Hackworth: Union's display of character "just awesome"

It took the Philadelphia Union getting mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for them to play arguably their best game of the season.

And while Philly’s too-little-too-late 3-1 rout of the Chicago Fire on Wednesday may be frustrating to some Union fans, manager John Hackworth believes it shows a lot about his team.

“I love the character of these guys,” Hackworth said. “I keep saying that to people and it’s hard for people to understand what a great group of guys it is. But when they perform like this when there’s literally nothing for them to play for in the league, you see how much character they have. And that’s just awesome.”

OPTA CHALKBOARD: Union attackers find plenty of room

In the Union’s first game since they were officially ousted from the playoff chase, Hackworth was most pleased with their balance and execution.

Despite playing without starters Freddy Adu (left quad strain) and Gabriel Farfan (right ankle contusion/right hamstring strain), they captured just their third road win of the season.

They also had to overcome the loss of Danny Cruz, who left the game with what the team said is a right toe injury, the severity of which won't be known until Thursday. But his replacement, Gabriel Gómez, scored a golazo to put the Union up 2-0, and another sub, Antoine Hoppenot, deposited the third goal against 10-man Chicago to seal the victory. Jack McInerney added a goal and an assist for the Philly, who have now scored as many goals in their past three games (eight) as they did in the 11 before that.

“It was a great team effort,” Hackworth said. “I keep saying that when a guy gets hurt, it’s an opportunity. For players who have not played a lot but are pushing the guys that are playing in training every day, that’s their chance.”

FULL LINEUPS AND BOXSCORE

One major difference from Wednesday’s game as opposed to other games this season is that the Union lost the possession battle but finished their chances. For most of 2012, it’s been the exact opposite – one of the main reasons they won’t be participating in the playoffs.

The Union like it this way better. And they’re especially happy that they put together such a solid all-around performance against one of the league’s best teams, on the road.

“It feels good,” McInerney said. “For the rest of the season, our goal is to get better. We’ve gone to Los Angeles and beat them; we’ve gone to Kansas City and smashed them at home. We know we can play with the best teams.”

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