Over the last few years, Philadelphia Union players have often embarked on offseason training stints with European clubs.
But that hasn’t happened this offseason – and there’s a reason for it.
“In the past, we’ve had a lot of young guys that didn’t maybe play as much, so they needed to gather some experiences,” Union manager John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “But those young guys played a lot of minutes in the last two years, specifically in the last year-and-a-half. That’s one reason why it’s really important for those guys to just take a break.”
Last year, six Union players went overseas, with Hackworth saying at the time there had to be a “delicate balance” to allow for these kinds of unique opportunities with the need for rest.
Hackworth indicated that it’s part of the club’s offseason plan to limit players from traveling and training as much heading into the 2014 season, the manager’s second full year in charge.
“It’s really important in the balance of making sure players are fully prepared and are able to have proper regeneration and recovery,” Hackworth said. “It’s important to understand it’s a long-term process. So that’s why our plan is to make sure these guys get proper development in all ways – from playing time to rest to not getting burnt out on training stints at other clubs. It all plays into that picture.”
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Two Philadelphia players who have gotten quite familiar with the European soccer scene are center back Amobi Okugo and goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Okugo trained in Germany with SC Freiburg the past two years, while MacMath spent three straight offseasons working out with the English Premier League side Everton FC with his mentor, Tim Howard.
But the 22-year-olds were among the Union's leaders in minutes played in 2013 and head into the 2014 preseason – which begins later this month – as two of the team’s most important players.
“Their ability to play at a high level next year is very dependent on the fact that they fully recover and recuperate from a very strenuous level,” Hackworth said.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.