CHESTER, Pa. – At what has to be the low point of an already-dismal season, the Philadelphia Union players are standing behind their manager.
Toward the end of a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday that extended the team’s winless streak to a franchise-record nine games, some fans started a “Fire Hackworth” chant.
The Union players heard it, and afterwards defended embattled head man John Hackworth.
“It’s upsetting,” winger Danny Cruz told MLSsoccer.com. “You won’t find a guy in this locker room that doesn’t believe in our manager. We’ll continue to believe in him. And he believes in us.”
The Union fans certainly have good reason to be upset. Despite overhauling the roster in the offseason with talented midfielders Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana, the team has struggled on both sides of the field, making defensive errors as well as failing to execute in the offensive third.
Saturday’s game against rivals D.C. United was no different, as the Union allowed an unmarked Chris Rolfe to score in the sixth minute and then failed to find the back of the net for the third time in the last four games.
But the Union players blame themselves for the struggles – not Hackworth's coaching or tactics.
“It’s difficult because I’m sure the coaches would love to be able to sub themselves on the pitch, but they can’t,” Edu said. “All they can do is prepare us well during the week, get us motivated before the game, get us motivated at halftime. It’s up to go out there and perform. It’s unfair. Us as players, the hope is that our fans will stick behind us and continue to support us through the hard times.
“We all still believe in what we’re doing and we believe that the coaches are steering us in the right direction.”
After assembling the team the way he wanted in the offseason and failing to get them to gel together to this point, Hackworth certainly knows he’s on the hot seat, telling MLSsoccer.com earlier in the week that “there’s only so much time” to turn the season around.
But according to Cruz, he’s trying to deflect that pressure away from the players.
“He’s our leader,” said Cruz, who gave the Union a big spark as a halftime sub. “He’s handling it well. He’s telling us not to worry, to focus on ourselves and hopefully it will come. He knows that things happen in this profession – we all do. But the reality is he’s a big part of why this locker room is so close. We all look up to him.”
Cruz added that hearing those chants from the crowd is “tough.” But it’s something the players know they have to expect – especially when they’re in the midst of such a freefall.
“It’s Philly,” center back Amobi Okugo said. “So if they’re not booing or making negative comments, it would feel like we’re in a different city.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.