From Mexico to Greece to Costa Rica, the Philadelphia Union spent portions of their last three preseasons traveling to remote, out-of-the country locales.
But this year, for the first time, they won’t leave the country. Instead, the club will spend the majority of their preseason in Florida, where they hope to drive up fan interaction and test their players against mostly MLS competition.
It’s a situation that’s far more preferable to John Hackworth, who’s in his first preseason as Union manager.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Hackworth said of the club’s time in Florida, which began on Monday and lasts until Feb. 24. “We’re here now. We’re a little settled. We don’t have to worry about any more travel and losing any training days. It’s something the staff has planned out. We have the right number of games against quality competition that will really test us and will answer some difficult questions for us in the next three weeks.”
The Union are currently training at the Dewey O. Bolster Sports Complex in Deltona on facilities that Hackworth called “flat-out amazing.” They began their preseason slate Saturday with a game against Orlando City of the USL Pro, their first of four contests in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, which features five other MLS sides.
Philly will also face the Montreal Impact in Jacksonville on Feb. 15 and D.C. United in Deltona on Feb. 20.
Hackworth said on Wednesday that his starting XI for Saturday’s preseason opener is still very much in the air, in part because reserve players like Keon Daniel, Roger Torres and Raymon Gaddis have all been very impressive as they fight to become regulars.
“That’s good news because it means we have a little more depth than we thought we did,” Hackworth said. “As a coaching staff, we’ll have some difficult decisions to make. And we’ll use these games as a true evaluation tool.”
On top of the important evaluations, as well as the far better weather in the Sunshine State, Hackworth also believes holding camp in Florida is a good thing for fans.
Whereas in the past Union supporters sometimes couldn’t even find out scores of the club’s preseason games, this year the Union created President’s Day weekend travel packages for fans hoping to watch the team play in Orlando.
“We’re trying to piggyback off what Major League Baseball has done and create a spring training environment down there,” said Hackworth, a Florida native. “I think that’s beneficial for us as a team and it gives fans the opportunity to head south during the winter months and get a glimpse of high-level soccer.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.