Hackworth, Union take elimination in surprising stride

So what now for the Philadelphia Union?

For the first time in two years, the Union will play games knowing with 100 percent certainty that their season cannot end with a championship – which, of course, is a bitter pill to swallow.

But immediately following Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew, the result that officially eliminated them from postseason contention, it seemed like business as usual for the Union, who still want to finish the 2012 season wrong, even if it can’t be extended into the playoffs.

“Look, we’ve got to put this one behind us right away because we play a really good Chicago team on Wednesday,” Union manager John Hackworth (above) said from Columbus. “There’s no time for us to whine about this one. We’ve got to let this one go and go back to work and do it immediately.”

In reality, Hackworth knew a few weeks ago that the Union weren’t going to make the playoffs. And he’s said all along that the team’s most untested players won’t be just handed minutes with Philly out of contention and that they’ll have to instead earn them in training.

So even though the loss to Columbus had mathematical implications, it didn’t change the Union manager’s philosophy or what he hopes to see over the team’s final five contests of 2012.

“We continue to play up to our opponents in certain parts of the game, but we’re still making too many little mistakes and we’ve got to clean that up,” Hackworth said. “We’ve got to improve and build toward next year. Obviously we’re out of it at this point but we have a tough next five games coming up and we’ve just got to make sure we do the same things we have and hopefully build some momentum going into next year.”

How will the players handle coming to work knowing the ultimate goal of capturing a championship is no longer possible?

For many of them, there’s still a lot to prove in terms of battling for spots next year, so Hackworth doesn’t expect any kind of letdown.

“Our team’s in good spirits,” the Union manager said. “Our character’s been good. We’re working hard, we’re working efficiently and guys are not shying away from any of that. It’s a good group of guys to work with. They come every single day prepared. We continue to improve here and there but we’ve got to keep going.”

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