CHESTER, Pa. – One day before the Philadelphia Union faced the Columbus Crew, Philly interim manager John Hackworth said he believed his team still had a chance to do something special in the home stretch of the playoff race.
Moments after Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to the Columbus Crew at PPL Park – a result Hackworth called cruel, undeserved and mind-boggling – he officially pulled the plug on the Union’s constantly dwindling postseason aspirations.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” Hackworth said. “But I would say that I’m not stupid either. Unless we go on some amazing run, tonight was a game we had to get three points in and really have a six-point swing. So I don’t think it’s a possibility anymore. And I think we should stop talking about it personally.”
HIGHLIGHTS: PHI 1, CLB 2
Realistically, the playoffs were probably over long ago for the Union, who sit 15 points out of the final spot and have failed to win any games in August, scoring only three goals over that five-gave span.
Their failure to finish chances reared its head in a big way at PPL on Wednesday as the Union could not find the back of the net over the final 20 minutes despite being up a man. They then watched helplessly as the Crew stole three points on a counter, handing the Union one of their most devastating losses in a season filled with them.
“I’m happy with the way we’re playing and I’m happy with the kind of soccer we’re playing,” Hackworth said. “Obviously we’re not executing and that is our Achilles’ heel right now.”
The only player to score for the Union on Wednesday was defender Carlos Valdes on a deflected free kick, meaning an attacking player still has not found the back of the net throughout the month of August.
That was especially difficult for rookie striker Antoine Hoppenot, who drew the red card that gave the Union a one-man advantage for the final 20 minutes and helped the club press hard against the bunkered-in Crew defense.
“This is bad,” Hoppenot said. “You look at the locker room right now and a lot of guys got dressed and left. You want to get out of here as quickly as possible. Everything reminds you of the game. We don’t think we deserved that. We thought we played well today and we got ourselves a lot of chances.”
And is if losing a game in that kind of fashion wasn’t tough enough, what was it like to hear that your coach no longer believes that making the playoffs is a possibility?
“All we can do is play,” Hoppenot said. “I know I’m going to go out there and play every day, every game, like it’s a playoff game anyways. And I know every single guy in the locker room is going to do the same thing.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.