John Hackworth still juggling lineup as Philadelphia Union prep for opener

CHESTER, Pa. – For the first time in franchise history, the Philadelphia Union will start a season at home.

That’s the good part.

The bad part is who they’ll see on the other side of the field when the 2013 MLS season kicks off Saturday at PPL Park (4 pm ET; watch LIVE online): Supporters' Shield runners-up Sporting Kansas City.

“The only challenge is the pressure, because now you don’t have the excuse of being on the road,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “Which is why I would prefer that some other team than Sporting Kansas City be here on Saturday.

“It’s also fantastic for us,” Hackworth added. “Not only do we get to come back from preseason and make sure we’re in our homes, rested and prepared, but you know we’re going to have a more favorable atmosphere.”

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A raucous home crowd seems to be one of the few certainties for the Union as they enter a new season looking to shake off the disappointment of a 10-18-6 campaign.

At his weekly press conference Wednesday, Hackworth said he still didn’t have a starting lineup set – which has come as a surprise to even him.

“I would have thought that the starting XI that we have on a board in our war room in the back – in a perfect world, that same lineup would be the lineup that we’d be rolling out on Saturday,” Hackworth said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”

The reason for that, the Union manager noted, is because certain players have “stepped their games up” while others “aren’t in the positions we thought they were in.” 

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But Hackworth said that the best part about these early-season lineup questions is that it tells him that the team has some good depth – especially when they’re completely healthy, as they are right now.

“I think they get it – that maybe it’s not as automatic as it was last year,” Hackworth said. “And for guys that are veteran players and have won championships in this league to the younger guys, it’s all the same.”

If there are some unexpected faces in the lineup tomorrow, they’ll be thrown into the fire immediately against an SKC squad that lost some key players from last year’s team, but nonetheless figures to be an MLS Cup contender once again.

“They’re a very good team and probably not my first choice to open the new year with,” Hackworth said. “But we have to do it and we know that we will have a very good team – if not one of the very best teams – in the league here on Saturday. That means we have to get that much better, that much sooner.”

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