IN THE wake of fans' boos and chants calling for his firing during Saturday's loss, Union manager John Hackworth said yesterday that he feels supported by CEO Nick Sakiewicz and the club's front office and is focused on continuing to try to "put this team in a position where we can be successful."
Speaking on a teleconference with reporters before the team took off for Kansas City ahead of tonight's 8:30 road match against Sporting KC, Hackworth also said he thinks the players have been affected by all the negativity surrounding the club. Dating to its March 15 home opener, the Union (1-5-5) is mired in a franchise-worst, nine-match winless streak, its eight points placing ninth in the 10-team Eastern Conference.
"I certainly heard the fans on Saturday," said Hackworth, referring to a 1-0 loss to D.C. United. "It's impossible not to hear a lot of the talk. I've tried to be very diligent about staying away from reading stuff in the press lately. The reality is that it's impossible not to be affected by it, and I wouldn't say me as much as it is maybe for the players. I think with this position you have to understand that this is going to just be part of the business."
Hackworth said he held a team meeting to stress that the players "cannot worry about anything that we can't control."
"Our job right now is to go out there and get a result," said Hackworth, who's in his second full season as team manager. "We've played well in the majority of our games. We just have to translate that into results. We have to have better execution in both boxes. The players understand that. They know it.
"I think if anything, we've got to a point where the guys have been asked enough questions, they've heard from the voice of the fans, they're now very adamant that, 'Hey, we've got to pull through this. We're not going to get out of this until we fight our way out.' I think that's the feeling within the team right now."
The Union's upcoming opponents, Sporting KC (5-2-2) and then New England (5-3-2) on Saturday night at PPL Park, will be heavily favored; they enter today tied for first place in the Eastern Conference with 17 points. KC, the reigning MLS Cup champion, is undefeated at home this season and features a pair of potential U.S. World Cup players in Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.
KC has scored 14 goals while surrendering only six, while the Philly club has scored just 10 and allowed 14. A Union player has not scored during the run of play since its April 12 draw against Real Salt Lake.
"I think it's a good opportunity because you're playing the best team in the league right now at their home," Hackworth said. "The pressure comes off of us in that regard because nobody truly expects us to get a result in Kansas City. Traditionally, it doesn't matter where either one of us has been in the standings, we've had really good games against them."
John Hackworth said the Union is "hopeful" that midfielder Brian Carroll will be available to play tonight and Saturday, but added that the club is exercising caution as its captain works through a groin injury sustained in the first half of Saturday's 1-0 loss to D.C. United . . . It sounds as if Austin Berry will continue to start over Aaron Wheeler at center back. "Austin came in and played well on Saturday and we're going to try to give him an opportunity to continue to play well," Hackworth said. "Aaron, meanwhile, is still a guy that we think can be very valuable to us going forward." . . . The manager said the Union has players waiting for their opportunity to play upon the impending four-game departure of Maurice Edu, set to leave for Palo Alto Calif., after tonight's game to join the U.S. men's national team for World Cup training camp. "We certainly have a couple tactical adjustments that we'll have to make," Hackworth said, "and you might see somebody new in that midfield role." . . . In the club's search for a striker to bolster its scoring, Hackworth said the Union is looking at players both in the MLS and outside of it. "The type of player that we're looking at has to be a significant dangerous attacking player," he said.