Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth praises backline as "the spine and the core of our team"

John Hackworth and Jeff Parke (March 10, 2013)

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CHESTER, Pa. – With the exception of Sheanon Williams, the Philadelphia Union’s backline is a completely different unit than the one that started last season.

Naturally, then, it still needs time to gel and develop.

Luckily for them, Union manager John Hackworth will allow that to happen, saying he plans on keeping the same back four – Williams, left back Ray Gaddis and center backs Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo – together for the long haul.

“You don’t want to overcoach,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “You don’t want to change things just for the sake of changing. When you see improvement, whether day-to-day or week-to-week, and a group of players is getting better at things, you like that as a coach. And I think that’s where we are right now.”

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Coming into the season, it was assumed Williams would retain his spot at right back, where he’s primarily played since the end of Philly’s expansion season in 2010, and that the newly acquired Parke would slot in at center back.

The other two selections were somewhat surprising as the second-year Gaddis took over left-back duties from Gabriel Farfan (who’s returned to his more natural midfield position) and Okugo beat out Bakary Soumare (who has since requested a trade and has fallen out of favor with the coaches) at center back.

Along with goalie Zac MacMath behind them and defensive midfielder Brian Carroll in front of them, the four starting defenders are the only Philly players to have played every minute this season.

“That’s the spine and the core of our team and I think you’ve seen some true relationships being developed that are very good,” Hackworth said. “I’m really pleased with how it’s gone this year and I think it can become even better.”

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Parke, the anchor of the group, likes that his teammates on the backline are all athletic and good on the ball – as well as the fact that the defense hasn’t allowed too many shots this year.

But the standout center back also wants the backline to “lock it down and be nasty and come out with more shutouts instead of giving teams a goal or a couple of quick chances.”

He believes that will start to happen as the group continues to mesh.

“It comes with time and understanding,” Parke said. “We’re doing well. But it’s going to take all season to fully understand and sculpt each other’s games toward each other.”

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