Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth spent a good 20 minutes talking with reporters during his weekly media availability Tuesday afternoon.
Here are some highlights.
On how new midfielder Alex Mendoza has fared so far, and how he came to the Union:
Alex is a player that was discovered by a scout in Mexico. Being from this area, growing up here, he wanted to come back into MLS. He had a successful opportunity in Mexico and did quite well there going on trial, which is very impressive – and to get a contract.
He's a player that we were interested in and felt like we needed to give an opportunity to.
I think there's a little bit of [serendipity in] the fact that the kid grows up in Harrisburg and has a lot of ties to our soccer community. Then he goes out and makes it in the world of soccer, which is extremely hard – especially in a foreign country. That was the most intriguing part for us, for sure.
On Conor Casey's health:
Conor's in good form. He's been in every session for us and he's been really good. He's a welcome addition to our team, and we're thankful that he's been healthy. I think he's excited to be in his first preseason in a couple of years where he's feeling healthy.
It's going well so far - knock on wood, because we want to make sure it stays that way.
On the large size of the preseason training group:
Yeah, it's pretty large. We could probably make four teams out of this right now. That gives all parts of our staff – from equipment guys to trainers, coaches, administrators – a big challenge.
We need to do that because we want to give guys a look. We want to make sure that the competition is truly at a very high level to try to win spots. There are a number of guys here and we will trim that down as we go. But it's hard to really evaluate guys unless you see them in this environment on a daily basis.
On Amobi Okugo's role:
Our preference is just where he fits in with our team. The fact that he's versatile enough – up until today we had played in him the midfield in this whole preseason. Today was the first time that we put him in the back, and that was out of necessity more than anything.
So I think he has an opportunity to be really important for our team in either spot. We're happy with Amobi. He did a great job for us last year and had an opportunity to come back in and play and potentially win a spot in the midfield.
On how he feels only having a month left until first kick:
It's certainly a little bit of everything. We have a lot of work to do still. We have a really good plan, but with every passing day you get a little closer and as you check things off and go through what you're able to accomplish – and some things that you're not able to accomplish – you want to get there, but you want to kind of slow down.
These are really long days. Credit to our staff and the players going twice a day. We're now at our second training site and when we move to Florida that will be our third. A lot of work has to go into all of that.
On having five goalkeepers in training camp, and what message that may send to incumbent starter Zac MacMath:
We wanted to have four for sure. Especially with the [large] group that we have, we need to be able to play two games in a training session. So you need to be able to play to four goals, and that takes four [goalkeepers].
Diego Restrepo [being on trial] was an opportunity to just bring him in and get a look, and that was an opportunity we just couldn't pass up. Chris Konopka got hurt last week so he's carrying a little bit of an injury. We have four healthy guys and five total. We'll obviously have to trim that down.
We do want to push Zac; we want him to know that he has to step up this year. But he knows that already. So we're not really doing that by numbers of goalkeepers.
On what he thinks of the MLS-USL partnership, and whether he looks at any of the players in the Union's camp as potential loanees to Harrisburg:
I think it's an important step in this country to have more of a developmental system within the professional ranks. You have that everywhere else in the world, from lower divisions to reserve leagues.
This is truly an opportunity where we can get young guys, or guys that need the experience, to go play in very competitive, meaningful games at a high level.
There's nothing we can do on the training field to simulate that, so it's really important. We're looking forward to having that relationship with Harrisburg and we think it will work out in the long run.
I think it will be good for young guys to go have to prove themselves at that level in order to have to get back to the first team in play in MLS.
It doesn't give us more room, to be fair. The way that it's structured with the leagues is that we loan these players out to Harrisburg, but they're still our players – so they're still on our books. It's not like we give up guys and then open up roster spots or salary cap space. We're still responsible for that.
On the challenge that the team's draft picks face to make the final roster:
It is going to be tough for them to make the team. We have a really good core of players coming back. We feel really good about a lot of the work that we did last year and we feel like we have to build on that right now. So the number of spots available is few and far between.
But to their credit, the guys that have come in have done really well. It's exciting to see them try to battle and try to make a case for themselves to make this roster. The reality is that there are only a couple of spots, so we're not going to be able to keep everyone.
Eric Schoenle, for sure, has done a good job. He's somebody that we've been interested in for the last couple of years. He came in and trained with the first team [last] summer, and obviously played at Reading and grew up here.
He's really comfortable with the ball, and the way we try to play – with good technical execution – he fits in very well with that.
On whether he thought Eric Schoenle would still be available when the Union's first Supplemental Draft pick came around:
Yes and no. It was a gamble. But we do our research to try to find out what the other clubs want, what positions they were looking at and things like that. So we thought we had a really good chance of getting Eric in the Supplemental Draft, and thankfully that worked out.
On his expectations for second-year forward Chandler Hoffman:
Chandler and all these guys – we had so many rookies last year and now they are coming back for their second year. Now they've got to take the next step. They can no longer lean on the fact that they are rookies and it's a learning process. They really have to be able to contribute.
Chandler has come in to pre-season and in every possible way he has been ready, prepared and very fit. His intensity in training has been good, he has scored some good goals. So it makes for a lot of competition at the forward spot right now, but it's really good to have that depth.
On how Roger Torres has fared so far:
I'm very pleased, because he came in - this is, I think the first preseason where Roger came in and was fit enough to participate from the get-go. In the past, Roger has come in and struggled with his fitness, and therefore he had to catch up a lot during the first couple of weeks of the preseason.
That wasn't a problem for him this year. We made it very clear that [coming in less than fully fit] wasn't going to be allowed. So to see him come in and be prepared to go after it from day one has been good.
On how much his team has worked with the ball during his practice sessions, and the importance of training that way:
It's the way that we want to play. We want to be a team that dictates the rhythym, that has more of the ball than the opponent. For us, our philosophy is that we can get our players fit through a lot of soccer.
We have a plan, and we're trying to stick to that, where our guys, if they come in fit – like I referenced Roger earlier – then we can ramp these guys up over the preseason by sticking to soccer and making sure that we do almost everything with a ball. Because ultimately, that's what this game is about.
On how Sébastien Le Toux has fared so far, and where he fits best in the attack right now:
We all know what his work ethic is like. We're trying to integrate him into our system and the way we're playing. That's a challenge, but it's a challenge with everybody. He's doing really well.
It will be interesting to see how that continues, as the relationship between him, Conor [Casey] and [Jack] McInerney is constantly evolving. And we're throwing a lot of other guys in there, like Antoine [Hoppenot] and Chandler [Hoffman] and Aaron Wheeler, who's been good so far. There's a lot of competition at those forward spots.
On playing Le Toux in a wide position on a three-forward line:
To be really clear, Sébastien wants to be a forward. The way we're playing right now in this part of camp, he is a forward. He's an out-and-out forward.
We're playing a 4-3-3 and we're trying to emphasize shape and spreading teams out. That width is really important, and that's where Séba has always had the most success playing from anyway.
So I don't think it's too different. But we'll also go through various systems where we'll have two guys [on the forward line] at times, and that's a little later on in the preseason. We're going to try to figure out the best system and the best relationship between our forwards.
We've always been big believers that our team has to have really good mobility. When you're playing with three up front, and the ball is on the opposite side of the field from that player – in this case, Séba – we want Séba to come inside. Then he's playing in the middle.
There's an interchange there too, [and] there has been that emphasis to make sure that guys are switching.