Union's Hackworth explains why recent signings cut

While the preseason is typically filled with players coming and going, the news that the Philadelphia Union released Alex Mendoza, Damani Richards and Stephen Okai this week still came as somewhat of a surprise.

That’s because Mendoza and Richards both signed contracts with the club about a month ago, and Union manager John Hackworth called Okai “one of the players most ready to have an immediate impact in MLS” after selecting him in the second round of the 2013 SuperDraft.

Nevertheless, Hackworth seemed surprised – and even a little bit agitated – when pressed about his decision to waive those three during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“It’s interesting that we’re talking about the preseason and getting ready for opening day and you guys are more concerned about three guys that are not on our team and not in the picture,” Hackworth said at one point.

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“When we pick a player and announce him, whether it’s a signed player or a drafted player, I don’t know what you guys want me to do besides talk about their good qualities,” the second-year manager added. “I’m certainly not going to draft a player and say that he stinks just so when I release him later on you guys don’t write an article about it.”

In the case of Mendoza, Hackworth said the former Pumas UNAM player was scouted by the league and needed to be signed in order to be brought into camp.

As for Okai, who recently joined the Seattle Sounders on trial, he was one of a handful of rookies drafted by the Union that wasn’t good enough to make the 30-man roster. In fact, following the release of supplemental pick Eric Schoenle today, which Hackworth announced during the call, the only 2013 draft picks currently left in camp are Don Anding and Leo Fernandes.

Interestingly enough, the promise the left-footed Anding has shown on defense is one reason why Richards, who Hackworth previously said would provide valuable depth at left back, was made expendable. Another reason is that Richards is still a teenager and may be better served playing for Union affiliate Harrisburg of the USL Pro division. That appears to be the course of action the Union will take with the young Trinidad & Tobago international.

“We’ve had excellent competition at left back and we’ll start this season with three very qualified players in our humble estimation,” Hackworth said, referring to Gabriel Farfan, Ray Gaddis and Anding. “That doesn’t mean Damani’s qualities are any less than they were when we talked about him before. But the reality is there are better players here and you hope I make those decisions correctly.

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“Then it’s a question of how to push Damani on a path that allows him to develop. I think we have that covered.”

Hackworth noted there are other players fighting for contracts, making the competition in camp extremely stiff. In addition to Anding and Fernandes, former Red Bull Matt Kassel, Bulgarian Georgi Hristov and Real Madrid youth academy product Jordi Vidal all appear to still be on trial.

Just don’t expect any big announcements if any of them are let go.

“If I released Le Toux yesterday, I think I’d be more understanding of why there were this many questions,” Hackworth said.

The Union manager then closed the call by adding, “We are not releasing Sébastien Le Toux. He is going to stay on our roster.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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