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Union Notebook: Seeking improvement on set pieces

John Hackworth looks on during Houston match

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

CHESTER, Pa. – Over the past two weeks, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth set up a friendly competition to see who could score the most goals in training, a possible solution to the team’s scoring drought.

But with Philly having netted a meager 25 goals all season – the lowest total in the Eastern Conference – Hackworth knows there’s more to the problem than simply finishing.

Another major area of concern is service, especially on corner kicks and free kicks, where the Union are one of the league’s least dangerous clubs.

“It’s no secret that we are not a big, physical team,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “We haven’t found the two really important pieces that allow you to capitalize on restarts, which is consistent service on one end and targets on the other end. Part of that is our size. But I think we’re getting better at that. And I’m hoping sooner or later that’s going to fall our way.”

Sooner would be better than later for the Union, who play their first game in 14 days when they take on Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday (1 pm ET, watch LIVE online). And in Canada, Hackworth hopes to see his players take their set pieces with more assertiveness and consistency, no matter who lines up in front of the ball.

The Union manager pointed out how US national team striker Herculez Gomez told his teammates during Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifying game against Jamaica that he wanted to take a second-half free kick because it was from a distance he liked. That, of course, was right before he rocketed home the game-winning goal.

“I think we have a similar situation,” Hackworth said. “If we get a dead-ball situation out in front of goal and it’s in Carlos Valdés’ range, especially with his recent success taking a couple of those, you’ll see Carlos on it. In other spots, we have other guys. We’re trying to make an emphasis on providing that service and being more consistent. It’s been erratic to say the least and that’s part of our problem in capitalizing on those restart situations.” 

Perfect scenario for Valdés, Union

Valdés will be able to show off his newfound set-piece process Saturday in Toronto as he’s set to return from World Cup qualifying duty with Colombia.

It was an excellent international break for the Union captain, who played all 90 minutes in Colombia’s 4-0 rout of Uruguay on Friday. Colombia won again Tuesday, beating Chile by a 3-1 score to move into second place in South America’s World Cup qualifying standings, but Valdés didn’t play in the game.

That suited Hackworth just fine.

“When you do that in World Cup qualifying against a quality opponent like Uruguay, I think that says a lot for Carlos,” the Union manager said. “And they got a great result [Tuesday], as well. He didn’t play in that game but I think that was the plan going in because they wanted to have some fresh legs. It obviously worked because now they’re in a great situation.

“I’m happy for Carlos, happy he’s coming back to us, and happy that he’s fresh and won’t be fatigued when I see him [Thursday] morning.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com