Union wants to get off on right foot at home

Posted: March 16, 2014

UNION MANAGER John Hackworth and his players haven't dwelled on the disappointing closing moments of their opening 1-1 draw at Portland, but they did discuss it - extensively.

In addition to improving the physical talent on the roster, the Union entered the 2014 MLS season determined to be a mentally tougher squad. Surrendering an equalizing goal on the final play, as they did last Saturday against the Timbers, does not fit that narrative.

"We need to rectify that situation so that we don't get burned by it again," Hackworth said Wednesday at his weekly news conference. "There are several parts of it that have nothing to do with soccer.

"It's staying tuned in, managing a game right, knowing your role if you're coming off the bench. I hope we are very motivated to correct that, but, at the same time, we want to absolutely build on the positives we established in the way that we played."

The players know that three points were there for the taking. So, yes, they are more than ready to get back out on the pitch for today's home opener at PPL Park against the New England Revolution.

"We were all disappointed in giving up a last-second goal like that," veteran striker Sebastien Le Toux said. "After the game in the locker room, there were not too many sounds. But we have to move on from that and get ready to play New England. It's important that we react quickly to this, especially at the start of the year. We can build on the good things we did by getting a win here at home."

Considering the atmosphere at PPL Park, the Union needs to accomplish more than the pedestrian 8-5-4 record they posted at home in 2013. The team hit the back of the net only 23 times in front of the home crowd and its plus-5 goal differential at home was the fourth worst in MLS.

"We want to build a fortress [at PPL Park] make it a place where other teams don't want to play and know that we will be difficult to defeat here," Le Toux said. "We can start that by getting a win in front of our fans on Saturday."

Despite the last-second disappointment, the draw in Portland had to build some enthusiasm in Union fans looking for their team to take a step to the next level. Four of the top additions to the revamped roster - midfielders Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira, forward Cristian Maidana and defender Austin Berry - all played well in a performance on par with the top teams in MLS.

"We finished preseason with three games where everyone was involved," Edu said. "That was good, because it all about developing chemistry, learning each other's tendencies, figuring out everyone's playing style and adjusting to that. I thought we did that pretty well.

"Obviously, it's a long season and, as we go on, we will get even better at that, but, as a starting point, I thought the whole team played well. Now it's about making sure we stay consistent, clean up errors that we make and continue to replicate and build on the positive things we did."

It will be interesting to see how the Union responds in a game in which it is favored at home.

"Last week in Portland, we talked about how there was no pressure on us and we could just go out and play," Hackworth said. "Now we come home in front of our own fans and we have to reverse it a little bit. We have to use all that energy, use all the excitement from the buildup here in Philly. We have to make sure we manage it right and put another positive performance out on the field."

Last season, for various reasons, the Union did not handle the prospect of higher expectations all that well. I won't say the team needed a complete culture change, but something needed to be shaken up.

Edu won two Scottish Premier League titles with Rangers and played in Europe's Champions League; Nogueira is veteran of Ligue 1 in France; and Maidana has played in La Liga in Spain, in addition to the top leagues in Argentina, Mexico and Russia. Their experience playing in top leagues in which expectations are always high is one reason Hackworth and the front office thought they were good fits.

"I think a lot of times regardless of what people say about you or how they view you, it's about believing in yourself and what we can accomplish as a team," Edu said. "We've set out some goals for ourselves this year and it's about going out and executing. If things are going our way, we stick together. You know that you are not going to win every game, and there will be some bad days, but it's about how you react to those things, how you overcome and what your response is in those situations."

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

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