Not taking Nowak's lead: Union ditch postseason practices

John Hackworth

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CHESTER, Pa. – Following the Philadelphia Union’s first two seasons, then-manager Peter Nowak kept his players in training for days and sometimes weeks after the club played its final game.

It was not something they especially liked.

“After the season, if you’re not in the playoffs, you’re not really motivated to practice,” third-year Union player Amobi Okugo told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s good to get away from soccer. Players want to go on vacation. Players want to train overseas. It would be more useful if you’re training overseas than training for nothing in Philadelphia.”

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Perhaps heeding those words, current manager John Hackworth has strayed from Nowak’s philosophy, allowing the players to get out of town as soon as they had their exit interviews.

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In other words, as soon as the Union lost their final game of the season on Oct. 27, they didn’t have to worry about any more team practices.

“It’s a very long year,” Hackworth explained. “There are guys in the locker room who know they’re not going to be here next year. That’s the reality. And any time you try to merge players who know they’re going to be here next year with players that know they’re not going to be here, all you get is a bunch of worthless training sessions and usually a fistfight or two. We experienced that the last couple of years.”

Instead, Hackworth said he had lengthy conversations with his players, “laying the foundation and groundwork for expectations” going forward into next year’s preseason, much of which will be in Florida.

And if it seems like he’s being easy on them by letting them off now, that certainly won’t be the case starting next February in the Sunshine State.

“We want them to shut it down for a little while and take a true offseason break,” Hackworth said. “They know from the exit interviews and the way we train and prepare that it’s going to be a tough preseason. We’re going to put our team through a rigorous preparation phase getting ready for next year.”

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