By JOEL HOOVER
The Philadelphia Union’s lineup stated it, but head coach John Hackworth wanted to explain: the U.S. Open Cup match Tuesday night against the Ocean City Nor’easters was not a time to try out new players or “play guys on the roster.”
“We’ve taken it very seriously. We want to win the trophy,” Hackworth stated, despite hailing the hard work of fringe players like Aaron Wheeler, Don Anding, and Matt Kassel.
One player he did give an opportunity to in the midfield in Tuesday’s Third Round fixture was first-year midfielder Leo Fernandes. The 21-year-old Brazilian and Stony Brook product was handed his first start of the season in the middle of Hackworth’s initial 4-3-3 formation, and put on one of the brightest performances in the Union’s 2-1 win over Ocean City.
“He got this opportunity because he earned it,” Hackworth said. “It wasn’t me trying to throw a bone to anybody and say, ‘Hey, this is an Open Cup game, so I’m going to start a rookie.’ Leo, we felt, was one of our best options, especially coming from Montreal with some tired legs. I thought he was excellent.”
Fernandes had previously appeared once this season for just one minute in the Union’s 1-0 home win over Chicago back on May 18. Despite his prior lack of playing time, he showed spurts of potential in his 89 minutes played against Ocean City by freely taking on defenders, controlling the midfield play, and occasionally making forward runs.
Here are some other notes from this week’s Union press conference:
TORRES STILL ABSENT
An ongoing talking point this season for the Union has been the fall of young midfielder Roger Torres, who has played a mere 10 minutes all year despite no injuries. An MCL injury last April limited the 21-year-old Colombian to just 10 appearances in 2012, but he came into camp healthy and performed well in the eyes of many during this year’s preseason.
His one appearance this year came off the bench against Sporting Kansas City to start the season, but he has been limited to just an unused substitute role since then. More recently, he has not even made the matchday 18 for Philadelphia, including Tuesday’s Open Cup match.
“It is what it is…Roger’s got to play better in training,” Hackworth said on Tuesday. “If he does that, he’ll get an opportunity. But we have a lot of competition.”
He provided more clarification on the situation in his Thursday press conference, citing the amount of depth the team has in the middle of the field as a big reason why Torres has been absent.
“Guys are in front of him, and have stepped in front of him, taken their opportunities, and done better with them,” Hackworth said. “At some point, I need to give Roger that same kind of chance, but he needs to earn that chance.”
Hackworth also said that there are no issues between him and Torres, and that the club have not considered trade talks involving Torres.
Torres has been with the club since their inaugural season in 2010, notching six assists in 21 league appearances that year and adding three goals and two assists in 25 appearances in 2011.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Ivory Coast international Abdul Kader Keita has been brought in on trial with the Union. John Hackworth confirmed Thursday that the 31-year-old winger has been on trial “for a few weeks”, and that the staff are evaluating if he can contribute to the squad. Keita has previous experience with Lille and Galatasaray in Europe, but has been out of contract since the end of 2012.
- The Union return to action this Saturday on the road against Toronto FC. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m. The two teams drew 1-1 on April 13 at PPL Park, with Robert Earnshaw and Jack McInerney trading goals to split the points.