Hackworth labels Union's late breakdowns "unacceptable"

CHESTER, Pa. – In their last game, the Philadelphia Union allowed the Columbus Crew to score two goals right before halftime and a third goal in the final few minutes of the game.

It was a frustrating way to lose, but it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Giving up goals at that point in games, after all, has been a troubling trend for the Union all year.

“We use the phrase, 'Finish stronger than you start,'” Philadelphia manager John Hackworth said. “We haven’t done that. We haven’t lived by those words.”

Since Hackworth took over as manager on June 13, half of the 22 goals that the Union have allowed have come in the final five minutes of a half, including 11 of the last 18.

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It’s been especially noticeable in the first half, with the Union allowing eight goals right before halftime in their past 10 games alone.

Why this happening for a team that’s otherwise been very effective defending their net? Nobody knows for sure.

“I need to write a book on psychology to tell you why it’s happening,” Hackworth said. “We’ve talked a lot about the fact we’ve given up goals toward the end of halves. And not that I’m counting but I think it’s 11 this year. And that’s unacceptable.

“It is a mentality. It certainly is an intensity. It’s recognition of game management. … A lot of it is just through leadership and communication. Players collectively on the field have to recognize those moments and have to get more intense.”

Brian Carroll, the Union’s most veteran starter, believes the late-half breakdowns are mostly a mental problem – and something that’s now on other teams’ scouting reports.

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“I think you can point to a number of things but now that it’s occurred, other teams pick up on that and try to take advantage of that,” Carroll said. “And sometimes the more you think about it and the more those situations come about, stuff just happens. There’s no excuses for it, there’s no one thing I can point to to tell you why it’s occurring. It’s just something we have to eliminate.”

The Union, who were officially ousted from playoff contention with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Columbus, will have five more games to try to eliminate that problem this season, starting with Wednesday’s matchup against Chicago at Toyota Park (8:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online).

“We hope that we don’t have to have these types of questions because we want to say this is behind us,” Hackworth said. “And we want to move on from it.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.