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Philadelphia Union's John Hackworth doubles down on young squad primed for national spotlight

CHESTER, Pa. – The last time Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth said his team deserved more respect, they were promptly drubbed by the LA Galaxy.

But about a month later, ahead of another marquee game, Hackworth is doubling down on that same idea. And so when the Union host the New York Red Bulls on Sunday at PPL Park (5 pm ET, ESPN), they’ll definitely be looking to make a statement.

“I think the fact that it’s under probably the biggest spotlight that we have in our league – on a Sunday afternoon, being a standalone game, on national TV, at home, against one of our main rivals – it puts a lot opportunity out there for us,” Hackworth said. “This is a big chance for a young team, a club that I think that constantly scraps even within our own fanbase for the respect I think we deserve a lot more of.”

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One big reason why Hackworth thinks his team deserves more credit: The Union (6-5-4) are currently tied for third place in the Eastern Conference. And a win Sunday would give them the same amount of points as the star-studded Red Bulls (7-5-4).

“If you would have asked me back in February, if I would have taken that, I would have said, ‘Absolutely, I’ll take it,’” Hackworth said. “It hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t been smooth. But I think it’s reflective of the year in general that there is a lot of parity that you have these games that are so close. But if you look at our record so far, almost halfway though, I like where we are.”

The Union are certainly much improved from last year at this time when ex-manager Peter Nowak was fired following a 2-7-2 start.

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But to see how far they’ve come, a lot will ride on their next four games, which Hackworth calls “one of the most difficult stretches” of the season. Following Sunday’s game against the Red Bulls, the Union will face title contenders FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and Houston, with the final two coming on the road.

“This is going to be a huge set of games for us, the next four,” Hackworth said. “But I like where we are and I like the way we've rebounded from adversity and the way we’ve grinded out results. So I like our chances.”

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