Kerith Gabriel: Looking at key Union players, before and after Nowak

Posted: July 06, 2012

IT'S NO SECRET the Union is revitalized under interim manager John Hackworth. I use the term "interim" carefully, given the scoring knack this club has shown since Hackworth, 46, took over on June 13, along with the fury insiders say he unleashed in getting rid of a pair of technical staff members last week — also under an interim tag.

But that's another column?…

Bottom line is that members of this club are playing for Hack in a way they weren't under former manager Peter Nowak. Some might not have met their potential, but most are exceeding expectations. While I'm not looking at each player, I did drop a microscope on five who have made an impact in one way or the other over the past few weeks:

Under Nowak: Adu showed flashes of brillance, specifically after he returned from an unsuccessful Olympic qualifying campaign. His most memorable match was against Red Bull New York, a game in which he repeatedly terrorized RBNY's defense.

Under Hackworth: Despite making the starting lineup, Adu's impact and minutes on the field have diminished. The latest evidence of this occurred Wednesday, when he was substituted in the 71st minute for rookie Antoine Hoppenot. That follows a trend of second-half exits, which makes you wonder why the club's highest-paid player can't play a full 90.

Under Nowak: Without question, the club's best offensive asset. Given the freedom to roam, Farfan was a threat in the final third, even if his stat sheet didn't reflect it. Farfan does lead in one stat: fouls committed, with 39 (three yellow cards).

Under Hackworth: Remains the club's best offensive asset and arguably its best player. Just look at what Farfan did against Los Angeles in Wednesday's 2-1 win, when he assisted on the Union's first goal and scored a low curler (draped by two defenders, mind you) past Galaxy 'keeper Josh Saunders in second-half stoppage time. Hard to argue with that.

Under Nowak: The last pick by the Union in January's MLS supplemental draft, Hoppenot debuted in the Union's U.S. Open Cup win over D.C. United and stole the show, lifting his name a few notches on the Union's rotating string of strikers.

Under Hackworth: Roger Torres was the second-half spark, but that label now goes to Hoppenot, who, in only six MLS matches (four under Hackworth), has shown he is a pure finisher. If he's not scoring goals, he's creating them, as evidence by the goal he scored and the penalty kick he drew in the Union's 4-0 rout of Sporting Kansas City. Hoppenot had a chance to score the game-winner in Wednesday's win over Los Angeles, too.

Under Nowak: McInerney barely got minutes in reserve league matches, much less found his name on an 18-man MLS game-day roster. Too many occasions, Jack Mac was wearing a suit in the suites rather than playing on the pitch. Things got so bad, the 2010 first-round draft pick said he felt his confidence waver and dreamed of a fresh start.

Under Hackworth: McInerney has revitalized both his career and this club, scoring some sensational goals and validating the notion that the 19-year-old has a "nose for the goal." Jack Mac is among the team leaders overall, with five goals; in MLS play, he is second on the team with three — the same number of MLS appearances he's had so far this season.

Under Nowak: Another player rarely seen, Okugo was viewed more as the situational utility man or the next best thing behind defensive midfielders Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez, despite continued call-ups to U.S. youth national teams.

Under Hackworth: Amobi has made a serious bid for the center back position, since the trade of former captain Danny Califf to Chivas USA and with Sheanon Williams missing time to a toe injury. Amobi has amassed 520 league minutes and in that span the Union is 4-2 (including Open Cup play).

Space limitations prevent guys such as Lionard Pajoy, Raymon Gaddis, Gabriel Farfan and Keon Daniel from getting their due — but you get the idea. There is no denying the seismic gap between what was and what is.

Question now: Will it be enough to resurrect this season?

Soumaré update

The Union's latest signing, defender Bakary Soumaré, is a few weeks away from returning to MLS action. Soumaré, 26, was brought in as the younger replacement for Califf, 32, but it's a little interesing that Soumaré is rehabbing a knee meniscus injury similar to Califf's.

Union trainer Paul Rushing said that though it's coincidental, I perhaps am reading too much into the similarities.

"[Soumaré] is just getting back into shape and finishing up his rehab," Rushing said. "It's about a 3- to 4-month recovery, and he is a little over 3 months right now. He's right on schedule."

Odds and endlines

Parking is free, and it'll be Dollar Dog Night at PPL Park for the Union's Open Cup semifinal Wednesday against Kansas City ?…?MLS' First XI, the All-Star starters, players receiving the most votes from fans, will be announced during halftime of Sunday's Chicago-Los Angeles match that kicks off at 3 p.m. (ESPN2). D.C. United's Ben Olsen, who took over for the departed Peter Nowak as manager of the All-Stars for the July 25 match against Chelsea at PPL Park (8:30 p.m., ESPN2), does have final say, however, of both the game-day roster and starting lineup??… On July 19, local goalkeeping legend Bob Rigby will be at Pro League Authentics (137 S. 13th St.) from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Visitors will receive a replica of the 1973 Sports Illustrated cover that featured Rigby. As a member of the NASL champion Philadelphia Atoms, Rigby is the first soccer player on the magazine cover.

Contact Kerith Gabriel at gabrielk@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @sprtswtr.

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