A LACKLUSTER start to a once-promising season reached a new low point late Saturday afternoon.
In losing its third consecutive match, this one a 1-0 decision to rival D.C. United at PPL Park, the Union's winless streak reached nine consecutive matches, a new worst in the club's 5-year history. For the fifth straight game, a Philadelphia player failed to score during the run of play. And throughout yet another poor showing, the Sons of Ben made their displeasure known, even late in the match calling for the firing of team manager John Hackworth.
The 12th match of the season is early to deem a must-win. But it's pretty safe to say Wednesday's road contest against Sporting Kansas City might be just that for the Union (1-5-5), which hasn't won since its March 15 home opener. It is one of five MLS teams with less than two wins.
"It's frustrating for everyone. It's frustrating for the fans, the organization, everyone involved," Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath said. "There's not much the guys can do except to just work harder and keep trying."
When several players were asked about the "Fire Hackworth" chants that emerged in Saturday's 86th minute, each voiced support for their manager. Hackworth also was booed upon pregame introductions and as he walked through the tunnel to exit PPL Park after the match.
"It's not his fault or anyone else's fault besides the guys on the field that we're not scoring goals and we're not winning games," MacMath said.
"We know we have a good group of players and we know we train properly," midfielder Maurice Edu said. "We all believe in this group. We all believe in the coaches. We all believe in what we're doing. And at the moment, things just aren't coming off for us, so that's what's making it difficult."
"That's expected. It's Philly," defender Amobi Okugo said of the fan displeasure. "If they're not booing, if they're not making negative comments, then it feels like we're in a different city."
Hackworth once again altered the Union's starting 11, again to no avail. The Union recorded four shots on target and even had three chances in one sequence in the 64th minute but couldn't capitalize. The team's last goal during the run of play was Edu's 90th-minute score in the April 12 draw with Real Salt Lake.
The lone goal of Saturday's game came in the sixth minute. The ball deflected off the foot of defender Ray Gaddis and bounced directly to an unmarked Chris Rolfe in the middle of the box. He fired a shot with his left foot and it found its way through traffic and to the back of the net.
"We feel like we're a much better team than our results are showing, obviously," Hackworth said. "But yet even when we play well, as we did at the start of the game, somehow we give up a goal on their first shot and that's just the way the season has gone for us. As coaches and players, our whole staff, our whole organization is definitely frustrated at this point. I don't know how I can put it any other way."
It doesn't figure to get any easier. Sporting KC, the defending MLS Cup champion, is 5-2-2 and in first place in the Eastern Conference after a 3-0 win at Montreal on Saturday. There is also a good chance Wednesday is the last match Edu will play for the Union before the World Cup break. Jurgen Klinsmann is expected to announce the United States men's national team's 30-man roster today.
After Saturday's game, Edu said his mind was still on the loss more so than a potential trip to Palo Alto, Calif., for pre-World Cup training camp.
"Obviously I'm aware of everything that's going on," he said. "It's something that I'm looking forward to, but I haven't put that ahead of what's happening here. I try to just remain focused here and try to get results here cause at the moment that's what's important."
Asked if the team needs to look to bolster its attack during the summer transfer window, Hackworth didn't dance around the question.
"It certainly looks that way," he said. "We have to find a way to either generate better chances - we're certainly getting them. The problem isn't getting it into the box, but being a team that's dangerous in front of goal is definitely a problem now."