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Kerith Gabriel: Union needs to add veteran leadership, keep manager John Hackworth

I'M TRYING to buy into it, I really am. That is, the Union mantra: In the long run, youth ultimately will trump experience. But with the way this season has gone, it's not easy to believe.

John Hackworth and the Union are currently in eighth place in MLS' Eastern Conference. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
John Hackworth and the Union are currently in eighth place in MLS' Eastern Conference. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)Read more

I'M TRYING to buy into it, I really am.

That is, the Union mantra: In the long run, youth ultimately will trump experience. But with the way this season has gone, it's not easy to believe.

When you look around at the rest of Major League Soccer, clubs boasting experienced talent aren't the ones struggling to make the playoff picture right now.

If the Union removes the interim tag from manager John Hackworth's title (and, at this point, I truly believe it's just a matter of when, considering the turnaround he's made with what he has), I think he has some serious considerations to make this offseason.

The first, and in my opinion, foremost, is how much capital can he convince management to pony up to bring in a big-time player, one who will raise the game of everyone around him? The same as Thierry Henry has in New York. The same as Fredy Montero has in Seattle. The same as Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Landon Donovan continue to do in Los Angeles.

The Union has good leadership. I am not disputing that. I think players like Brian Carroll and Carlos Valdes do lead by example, but let's face it, these dudes aren't "game changers."

And don't give me the "Carlos was an All-Star" comment.

Few people know Valdes was picked after the MLS First XI was named, and a league source told me it was primarily because All-Star coach Ben Olsen wanted an extra defender on the roster and urged Garber to select a defender as one of his two picks. If Valdes was considered a game-changer it wouldn't have come down to that.

Truth hurts, I know.

Thing about Valdes is that he took the honor of being picked second best and ran with it, having a banner game to coincide with what has continued to be a banner season for him at central defense. Full disclosure: I voted for Valdes, but pickings were slim, with only the play of the Farfan brothers, Amobi Okugo having arguably a defender-of-the-year season (at the wrong position) and Jack McInerney being unleashed too late for consideration.

Anyway, moving on . . .

Hackworth and the fans have to expect mistakes, with a constant rotation of young talent and no standout veterans to guide them. The big talk in the locker room this season has been the inability to "remain focused" over 90 minutes.

Don't believe me?

"We have to get better and maintain our focus for 90 minutes," Carroll said recently. "It's about being sharper in the final third, maintaining our composure. It's not about going ahead and taking the lead so much as it is sustaining the lead over the course of the game. It's something we all need to work on, and I think comes with time."

Concentration and lack of focus happens in soccer, especially over the long haul, but it appears to happen far too much with this young lot.

Honestly, I think Hackworth and assistants Rob Vartughian and Brendan Burke have a nucleus that can go after an MLS title. At this point, all that's missing is that one key offensive piece to put this club over the top. If Hack becomes the man at the end of this season, he has to take that into consideration - otherwise he will be kidding himself and the 12,000-plus season-ticketholders.

And hey, maybe that means trimming some fat to create more cap space. Maybe it means deciding if you really need to retain a few of the overpriced, underachieving players the club has a plethora of this year.

Hackworth took over a team in turmoil and found a ray of light, so for this year he gets a pass. But if the Union's brass decides he has done enough to become the next manager of this franchise, Hack, you need to know that these fans won't expect to see the same old.

Honestly, in Year 4, with the honeymoon stage certainly over, no one can really afford to anymore.

Did you know?

Did you know the same architects who designed Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium designed PPL Park? The 20,008-seat stadium erected in October 2008 with the vision of Rossetti Architects cost $110 million. By contrast, PPL Park, which seats 18,500 along the Chester waterfront, came in at a final tally of $122 million.

Odds and endlines

Sunday marks the second annual River Cup charity tournament and yours truly will once again be at outside midfield for the Sons of Ben squad. The match kicks off at 6 p.m.; a ticket costs just $10 and benefits the Philadelphia Union Foundation, a charity designed to introduce the beautiful game to the children of Chester . . . According to the video-game blog "Kotaku," David Rutter, the executive producer of the popular FIFA video-game series, said there have been discussions to add women to the game, but it won't happen in the upcoming FIFA13 version. Rutter said that while there has been a repeated request to offer women's leagues in FIFA, it's a matter of doing it right. "Every year, a vast quantity of suggestions for inclusion comes into our studio," Rutter told Kotaku. "It's a case of prioritizing what needs to be done, and then we do our best to knock it out of the park in whatever we're doing. But [women in the game] is always something considered in some shape or form, and it's not to say it won't ever happen" . . . CONCACAF reached an agreement with Spanish radio network "Futbol de Primera" to broadcast the upcoming 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup. Best part of the deal is that famed announcer Andres Cantor will be doing the play-by-play. To that, I have only one thing to say . . . GOOOOOOOOOL!!!!!!