When Philadelphia Union winger Danny Cruz scored the first goal of Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, there was one person, above all else, that he wanted to celebrate with: his manager.
And so, in a powerful moment of solidarity, Cruz and his teammates ran over to the sideline to hug John Hackworth, who had been squarely on the hot seat coming into the contest.
He may not be on the hot seat anymore, as goals from Cruz and Cristian Maidana fueled the undermanned Union in a stirring 2-1 upset victory over first-place SKC at Sporting Park.
“I think that is a pretty special moment between players and a coach,” Hackworth said. “I had no idea they planned that. But I think it’s symbolic of what this locker room is all about. We keep talking about the fact that we believe in each other, we trust the work we do and we trust each other. And it’s a pretty good feeling to have guys believe in what you’re doing.”
The scene was much different just four days ago when the Union dropped a 1-0 decision to D.C. United at PPL Park, setting the club record for consecutive games without a win at nine and eliciting “Fire Hackworth” chants from some frustrated fans.
After the game, Cruz called the chants “upsetting” and said that “you won’t find a guy in this locker room that doesn’t believe in our manager.”
And then he went out proved it – not only with his big goal early in the second half but with the celebration that followed.
“It was definitely something we talked about before,” Cruz said. “We’re behind him. He knows we’re behind him. We tried to make that clear to the media, to the fans. Tonight was big for everybody, including him. I think you could see the fight in everybody for that reason.”
Philly’s special night was nearly derailed when SKC’s Dom Dwyer scored the equalizer in the 80th minute – a familiar theme for a Union team that has given up many late game-tying goals this season.
But Maidana answered with his first MLS goal just a minute later and the Union hung on down the stretch – despite playing without steady midfielders Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu and going down a man when late sub Corben Bone picked up a red card in the 90th minute.
“I think you saw a little bit of a different team tonight,” Cruz said. “You saw a team willing to fight for each other. It reminded me a lot of last year.”
The Union also showed that they’re a team willing to make a strong statement to support their manager. When the players ran over to Hackworth following Cruz’s goal, the manager said they all told him the same thing: “That’s for you.”
“I keep telling them they’re not playing for me; they’re playing for the organization,” Hackworth said. “But we’re going through tough times … and it’s good for the guys to feel that way. I think that’s a credit to our staff and our organization that we still, through all of these tough times, believe in each other.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.