John Hackworth

With newfound financial flexibility, Philadelphia Union hunt for playmaker: "That's our No. 1 priority"

Last year at around this time, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth went to South America, hoping the scouting trip would lead to an offseason signing.

It didn’t quite materialize that way, partly because Hackworth was still trying to dig out from a salary-cap mess left by his predecessor, Peter Nowak. But just this past weekend, Hackworth went back to South America, while technical director Rob Vartughian went on a scouting excursion through Europe.

And this time around, they believe they have enough financial flexibility to bring home at least one important player from the international marketplace.

“There were some guys on our list last year that we couldn’t get,” Hackworth told by phone. “And they’re on our list again.”

Hackworth said the Union would like to add “two, three or four guys that can really increase the talent and level of our roster.” Among those additions will likely be a left midfielder, a defender and a backup goalkeeper.

But no offseason acquisition will be as important as a playmaker in the central midfield to drive the attacking engine. That’s something the Union lacked in 2013 and it turned out to be one big reason why they missed the playoffs.

“That’s our number one priority, for sure,” Hackworth said of acquiring a playmaker. “We need somebody that can come in and play at the highest level.”

For that spot, the Union manager admitted they’re not necessarily targeting a world-class player like Thierry Henry or Robbie Keane, but instead someone like Diego Valeri, a more affordable option who emerged this season as one of the league’s top midfielders for the Portland Timbers.

And the Union, for their part, will explore the globe for that player.

“We’re looking all over,” Hackworth said. “The good news is we have some resources this year. Last year we didn’t have that.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for E-mail him at

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