Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JOEL HOOVER
As the Major League Soccer season surpasses its midway point, the Philadelphia Union find themselves in the thick of the race for playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.
With the summer transfer window opening, the Union have already made two signings in an effort to bolster their squad in preparation for the final few months of the season. But according to manager John Hackworth, the club may not be done signing players quite yet.
“We are actively trying to pursue a couple players,” Hackworth said Wednesday at the team’s weekly press conference. “But we really just have one spot available.”
While he would not elaborate on the spot or any details regarding who they are targeting, Hackworth added that it had to be somebody who would be well-scouted and would fit the team. However, the team will not pursue a player for the sake of signing someone on to add to the roster.
The Union have already completed the signings of goalkeeper Oka Nikolov and defender Fabio “Fabinho” Alves in the past month. Both players have been training with the team for several weeks, but are now eligible for selection against Chivas USA on Friday because the transfer window has officially opened.
Hackworth said he had not decided if Nikolov or Alves would feature in Friday’s match.
While both are still transitioning to the summer climate of the East Coast and working to improve their fitness, their training has already boosted the squad’s competition. Hackworth praised Nikolov specifically for his role in helping boost starting goalkeeper Zac MacMath’s level of play and helping him reach a “good place” right now.
“Obviously, there’s a little bit of competition and pressure there (with Nikolov), and (MacMath) has stepped his game up exactly like we thought he would,” Hackworth said.
Here are some more notes from the Union’s weekly press conference:
TORRES STRUGGLES TO GET CONSISTENT TIME
The ongoing issue of young Roger Torres’ playing time this season for the Union was given another talking point in Saturday’s 1-0 road loss to the Houston Dynamo.
The 21-year-old Colombian saw 19 minutes of action off the bench, giving a spark to a struggling Union midfield desperate for a link to the forwards and wingers. It was just his third appearance of the year in a season where his playing time has taken a dramatic drop from his previous three years in Philadelphia.
Hackworth reiterated Torres’ value to the team and coaching staff, but also attempted to justify his lack of playing time.
“(Torres) is here for a reason,” Hackworth said. “But he’s not playing for a reason as well. There are other guys who continue to stay ahead of him and there are guys who have risen above him. Roger understands that, but when he gets an opportunity like he did in Houston, he needs to make the most of it.”
Torres gave a solid account for himself in the cameo he got, setting up wingers Sebastien Le Toux and Don Anding for chances with some of his trademark looping passes over the Houston defense.
However, his use much of this year has been in friendlies, only seeing a combined 18 league minutes before Saturday’s appearance.
“He’s still a young guy we believe in,” Hackworth added. “We want him to be successful here. But a lot of that has to do with Roger and what he does on and off the field.”
INJURY FRONT LOOKING BRIGHTER
A recent plethora of injuries has swamped the Union midfield, necessitating appearances for Torres and fellow seldom-used midfielder Matt Kassel against Houston.
With Keon Daniel already away on Gold Cup duty and both Kleberson and Michael Lahoud out with injuries, the Union saw Danny Cruz and Michael Farfan both exit last Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake due to injuries.
However, with a matchup with an improved Chivas USA side looming on Friday, Hackworth said that there is “good news” and the prospects are looking much better for almost all of the walking wounded on the squad.
“(Farfan) and (Cruz) are better, so both of them trained full the past two days,” Hackworth said. “Kleberson is better…not sure that he’ll be 100% for Friday, but he’s been training. Lahoud tried to come back into training yesterday, but couldn’t make a whole session.”
Hackworth went on to add that with Farfan, Cruz, and Kleberson all back in training, all three are available for selection for Friday’s match. It would be a significant boost to the Union midfield, which was forced to field seldom-used Leo Fernandes as a starter against Real Salt Lake and Houston.
“We obviously missed those guys to some degree or another against Houston, so it will be great to have them back,” Hackworth added.
- Looking ahead to the match with Chivas USA Friday at PPL Park, John Hackworth acknowledged how much more “defensive” and tougher Chivas has been to break down since Jose Luis Real took over as head coach.
- In spite of the combination of big forwards Conor Casey and Aaron Wheeler not getting much success against Houston on Saturday, Hackworth said he felt Wheeler did well considering the situation he was stepping into with the injuries.
- Hackworth said he was “really pleased” for Keon Daniel after he scored for Trinidad and Tobago in their 2-2 with El Salvador on Monday in the Gold Cup. Hackworth also said that he has been in contact with Jack McInerney, and that the young forward is “soaking it all in” with the United States’ squad despite not getting his first national team cap yet.
What do you think about these notes? What kind of player should the Union pursue in the transfer window? Does Roger Torres deserve more of a chance to get on the field?
Share your thoughts below.