Philadelphia Union's John Hackworth reiterates core of young players will be key to success in 2014

Jack McInerney celebrates his equalizer in DCvPHI

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Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth has gone on the record saying that he hopes to sign around three or four new players this offseason, including at least one marquee acquisition.

But another one of his biggest priorities will be to keep the team’s promising young core intact.

“We have to add the pieces that are essential for us to take the next step,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “But for the most part, our young core of players is going to lead the direction.”

In 2013, the Union were once again one of the youngest teams in the league. Of the 11 players who logged the most minutes, seven were younger than 25 – a group that included leading scorer Jack McInerney (21), starting goalkeeper Zac MacMath (22) and rising defensive stars Amobi Okugo (22), Sheanon Williams (23) and Ray Gaddis (23).

For his part, MacMath – who set an MLS record with shutouts in a season before the age of 22 with 12 – hopes he’ll continue to grow alongside those teammates, most of whom have now been starting for at least the past year and a half.

“The young guys that we have are all really good guys,” the Union goalkeeper said. “We’re still inexperienced as players but we’ve taken a lot away from the last couple of years. If we can stick together, having that core group will definitely help the team in the future.”

While it might not be easy for all of those players to remain in Philly for the long term, at least for next season it looks they’ll all return. The team is planning to pick up options on the rookie contracts for Okugo and McInerney, the last remaining Union originals and the backbone of the team.

“This team really works on youth and building it up,” McInerney said. “The first two years of the draft, we all came through and right now it’s kind of paying off for them. We’re getting better and better each year. The expectations weren’t that high this year, but I think we kind of made them seem higher than they should have been. So it’s a good sign, especially going into next year with all the experience we gained from his year.”

While Okugo and McInerney are probably the club’s most recognized youngsters, Hackworth stressed that there are plenty of others who will play an important role on the team moving forward. And, in his admittedly own biased opinion, the Union manager said he has one of the best young cores in the league.

“If you look on the whole for the last two seasons, we’ve started a young roster and had a young team,” Hackworth said. “And you add Antoine [Hoppenot], [Michael] Farfan, Danny Cruz – people don’t realize those guys are the same age or younger. We have a lot of those guys on our team. They all continue to do well and if we can keep that core together and make some adjustments here and there, we’re going to continue to grow.”

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