’re losing at home. We just have to grind it out.”

Looking forward, Hackworth said, “All we can do right now is keep trying to give guys opportunities and see what our combinations are. Tonight, we tried something new. While it created a lot, the quality wasn’t there. We just have to continue to do that. The team didn’t give up. In fact, they almost tried too hard at the end.”
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